the m john harrison blog

Tag: the disaster

a difficult time for everyone

If you’re in London on the evening of the 5th March & you’d like to hear me reading “The Crisis”, leave an email address here, or DM me at @mjohnharrison on Twitter–

Adolescence. West London. You always believed a hidden war was being fought, a war nobody would ever admit to. Lay awake at night, listening to bursts of corporate fireworks that seemed too aggressive to be anything other than a small arms exchange; while by day, ground-attack helicopters clattered suddenly and purposively along the curve of the Thames towards Heathrow. You held your breath in moments of prolonged suspense, imagining the smoke trails of rockets launched from the bed of a builder’s pickup in Richmond or Kingston. These fantasy-engagements, asymmetric and furtive, a kind of secret, personalised Middle East, left you as exhausted as masturbation. There was something narcissistic about them. A decade later, everyone was able to feel a similar confused excitement. With the coming of the iGhetti, everyone had a story to tell but no one could be sure what it was. Information was so hard to come by. Between anecdotal evidence and the spectacular misdirections of the news cycle lay gulfs of supposition, fear, and denial. People didn’t know how to act. One minute they heard the guns, the next they were assured that nothing was happening. One day they were panicking and leaving the city in numbers, the next they were returning but rumour had convinced them to throw their tablet computers in the river. The thing they feared most was contagion. They locked their doors. They severed their broadband connections and tanked their cellars. They avoided a growing list of foods. They clustered round a smartphone every summer evening after dark, eavesdropping on the comings and goings of the local militas as they scoured the railway banks and canalsides for telltale astral jelly. Were the iGhetti here or not? It was a difficult time for everyone.

into the valley

Everything is uncanny valley at the moment. I have no real idea of the political shape. Things are about to reveal themselves as having gone badly wrong. I’m only certain that while we think we understand what’s happening, we don’t. The descriptive systems we’re used to are about to stop working–they may already have stopped working. I feel the way I did in the mid-to-late ’70s–that the ideas I get for weird fiction understand the political situation better than I do. They have a connection to some great sore lump of political material we’re too rational to see. It’s implied by events, but at the moment we are only looking at the events. Given what happened in the mid-to-late ’70s, I’m not comfortable with this feeling.

alternate world

Long horizons, rising downs. West Sussex pub, full of the ghouls of money. 1947 Concours d’Elegance Bentley in the car park. Light aircraft float to & fro across the ghouls’ own sky won in single combat from the Nazis all those years ago. The weather is fine, blowy mid-May, but when we say we’ll sit outside, the barman responds with a kind of knowing servility, “You’re going to brave it, then?” Yes, we’re going to brave it. We’re going to meet today’s minor but satisfying challenge, we’re going to brave the May weather & have our lunch outside, the way the ghouls braved the Nazis in the blue enduring sky to protect their power & money all those years ago. You can’t be the rulers if you have no country to rule.

afternoon

Not long ago the river, suffering some fluid equivalent of a seizure or convulsion, swept down from the banks of the parks and golf courses upstream, carrying away the little garden-centre fences, the artfully planted clumps of bamboo and exotic grass, leaving instead a detritus of broken branches, blanched and ancient looking, tangled together with plastic carrier bags, broken toys and bits of garden architecture from the houses upstream. The flood washed away a pebble path here, a nice little gazebo there, so that suburbia, which previously had run all the way down to the petrol coloured water, now ended ten feet further inland, having ceded itself to a mud flat.

a fictional transition

Old Adult fiction: engaging issues of concern to the senior citizen. Like younger people, older people often express a desire to have “something of their own”, with a label on it that says it was written by a kind, balanced, thoughtful forty year old professional with them in mind. They want to find their way. They want confirmation that they’re special, but not alone. At its best, OA fiction can give them a sense of shared problems and identity, while at the same time gently encouraging them to develop their individual terminal personality by discussing all the relevant issues in a safe cultural space. It is a fiction of transition.

sixty eight

Hollyhocks, poppies, chamomile. All sorts of desperate lilies and iris. Those complex drooping rose and purple flowers that symbolised passion on the cover of an HE Bates novel in 1974, whose name I can never remember. A light you can’t tell from heat, contained somehow by the humidity, trapped in the air, gold even under cloud. The dogs bark next door. They bark up and down the street. Heat in the bricks, heat in every movement. You sit on the cellar steps. You wonder if the world will end, or just take some simple, beautiful, really amazing direction. You’re forced to admit it’s always been doing both, and that any minute now you’ll get up and go to the post office.

welcome to the middle classes

You sit over a one-bar electric fire in a rented room. As soon as you feel recovered from the commute you’ll boil some potatoes on the gas ring, then, three minutes before they’re done, drop an egg into the same water. You can hear the family downstairs laughing at something, some dressed-up cats or something, on the internet. After people have cooked, they can often get use out of their gadgets–join a world building game, preorder the gadget they want next–although the load soon precipitates a brownout. During the day you work in a 7th floor office in the Strand. Publicity for a fuel corporate. It’s nice. All very heads-down but worth it to have the security. Outside it’s minus ten & you have no idea what’s happening on the old housing estates by the river. “Welcome to London,” someone in the office said today. That got a laugh. “Welcome to the managerial classes.” All he really meant was that like everyone else he would do anything to stay this side of the line.

same old story

The hero returns from her journey a wiser but humbler person, only to find that her start point has changed. It’s a rusted-out cultural madhouse, with none of the core values that demanded she go on the journey in the first place. No one remembers her or her family, they’re all different people with different ideas. There’s nothing left in the way of recognisable social situations in which to demonstrate her valuable new self; which she now sees isn’t new anyway, only out of date. She sees that she was conned all along, as much by ideas of “return” as by the idea of a goal: the journey, like the self, is both meaningless and unavoidable, but more important it is endless. The journey is without telos and what happens on the journey is the mechanics of the journey. Anything else is a wish fulfilment of the 1940s or, to be more precise, of Joseph insanely boring bloody Campbell.

bad pony

With the ebook release of Light & Nova Swing this week, you can buy the whole of the Empty Space trilogy in Sam Green covers. Autumn’s setting in, so it’s just the time to cheer yourself up by reading a quantum-goth meditation on death disguised as space opera. You can decide afterwards, with the rain pissing down outside your house & politics settling a little further into the uncanny valley every afternoon, to what degree the author was mad or knew just what he was doing when he wrote the final two or three lines. He’s on to the next thing, anyway, which appears to be an insincere alien invasion set along an easily recognisable river in an easily recognisable town in an easily recognisable now. Although of course that might change.

disasters (1)

The world has been transformed into millions of acres of what looks like ash. Yet it is not ash. Look closer. It is used cat litter. It is caked & often appears dry, but beneath the surface it is thoroughly soaked in all the unevaporated cat urine the world has ever known. Every so often the weight of this substance overcomes its viscosity & a whole range of hills slides into the sea. The smell is tremendous. The air is corrosive. Valleys abound, between great sloping shoulders of wet cat litter, all without vegetation or human habitat. No one knows what happened. Many of the nice things, & all the practical ones, just seemed to vanish overnight & no one could get them back & this is what was left. Across the immeasurably bleak landscape strides a young woman dressed in a tight one-piece garment of her own design. She is making her way to what used to be south east England, where the parents of some really good friends have lent her a studio in a house they own? Which used to belong to a famous Edwardian writer? There she’s going to make the internet album which will banish the shadows in her soul. At her heels trots a little tragic poppet of a whippet.

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