the m john harrison blog

Tag: the disaster

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.

post industrial zones

Dubious & formalised, as in Bilbao’s ex-docks or Sheffield reinvented as an apres-steel boutique: from industry to heritage industry. Wreckage needs to be real. It needs to be free. The central, inevitable & useful thing about a bent & rusty girder sticking up out of an overgrown cooling pond is that it’s a bent & rusty girder sticking up out of an overgrown cooling pond. Anything else is so pathetic: cleaned up, saved from itself (separated from the entropic processes it was always part of) & fit for a place on the mantelpiece in a nice front room. That teaches us something about the sublime in general: ie, really, it’s the Black Spot, the beginning of the end. So try & avoid capturing, recapturing or–especially– “celebrating” it. The urge to convey the authentic glee & terror of the post industrial wasteland is the beginning of the processes of romanticisation, postmodernisation & domestication. From the raw horror of a working blast furnace, through the uncanny of that much rust, to the kitsch. We need to live in the ruins; forget them; then live through them all over again, as whatever the landscape makes of them. Anything else is the media souvenir.

some other kind of disaster

Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell is a generous, interesting book but it makes me think there’s nothing left to scavenge from the traditional rhetoric of disaster, especially its oppositions. Images of both elite panic & ad hoc mutualism seem historical. They wore out in the 50s & 60s of the last century. I feel the same about The Road. Its issues don’t seem to me to be the issue. They seem to be easy things to think, a waste of the power of the big machine of disaster. I don’t know what the issue is. But I believe more & more that there’s some other kind of disaster ready to be written.

black flags

My head seems to have gone to the beach. I think it’s going to stay there until the UK left emerges from its doomed attempt to absorb the Olympic spectacle & enjoy a share of the theatre of nationalist sport. It’s one thing to cheer for Bradley Wiggins, it’s another to fall for watered neoliberal Riefenstahlism. Sandbagged by emotions they’re not used to managing, they’ve allowed the political arena to be dragged to the right again. As a result they won’t be winning their heat. The sheer quantity of defeat that’s been handed out here to an inexperienced team can best be described by this analogy: Jeremy Clarkson commissions Danny Boyle to do his opening credits & the UK left scrambles to construct a positive position re Top Gear. Nil points for accepting that gambit.

PS: it’s the twelfth of August & the right will be out supporting the sport it really loves. I’m not wearing any of it, so here’s a picture of some black flags & plastic bins.

watch this space

Empty Space: I did my corrections in pencil on hard copy.

Today will probably be the last time in history that an author puts a manuscript in a plastic bag & lugs it across London in the piss wet rain to a publisher’s. At least I didn’t write it in longhand. Actual paper: actual sopping wet rain: a proud if defunct moment, rehearsing all that’s memorable about the hack life. If you see me on the tube, give me a smile. I’ll be the one with the confused semiotics. White beard & adolescent coat. There’ll be an air of the Seventies about me, as if the ghost of stagflation has picked an inopportune moment to call. Surprise, surprise. You won’t want me at your party, I can assure you of that. I’m a living message from one dystopia to another. I mean, honestly, haven’t you just looked up at the Shard & thought “comic book Babel” ? You look at that structure & you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It might as well have Ayn Rand Babel Doom written all over it. It might as well have every chapter of The Wind From Nowhere inscribed on every pane of glass. BASE jumping isn’t just the most interesting use it could be put to. It’s the only use.

(That should have been “from one dystopia to the next”. Much better.)