the m john harrison blog

Tag: travel

in real life

Along with the imminent publication of Rob Macfarlane’s masterpiece Underland, this retweet by Andrew Male reminded me of something. I’ve always been fascinated by the praxis and professionalism of cavers. Especially cave divers. A friend of mine gave up climbing to do that activity for a while. He supplied me with some fine anecdotal material. In the late 1970s I had written part of a sci-fi/horror novel in which a team of contemporary cavers and climbers, prospecting the Irish karst for new routes in their separate disciplines, rediscovered the remains of William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland. Their subsequent exploration of the associated geology would have had all the predictable results and in addition allowed me to make a critique both of the Hodgson novel and Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls”. It was also my idea to catch the reader up with contemporary caving and climbing techniques and attitudes. (The “exploratory value” would be seen being absorbed into the new values of risk sport, for instance, a transition later touched on in Nova Swing and Empty Space.) I dropped the idea because it seemed too ordinary, too direct and too glib. All that’s left, apart from perhaps ten thousand words of yellowing draft, is the short story “The Ice Monkey”, which I cut out of it. “The Ice Monkey” started me off in a completely different direction and led to Climbers. I stopped trying to literalistically incorporate my real-life interests and experiences into fantasy fiction (see Tomb the Dwarf’s solo of the first pitch of Medusa, Ravensdale, or Alstath Fulthor’s trail-run up from Hadfield via Yellow Slacks up on to Bleaklow, across the Woodhead and then down by Tintwhistle Low Moor in A Storm of Wings) and instead began to let the two kinds of content and technique blur together, in search of what the result could tell me. You can see that immediately you look at the stuff. You can also see that I became happier and more comfortable with the way I was doing things. You can call these very self-aware metafictional explorations of the exploratory value and its inevitable structures “the Weird” if you like. I call it being the kind of writer I started to be in 1979.


away day

Very blue sky. Light rebroadcast into the room by the weird yellow facades of the buildings across the road. Shouts from the all-day drinkers in the bars down the hill. We could be anywhere in Tenerife, except for the temperature and the English newspapers scattered over the carpet. In fact it’s the Midlands. There’s tractor porn on the newsagent’s top shelves, shooting accessories in the ironmongers, and the gentle remains of Georgian town houses compete with the main street pet enterprises to see who’ll subside first. I quite like it. It’s nice.

a new short story

FINAL Cave  Julia_Cover“That whole year, and to a lesser extent the year after, bodies were washed up all along that part of the coast, some whole, some in pieces … In the south of Autotelia, especially, it was a bad year for bodies; but the body of the vanished brother didn’t show up among them. Passive and silent, full of some incommunicable anger, the sister attempted suicide, spent time in institutions; then, her work suddenly becoming popular, left the country for a new life on our side of things.” When Cave meets Julia, he finds himself sucked into her strange alienated history of loss and sacrifice. “Cave & Julia” is a love story set between our world and Autotelia. Available from the Kindle Store today, 99p; or free to borrow from the Kindle Library. You can still find “In Autotelia”, the first Autotelia story, in Arc #1, here.

Just to round up what’s available, electronically and otherwise: you can buy Light, Nova Swing and Empty Space; The Centauri Device, cursed be its name, with its very fine paper-sculpture cover image; and Viriconium in the old paperback Fantasy Masterworks edition. The new edition of Climbers (coming in May) is ready for pre-order, both as paper and as ebook, with a fabulous new Sam Green cover and a very special introduction I’m not allowed to tell you about yet, although you probably already found out for yourself. The books you won’t find, except as pre-enjoyed or remaindered, are The Course of the Heart, Signs of Life and Things That Never Happen.

Since these three, along with Climbers and my new short stories, rather sum up the point of writing for me, I hope we can do something about that soon.

“Cave & Julia” being very much a product of the Ambiente Hotel, back-bar regulars will add value by tracing its beginnings in these entries over the last year or two. I’ve set up a “Cave & Julia” page: leave your criticisms, gasps of almost sexual delight & sighs of sarcastic disbelief etc there, where comments aren’t time-limited, rather than here, where they close after a few days.

Or, of course, leave a review at Amazon.

rockets of the western suburbs

Listen, and it’s steady straight-down rain. No wind. A car halts at the corner, pulls away in acknowledgement of its own muffled existence. Tyre noise louder than engine noise. Against this, the tendency of things to be. The rims and ribs of terracotta pots hard and slick with light. Roofs like mirrors. The bricks suck up water. Everything supported by the perfect angle of a drainpipe. This afternoon Barnes is quiet. This afternoon every garden plant is one uncanny green or another. The visitors ring the bell, wait in the doorway, too polite to come in immediately but chatter a lot when they do. They are nice. Their children always have some new practical thing, less a toy than the beginnings of a fruitful lifetime interest. Without warning (an act in itself 100% pure communication) the camera cuts away from this: very fast, upwards, turning in a series of vertical 180 degree snap rolls, so that first you see the world kaleidoscoping rapidly from a thousand feet up, then from low orbit. By the time everything’s returned to the right scale again, the rain has stopped and the sun is coming out.

i’ve left you my kettle & some money

Ten years ago I looked up and saw a layer of fluid ice, the exact blue of the chemicals in a cold pack, trapped between two layers of air. It was still there an hour later. It was still there the next day, like a temperature inversion hanging above the lawn. I took a chair out and climbed up on it and put my hand in. There was no resistance. Nothing leaked out. I could see my hand in there. Once I got inside I could breathe, though there was some discomfort to begin with. I’ve been hauling my stuff up there ever since, stashing it item by item until I was ready to leave. I’ll have to crawl, because it’s pretty low, and I’m not sure what I’d find if my head broke out of the top. I know I can keep warm. I’ve got enough food for a month. After that I plan to live on my wits, always moving east, pushing the office furniture in front of me. None of the others know. Don’t tell them after I’ve gone.

autotelian nights

Sitting in a deserted cinema, lit by a dull greenish light from above while the sound system played faint tango music, we stared delightedly at the folds of the curtain–mossy green, imperfect–the glowing exit sign, the rows of curved empty seats. There was no film that afternoon. We left eventually for a restaurant which had been recommended to us. Pink napery, white wrought-iron partitions: a hairdresser’s in 1968. The lamp swung above the table, moving the shadows of the wineglasses regularly but uncomfortably on the tablecloth, like the complex umbrae & penumbrae of planets. Amid all that the shadows of our hands touched, flickered then lay flat as if exhausted. 1.30 in the morning, the waiter dragged a chair around. By then only the casino across the square remained open, drawing people in, fixing them there like insects under a jam jar, where they buzzed about energetically without much sign of getting anywhere. A wind came up off the sea, blew sand across the neat cobbles, died away.

mars is just a place

That’s the beauty of it. It’s not a myth, it’s not a dream, it’s not a story, it’s not an investment opportunity: it’s some stones. It’s a place. That’s just so restful. It’s as semiotically empty as parts of the Lisbon underground. No one is shrieking at you to buy anything on Mars, not that I can see, & I’ve studied this picture long & hard. Can I get a ticket ? I’d really love to go. The problem is, by the time you or I get there it’ll be just like it is here. Every single piece of it will be talking to your head. There will be built environment everywhere, & every single riser of every single staircase in every single structure will have its ad. Every wall will have something to say to you. & you will have plenty to say too, because on Mars, by then, surely, comment will be free.

the magic of flight

People pack the long aisle of the plane looking hauntedly for seat numbers. Club class is full of very old Americans, smiling with satisfaction as the losers shuffle past towards sub-steerage.

“I’m Ronald Ramsay, your captain for today. We will be flying north first, then turning left and taking up a position in the middle of the North Sea.”

“I’m not sure I want to take up a position in the middle of the North Sea,” says someone. “Not in an aeroplane.”

The 737 makes a noise like a tumble dryer, then suddenly goes backwards. Soon it has set off at a brisk jog into a tangle of well-kept little runways, alongside which you expect to see flowers in brightly-painted tubs, lock-gates and barge-keepers in blue shirts. Nothing of the kind: parked aircraft; a motorway; some raw earth; a Volkswagon van travelling fast between a chainlink fence and some corrugated sheds.

perdidos e achados

Granite boulders, Sintra, Portugal.

Walking past a car, Sintra.

Specialist roofer, Quinta da Regaleira.

Detail of protection system using a fixed line & descenders.

Rooftop doll, Bica, Lisbon.

Lost & found, Lisbon Portela Airport.

a time in spain


Underground parking structure, Urbanisation Sur, Valencia.


Architectural detail, Urbanisation Sur.


Objects, Urbanisation Sur.


Welcome to Vegas, Don Jilton 24 horas a su servicio.


Hulk, Pego


Other discarded objects, Pego.


Discarded Renault 4, Benirrama.