the m john harrison blog

Tag: viriconium

do the fish

About half a mile away he found a dead man hidden by a corner of masonry that stood a little above waist height. Retz knelt down and studied him curiously. He lay as he had fallen while running away from someone, his limbs askew and one arm evidently broken. He was heavily built, dressed in a white shirt and black moleskin trousers tied up below the knees with red string. He had on a fish-head mask with lugubrious popping eyes, worn in such a way that if he had been standing upright the fish would have been staring into the sky. Green ribbons were tied round his upper arms. Beside him where he had dropped it lay a knife from which there rose, as it burned its way into the rubble, a steady stream of poisonous yellow motes. They had taken off his boots. His feet were decorated with veinous looking tattoos. Retz climbed on to the wall and looked thoughtfully both ways along the empty road. Then he jumped down again, to emerge ten minutes later dressed in the dead man’s clothes. The fish head had given him some trouble, but he had tied on the string and ribbons; and he had the knife.

from “Viriconium Knights”, 1977

the last Viriconium story

Strictly speaking, “A Young Man’s Journey to Viriconium”, with its demented hedge magicians and their puzzled late-modern ephebe, is the last Viriconium story, in that it gives to the series what might be laughingly referred to as closure. But now there is this other item, which is the last Viriconium story in another sense, written 30 years after the fact just to see what I’d produce in late style–to see what this burned-out other me, affect flattened by age, voice bleached out to the faint, destroyed tones of Dr Petromax, expectations drastically lowered and genuinely de-romanticised, would make of the typical Viriconian material–but perhaps more importantly, of himself. Well, it’s done, it’s the customary four or five thousand words and it will be available to view, more or less soon, depending on the vagaries of the publishing industry. And it’s good, in that it’s odd, it unearthed plenty of stuff and it isn’t too badly written. So: result. But in the end what it makes me think about most is how an individual’s lifetime identity, personality and emotional history can be determined by early reading. I am not talking here about “influence”, on a “writer” but about the formative years of a person. I read LP Hartley’s The Go Between in 1963 or 1964: watching Jim Broadbent and Jack Hollington play Leo in the recent BBC version, I now see that my life was almost as wrenched by the book’s emotional demands as Leo’s is by his encounter with Marian. Hartley was so desperate to get over his warning–and as a reader I was so desperate to signal to him that I’d understood it–that I took it on and acted upon it the way Leo never could. Reading can induce, or encourage, such vast parallax errors. I feel now that parts of my life have probably been a disaster as a result of learning too well the lesson Leo doesn’t seem to learn at all. Other books that formed or wrenched me in other ways: The Flight From the Enchanter, Iris Murdoch; Pincher Martin, William Golding; A Fine Madness, Elliott Baker; Mooncranker’s Gift, Barry Unsworth; Love for Lydia, HE Bates. I’m sure there are fifty others. Please don’t go away and use these authors to “interpret” what I write. You would have to have known me very well for a generation or two for that act of divination to have any force at all. And–again as a result of my formative reading–I can, sadly, be certain that you haven’t.

contents

The collection:

Lost & Found
In Autotelia
Cries
The Walls
Rockets of the Western Suburbs
Cicisbeo
Imaginary Reviews
Entertaining Angels Unawares
Elf Land: the Lost Palaces
Psychoarcheology
Royal Estate
Last Transmission from the Deep Halls
Places you Didn’t Think to Look for Yourself
Not All Men
Dog People
Jackdaw Bingo
Earth Advengers
Keep Smiling (with Great Minutes)
The Crisis
The Theory Cadre
Recovering the Rites
Anti Promethian
Animals
Here
In the Crime Quarter
The Good Detective
Name This City
Crome
Studio
The Old Fox
Awake Early
Explaining the Undiscovered Continent
Self Storage
A Web
Back to the Island
Cave & Julia
Alternate World
At the Seaside
Getting Out of There

news, various

Gollancz have produced some exciting packages for their three remaining reprints from my backlist, The Course of the Heart, Signs of Life and Things That Never Happen: these covers acknowledge & echo the textuality of the texts, and remind me very much of the fatal book in “The Gift”. I went to see them on a dark wet December afternoon in London: they lit it up. More on that soon.

Meanwhile, the new short story collection has emerged relatively unscathed from its beta read (thanks to Sara Sarre, Julian Richards, Mic Cheetham and Nina Allan). I’ll be tinkering with it for a while yet–and titling has become the usual nightmare. I see no rush. Soon I’ll blog a full contents list, including the flash fiction, most of which appeared here. (Thanks for everyone’s help on that.) Previously unpublished stories include “The Crisis” which you may have heard me read at Warwick U or at Totleigh Barton; “The Old Fox”, so technical & emotionally citrus it gives me toothache to read it now; the final Viriconium story, “Crome”; and others. Previously published stories that may have been off your radar include: “Entertaining Angels Unawares” and “Cicisbeo”. A story that won’t be reprinted in this collection, or anywhere else, is “The 4th Domain”, which will only ever be available in that form as a Kindle Single: so buy one now (etc etc).

Speaking of Viriconium, it’s nice to have Eric Germani’s exhaustive study, “The Killing Bottle”, here (useful for anyone taking Warwick U’s F/SF course); I’m very much looking forward to his forthcoming analysis of Light. I suspect my tribute to Forced Entertainment is now up among all the other 365s, at the FE site; I was late, mea culpa. The Poor Souls’ Light anthology of original Christmas ghost stories is mailing as I speak, but I think there may be some copies left if you haven’t yet ordered; I’ll be at Birmingham College of Art next Friday (12th), reading from my contribution, “Animals”, alongside Alison Moore and Jenn Ashworth. There is other news, but I am deliberately keeping it from you–partly in case nothing comes of it & partly because I am such a tart.

“In this collection of novels and stories, it’s fantasy that does the escaping, leaving readers and characters alike scrabbling at mirrors.” –David Hebblethwaite on Viriconium.

catch-up

Some reminders & updates: I’m at Totleigh Barton on Thursday (23rd Oct) to read for my supper at Liz Jensen & Simon Ings’ SF course; Birmingham Library on the 30th October, to remember Joel Lane & read from SALT’s Best British Short Stories 2014; Manchester (John Rylands) Library in December with the Curious Tales team. An exciting talk possibility has turned up for next autumn, I’ll keep you informed; and having missed Claire-Jane Carter & Tess Lyons’ Hagglers Corner event in Sheffield (not to say missing the chance to meet the frighteningly determined Nick Bullock) on Saturday (25th October), I’m hoping to contribute to whatever they do next–news on that if & when. If you’d like to pay me to read something, or do some other kind of appearance, leave a comment here or follow @mjohnharrison on Twitter and DM me. New & recently available stories: “The 4th Domain” is up at Kindle Single (where you can still get “Cave & Julia”; if you missed the delightful Night Jar Press edition of “Getting Out of There”, it’s available in the above-mentioned & equally Royle-edited Best British Short Stories 2014, from SALT (both paper and electronic); “Animals”, an untraditional traditional ghost story, will appear at Christmas in the Curious Tales anthology Poor Souls’ Light. I’m thinking of saving “The Crisis”, which I debuted at Warwick U’s Irradiating the Object conference, as a kind of bonus for the new collection, which will contain a couple of other previously unpublished and similarly raw items. There’s progress on that, including a new and I hope final title, but I’m still trying to finish The Last Viriconium Story to go in it, so don’t necessarily hold your breath. The new novel is looking round so many different corners at once that I couldn’t tell you anything about it anyway.

make u think

Jackdaws bickering in the air in the tall back corner of the house made me think briefly of Ravensdale, a crag with which I was so obsessed in 1977/8 that I gave it a bit-part in A Storm of Wings, that well-known novel of documentary realism. Watching the “Entertaining Angels Unawares” video on YouTube made me feel old, but also made me think briefly of this, from 1991. Meanwhile, I just stumbled across this, from Neel Mukherjee; & “Cave & Julia” has earned some more money on Kindle, making it one of the more economically productive short stories I’ve published (maybe a lesson there). And, describing the people he claims to speak for as convenor of some mythical Tory “trades union”, David Cameron has accidentally used the word “resent” instead of “represent”.

Generally, it’s been a weirdly mixed day. & only half over.

when i think of viriconium

now, it seems very far away yet having an unrealistic clarity, like something seen through optical glass. When I think of Viriconium now, it seems very far away yet having an unrealistic clarity, like something seen through optical glass. When I think of Viriconium now, it seems very far away yet having an unrealistic clarity, like something seen through optical glass. When I think of Viriconium now, it seems very far away yet having an unrealistic clarity, like something seen through optical glass. When I think of Viriconium now, it seems very far away yet having an unrealistic clarity, like something seen through optical glass. When I think of Viriconium now, it seems very far away yet having an unrealistic clarity, like something seen through optical glass. When I think of Viriconium now, it seems very far away yet having an unrealistic clarity, like something seen through optical glass. When I think of Viriconium now, it seems very far away yet having an unrealistic clarity, like something seen through optical glass. When I think of Viriconium now, it seems very far away yet having an unrealistic clarity, like something seen through optical glass. When I think of Viriconium now, it seems very far away yet having an unrealistic clarity, like something seen through optical glass. When I think of Viriconium now, it seems very far away yet having an unrealistic clarity, like something seen through optical glass. When I think of Viriconium now, it seems very far away yet having an unrealistic clarity, like something seen through optical glass. When I think of Viriconium

–December 11, 2009

the first viriconium story

A reader asks, “Mike, which was the first Viriconium story, was it The Pastel City, NEL 1971, or was it “The Lamia & Lord Cromis”, published in New Worlds Quarterly the same year?” Readers, it was neither! The first Viriconium story was “Lamia Mutable” which, though it did not appear until 1972, in the Harlan Ellison anthology Again, Dangerous Visions, was actually written while living off potatoes & eggs & listening to Jeff Beck’s “Beck’s Bolero” in an attic room off the Holloway Road in February 1966. Readers, it was not simply my first Viriconium story: it was the second story I ever wrote! “Lamia Mutable” no longer exists as a feature of the Viriconium canon because, in the early 1980s, while attempting to revise it for publication in Viriconium Nights, I accidentally turned it into “The Dancer from the Dance”, which I so vastly preferred that when I finished it I paced around the room whispering, “Jesus, shit, fuck,” until I had to go out for a long run on the moor above Holmfirth to calm down & get my head out of that space. So that is the story of that.

You can’t read “Lamia Mutable” without buying a copy of Again, Dangerous Visions: but you can read “The Dancer from the Dance” for free here, or you can buy the whole Viriconium bundle here or here.

the bells, the bells

One of the books that came out of storage was Geoffrey Grigson’s idiosyncratic 1958 classic, The Englishman’s Flora. I bought it in a Paladin reprint in 1975 and thereafter used it less as a manual than as a source for Viriconium place names, groups of words which I would gleefully modify out of recognition within days. Grigson describes Campanula trachelium, Throatwort or the Nettle-leaved Bellflower, as “A tall plant secreting a yellow latex–the double signature of its value against a severe sore throat and tonsilitus, and in Germany, therefore, Halskraut.” That “double signature” is one of Grigson’s values to the user. Another is his obsessive collection of common names: C trachelium has only two, BLUE FOXGLOVE (in Shropshire) and COVENTRY BELLS. I remember Coventry Bells from my childhood in Warwickshire, but as a speech item rather than a plant, a pattern of words the faint resonance of which you might catch in later life from an HE Bates story. Gerard, Grigson notes, knew them from “the lowe woods and hedgerows of Kent about Canterburie” and didn’t think much of this name; he believed C trachelium should be called the Canterbury Bell, “a name which rose from the likeness of the flower bells to the St Thomas’s Bells, badges made of latten, bought by pilgrims to the Canterbury shrine of Thomas a Beckett.” Latten is any metal hammered into thin sheets, but usually some form of brass. Another word from my deep past, during which I gained an O level in metalwork. I was so cack-handed the teacher couldn’t believe I’d passed. “You must have done it on the theory,” he told me, scratching his head puzzledly in a corridor outside the workshops. It’s true that at thirteen years old I had been shunted into his classes from the woodwork course, on the grounds that it would take me longer to ruin a piece of metal than a piece of wood.

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