Apparently, M. John Harrison is a British writer who can’t catch a popularity break here in the States. It’s a shame. Once I finished reading, Things That Never Happen, a mammoth collection of his short stories, I was even more surprised that I only first heard of him about six months ago. (He’s been writing for decades!) I don’t know about his novels, but his short stories zoom towards the outrageously and outright fantastical, only to veer away at the last minute. i am reminded of Emily Dickinson’s admonition: “tell all the truth, but tell it slant”. Some of the stories in this collection are absolutely breathtaking–so much so, that I remember them well, even after the two months since I read them.
The ones which stuck to my brain, flies to paper:
1) “Settling the World” – the stories are arranged chronologically by year of publication and this is first in the book. God (or a god) has returned (or colonized) the Earth. Of necessity, this makes obsolete certain professions, such as assassin and there are those who do not go quietly into that good night. A weirdly satisfying story. Harrison’s first published?
2) “Running Down” – one man personifies entropy. The horrors that result. Also, a la “No Exit”, the unbearable presence of others.
3) “The Incalling” – a literary agent and a dying writer. the tawdriness of the occult. a theme emerges, a thread dragged through these stories: the watcher on the sideline, circling, inactive and–when active–ineffective, amoral.
4) “The New Rays” – a weird medical procedure. expressing, in some way, the weirdness of science and medicine. reminded me a bit of the x-ray machine in Mann’s Magic Mountain. also, the way that illness destroys relationships. and the amorality of science.
5) “Isobel Avens Returns to Stepney in the Spring” – the sideshow science fiction element is genetic engineering and body modification. the thing that a man loves about a woman is the very thing that ends up destroying her.
6) “Gifco” – the loss of a child and its aftermath. weird local crime.
7) “Seven Guesses of the Heart” – textual obsession, occult ephemera. the slow circling together of a man and a woman.
8) “Science & the Arts” – short and sweet.
The stories are edged dark and grim, rewarding with their careful and throughtful construction. Some good stuff and I highly recommend it.
fanciful stewpots keep on truckin’
yes, i’m sorry to say, the universe keeps shorting out and
facing those of us with faces with all kinds of hotch-potches
or whatyouwill, messes of horrifying pronouncements from some
that being said, when my face got left on the bus seat, afortneight
past, i stamped and screwed my neck into some kind of socket.
and here’s where i’m hoping that some jolt, some pearly jag
of inspiration will flood out to me old fingertips.
(might as well do something, while the face lingers on a bus-seat,
roving hither and far about the place, in a proscribed and
what strange new world will i see, when the face returns to me?
(and who knows what upon what strange sights my bodiless eyes
will alight, when slipping off the seat and sliding along that
greasy bussed floor? who knows what new sleights will fill my
brain when that face slots back into place?)
you might think i’m staggering about the place, with my eyes agone
from me, but, no. with some assistance from my floating mushroom
sense (all aboard the mushroom train! fetch a good price down ta
market!), i cavail and traipse around the town. the only thing
i’m missing, is that cracked schedule for the bus. i’m always
(not hearing) sensing that metallized contraption roaring past
in oil and in dust. (does my face
so separated from me
wince and mutter in distate at that frumy missing? or… is
it pale and flat? scouring all connection between us? or and
when my face–the key with which others unlock my deepest
heart?–is finally returned to me, will we like lovers greet?
or will we eye each others, down and back, like strangers
in the street?) without my eyes, i sense strange auras,
feel the gritty salt beneath my toes and wish the sea
would come back now, and o! i wish to taste the salty salty
sea! and smell that…
what small price to pay? and i wonder: has anyone found my
face, just lying there? or with a lurch of thought, might
they trade their face for mine? so when i finally stumble
up the hydroponic bus ramp (i mean, hydraulic) and shove my
crumbled dollar down that sticky ticket box, and shuffle my
slow and dancing way up the aisle seats, feeling those
curious eyeballs flow along beside me, glance, notlook, beside.
sitting down in some curved seat, feeling with my glowing
whorling fingertips a face aside of me. will i feel some
strange mustachio or perhaps some slimy lipstick coating lips
or ringed nose? will i feel betrayed by these strange
entrappings? or will i thrill to some new thing and
slide that changed face into place?