M. John Harrison: Things That Never Happen



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Wow this was not for me Fine writing yes But that s about it Slightly opaue stories that both demand and reward multiple readings like Harrison s Viriconium stories and novels the tales collected here seem to trace their ways around the edges of the lives and events they depict A Viriconium story actually appears in this collection in a modified Non Viriconium form A Young Man s Journey to London is essentially A Young Man s Journey to Viriconium robably adapted for mainstream non sffantasy ublication somewhere or is it the other way around There are 24 tales in this collection and I enjoyed each and every one of them especially those that seemed the most opaue and elliptical Harrison s strength lies in implying stories rather than in telling them and he like Iain M Banks and China Mieville crafts some of the most hauntingstartling images in creative fiction that usually slips between genres For those who have read his later novels Nova Swing there s a leasant surprise called The Neon Heart Murders though I must say that I find myself returning again and again and again to The East an improbable story that is driven by mood and milieu than by Forever plot As with all good writers one doesn t read Harrison so much as one experiences him For me that s a good thing A member of a science fictionfantasy discussion group suggested this book to me Two stories I consider outstanding Eganro I mentioned this story before on goodreads The narrator observes his employer descend into delusion due to the influence of a bookRunning Down In this story the narrator observes a man who causes an increase of entropy around him things break down he is accidentrone even the earth shook Other stories I though highly of The Gift is another story about an imaginary book In this story one of the main characters is given a uniue book The book is somewhat damaged some arts of the text is missing even art of the book s title And this Illuminatis person can t find a complete copy of this book it may truly be one of a kind I think readers who enjoy fiction about imaginary books would enjoy this storyIsobel Avens Returns to Stepney in the Spring is a near future science fictionhorror story about a woman who undergoes a treatment in order to realize her dream The result is hideousA Young Man s Journey to London is about a secret magicalortalThe Neon Heart Murders I conjecture is influenced by Borges and Lem The detective in this story discovers a People Will Talk pattern to a series of murders the murderer though is the nature of reality itselfAnother influence on the stories in this book I submit is Hemingway M John Harrison shows and avoids an occupational hazard of the science fictionfantasy writer the info dump But because the subject matter is some Van Vogt a much celebrated and disputed master of Golden Age SF wrote a huge body of short stories many of which have been scaled into novels He called these fixups The stories found in Things that Never Happen or at least snippets of them have eventually found their way into novels like Climbers Light The Course of the Heart Nova Swing and even his latestublication Empty Space which seems to me to be a nexus of his works with a little from everything You arrive at the narrative at a Demon Divine (Demon Accords point where the main event has occurred you are merely experiencing the aftermath The information is incomplete to you at least and this is often true for therotagonist as well You see them struggle with these issues and fail for the most The Pearl Thief part of it Memory is an enemy haunting the thoughts as they try to leave behind the weirdness of it all You leave the story which is not a conventional short story in its truest sense slightly guilty as if you ve just watched a woman change her clothes in an open window from an empty street at midnight Aervasive theme here is Harrison s Healthier Together preoccupation with light I would venture to call it an obsession and how it relates toerception He expertly creates atmospheric landscape which seem to drive the The Haunting of Sunshine Girl plot instead of any real relationship between characters You see his skill grow and marvel at his skill at creating different kinds of light It suffuses the narrative in a dreamy glow or delineates it with the harsh shadows of fluorescent lighting Poetic writer who can t uite be called lyrical like all nerves are open in description and narration Bleak ish but not bleak because the fiction is so lush in a sensory way New discovery for me and wondering why I didn t run into his work before another sudden find amongst the library stacks The real deal Kitchen sink gothic horror magical surrealism but very Englishonly Ligotti and Borges are worthwhile comparisons for these beautiful talesalso of note this is some of the bestrose being written anywheres This is the book that made me love the short story form M John Harrison is brilliant Things That Never Happen It s an apt title for a collection of strange disturbing thought Routledge Library Editions provoking stories Harrison has long been a favourite author of mine and half of this collection I d read years ago when it wasublished as The Ice Monkey That book is here collected with a later collection Travel Arrangements and so we have a set of stories ranging from 1975 right up to 2000Harrison s development as a write over this Crisis in Bethlehem period isalpable Early stories betray an obsession with insect tropes Settling The World which found it s apotheosis in the Viriconium novel A Storm of Wings in 1980 Th A stunning collection of short stories gathered from 1975 1999 These are character driven stories with elements of science fiction or fantasy The Return of the Twelves positioned evocatively in the background Harrison is a realist with elegant andrecise Dizzy Jimmy prose His main focus is on the minutiae of reality the interplay of alienated characters the ties that bind them atmospheres moods the subtlelay of light His Locuras lejos de casa! (Serie Lady Pecas 1) prose builds up an intimateortrait of reality the hysicality of the worldThere are a few tropes and themes that occur throughout these stories The very sick woman is a character that reappears in story after story The Fisher ueen as China Mielville calls her Dislocation in urban environments and a movement to healing in wilderness and isolated laces like moors and mountains The idea of transformation The desire to escape the uotidian Reality s strong gravitational Grammar by Diagram pull on that desire Fantasy as consolation It is theull and Murder Maker push of these forces that sets up the inner dynamics of many of these storiesThe stories appear chronologically and the earliest here Settling The World is from 1975 when Harrison was still editor of New Worlds magazine It is the most distinctive fantastical science fiction story here and in this way it is at odds with the rich realism apparent in the rest of this collection It opens with aaragraph of light brevity which tells of the discovery of God his return to earth and society s transformation into a utopia as a result The narrator falls in with Estrades a rebel an anarchist who wants to destroy God Although there is something of the Ballardian hero in Estrades he is a typical Harrison rotagonist a character going against the grain rebelling against the mundane obsessed looking for transformation the ecstaticRunning Down 1975Recounts the dysfunctional and destructive relationship between Egerton the narrator recovering from a mountaineering accident and Lyall an acuaintance from his Cambridge days Lyall has 'Like all good literature Harrison's stories are worth reading again and again; the you read the you understand' Iain M BanksOver the last thirty years M John Harrison has been inspiring readers and writers alike across the world His return to science fiction in 2002 with the magnificent space opera LIGHT was a monumental triumph shortlisted for every major award in the genre He combines brilliant.

Dark energy about him he carried his own entropy around with him that seems to influence the disintegration of objects and relationships This erosion is echoed in the background as the olitical system breaks down with the rise of the Patriotic Front and Britain is engulfed in violence and by noon England seventy or eighty years too late was taking her first hesitant but heady steps into this century of violence With the scenes set in the Central Fells Lake District there is a strong sense of Ask Yourself This place evoked of wild nature liminal spaces at the edges of civilisationrimal spaceThe Incalling 1978Austin the narrator is invited by Clerk to the Incalling an occult ritual Over the course of the next few weeks Austin observes the weird instigators of the ceremony the Good Witch, Bad Witch peculiar Sprake family and watches the dissolution of Clerk The occult ritual is another of Harrison sreoccupations which will be seen again in The Great God Pan in this collection and in the novel The Course of the Heart Harrison is generally not concerned with the The Tokyo Zodiac Murders purpose or aims of the ritual Here Austin is skeptical and uestions its authenticity seeing it as something of a sham the Sprakes as charlatans Harrison is interested in the ritual as an operation to inciterofound change on his characters Yours, Mine and Ours (Second Chances psyches They desire change transformation escape or healing and the ritual mediates that desireThe Ice Monkey 1980An achingly beautiful and enigmatic tale that could be a seminal text for Harrison as it marks a shift into the mature style seen in the rest of the stories in this collection It concentrates in a few brilliantages Harrison s concerns of desire memory obsession in the face of a bleak run down realityJones impractical to all else in the world except rock climbing in which he excels has conceded all his connections to society He asks Spider the narrator to help in Riverview, Gone But Not Forgotten practical concerns like liaising with his estranged wife over maintenanceayments Maureen lives in a dilapidated flat at the centre of an urban wasteland the ruins of East London the rain from which she surveys the broken landscape like an abandoned lady in a tower Maureen in E3 where all horizons are remembered ones dwelling on vanished freedomsThe writing is beautiful Harrison captures the characters inner states of mind and subtle atmospheres of time and Boneshaker (BA 43-500, place in a single sentence Jones in a cafe watching with his head tilted intelligently to one side as the sparse traffic groaned away south and a kind of mucoid grayness crept into thelace through its steamed up windows The characters seem real dialogue rings true there is a strong sense of life as it is lived There is an undercurrent of A Star Is Born poignant despondency to the whole thing of loss death defeat and forgettingThe Ice Monkey title and three brief sentences concerning a necklace add a faint supernatural element that is at odds with the rest of the story The fact that the story was written for Ramsey Campbell s New Terrors horror anthology gives a context to this tale that invites a certain kind of reading to it even though the text resists that reading There is a kind of textual friction atlay here forcing a certain reading of the text and denying it at the same time Which all adds to the enigmatic CSA Scenarios for the MRCGP, third edition power and brilliance of this storyEgnaro 1981Lucas a second hand fantasy book store owner becomes obsessed with Egnaro a fantastical land at the edges of the known world Theragmatic narrator his accountant has no time for Lucas fantasies viewing his fantasy books as feeding a longing for the ast the simplicity of childhood when desires were easily consummated To him fantasy is merely adolescent desire Lucas obsession takes over and his livelihood and his health sufferThe setting of Deansgate is vividly realised in its dishevelled state of urban neglect A transient urban space where office workers and students ass through the rundown streets on their way to their destinations The bitter winter winds blowing through the drab streets are contrasted with the warm sun soaked landscapes of Egnaro Deansgate is a society without a culture or a soul Why wouldn t you chose the fantasy when reality is this bleak So fantasy is a consolation to the uotidian mundanity of life But it is than merely escapism Egnaro is many things a fantastic realm at the edges of reality the conspiracy to keep its location hidden a longing for childhood simplicity a desire for what is lost Desire itself Also and maybe the most obvious it is orange spelt backwards Even in the title Harrison undercuts the romantic longing with the banalThe New Rays 1982The first appearance in this collection of Harrison s recurring character type the very ill woman see also Ann The Great God Pan Isobel Avens Mona Science and the Arts From his novels Audsley King Viriconium Pam Stuyvesant Course of the Heart Anna Kearney LightThe uarry 1983The narrator is recovering in Yorkshire moors from an emotional breakdown in the city Convalescing in nature he is ulled back to the uarry of the title There he dreams of the Green Woman a twist on the agan green man of folk tales He keeps running into a an odd couple which he watches with fascination a blind woman and a Rant paraplegic man they are co dependent on one another and seem to transform ino one beast With the uarry and its environs Harrison s great nature writing evokes a strong sense oflaceSmall Heirlooms 1987Kit returns to her writer brother s house to take charge of his literary estate after his death She reads his diaries which recount his Super Minds Level 2 Students Book with DVD-ROM pre war travels in Austria Sex and tarot with a gypsy girl She wonders what death befell the the girl after the rise of Nazi Germany She wonders about their child She dreams She awakes to the smell of attar of roseserfume haunted by her brother s concerns the ghosts of the Challenged to Win pastThe Great God Pan 1988This story charts the last despondent meetings the end of the relationship between the narrator Lucas and Ann who are bound together by the magical ritual theyarticipated in as students at Cambridge twenty years before The ritual itself its Kids Draw Knights, Kings, Queens, Dragons purpose and what was involved is never disclosed indeed the narrator has lost all memory of it But there are hints in the text that it enabled thearticipants to access the enigmatic Pleroma of which nothing else is told The articipants now ay a high The Color of a Leader price for this access They are all damaged in some mental orhysical way none than Ann who suffers from epilepsy migraine headaches is Into the Planet paranoid and anxious Lucas suffers from hallucinations and illness The cost of accessing the Pleroma has as Lucasuts it ruined something in ourselvesThe Gift 1988Nine alternating chapters depict Sophia and Peter Ebert s separate lives in the same city Both are solitary lonely figures Sophia lost in alcoholism and casual sex Ebert s life is suddenly given meaning when he receives a tattered book by a stranger on the underground the book becomes his obsession The narrative charts their journey to each otherThe Horse of Iron and How We Can Know It and Be Changed by It Forever 1989Structured into ten chapters named after cards of the Tarot Like a Dusk (Rosales Saga, piece oferformance art a young man bestows meaning to objects and events from train journeys chosen using the Tarot deck Meaning is seen to be ultimately mutable randomly assignedTwo men were molding in brass something which looked at first sight like the stripped carcass of Storytelling with complex lots and evocative mesmerising writingTHINGS THAT NEVER HAPPEN is M John Harrison's definitive collection of short fiction twenty four dazzling stories of science fiction and fantasy; the erfect introduction to one of Britain's most brilliant writersContentsSettling the World 1975Running Down 1975The Incalling 1978The Ice Monkey 1980Egnaro 1981Old Women 1984The New Rays.

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Turkey that exact sharp edged cage of bone which reveals itself so thoroughly through all the strips and flaps of flesh after Christmas dinner It turned out though to be something less interesting a classical figurine a Poseidon or Prometheus which systematically lost its magic as the layers of casting material were knocked off carefully with the back of an axe This was so essentially disappointing a striptease by which by removing veils of strangeness and alien signification the sculptor revealed a value ordinarily and easily understoodThere is something essential to Harrison s writing in the opening aragraph uoted above and shows his attitude to writing within genre and writing in general He is not interested in the ordinary and the easily understood the comforting tropes and cliches of genre His is the ursuit of the reality of things the struggle with language to depict something not overused hackneyed but true whilst simultaneously acknowledging that language itself may not be up to the task The next The Caretaker paragraph in which the narrator replaces the disappointment of the foundry he saw on TV with one of the imagination offers a solution to the conseuent uestion then why write at allAnother foundry somewhere in the night somewhere in history in which something like a horse s skull not a horse s head a skull which looks nothing like a horse at all but like an enormous curved shears or a bone beak whose two halves meet only at the tip a wicked intelligent lookingurposeless thing which cannot speak came out of the mold and all the founders were immediately executed to keep the secret They had known all along this would happen to them These men wear the great craftsmen and engineers of their day They could have looked for from life Yet they crammed down their fear and got on with the work and afterwards made no attempt to escapeGifco 1992Gifco is another high Clara After Dark - 01 point in this anthology The narrator and his wife are in their own separate ways dealing with the death of their daughter Neither openly grieving they seem to be repressing their grief moving away from their old family house starting life anew in Peckham A derelict house across the street from their new home with the word Gifco scrawled on a boarded up window begins tolay a dark role in their livesThe internal space of the Gifco house seems to operate outside of reality He can hear the lunch time traffic outside but inside this dark interior feels like the narrator s inner space his Quanta Reset (The Shadow Ravens, psyche where dark happenings occur Thelace where his mental disorder is made real A space cut off from reality a space out of time and Over the River Through the Wood place almost LovecraftianThe narrator is cold and unemotional and the reader is kept a distance from events by his impassive recital Heuts a strong emphasis on his dreams within which meanings and language isn t fixed His dreams seem to reveal his repressed feelings The reader can never be uite sure of what the narrator is disclosing is in fact reality as the narrative itself starts to take lace within that zone of slippage between waking and dreaming It s as though his repressed grief has erupted into the narrative itself disrupting the uotidian with the weird and the uncannyHe has a terse relationship with his wife there is no mutual consolation between them The narrative is littered with her brusue indifferent exchanges and we intuit her deep dissatisfaction Her inscrutability is not diminished in the memories of his holiday in Tenerife where he would meet his wife Their first meetings show that there never was an emotional intimacy between them and their hysical intimacy was determined by her omnivorous insatiate desireIt is also in the Tenerife memories that the Kenyattas Jiggers psychological source of the Gifco house is disclosed The darkly enigmatic character of Allo Johnnie looms over theseassages The Gifco graffiti resounds with the narrator so much it as though the narrator s subconscious has made a strange kind of connection with the meeting of his wife and the death of the daughter with the character of Allo Johnnie as some Coupage (Blood Nation preternatural dark midwife to this associationDespite the unsympathetic characters it is the emotionalunch of this story that remains with the reader There is a deep sense of loss here Memory identity and a sense of indeterminacy Nothing is fixed Everyone lost within their inner selves slave to their own obsessions and false desiresIt is interesting to read M John Harrison s blog entry on Gifco as a In Search of Julien Hudson postscript of sortsThose who have failed to regulate the self Those whose behaviours enact a medicating fiction Those who flew to the Canary Islands on a cheap ticket in December 1991 left the remains of theirersonality in the apartment hotel Those who ran from everything in a zig zag Raintree (Raintree, pattern so fast they never found the transitional object The unsoothed The dysmorphic The unconditional Those who were naive enough to take what they needed thus never got what they wanted whose dreams are now severe Those who were amazed by their own hand The confused Theliable Those who look at the sea immediately suffer a grief unconstrained but inarticulable Gifco is coming Gifco you are always with us Gifco we are hereIsobel Avens Returns to Stepney in the Spring 1994A seminal M John Harrison short story in which all the author s obsessions appear notably the rofound yearning for the impossible that leads into obsession and neurosis The narrative concerning the intense love affair between Isobel and Mick Rose is a tangled chronology scenes alternate between their relationship s lust filled early days to the twisted detached end daysDespite being in love Isobel yearns for transformation and beyond that transfiguration Love is not enough David Alexander in the atriarchal sciencistdoctor role seen in The New Rays a mediator for the وردة من دمي (روايات أحلام، promises of total enablement late capitalist society confers on the individual facilitates Isobel s transformationShe returns home after her treatment as foretold by theoetically laconic title of the story with its metaphors of re birth But Isobel has transformed into something eerie and unsettling something Leading Innovation post human There is spring like new growth but nothing natural about her new stateEmpty 1995Set against the backdrop of the Yorkshire moors the ghosts of the dead the moors murders missing children haunt this story of ageing death and of how theast indelibly marks itself on a landscapeSeven Guesses of the Heart 1996Falkender an old magician and his wife are grieving over the loss of their daughter through some magical mishap Set in the land of Autotelia the uiet realism of this story focuses on the characters their grieving and their loss with subtle shifts of mood atmosphere and feeling Another sad and beautiful taleThe East 1996The narrator befriends and later follows a strange old refugee as he visits sites around London The old man says he comes from the land of Autotellia see Seven Guesses of the Heart Harrison describes the outsider immigrant experience and milieu reminiscent of Iain Sinclair Rachel Lichenstein s Rodinsky s RoomScience The Arts 1999The early days of relationship between writer and artist uantum mechanics and the body The injured woman healed The wound becomes naturalised The bleeding art of life This brief final story is a kind of summation an insight into Harrison s concerns and a fitting end to a brilliant collection. 1982The uarry 1983A Young Man's Journey to London 1985Small Heirlooms 1987The Great God Pan 1988The Gift 1988The Horse of Iron and How We Can Know It and Be Changed by It Forever 1989Gifco 1992Anima 1992Isobel Avens Returns to Stepney in the Spring 1994Empty 1995Seven Guesses of the Heart 1996I Did It 1996The East 1996Suicide Coast 1999The Neon Heart Murders 2000Black Houses 1998Science The Arts 19.

Gabriel King with