Monday, 12 July 2021

Settling the World

Wyrd Britain reviews M. John Harrison's 'Settling the World' from Comma Press.
M. John Harrison
Comma Press

Throughout his career, M. John Harrison’s writing has defied categorisation, building worlds both unreal and all-too real, overlapping and interlocking with each other. His stories are replete with fissures and portals into parallel dimensions, unidentified countries and lost lands. But more important than the places they point to are the obsessions that drive the people who so believe in them, characters who spend their lives hunting for, and haunted by, clues and maps that speak to the possibility of somewhere else.
This selection of stories, drawn from over 50 years of writing, bears witness to that desire for difference: whether following backstreet occultists, amateur philosophers, down-and-outs or refugees, we see our relationship with ‘the other’ in microscopic detail, and share in Harrison’s rejection of the idea that the world, or our understanding of it, could ever be settled.

M. John Harrison is a novelist working, most notably, at the edges of science fiction with a foot in the worlds of weird or strange fiction. He first came to public attention through his work for New Worlds magazine as one of the 'New Wave' writers alongside the likes of Michael Moorcock, J.G. Ballard, Thomas M. Disch, Brian Aldiss and others.  The stories in this collection begin in that period (1970) and continue through to 2020.

Overt sci-fi themes are few and instead we have stories of the lost and the outsider, people trapped by circumstance and made free in the same way presenting the bizarre and the mundane as two sides of the same coin.  In a previous review of one of his books - the only other one of his I've read - I commented on the the Robert Aickman like nature of the story and here again I can feel the venerable writer's presence - most notably in 'Running Down'.

Not everything here worked for me.  I discovered I was generally less enamoured of the earlier and perhaps more obviously science fiction stories ('The Machine in Shaft 10', 'The Causeway') and more of the strangely human later stories ('Doe Lea', 'Cicisbeo') but truthfully this is a collection littered with gems.  A vibrant and colourful selection of stories that speak to and from the heart.

Buy it here - UK / US.


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