M. John Harrison in Bath

Last night I took myself into Bath where M. John Harrison was reading from his latest collection, the wonderfully titled You Should Come With Me Now. The book is a mixture of short stories and flash fiction, and shows that Mike has lost none of his sentence-crafting skill, nor his biting wit.

The centerpiece of the reading was the magnificent “Psychoarchaeology”, inspired by the discovery of the (alleged) burial of Richard III under a car park. The story is a meditation on the heritage industry, and is both cutting and hilarious.

There’s always a rights issue. Where does the latest Tudor belong? Does he belong where he was found? Or whence he came? Who gets the brown sign? One wrong decision and York won’t talk to Leicester, the knives are out again after hundreds of years of peace. Contracts torn up, the industry at war with itself, we all know where that can lead: diminished footfall in the visitor centres. No one wants to see that.

Elsewhere there are some lovely flash pieces, including one in which the ruins of human civilization are discovered by aliens who can’t understand us because their means of data storage is completely unlike ours, though it is rather like jackdaws.

Mike, of course, loves deconstructing popular genre tropes. There are piss-takes of space opera in book, and of fantasy as well. One of the stories will appear in a much modified form in the Christmas Special edition of New Scientist. Mike describes it as, “a five volume fantasy trilogy in a thousand words.” If only he could be allowed to edit the new Amazon Middle Earth series.

I, though, am a novel reader at heart. Thus I am delighted to report that Mike is working on a new novel. He says it has fish people in it.

Fish. People.

I know what that brings to mind for me. These fish people, however, do not live on Devil’s Reef off the coast of rural Massachusetts. They live in Britain. Obviously they want to take over. Beyond that we know little. Perhaps they have taken over already. What else could explain Michael Gove?

Naturally the audience asked for recommendations. If Mike says that Hassan Blasim writes some of the best weird fiction around, then I am definitely going to give him a try.

Equally naturally, he can’t read everything. Mike, if you can’t remember the two books that I suggested to you they are: Amatka by Karin Tidbeck; and Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado.

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