M. John Harrison

M. John Harrison is one of the few authors who manages to bridge the gap between fantasy/sci-fi and “serious literature”. With the side-effect that almost nobody in either field has ever heard of him :frowning:

His stuff is bleak and strange, generally emphasising entropy and decay. Through all his written work, he plays around with the same set of images and characters; a dwarf; a heart; a violent, unpredictable drunkard; trains and buses and urban decay.

I find his short stories less interesting tha his full-length novels. In many ways they seem like warm-ups for those novels, with dialogue, ideas and whole scenes used briefly to be expanded on later.

I’ve just finished ‘The Course of the Heart’, which I think is my favorite of his so far. It is a modern-day fantasy, although the elements of magic are generally left in the background. In some ways this is frustrating, but it leaves magic the way it should be; vague, mysterious and equally menacing and promising. It’s also hazy on the details because the narrator himself doesn’t really understand them himself; he’s simply the unwilling accomplice and sometime apprentice of a corrupt, seedy magician.

Another plot-thread is somewhat similar to ‘Foucault’s Pendulum’; a couple construct a fantasy about a mythical European land, connected to the world they’ve gotten themselves entangled by, eventually fabricating a family line connecting one of them to its royalty, in the hope that it will somehow make the things they’ve summoned up go away.

Any Dopers know this author?

Yep. I have The Floating Gods, The Pastel City, and Storm of Wings which are, as I recall, loosely connected novels. I thought I had Viriconium Nights, too, but I don’t see it on my bookshelves (not that that means anything, my library is hopelessly disorganized at the moment).

It’s been years since I’ve read them, though, so I have no distinct recollection of the stories. They’re the kind of books you have to read more than once before you can work out what’s going on. Hmmmm. Maybe I should take them with me when I go out to visit my folks next week. I need reading material for the airport waits and the plane trips.

Harrison just won (well, tied for) the 2002 Tiptree Award for his new novel, Light.

A collection of the “Viriconium” stories appeared in the “Fantasy Masterworks” reissues series here in the UK, as simply Viriconium. And I’ve read some of his early SF, like The Committed Men and The Centauri Device, which latter got a slot in the related “SF Masterworks” series … Bound to say, though, I recognize his influence and all that, and he’s an effective writer, but not one I like, particularly.

Lots of authors have written both science fiction/fantasy novels and “mainstream” novels. Just off the top of my head: Brian Aldiss and Iain Banks. It’s not that rare.