Quantum Fiction! – M. John Harrison’s Empty Space Trilogy and Weird Theory

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One of my favourite papers I’ve ever written has now been published in Textual Practice, and it’s Open Access, too!

Abstract:

China Miéville states that since the concepts of Hauntology and Weird are diametrically opposed, only one of them can be attributed to any literary phenomenon at a time. However, those categories are connected by the sublime, a quantum state that can collapse into either awe or horror. I will discuss the exception to this rigorous division, namely the Kefahuchi Tract, the central mystery in M. John Harrison’s Empty Space trilogy. Many instances of Tract activity follow the conventions of a classic haunting. Still, the Tract is characterised as essentially Weird. I will present several ways of reading the Tract. Firstly, stressing the ‘science’ in science fiction, as a black hole without an event horizon, affecting all of reality and preserving old data. Secondly, as a literary phenomenon, a psychological journey. Both approaches are equally valid since the Tract is presented as a quantum phenomenon. It exists in an entangled intermediate state, and only the reader’s interpretation creates one fixed meaning. Moreover, recurring markers in the texts point towards each narrative’s being embedded in an overarching theme that connects most of Harrison’s fiction, which is the notion of secondary-world fantasy literature as escapism – presented in a way that is clearly anti-escapist.

Keywords: Weird fictionscience fictionquantum fictionuncannyhauntologyM. John Harrison.

 

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Investigating Weird Portland 2014

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2This is the last blog post about my American travels, and for me it’s the most spectacular one. I had always wanted to use my copy of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon as an actual tourist guide. And while it was impossible to follow it step-by-step – I have no idea where the self-cleaning house is, am not particularly interested in strip clubs, and the Portland Memorial is closed to the public these days unless you have relatives interred there – I did get to see most of the landmarks and shops and curiosities. I had a Big Wave Hawaiian lager at the Tiki bar mentioned in the book, I found the tour through the Shanghai tunnels (including sinister stories of waking up in total darkness with a hangover and no shoes and the floor strewn with broken glass: they’ve got trunks of men’s boots down there) – and I even had a chance to go to Mount Angel Abbey and have a look at their museum of curiosities. There I found: taxidermied deformed animals (two versions of eight-legged calf!), giant pig bezoars, an “authentic” replica of the Crown of Thorns using thorns from a shrub researched by a quite enthusiastic Franciscan Brother, strange international versions of “imported” Virgin Marys, and the most well-preserved and well-made collection of taxidermied wildlife I’ve ever seen, all arranged in “life-like” poses of interaction and often in combat.

You can find my pictures here. (I’ve deliberately kept my attempted “ghost photography” from inside the Shanghai tunnels; skip the pictures if you get bored by them.)

 

Review: In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle

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This time I got a unicorn book to review: In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle. Surprisingly (?) this lovely novella is not a secondary-world fantasy, which may imply that the unicorns in the plot are metaphors (or that you or I could come across one too, who knows). In any case it was the nicest read, and it was the first book in ages – and definitely the first book I read for a review – that actually managed to make me cry. You can read my review here.

 

Review: Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

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If you need a book that’s an enjoyable read, that acknowledges and references a lot of international SF, mythology and folklore, and that is first and foremost about culture as change, about diversity, coexistence, acceptance and mutual enrichment, give this one a try.

“Central Station, that vast space port which rises over the twin cityscapes of Arab Jaffa, Jewish Tel Aviv” (p. 6): this is the main setting in Lavie Tidhar’s eponymous novel—or, rather, his interconnected collection of episodic short stories—and it’s big enough to have its own miniature weather system. Built by immigrant workers from all nations, it is described as “a miniature mall-nation, to which neither Tel Aviv nor Jaffa could lay complete claim” (p. 42), working as a sort of buffer zone as well as a cultural melting pot that offers everything from snack food to religion and/or body modification… (read more)

 

Nalo Hopkinson Special on Strange Horizons!

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Awesome! Strange Horizons are doing a special issue focusing on Nalo Hopkinson’s writing. Her short-story collection Falling in Love with Hominids was among my favourite reads of 2015, so I was super pleased to be asked to contribute a review.

As a fan of Weird fiction, which is a genre that has long been dominated by Old White Men, I can only recommend this book. I picked it up as soon as I saw the cover—an illustration of a dreaming young black woman with awesome hair and also fully dressed, which is still not something you automatically get with your generic SFF anthology or short story collection. I was so smitten with the stories contained therein that I changed the reading list for my upcoming course on Weird short fiction to incorporate “The Easthound” (the first story in the book), which offers a fascinating twist on zombie tropes, a children’s commune, solidarity, oral storytelling games, and world-building based on mondegreens. Like Angela Carter (but more radically so in my view), Hopkinson picks up old myths and fairy tales—in her case mostly Caribbean ones—and revives them using contemporary topics and characters with transcultural, postcolonial, feminist, and/or LGBT backgrounds. Her stories are very much about finding one’s place in the world, about battling hierarchies and systems of oppression, and about empowerment. Female readers need voices like hers, LGBT readers need voices like hers, and so does the genre of Weird fiction. (read more)