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


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


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.