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DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

Things That Never Happen
M. John Harrison
Night Shade Books
450 pages Trade Paperback / ISBN: 1-892389-33-9 / $15.00
Trade Hardcover / ISBN: 1-892389-26-6 / $27.00
Signed Limited Edition of 150 /ISBN: 1-892389-27-4 / $45.00
(January 2003)

Cover One of the stand-out collections of 2000 was M. John Harrison's Travel Arrangements (Orion Fiction ISBN: 0575068310; now available in paperback: Orion Fiction; ISBN: 0575068329). Two-and-a-half years later, it's still not been published in the United States. Never fear! Night Shade Books has performed the greatest of services by publishing Things That Never Happen, a collection that includes not only all the stories from Travel Arrangements, but a "A Young Man's Journey to Virconium" (significantly retitled with "London" substituted for "Virconium" and slightly altered); "Isobel Avens Returns to Stepney in the Spring" (first published in Ellen Datlow's anthology Little Deaths); and "The Great God Pan" (from the Douglas Winter anthology Prime Evil.) Unless you consider R.L. Stine a challenging read, this is a guaranteed "must buy."

In addition to the stories, China Miéville's (one of many writers influenced by Harrison) introduction provides as cogent and comprehensible an explanation of Harrison's inexplicable fiction as you'll find. The author provides story notes and an illuminating introduction of his maturation as a writer. ("I stopped being scared of what I am and started rather to revel in it.") Beyond the content, Things That Never Happen, has greater significance. As Miéville points out, Harrison -- by altering the ultimate anti-fantasy story, "A Young Man's Journey to Virconium," to "A Young Man's Journey to London" -- has "forgiven" fantasy. Considering Harrison's return to science fiction with his latest novel, Light, perhaps he has made complete peace with genre.

Harrison has always used genre elements, including horror, as an artist uses different colors. Sometimes the canvas would be heavier with the shades of one more than another; other works would combine so many hues that unexpected new colors would result. Now he seems comfortably unworried about what labels can be attached to the final product. Things That Never Happen, with its chronological arrangement of stories, also displays Harrison's personal evolution as a writer. (No disparagement meant to the stories that come between the milestones mentioned.) "Settling the World" and "Running Down" (from 1975) are a cut above most fantasy-used-as-societal metaphor, but they are obvious in comparison to "The Ice Monkey" (1980), a stark observation of the attempt to escape the everyday. "Engaro" (1981) is breathtaking. It seems effortless, but is utterly disorienting and (you think) can't be topped -- until you get to "Gifco" (1992 and 1997). The emotional depth of "Gifco" is unfathomable, its interpretations so paradoxical and complex, you realize -- somewhere in the chaos of unease wherein you find yourself -- that Harrison is so far ahead of what most writers are capable of that the rest of the pack might as well be pressing styluses into clay and prosifying in cuneiform. Incredibly, his prose grows tighter, terser, even truer to the people (you can hardly refer to them as characters) of whom he writes. By the end, with "Black Houses"(1997) and "Science & the Arts"(1998), there's nothing left to say. There's a great deal to feel. You know you are in the rare presence of awesome genius. M. John Harrison is incomparable.("Waves of Fear," Cemetery Dance #43)

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Copyright © 2003 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.