M. John Harrison

M. John Harrison
M. John Harrison
Born Michael John Harrison
26 July 1945 (1945-07-26) (age 66)
Rugby, Warwickshire
Occupation Writer
Nationality British
Period 1966—Present
Genres Science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction
Notable award(s) 1989 Boardman Tasker Prize
2002 J. Tiptree Jr. Award
2007 Arthur C. Clarke Award
2008 Philip K. Dick Award


M. John Harrison (born 26 July 1945), known as Mike Harrison, is an English author and critic. His work includes the Viriconium sequence of novels and short stories, (1982), Climbers (1989), and the Kefahuchi Tract series which begins with Light (2002). He currently resides in London.



Life and work

Early years

Harrison was born in Rugby, Warwickshire in 1945. In an interview with Zone magazine, Harrison says "I liked anything bizarre, from being about four years old. I started on Dan Dare and worked up the Absurdists. At 15 you could catch me with a pile of books that contained an Alfred Bester, a Samuel Beckett, a Charles Williams, the two or three available J.G. Ballards, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, some Keats, some Alan Ginsberg, maybe a Thorne Smith. I've always been pick 'n' mix: now it's a philosophy. ("Disillusioned by the Actual: An Interview with M. John Harrison" by Patrick Hudson, [4]).

According to the jacket blurb of his first novel, he was treated to a technical education which didn't stick; he worked at various times as a groom (North Warwicks Hunt), a teacher, and a clerk for a masonic charity outfit; his hobbies included dwarfs, electric guitars and writing pastiches of H.H. Munro.

The New Wave science fiction movement and the Viriconium sequence

His first short story was published in 1966 by Kyril Bonfiglioli at Science Fantasy magazine, on the strength of which he moved to London. He there met Michael Moorcock, who was editing new Worlds magazine.

From 1968 to 1975 he was literary editor of the New Wave science fiction magazine New Worlds. He was central to the New Wave movement which also included writers such as Norman Spinrad, Barrington Bayley and Thomas M. Disch. As reviewer for New Worlds he often used the pseudonym "Joyce Churchill" and was trenchantly critical of many works and writers published under the rubric of science fiction.

Amongst his works of that period are three stories utilising the Jerry Cornelius character invented by Michael Moorcock. (These stories do not appear in any of Harrison's own collections but do appear in the Nature of the Catastrophe and New Nature of the Catastophe published under Moorcock's name.) Other early stories appearing as from 1966, featured in anthologies such as such as New Writings in SF edited by John Carnell, and in magazines such as Transatlantic Review and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Harrison later moved to Manchester and was a regular contributor to New Manchester Review (1978–79). David Britton and Michael Butterworth of Savoy Books employed him to write in their basement, commissioning what eventually became the novel In Viriconium.

His early novels, the dystopian The Committed Men, The Pastel City and the revisionist space opera The Centauri Device have been reprinted several times. The latter was included in the SF Masterworks series, though Harrison is reputedly not fond of it. His work is profoundly leftist and committed to depicting alienated characters in the world of late Capitalism. Indeed, in interviews, M. John Harrison has described himself as an anarchist,[1] and Michael Moorcock wrote in an essay entitled "Starship Stormtroopers" that, "His books are full of anarchists -- some of them very bizarre like the anarchist aesthetes of The Centauri Device."[2]

Between 1976 and 1986 he lived in the Peak District, where his interest in rock climbing led to the autobiographical novel Climbers (1989), the first novel to receive the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature. Harrison also ghost-wrote the autobiography of one of Britain's best rock climbers, Ron Fawcett (Fawcett on Rock, 1987, as by Mike Harrison).[3] Harrison has repeatedly affirmed in print the importance of rock climbing for his writing as an attempt to grapple with reality and its implications, which he had lost sight of while writing fantasy. The differenc ein his approach can be obsrved in the stylistic differences between the first novel of the Viriconium sequence The Pastel City and the second, A Storm of Wings.

In Viriconium was nominated for the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1982. The Viriconium sequence, influenced in its imagery by the poems of T.S. Eliot, consists of three novels and various short stories; its most complete version is the 2005 omnibus simply titled Viriconium which includes all the connected novels and most of the short stories. The graphic novel The Luck in the Head adapts one of his short works set in the sequence.

Later work

Subsequent novels and short stories, such as The Course of the Heart (1991) and "Empty" (1993), were set between London and the Peak District. They have a lyrical style and a strong sense of place, and take their tension from characteristically conflicting veins of mysticism and realism. The Course of the Heart deals in part with a magical experiment gone wrong, and with an imaginary country which may exist at the heart of Europe, as well as Gnostic themes.

The novel Signs of Life (1996) is a romantic thriller which explores concerns about genetics and biotechnology amidst the turmoil of what might be termed a three-way love affair between its central characters.

Beginning with The Wild Road in 1996, he co-wrote four linked fantasies about cats with Jane Johnson, under the pseudonym "Gabriel King".

Harrison won the Richard Evans Award in 1999 (named after the near-legendary figure of UK publishing) given to the author who has contributed significantly to the SF genre without concomitant commercial success.

In 2003 Harrison was on the jury of the Michael Powell Award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

His science fiction novel Light was co-winner of the James Tiptree, Jr. Award in 2003. Its sequel, Nova Swing (2006), won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2007[4] and the Philip K. Dick Award in 2008.[5]

Harrison has collaborated on short stories with Simon Ings and with Simon Pummel on the short film Ray Gun Fun (1998). His work has been some by some as forming part of the movement dubbed the New Weird, along with writers such as China Mieville, though Harrison himself resists being labelled as part of any literary movement.

He recently provided material for performance by Barbara Campbell (1001 Nights Cast, 2007, 2008) and Kate McIntosh (Loose Promise, 2007).

He has taught creative writing courses in Devon and Wales, focusing on landscape and autobiography, with Adam Lively and the travel writer James Perrin. Since 1991, Harrison has reviewed fiction and nonfiction for The Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the Times Literary Supplement and the New York Times.

His short stories have appeared in magazines as diverse as Conjunctions ("Entertaining Angels Unawares", Fall issue 2002), the Independent on Sunday ("Cicisbeo", 2003), the Times Literary Supplement ("Science and the Arts", 1999) and Women's Journal ("Old Women", 1982). They were collected in Travel Arrangements (2000) and Things That Never Happen (2002).

In 2009, Harrison shared (with Sarah Hall (writer) and Nicholas Royle) the judging of the Manchester Fiction Prize.

On 6 June 2009, Harrison wrote on his official blog that he has three major works in progress. These are: "(a) a third Light novel, which will collide A.E. van Vogt with all sorts of other unlikely people" - this novel has been announced as Pearlant, for publication in April 2012; (b) "a collection of short stories, some of which will be voiced in a familiar way, some of which won’t;" and (c) "something I would describe as a literary seaside concept-horror novel if four-word descriptions weren’t a betrayal of everything I stand for…"


Harrison is stylistically an Imagist and his early work relies heavily on the use of strange juxtapositions characteristic of absurdism. His work has been acclaimed by writers including Angela Carter, Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, and Clive Barker, who has referred to him as "a blazing original". In a Locus magazine interview, Harrison describes his work as "a deliberate intention to illustrate human values by describing their absence."

Many of Harrison's novels include expansions or reworkings of previously published short stories. For instance, "The Ice Monkey" (title story of the collection) provides the seed for the novel Climbers. The story "Isobel Avens returns to Stepney in the Spring" is a short version of the story expanded as the novel Signs of Life.



Year Title Notes
1971 The Committed Men Sf novel set in a post-apocalyptic Britain
The Pastel City First novel of the Viriconium sequence
1975 The Centauri Device Stand-alone space opera
The Machine in Shaft Ten short story collection
1980 A Storm of Wings Second novel of the Viriconium sequence, British Fantasy Award nominee, 1981[6]
1982 In Viriconium Third novel of the Viriconium sequence, published in the US as The Floating Gods. Nominated for the Guardian Fiction Prize. British Fantasy Award and Philip K. Dick Award nominee, 1983[7]
1985 Viriconium Nights short story collection
The Ice Monkey short story collection
1989 Climbers winner of the Boardman Tasker Prize
1992 The Course of the Heart novel
1996 Signs of Life novel, British SF Award nominee, 1997;[8] British Fantasy Award nominee, 1998[9]
1997 The Wild Road as Gabriel King, written in collaboration with Jane Johnson
1998 The Golden Cat as Gabriel King, written in collaboration with Jane Johnson
2000 Travel Arrangements short story collection
The Knot Garden as Gabriel King, written in collaboration with Jane Johnson
2001 Nonesuch as Gabriel King, written in collaboration with Jane Johnson
2002 Light co-winner of the 2002 James Tiptree, Jr. Award; British SF Award nominee, 2002;[10] Arthur C. Clarke Award nominee, 2003[11]
Things That Never Happen omnibus edition of The Ice Monkey and Travel Arrangements, plus some previously uncollected material
2005 Anima omnibus edition of Signs of Life and The Course of the Heart. Its title gives a clue to the Jungian themes in Harrison's work.
2006 Nova Swing Sequel to Light, Arthur C. Clarke and Philip K. Dick Awards winner, 2007;[12] BSFA nominee, 2006;[13] British Fantasy and John W. Campbell Awards nominee, 2007.[12]

Graphic novels

Year Title Notes
1991 The Luck in the Head A Viriconium story adapted in collaboration with illustrator Ian Miller, based on short story of the same name
2000 Viriconium German language adaptation of In Viriconium, illustrated by Dieter Jüdt


Year Title Notes
1987 Fawcett on Rock as "Mike Harrison", ghostwritten autobiography of legendary British rock climber
2005 Parietal Games edited by Mark Bould and Michelle Reid, compiles Harrison's reviews and essays from 1968 to 2004 as well as eight essays on Harrison's fiction by other authors


Critical essays

Leigh Blackmore. "Undoing the Mechanisms: Genre Expectation, Subversion and Anti-Consolation in the Kefahuchi Tract Novels of M. John Harrison." Studies in the Fantastic. 2 (Winter 2008/Spring 2009). (University of Tampa Press). [5]

External links

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