“You think you see the real world. But you don’t.”
You Should Come With Me Now, by M. John Harrison, is a collection of forty-two short stories written by one of the pioneers of New Wave Fiction. It is his first published collection of short fiction for over fifteen years. The stories offer an unsettling view of a world that is at times surreal. In many ways they depict the negative, stripping back experiences and emotions to show how skewed accepted behaviour can be. The cast of characters vary in time and place but share a need to find a personal space where they can be a version of themselves each considers authentic. Some attempt to reinvent themselves and those they interact with to achieve this. The self-involvement of protagonists is dissected demonstrating how much is ignored if not fitting the narrative a person creates.
Slightly longer stories are interspersed with flash fiction. My favourite of these micro stories was Jackdaw Bingo which depicts a time when aliens arrive on earth and seek the dominant species to interact with and learn from. It is amusingly perceptive, as are many of these tales.
Another that deals with alien invasion is The Crisis in which London’s financial sector is taken over and the authorities, as ever, seek those willing to sacrifice themselves for what is claimed to be the common good.
“You can’t be the rulers if you have no country to rule.”
There are dreams, ghosts, psychodrama. There are manipulations and powerplay between individuals and those granted authority, the acceptance of such in exchange for what is regarded as a safe existence.
“The strangest thing, he says in a kind of gentle wonder, is to live in a time like this, both bland and rotten”
My view of the world is not as negative as is depicted but I can appreciate the sentiments to which the author gives rein. There is little explanation which adds to the potency of each vignette.
In Autotelia offers an alternative view of a future society where entrance to London requires strictly controlled medical checks. Told from the point of view of a doctor who has distanced herself from the disturbing nature of this work it ends with an outsiders view of the doctor. How challenging to be confronted with what others see.
Psychoarcheolgy is an amusing take on the discovery of the skeletal remains of the famous under construction sites.
“dig for the evidence, develop the interactive exhibit, crowdsource the story the public wants to hear. It’s the contemporary equivalent of the religious relics industry”
“Why have we suddenly started digging them up like this? […] All they mean to us is what we want them to mean.”
Dog People portrays the rise and fall of a sexual relationship alongside the complexities of family ties. In this interpretation hope is transient, resentments forever bubbling to the surface.
Although described as science fiction or fantasy, and many of the stories are not of our world, the leaps of imagination within each tale enable the author to parody real life politics, capitalism, and even his own domain, the literary elite. Many of the characters exude a quiet desperation, a distancing of themselves from other’s expectations.
A wide variety of subjects are covered with a few recurring themes. In a collection of this size there will be stories that resonate and others generating a less visceral response. I was amused, challenged and, at time, confused. Overall though my first foray into this award winning author’s work impressed.
Probably best dipped into rather than gorged in a sitting. A varied, intriguing read.
You Should Come With Me Now is published by Comma Press.