You Should Come With Me Now is M. John Harrison’s latest collection of weird tales from Comma Press, who kindly provided me with a copy for review. Harrison stands alone, in my mind at least, as the only author I can think of who started in science fiction, transformed into a literary author, and then transformed back. More importantly, he’s one of the greatest British authors of the post-war period. I’ve been reading him for close to twenty years now, since I discovered his Viriconium series in the Millennium Fantasy Masterworks series circa 2000. Even then he was straddling genres, as he also had The Centauri Device in the Science Fiction Masterworks. I liked those, but I loved his literary novels and especially Climbers best of all. Harrison returned to SF with Light and its sequels Nova Swing and Empty Space (this last volume is one of the more baroque and difficult texts I’ve encountered in any genre). There were short fiction collections along the way in The Ice Monkey and Travel Arrangements. Harrison has been at it for all of fifty years, and on the basis of the current volume he hasn’t lost the knack for creating unsettling tales that are at once exotic and homely.
These stories are uncompromising, however. Many are filled with strange architecture, strange oddments and stranger motivations. No one is ever particularly happy in an M. John Harrison story and there’s rarely anything like a happy ending on offer. This isn’t a criticism, more a warning: don’t expect any answers. Some of these stories are set in the land of Autotelia, which seems to exist partly in our world (you can fly there from London). Others remind me of the earlier Viriconium stories. There are a number of flash fiction stories on offer, none of which I bonded with particularly, as well as pieces that remind me of J. G. Ballard’s ‘condensed novels’ in The Atrocity Exhibition (the final imaginary review in ‘Imaginary Reviews’ is of ‘The Last Fish’, which is more than a little Ballardian). My favourite pieces tended to be those that were longer and more human, some of which are set in entirely in our world. This is my way of saying that I still prefer the M. John Harrison of Climbers to that of Empty Space.
‘Cicisbeo’ is an engaging domestic story of a kind that Harrison has been writing for decades, a sort of low-key love triangle that reminds me of Graham Greene’s ‘The Destructors’. In ‘Yummie’, a man wakes from heart surgery to find that he’s being shadowed by a creature that offers obscure advice and no one else can see. ‘Dog People’ is an off-beat romance of the strangest variety, featuring the aggressive Myra, the ugliest woman our protagonist has ever seen (it doesn’t take long for them to start fucking, however). My favourite story was ‘Entertaining Angels Unawares’, written in the mode of M. John Harrison’s I like best, in a similar vein to The Course of the Heart and Signs of Life. Here you’ll find a dilapidated church undergoing renovation, a persistent dream of chopping people’s heads off with an enormous sword (‘biggest fucker you’ve ever seen’) and gobbo (‘a kind of grout made from mud and goat-hair’). Many of the varied offerings in You Should Come With Me Now are too elliptical for dullards like myself to fully comprehend, but it’s a book of magic and perverse humour nonetheless.