(2017) M. John Harrison, Comma Press, £9.99, pbk. 259pp. ISBN 978-1-910-97434-6
This is a collection of new wave urban fantasy and new weird short stories from the Arthur C. Clarke Award winner for his novel Nova Swing who also won a James Tiptree Jr Award for Light and a Boardman Tasker Award for his mountaineering novel Climbers.
What we get for our money here is Harrison’s first short story collection in fifteen years, containing 42 stories and curiously subtitled “Stories of Ghosts”. Although there should perhaps be a warning to the reader that not all stories contain ghosts, but in these stories people have the potential to haunt themselves. Some of these stories have appeared in newspapers, or been standalone chapbooks, or were published in themed anthologies, like one devoted to unreliable stories about London, or were published in magazines like Time Out, or New Scientist, even appearing as part of an exhibition. Many of the stories haven’t appeared because they are very short, coming in at only a page long, sometimes only a paragraph long, but like the stories collected in China Mieville’s Three Moments of an Explosion some of them could very easily be longer – written as stories, novellas, even novels such is depth of imagination or central idea within them. Some are dark, but some of the very short pieces are playful and humourous like those which tip their hat towards the work of Tolkien, or perhaps George R. R. Martin as elfish royalty encounter real estate deals, nursing homes and even celebrity shopping channels. In one very short story called ‘Lost and Found’ we simply get an intriguing snapshot of a lost and found office and the objects waiting to be reclaimed, if ever, and in ‘Studio’ there is a similar snapshot of an artist’s studio and the objects there in. In ‘Places You Didn’t Think to Look For Yourself’ we get a list of places where the reader isn’t - had this story been set out differently it could easily have been a poem. In ‘Jackdaw Bingo, jackdaws win the lottery when aliens arrive after humanity has long gone and the last sentence is a killer,while the very next story ‘Earth Advengers’ spoofs comics and superhero movies.
Some of the longer pieces are very topical and simply genius such as ‘Psychoarcheology’ where it is not the bones of royalty that are dug up, but their ghosts, and there are ghosts everywhere, and often debates as to whom they belong to. After a heart attack, a man in the story called ‘Yummie’ finds it difficult to adjust mentally and physically to that attack, his treatment and potential side-effects, not to mention what he encounters on the road to recovery, real or imagined. Medical checks are also to the fore in ‘Autotelia’ where those wanting to enter London have to undergo strict medical checks. We have stories on a wide variety of subjects, including one about an alien invasion of London’s financial district, or a story about a man trying to dig his way out of a cell with the poorest of tools, or a man trying to convince his ex-partner that the man she keeps seeing isn’t him and makes a convincing case why that is true by revealing the history of their past relationship. Past relationships also feature heavily in the story ‘Animals’ where a woman glimpses visions from the past, from ghosts that haunt where she is staying, or something else? We even get a blast from Harrison’s past work, but no spoilers here.
The prose is a delight, and like a good malt, You Should Come With Me Now should be dipped over several sittings and enjoyed sip by sip, story by story, after all you can have too much of a good thing. Recommended.
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