Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Things That Never Happen
M. John Harrison
Orion, 436 pages

Things That Never Happen
M. John Harrison
M. John Harrison is a lifelong writer and author of many novels, among them: The Pastel City, A Storm of Wings, The Centauri Device, and The Course of the Heart. Under the pseudonym Gabriel King, he and Jane Johnson have written The Wild Road and The Golden Cat.

M. John Harrison Website
ISFDB Bibliography: Gabriel King
ISFDB Bibliography: M. John Harrison
SF Site Review: Light
SF Site Review: The Centauri Device
SF Site Review: Travel Arrangements
SF Site Review: The Wild Road and The Golden Cat
SF Site Review: The Wild Road

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil


'A languorous, unthinking contract exists between charlatan and victim, and understanding of which both are deeply aware.'
Things That Never Happen is a formidable if occasionally entropic collection of 24 short stories, published between 1975 and 2000. M. John Harrison is a writer's writer, deep diving into the abyss of human consciousness with a style and acuity matched only by the disturbing visions of Jonathan Carroll. The tales presented here are filled with people in places that we can all recognise, if only from peripheral vision. Mysteries wrapped in mundane coats are explored by those on the edge of society or sanity, or confronted head on by characters unafraid to look directly into the dark. Harrison's use of language is superb, his themes often intellectual, though not inaccessible. Particularly worthy of note are the rich descriptive paragraphs where the most ordinary object or scene is rendered with extraordinary clarity. Subtle and shifting shades of thought and deed combine with an eerie sense that despite the wealth of detail, what is shown is just the tip of an iceberg.

The subjects are varied, with no single theme or arc to tie them together. "Engaro" is a mind-bending story concerning a secret known to everyone but yourself. "The Gift" details an obsessive search for a hidden land, and put me in mind of the Rolling Stones lyric 'You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you get what you need.' "The New Rays" is a disturbing tale, contemplating the horror of incurable diseases. "Settling The World" is set after God, in his six-limbed glory, is found on the dark side of the Moon. Strangely, most of these stories are centred firmly in a place that is almost familiar reality, but with one foot over the line that some would deem psychosis. Harrison's characters endure and contend with issues that we all find unsettling. Sometimes I found this uplifting, informative and engaging, while on other occasions I was left feeling slightly depressed. Overall, the surgical precision of Harrison's work cuts deeper than most writers dare to go.

Things That Never Happen deserves it plaudits, but on balance it failed to work for me at a personal level. Perhaps it was the hint of pomposity, the repetition, or the fact that some of the questions posed had no real answer. Alternately, the failing could be all mine. Criticising someone whose finely honed ability with language is clearly head and shoulders above the majority of writers, makes me feel slightly awkward. However, I think it a fair observation to say that others will also find themselves not equipped to squeeze the full potential from Harrison's work. Any author of fiction, no matter how expert, has a certain duty to entertain. So while I acknowledge the brilliance of these stories, I must also report that some of them tipped over into areas that made me eye my stack of books yet to be read. Harrison is almost unparalleled as an observer of the human condition, and if that's what lights your candle, then Things That Never Happen will be a source of joy. If, on the other hand, you prefer science fiction to focus your mind's eye on matters literally out of this world and its troubles, this book might not be quite what you're looking for.

Copyright © 2005 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide