Desert writing

I’ve been reading The Gunslinger by Stephen King. Finally got ’round to it, and I’m enjoying it. It is written in an almost biblical language, similar to how Cormac McCarthy writes. Maybe it’s just desert writing.

Of course, I should’ve read this many years ago. My brother read most of the series almost a million years ago and suggested I read it as well, but he was into fantasy those years, and I’d been reading too many Stephen King books, so it didn’t happen. When my son also suggested more recently that I read it (particularly in a way that did not immediately feel like a mere suggestion), I figured I’d give it a go. And I’m glad I did.

The first sentence certainly is intriguing:

The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.

Here it is night in the desert and the gunslinger is dreaming:

The wind moaned, a witch with cancer in her belly. Every now and then a perverse down draft would make the smoke whirl and puff toward him and he breathed some of it in. It built dreams in the same way that a small irritant may build a pearl in an oyster. The gunslinger occasionally moaned with the wind. The stars were as indifferent to this as they were to wars, crucifixions, resurrections. This also would have pleased him.

A description of a weedeater (devil-grass is a kind of drug in the story):

It was a terrible face. The odor of devil-grass was a rank miasma. The eyes were damned, the staring, glaring eyes of one who sees but does not see, eyes ever turned inward to the sterile hell of dreams beyond control, dreams unleashed, risen out of the stinking swamps of the unconscious.

I like this description of wind in the desert, the bleakness of it:

The wind walked restlessly, told its tale to no one.

I think I may read more in this series.


It’s a start

I keep an eye on M. John Harrison’s blog, Ambiente Hotel.

He wrote the Empty Space trilogy. Perhaps you know it as the Kefahuchi Tract trilogy. Kefahuchi. On naming things in a science fiction story.

And today or yesterday, he posted something I enjoyed (he does that). It seems to be from the third book, Empty Space, but I’ll have to read the book again to make sure. It could be something he thought of while writing the book.

His post confirms…something. Justifies my keeping an eye on his blog, I guess. It confirms suspicions. I think he’s an extraordinary writer. There is a casual ease to his writing that must take enormous effort (I hope it does). It seems that every sentence belongs, and every bit of each sentence fits just right. It is tight but gives the impression of being laid back. A fighter that’s easing back on a lounge chair. Or something.

Anyway, I liked this bit in particular:

After about twenty minutes an old man was helped into the cafe by some railway staff. He had outlived himself. His bald brown head seemed too big for his neck; his underlip, the colour of uncooked liver, drooped in exhausted surprise at finding himself still there.


By mid afternoon she thought she might be in Sydenham Hill. She had covered miles under the enamel light, trespassed on the hard standings of a dozen middle class homes.

I don’t know. Read the whole thing. Read Light. Not because it’s science fiction, but because it is an experience.