REVIEW #74 | SETTLING THE WORLD by M. John Harrison (eARC)

Settling the World: Selected Stories 1970-2020 by M. John Harrison, Jennifer Hodgson

Title: Settling the World: Selected Stories 1970-2020

Author: M. John Harrison

Series or Standalone?: Standalone

Pub. Date: 20 August 2020

Synopsis:

Throughout his career, M. John Harrison’s writing has defied categorisation, building worlds both unreal and all-too real, overlapping and interlocking with each other. His stories are replete with fissures and portals into parallel dimensions, unidentified countries and lost lands. But more important than the places they point to are the obsessions that drive the people who so believe in them, characters who spend their lives hunting for, and haunted by, clues and maps that speak to the possibility of somewhere else.

This selection of stories, drawn from over 50 years of writing, bears witness to that desire for difference: whether following backstreet occultists, amateur philosophers, down-and-outs or refugees, we see our relationship with ‘the other’ in microscopic detail, and share in Harrison’s rejection of the idea that the world, or our understanding of it, could ever be settled.

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • character death
  • blood and gore

Representation:

  • N/A

⭐⭐⭐ .5

3.5/5 stars

*I received an eARC via the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This anthology has such a variety of stories that nearly everyone will find at least one that they like and/or connect with! Myself included.

Settling the World is an anthology of short stories the author, Harrison, has written between the years 1970 and 2020. At first, I thought it was primarily a science fiction anthology — especially with the first few stories — but as I read more and more, I realized that the anthology doesn’t fit one specific genre. Yes, many of them stories would be considered science fiction (and they flow between “hard” sci-fi and “soft” sci-fi), but many more are contemporary with a flash of fantasy/science fiction, or even a bit of thriller/horror. I was put off by the focus on aliens and the like in the first few stories, but there were quite a few later on that I could not read fast enough.

Harrison has a way of writing that reminds me of older books (pre-1990, let’s say), which makes sense, considering the stories have been written anywhere as early as 1970. It wasn’t bad by any means, and for a few stories, I quite enjoyed it. It just caught me off guard, is all. Also, I felt like I couldn’t really connect with many of the protagonists, and as someone who prefers character-focused stories, this was something that was hard for me to get over. That doesn’t mean the writing itself was “bad” in an objective way, it just wasn’t my personal cup of tea.

However, like I said earlier, there is so much variety in the stories that I think everyone will find at least one story that they love. I have my fair share, for sure! The tone of each story is distinct, and it’s interesting to see that, even though Harrison usually uses first person, the narrator sounds so different. In my experience, first person POV usually blends together, but each seemed to have their own voice. A pleasant surprise!

Overall, while I didn’t love every short story in the collection, I thought Settling the World‘s variety in genres was a breath of fresh air, and I’m glad the publisher reached out to me to read and review it!

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