The more of M. John Harrison I read, the more I begin to believe he emerged from the chrysalis fully fledged. Even his first published stories display a maturity, a poise that the majority of writers seek but can never find. That emergence is captured in Machine in Shaft Ten and Other Stories (1975). Like an artist’s preliminary sketches, many of the stories would later be developed into Harrison’s novel length work, notably the Viriconium sequence and The Centauri Device. Bleak visions tattooed onto vivid wastelands and fantastical landscapes, Harrison’s awareness of the written word is bar none.
The collection opens with its most incongruous tale, the eponymous “Machine in Shaft Ten.” In fact a Jerry Cornelius story that (intentionally and perfectly) smacks of Moorcock’s style, which in turn smacks of the classic British gentleman story caught up in events over his head, it looks into a giant emotion converter discovered at the Earth’s core. The second story, “The Lamia and Lord Cromis,” is likewise classic, but only in feel. One of the most dynamically realized settings in the collection, it tells of the sword-and-sorcery anti-hero, Lord Cromis “who imagined himself to be a better poet than a swordsman” as he hunts a beast through wilds of Viriconium with the dwarf Rotgob. The final showdown is the opposite of classic but fitting.