Just to whet your appetites a little. The book is still being edited, and there may be rewrites ahead, so these may not all be in the final book, but here are ten sentences chosen at random…
These Mal’akhim are spoken of throughout Araby in dark whispers and legends, and are capable of taking the shape of a man, but are neither human nor ensouled, and should they go without the human blood on which they make their beastly repasts, they soon begin to decay into a foul slurry.
If you think being a pretty, skinny little girlie gets you hit on by too many repulsive men, you need to try being a pretty (if I do say so myself — I *am* fucking fabulous), skinny little girlie with a British accent in the Midwestern US, attached to a political campaign which acts like a gigantic Strange Man Magnet.
While my illustrious colleague hath told a tale of the past, of Allah’s creation of the universe, and of the war between Jannat and Jahannam, my tale, no less fantastic, is a tale of the present, of a far-off, distant land, many leagues from here.
They’re treating Matt Nelson like he was Zac Efron (look, I have a little sister who was way into High School Musical, don’t judge me) or someone, and it’s a bit freaky.
Sometimes you couldn’t tell how nutty they were for a while — they’d be talking about normal stuff like how we should go back on the gold standard or something, and then they’d start in on how the Republican and Democrat parties were really fronts for two rival groups of aliens who secretly controlled the world, or how there was a mad god trapped in the centre of the earth that was controlling everyone’s thoughts.
“I mean he’s the Antichrist, Dave.”
It has been suggested by some that I should put down for posterity an account of the circumstances behind my induction into the organisation to which this missive, written currente calamo but not, I hope, to be taken as evidence of cacoethes scribendi, is dedicated, and which it is meet not to mention, at least in terms which the profane masses will readily comprehend.
There may be some confusion here, though, and Civitata may be an aspect of sakīnah, a word which means a blessing sent by Allah, but with overtones of “dwelling place” or sanctuary.
The typical Democratic voter, even those who support him, says “he’s a nice enough guy, I guess” and little else (the Republicans say “he’s a Communist atheist who wants to sell out our country”, but then they’d say that about Ronald Reagan these days).
On one side there’s a group of… I was going to say “people”, but in one sense they’re something closer to what you’d get if you crossed the Greek gods with the mathematics department at Cambridge University, while in another they’re more like laws of nature but with very slightly more personality.
Now I’ve finished the latest draft of my novel (and hopefully any further revisions will be relatively minor rather than the major changes I made this time) I can get back to blogging, and to start with, here’s a belated review of The Brakespeare Voyage (ebook here).
This is an odd book for me to review, in that I had — sort of — read it before I ever read it. Simon Bucher-Jones, one of the two co-authors, told me the basic story outline several years ago, and last year he sent me a late draft of the book so we could coordinate stories a little — there is something set up in this book that will resonate a little with my own next book (which will be published by the same publisher, so take this as my declaration of interest).
So when I actually read it, as an actual proper book, there was a strange feeling of deja vu — but then, that’s appropriate for a book like this, which is resolutely non-linear in its structure, and which is built on a dense network of allusions both to other books and to earlier and later events in the novel’s own timeline.
The book is, in essence, the story of a whaling ship, and as such all through it there are resonances with other nautical stories — the Jonahs (whalers who believe their own ship is also a whale), Captain No-One, one strand of the story starting “Call me Nebaioth” (Nebaioth being the son of the Biblical Ishmael) — but this is no ordinary whaling ship, being instead a ship that sails the void between brane universes.
Captaining it — at least in one version of reality — is Robert Scarratt, a figure who will be familiar to readers of The Book Of The War. Both Bucher-Jones and Dennis contributed to that book, and so it should be no surprise that this book makes more use of the Faction Paradox mythology than many of the books have up until this point. Where books like Erasing Sherlock or Warlords Of Utopia are Faction Paradox books because they have a certain atmosphere that fits with the other books, this is something that couldn’t have been done as anything else. It makes use of so much of what is established in the other Faction Paradox books that it’s impossible to conceive of it being done in any other series.
And it’s absolutely marvellous. While the basic form of the narrative is that of a nautical adventure — the kind of story that was mostly told between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries — all the elements of that style of story are given new forms and context in a story which works on the grandest scales imaginable.
Some may find the novel’s form — with multiple narratorial viewpoints intertwined (though mostly just those of Scarratt and Nebaioth), each telling only part of the story and not in chronological sequence, with some metafictional elements also thrown in — difficult, if they’re coming to this book only knowing the authors for Doctor Who spin-off fiction. But the truth is that the form merely fits the subject matter, and Faction Paradox more than any other setting seems to demand this kind of structure (there are superficial structural similarities both to Lawrence Burton’s Against Nature and to the next Faction Paradox novel, though all three books were conceived independently).
The book requires some work from the reader, but surprisingly little for such an idea-rich book. Practically every page, and certainly every chapter, contains an idea around which a lesser writer would base an entire book on its own. My own particular favourite was Hilberta’s Hostel, which I found a beautifully funny concept.
I’m really not doing justice to the book, but it’s probably the best thing that either Bucher-Jones or Dennis have written, and another sign that the Faction Paradox series is in safe hands at Obverse.
For those who are interested, Simon has posted several pieces about the evolution of the novel on his blog, where you can also read some pieces of Faction Paradox flash-fiction.
As Phil Purser-Halard has now announced it, I can tell you that my story The Adventure Of The Piltdown Prelate will be published in Tales Of The Great Detectives, a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories set in the City Of The Saved. Here’s the blurb and list of authors from the link:
The Afterlives of Sherlock Holmes
The City of the Saved houses every human being who ever lived. Inevitably, its immortal Citizens entertain themselves by recreating those who never did. One fiction above all has drawn the attentions of the Remakers – a character existing in countless interpretations, many of them now alive and in business together as the Great Detective Agency.
These are their tales.
Read about Holmes and Watson’s sojourn in the strangely clichéd Mansion of Doom, about the Case of the Pipe Dream and the Adventure of the Piltdown Prelate. Learn what happens when a Watson falls in love, when a Moriarty goes missing, and when Sherlock Holmes comes face-to-face with his arch-nemesis, the sinister Dr Conan Doyle…
The stories in it are:
Young Sherlock Holmes and the Mansion of Doom – Stephen Marley
Eliminating the Impossible – Jess Faraday
The Case of the Pipe Dream – Chantelle Messier
Art in the Blood – Kelly Hale
The Adventure of the Piltdown Prelate – Andrew Hickey
The Baker Street Dozen – Elizabeth Evershed
I’ve read Jess Faraday’s story already (to tie some bits in with mine) and it’s excellent, and both Evershed and Hale have done some extremely good work in the past. I’m not familiar with the other two writers, but the last two City Of The Saved collections were both absolutely full of wonderful stuff, so I’m sure their stories will be great.
(Crossposted from Goodreads)
I really need to post more reviews of books I’ve read, don’t I? I’m reading them far faster than I can review them. But I’m going to try to do more.
To start with, here’s the sequel to last year’s Tales Of The City, and so I have to add my obligatory disclaimer:
I am not only friendly with the editor of this book, but also with some of the writers in it and the publisher. I have a novel coming out from this publisher at some point late this year or early next, and both the editor of the book and one of the authors in it have bought stories off me for forthcoming anthologies. It would not be right for me to review this book without mentioning that.
But it also wouldn’t be right for me to do it without pointing out that I *became* friendly with them because I admire their work and share something of their aesthetic, so I personally believe that rather than my friendship with these people causing my enjoyment of their work, rather my enjoyment of the work affects the friendship.
For those who don’t know, the City Of The Saved is a fictional environment, established in The Book of the War and Of the City of the Saved…, in which every human being from the first Australopithicene to the last posthuman demigod has been resurrected after the end of the universe. Not only that, but the technology exists to ‘resurrect’ fictional characters as well, so there’s a detective agency staffed entirely by different versions of Sherlock Holmes, for example.
As a setting it’s quite brilliant, and I loved Of The City Of The Saved… , but that was largely because Philip Purser-Hallard himself is such an excellent writer. What surprised me was last year when Tales of the City came out and showed that the City is an extraordinarily good playground for a whole variety of different types of storytelling, not just Purser-Hallard’s eschatological SF, but everything from Regency pastiche to dark horror (and that was just in one story).
More Tales Of The City is, if anything, better than that first volume. Possibly I think that because while the earlier collection was loosely based on the theme of Greek myth, this is a collection of stories that are, in one way or another, mysteries, and I prefer that genre, but either way, this is an astonishingly good, varied collection.
I won’t talk about everything in it, but just briefly discuss two stories I particularly enjoyed. The first is Double Trouble At The Parasites On The Proletariat Club by Simon Bucher-Jones. This is a Wodehouse pastiche, and anyone who’s ever read one of these knows they’re notoriously hard to do — Wodehouse was the greatest prose stylist in the English language, which pretty much by definition none of his imitators are. This means it’s very, very easy indeed for even a writer as good as Alan Moore to fall flat on his face and come across looking like an idiot.
Bucher-Jones has, happily, come up with a rather ingenious solution to this problem, which is to have his narrator be an idiot who is attempting to pattern his life on Wodehouse’s characters — thus the character is *meant* to be narrating in Wodehouse-pastiche rather than in Wodehouse’s actual voice. This allows him to play with Wodehouse’s style without having to match it exactly, and the result is a rather lovely mystery-farce which hinges on a character note from some of Wodehouse’s early work.
The other stand-out story is The Mystery Of The Rose by Richard Wright, who’s not a writer I’d noticed before, though he has stories in some Iris Wildthyme collections. It’s another literary pastiche, and an astonishing tour de force, as he does Raymond Chandler and William Shakespeare simultaneously. Here, a recreated version of Shakespeare’s Richard III (as played by Ian McKellen), now working as a private detective, is hired by Elizabeth Woodville to discover if the real Richard III actually killed her children. He narrates the entire thing in first person, of course:
The patter of my speech confirms the truth –
my author’s revered voice is known to all.
A son of York, the plotting king, the fiend,
Richard third, the deformed, dethroned, deceased.
Yet never walked I through the world you knew.
Pentameter crossed not that monarch’s lips:
his northern tongue could scarce concoct such verse.
A Remake I, a story given flesh.
A fictive being pinned to humanity’s
understanding of itself so surely
that I have earned a place at the end of Time.
And the introspection of the Chandleresque mystery works perfectly with the Shakespearean soliloquising, as Wright tells a story of power, guilt, morality, free will and responsibility. It’s a rare pastiche that manages to evoke two very different authors simultaneously and bring their similarities into focus, while still remaining a worthwhile and inventive story in its own right.
While I’m not going to review every story in that much detail, the other four stories in the book all rise to this level as well, as does Purser-Hallard’s linking material. I can’t imagine an SF/F reader who wouldn’t enjoy this collection.
Full disclosure before I start this — I am friendly with the author and the publisher, and I also potentially have a book coming out from this publisher. I don’t think that this has biased my opinions in any way — I became friendly with them because we shared a lot of tastes, so it’s unsurprising that I would then enjoy this book — but it’s only fair to point out up-front.
I’ve been putting off reviewing this one for quite some time, because as I’ve said before I’ve not been thinking very well for the last few months due to ill-health, and this is a book that deserves a more considered, thoughtful response than perhaps I am able to give. However, I’m still not fully well, and don’t know how long I would have to wait otherwise, so this is my best assessment given my limited faculties.
Against Nature is a fascinating, difficult book, that makes no concessions to the reader but is all the better for it. It’s dense, allusive, and expects its reader to think — but it gives plenty to think about. This is Faction Paradox in big, important, thoughtful mode, rather than light adventure mode — think Newtons Sleep or, especially, This Town Will Never Let Us Go rather than Erasing Sherlock or Warlords Of Utopia. I’ve read it twice, and I still haven’t got all of it, but that’s a good thing — this is a book that absolutely rewards rereading.
I loved it.
I’m mistletoe, Todd thought, I was living on that tree, and now I’m cut off, just moving forward until I sputter out. He wondered if this life might present him with other obvious symbols for his consideration, truths revealed in the everyday details. It felt a little like this whole world was all for his benefit, so maybe.
Against Nature is about sacrifice, and the nature of sacrifice, about dying-and-resurrected gods (and ones that die without resurrection), about what it means to be cut off from one’s culture and one’s past. It’s a book that could only have been written by someone profoundly disconnected from his own culture — and it’s no surprise that between writing the early drafts of this, and its final publication, Lawrence emigrated to the US.
The same injustice had befallen Europe a few centuries earlier, barbarians at the gates and so on, swords turning out to be mightier than pens despite the proverb. It was always the stupid idea that caught on, the story that even the village idiot could follow without giving himself a headache. Human history was a ratings war, and people would always choose the flashing lights, special effects, and generic hero pleading you don’t have to do this! over things of value.
One of the ways in which Lawrence creates this effect has been misunderstood by several of the readers, particularly on some Doctor Who forums (Faction Paradox still has a residual connection to what Lawrence refers to as Magic Doctor Who Man Telly Adventure Time). The book is set in multiple times, in multiple locations, with multiple cultures. Two of those cultures — the Great Houses and the medieval Mexica people (the people we think of, wrongly, as “the Aztecs”) are ones which are very, very different from the likely cultures of any of the readers, not only in behaviour and attitudes, but in language.
Lawrence throws us in at the deep end, cutting rapidly, every two or three pages, between wildly different locations and time periods, with stories that parallel and comment upon each other, but do not link up until near the end. Each of these different cultures is presented to us without comment or explanation, so our first glimpse of the Great Houses’ culture comes with:
The blinkers were fashioned from the clothing of the deceased, specifically a pressure suit once belonging to Herrare, the material cut to form a collar of hide curving around the eyes in the manner of goggles. Emioushameddhoran vel-Xianthellipse adjusted the knotted strips of fabric which kept the blinkers in place and took a moment to inspect herself in the cheval glass
while the Mexica strand of the story starts:
It was the day Ome Ozmatli of the trecena Ce Izcuintli as reckoned by the Tonalpohualli calendar of the Mexica — Two Monkey, presiding Deities being Xochipilli, Xipe Totec and Quetzalcoatl. This was hardly an auspicious combination by which to embark upon travel, but there being only nine days left before the occasion of the impending New Fire Ceremony, Momacani was left with little choice.
The cultures involved are ones which Lawrence has an expert understanding of — he has been studying the Mexica people for decades, and has been involved in Faction Paradox fandom (for want of a better word) for almost as long. The result is that he can write about these cultures fluently, from the perspective of someone who lives there, because he does, at least internally.
Several readers complained about the fact that they had to keep track of unfamiliar names like Emioushameddhoran and terms like Ce Izcuintli, and there is no question that this does make the book many times more difficult to read than it otherwise would be. But this seems to me to be entirely intentional — the reader experiences a miniature culture shock every two to five pages, and has to assimilate everything with no background. One is as rootless as Todd, the closest thing to an audience-identification figure in this book.
But I’m making this sound like it’s a hard slog, something to read out of a sense of duty, and it’s anything but. It’s a clever, thoughtful, sometimes funny, always thought-provoking book, and will almost certainly prove the best novel I read this year.
In other news, I’ve decided to start putting my book reviews on Goodreads, since Amazon don’t want authors posting book reviews on their site. I’ve had the account a couple of years, but only just started using it. Add me here if you want. Or not.