Laura Tobin is a Private Investigator in the City, where the human race lives. All of it, from the first Australopithecus to the posthumans of ten million AD and beyond. A hundred undecillion people, resurrected at the end of time in new, immortal bodies incapable of being physically harmed. So she’s more than a little surprised to get her first murder case…
One thing I’ve decided to do this year is to write a blog entry reviewing every book I read (specifically every book in paper format that I read for pleasure and that I haven’t read before). Unfortunately, this is going to mean a certain amount of Doctor Who-heaviness at the beginning – Big Finish recently had an online clearance sale on books they’ve lost their license to publish, and so I bought four, which should be in the post now – but that’s not especially representative of my reading habits, which actually stretch at the moment mostly to pop-science, political comedy and 20th century history.
Of The City Of The Saved… by Philip Purser-Hallard is sort of a Doctor Who book, but not really. During the 1990s, after Doctor Who was taken off the TV, there were many novels written about the character. While the BBC owned things like the Doctor, the TARDIS, the Time Lords and so on, all the writers of the novels owned any characters or concepts they came up with.
So when the editor of the books decided he didn’t like some of Lawrence Miles’ ideas any more, Miles took his ball away with him and started his own fictional universe, notionally separate from the main Doctor Who line, with a thinly disguised Gallifrey, Time Lords, Master and so on, plus not-at-all disguised characters from his Doctor Who books (or those of others who allowed him to use their characters) like companion Chris Cwej and half-human half-TARDIS Compassion (although Miles wasn’t allowed to use the word TARDIS of course, so she was just half-‘timeship’…)
But what he mostly took from the Doctor Who books was the concept he’d created of a War between the Time Lords and an unknown Enemy – a Time War where the whole of reality would regularly get rewritten. Yes, it does sound a little bit like some of the things in the Welsh Series, doesn’t it? (And if you think it does, you might want to read Richard Flowers’ article in PEP! when it finally, belatedly comes out…)
And he, and a group of other writers, fleshed out this universe in Faction Paradox: The Book Of The War, one of the best SF/Fantasy books I’ve read in years – somewhere between encyclopedia, short story collection and RPG sourcebook, it is denser with ideas than almost any SF book you’ll read – and good ones.
And one of the best was the City Of The Saved – a city in a point straight after the destruction of this universe, as big as a galaxy, or bigger, in which every human being (or cyborg, or human-alien hybrid – but *not* any fully non-human lifeforms) was resurrected on the same day, to live forever, without being told who had resurrected them, or how it had happened.
Of The City Of The Saved… is the second novel in the Faction Paradox series that came after The Book Of The War, and generally regarded as the best. And it is an extraordinarily good novel, teeming with ideas, from the Reproduction Tanks in which ‘clones’ of people who never lived to be grown, to the Manfolk with their lethal means of reproduction.
Those who like their SF to be full of ideas will definitely enjoy the book – fans of Warren Ellis’ better work, or Philip K Dick, will find much to their taste here. I was unsurprised to see in the notes at the end that the concept of the City owed much to the Omega Point idea of Frank Tipler, as put on a more rational footing by David Deutsch in his book The Fabric Of Reality (which I’ve spoken about here), as this is the kind of ultra-speculative SF/Fantasy that feeds off the most imaginative scientific ideas.
But unlike much of that kind of material, Purser-Hallard appears to have a good grounding in the humanities as well. A crucial plot-point is telegraphed for those who know their Roman history (and in fact the whole book exhibits a reasonable knowledge of Ancient Rome), and the book is actually well-written rather than just functionally written (a surprising amount of SF is written by people whose prose style is merely adequate even when their ideas sing). Purser-Hallard has obviously read (or at least flicked through) Ulysses and picked up some of Joyce’s ideas, and can also write convincingly in the voices of very different people from different societies.
The story itself is a little unsatisfying – set up as a murder mystery (if one were to try to assign a genre to this, the best one could do is to call it post-Singularity noir), it’s not a ‘fair play’ mystery – there’s no way one could guess in advance the true reasons behind the murder – but the fun is in the twists and turns it takes to get there. (Also, for those interested in the overall War plotline, some of the themes of the story make for an interesting suggestion as to who Purser-Hallard, at least, believes the Enemy to be).
The one really significant flaw, though, actually comes from the book’s strengths – the City is such a wonderful environment, and such a beguiling mystery, that the climax of the novel, in which all its secrets are revealed, can only be a let-down. (I’m personally going to take the view that we’ve only seen a possible origin of the City).
While it’s not quite up to Book Of The War standards, I’d still say that this was one of the best SF novels I’ve read from the last thirty years. And for those who, reading this, are uninterested because they aren’t Doctor Who fans, don’t be – the links between Doctor Who and this novel are so tenuous that the traces of Who in there are practically homeopathic. Everything you need to know is set out in the book itself, though it almost certainly would lose something without reading The Book Of The War first.
The Faction Paradox novels are published by Mad Norwegian, and after having read this and the Book Of The War, I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending them to anyone who reads my blog. I’ll certainly be picking up all the remaining novels as quickly as I can.