As always with these posts, a brief acknowledgment that Obverse Books publish some of my stuff, and some of the people involved are friends of mine, so if you think that will affect my opinion, bear that in mind.
For some reason, Obverse have removed this from their website already. I’ve tried asking Stuart Douglas what’s going on, but he’s not replying to my emails. Hopefully it’ll be back up soon.
It’s a shame, because Wallowing In Pessimism’s Mire is easily the best thing that Obverse Books have put out so far. Admittedly, that doesn’t seem to be the consensus view — in fact it’s been almost completely ignored by the usual places. No GallifreyBase people seem interested in it, the Tumblr FP community seem completely unaware that it’s come out… but still. It’s really, *really* good.
You’d expect it to at least have got some interest if only for Lawrence Burton’s fantastic cover, which hides a huge number of continuity Easter eggs in what would otherwise appear to be a fairly standard image. In particular, the way that the shadow falls on the left hand side of the cover gives the skull mask in the background an uncanny resemblance to a famous character actor — which in turn seems like a massive hint as to the true identity of one of the characters in “Insurgency 101 with Mellicia Clutterbuck”, Cody Quijano-Schell’s rather wonderful story about Senor 101 (this is before he became Senor 105) meeting the Faction. If I’m right, it’ll give Lance Parkin and Lars Pearson conniptions when they try to do the next edition of AHistory…
The highlight, of course, is Simon Bucher-Jones “Love During The Years of Sandpaper”, which may be the best thing he’s ever written, but Philip Purser-Hallard’s “Random Acts of Compassion”, which sets up an intriguing possibility we will hopefully see played out in the next few City of the Saved anthologies, is another true great.
Janea Farris’ “Lolly Eater”, on the other hand, seems a rare misfire — a story that plays too much with the Faction mythos and not enough with actual storytelling. Yes, the Nabokov references are very clever, but clever is not *always* the same as good.
But there’s far more good than bad. Rachel Redhead’s “Downside Up and Outside In”, for example, is far and away the best C.S. Lewis… response is probably the best word… I’ve read, and the way it incorporates elements from Gaiman’s “The Problem of Susan” but completely reworks them to send almost the opposite message is quite astounding.
And the two stories here featuring Iris Wildthyme, in one of which she finds herself in the background of a Columbo episode, Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead style, but keeps just missing all the characters from it in the same way as the Doctor keeps missing Leonardo Da Vinci, are some of the tightest farce plotting I’ve ever read. The way the pseudonymous author “?” (I presume either Kara Denison, whose prose style it reads like, or Aditya Bidakar, who wrote the other Iris story which ties into that one) manages to show that this takes place in a particular episode without using a single scene, character, or setting from it, is something that every writer should read.
I always recommend every Faction Paradox book, of course, but this one really is something special, and as soon as Obverse make it available again you should buy it straight away.