References in my “Book of the Enemy” Story

As some of you might know, in January the latest Faction Paradox short story collection, The Book of the Enemy, came out, and it has a short story (well, shortish — 10,000 words) by me in it. That story is also called “The Book of the Enemy”, although the book isn’t named after my story.

I’m planning on posting about the stories by other people in it at some point, but a couple of times recently I’ve been asked about references in my story — it’s a very densely referential piece, in the manner of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or things like that — and so I thought I’d go through every reference I intentionally put in there (I say “intentionally” for reasons that will become apparent later…) and list them here, for the benefit of anyone who’s at all interested in this stuff. I may miss one or two, since it’s a few months since I wrote the story.

This isn’t to show off my cleverness or anything like that — there’s nothing particularly clever here — it’s just that I’ve had enough people asking me “is X a reference?” that it’s probably worthwhile having something to point them to. If you’ve not read the story, feel free to skip this and know that you won’t be missing anything of any importance to you.

Everything that follows is a SPOILER for my story.

The story itself is a pastiche of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century genre fiction, and hopefully the general voice will be recognisable to anyone who’s read, say, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary or The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes — I’m not pastiching any particular writer’s voice, but rather going for the general popular style then.

The original idea I had for the story had  the same “enemy” — the book itself — as in the final version, but I was originally planning on going for a much more Borges-style thing — a review of the imaginary book, which also worked as a review of the book in which the story was, and so on. But I just couldn’t get the actual story to work. I discarded multiple drafts, and missed a couple of soft deadlines, before realising that I could go in a King in Yellow direction instead with the story. I actually made the realisation while reading Stephen King’s “The Breathing Method”, which is his own pastiche of the kind of story I’m doing here.

But the idea of a framing story around the actual story being told by a club member is a very common one, both in this kind of fiction and in things like the Black Widowers and Azazel stories by Asimov or the stories of the Oldest Member by P.G. Wodehouse, and it just seemed perfect for the story I wanted to tell. And once I’d got that, and the pseudo-Edwardian voice, everything else fell into place. 

So here is each reference as it appears in the story…

“A great many clubs even specifically catered for the solitary gentleman” — the Diogenes Club from the Holmes stories.

“the club’s oldest member” — Wodehouse wrote a series of golf stories, all told with a frame story about how they were being told by “the oldest member” of the golf club.

“Mr Holmes” — obviously all the Holmes and Watson references here are to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.

“excursion across the moors” — as in The Hound of the Baskervilles

“wrestling match on a precipice” — “The Final Problem”

“Reginald” — the first name of Jeeves from Wodehouse’s Jeeves books, not revealed until the penultimate Jeeves book, Much Obliged, Jeeves, in 1971, more than fifty years after the character first appeared.

“Ruritania” — as the characters state, originally mentioned in The Prisoner of Zenda

King Rudolf — again, The Prisoner of Zenda

“I noticed another gentleman” — this bit of action happens simultaneously with an important scene in “Casting the Runes” by M.R. James.

“an address in Belgravia” — a little reference to the BBC’s Sherlock series here, though also see later.

“the unfortunate events” — these events are those from The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, as are the Martians here, which I also tried to keep consistent with the editor Simon Bucher-Jones’ use of them in his Charles Dickens’ Martian Notes.

“Popes” — in the Doctor Who novel and audio drama All-Consuming Fire, Holmes and Watson meet the Pope, and the Faction Paradox books share a continuity with the Doctor Who books.

“beings we may as well consider Gods” — this is the understanding of Holmes and the Martian as to what is happening in the War which forms the backdrop to the whole Faction Paradox series. Their understanding may or may not reflect the reality.

“more suited for a continental orchestra” — this is actually a reference to non-fiction from the same time period. One of George Bernard Shaw’s perennial complaints when writing music criticism in the late 19th century was that British orchestras tuned their instruments to a higher pitch than continental Europeans did. This had largely passed in the decade leading up to the time this story is set, but the change was a recent innovation, and Holmes in this story is having memory problems, so it’s reasonable for him to use this as an example.

“demons trapped in pyramids” — several stories, but I was specifically thinking of the Doctor Who story Pyramids of Mars here.

“squamous cephalopodic beasts” — as in Lovecraft’s work.
“mock turtle soup and dodos’ egg” — Alice in Wonderland

“a siege and gunfight” — this is a reference to a real historical event, but it’s also me being accidentally clever. I picked the siege of Sidney St as a historical event that happened around the same time my story was set, mostly by looking at historical news stories and seeing what would fit the location and be dramatic. It was only a month later, when I reread Ronald Knox’s original essay on Sherlockian “canon”, that I realised he said “When Holmes, in the ‘Mystery of the Red-Headed League,’ discovered that certain criminals were burrowing their way into the cellars of a bank, he sat with a dark lantern in the cellar, and nabbed them quietly as they came through.  But when the Houndsditch gang were found to be meditating an exactly similar design, what did the police authorities do?  They sent a small detachment of constables, who battered on the door of the scene of operations at the bank, shouting, ‘We think there is a burglary going on in here.’  They were of course shot down, and the Home Office had to call out a whole regiment with guns and a fire brigade, in order to hunt down the survivors”

The Houndsditch gang event is the siege of Sidney street. The example Ronald Knox used, in the essay which first created the concept of “canon” as it’s applied to pop culture, and which created the whole idea of treating the internal contradictions in stories as things to be explained away — the example he used of how the real world differs from that in the Sherlock Holmes stories — is the same one I used in my story, which is about canons and the contradictions in stories and how the real world differs from that in the Holmes stories.

I must have unconsciously remembered this example, because it’s simply too perfect otherwise. I actually had a minor freak-out when I noticed this, in an “I made it all up, and it all came true anyway” way, before I realised that I must have unconsciously remembered the passage.

And this is why I earlier said “every reference I intentionally put in there” — there may be other stuff in here I didn’t put in…

“non-Euclidean geometry” — a phrase beloved of Lovecraft, and used by him to signify evil beings from other planes of reality, so appropriate here. The description here is accurate, as far as it goes, except that I’ve attributed the discoveries of Einstein (that non-Euclidean geometry better describes physical spacetime than does Euclidean) to Moriarty — the description of his The Dynamics of an Asteroid in The Valley of Fear is very close to what people were saying around that time about Einstein.

“Every trace of romance” — this parallels, though doesn’t quote, a passage in Lawrence Miles’ Dead Romance, which shares a continuity with Faction Paradox. 

I think that’s all the references I deliberately put in.

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2 Responses to References in my “Book of the Enemy” Story

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