At last, it can be revealed!
Illustrated by Paul McCaffrey to a design brief by yours truly, this is the final piece of the puzzle.
Can you spot the XTC in-joke?
Burning With Optimism’s Flames should be available to buy by the end of September, all things being equal.
Well, there you have it. Fourteen blogs for fourteen stories.
To recap for any latecomers to the party:
Burning With Optimism’s Flames – A Faction Paradox collection
Edited by Jay Eales, published by Obverse Books soon
Raleigh Dreaming by Elizabeth Evershed
Office Politics by Alan Taylor
…and from the Tower she did fall by Cate Gardner
La Santa Muerte by Daniel Ribot
Dos Hombres – A Fable by Kelly Hale
All the Fun of the Fear by Stephen Marley
Wing Finger by Helen Angove
The Strings by James Worrad
Squatters Rights by Juliet Kemp
After the Velvet Eon by Simon Bucher-Jones
Remake/Remodel by Jonathan Dennis
Dharmayuddha by Aditya Bidikar
A Star’s View of Caroline by Sarah Hadley
De Umbris Idearum by Philip Purser-Hallard
It’s a line-up I’m very happy with, and I hope that when you get to read it, you’ll see why.
I began by head-hunting some of my favourite authors from the Doctor Who charity fanthologies I edited way back in days of yore, (Perfect Timing 2 and Walking in Eternity, if you’re keeping score), some who’ve gone on to be key writers for the Faction Paradox books. I can’t imagine editing a Faction Paradox collection that did not contain at least some of these names: Kelly Hale, Simon Bucher-Jones, Jonathan Dennis and Phil Purser-Hallard. There are other names, of course, and hopefully we’ll see those names under a Faction by-line before too long. For this particular book, it was not the right time, and in a sense, just as well, as I also wanted to have some surprises in the book. Something old, something new, and so on… Of those fanthology writers who we haven’t been blessed with fiction from in too long, I’m very pleased to reintroduce Alan Taylor and Sarah Hadley. If the names sound only half familiar, and if you have access to those early fanthologies, dig up their previous stories for a glimpse as to why I was so keen to commission them.
Then we come to someone who wrote some of the most entertaining of Virgin’s Doctor Who novels, an author who hasn’t been seen in these parts for some time, but fondly remembered by everyone I tipped off about his participation. Someone who had never written for the Faction before, but seems an obvious candidate when you think about it. Whatever happened to Stephen Marley? This. This happened.
Next, I invited a couple of members of my local writing group The Speculators, who I felt would thrive in the Eleven Day Empire. Step forward Dan Ribot and Jim Worrad. You sick puppies.
Through the British Fantasy Society, I was introduced to the work of Cate Gardner, and after reading her first collection Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits, I knew she would have things to say, and firmly fit the aesthetic I had in mind for Burning With Optimism’s Flames.
Aditya Bidikar was one of a small handful of writers who managed to sneak under the razorwire I erected to keep out the unsolicited submissions for this project. Given the limited number of slots and the knowledge that I had a pool of potential writers far bigger than I could hope to use in a single book, Aditya was the Little Train Who Could, and showed me some of his stories that hit the soft spot.
Rounding out the book, I’m grateful to Phil Purser-Hallard for discovering a trio of new authors who he showcased in The Obverse Quarterly: Tales of the City, and for looking the other way as I snuck into the City of the Saved and liberated his charges to play in the wider Factionverse.
There isn’t a writer among them that I would hesitate before buying a new novel by. It’s been an absolute delight to be midwife to fourteen new fictions. Sometimes there’s been tantrums, phantom contractions and doubts along the way. Oh and blood, plenty of the claret. But it’s all been worth it. Have a ceegar. It’s a book!
I travelled to the Lace’s Old Sixth by taxisub, pumped at great speed along the fastest of the megalopolis’s ecosystemic conduits. At the borders of the Sixth I was obliged to transfer to a slower local system of impeller tubes: this ancient district has been preserved in its historic state, with the architecture and all but the most crucial technologies maintained as they were five centuries ago.
Within the original chaplaincy hub, still known to the locals as the Godnode, I located Blessing Hex, a great domed plaza surrounded by the churches, temples, mosques, gurdwaras and synagogues of the major human faiths of a demimillennium past, and on its threeward side the Cathedral Church of St Meredith of Lagrange.
St Meredith’s is of typical 22nd-century habitat design, making creative use of flexible prefabricated elements, and delighting in its sprawling floor-plan after the harsh constrictions of living space which these early settlers had experienced on Earth. Wei-ling and her cohorts insisted that each of these places of worship be built to hold several thousand, so it is understandable that losing members of his hundred-strong congregation might occasion Fr Naguib his present unease.
I found him, as unassuming as ever but rather greyer than I remembered, awaiting me in the vestry. I had forgotten what a small man he is, barely taller than I am myself.
‘I hope, Father,’ I said, once we had renewed our acquaintance sufficiently, ‘that your request for my presence here is based on my expertise as a xenotheologian.’
Naguib glanced nervously across at me. ‘Oh yes, Monsignora,’ he said. ‘I have great respect for your knowledge of extraterrestrial faiths. I only hope that you can tell me more about this cult and their doctrines, so I can combat them.’
I felt only partially reassured. Of late my calling has frequently taken me out of academia and into that combination of practical fieldwork and diplomacy to which the Holy Father has decided that I should dedicate my gifts; it must be said that the nature of this work has leant itself occasionally to some decidedly sensational reporting. Privately, though, I was more concerned that his reason for involving me might relate to another source of unwanted notoriety: my youthful encounter with the assimilating, predatory Power whose conscripts (as I have discovered since being granted access to the Vatican’s Collection of Necessary Secrets) have been known to the Church for millennia as the Mal’akh.
As Fr Naguib described his strange new sect to me, he spoke significantly of rebirth, a transformation into something formerly human which was both free from conventional morality and yet, in some way, obscurely and indefinitely absorbent. As he gabbled on, I feared that he might be drawing a frivolous parallel between these so-called ‘Remotists’ and the genuinely and appallingly inhuman terror which I had faced on Murigen.
Worse still, I feared that the parallel might not be a frivolous one.
In his larval form, Philip Purser-Hallard is barely fifteen microns in length. He has been writing for Faction Paradox since The Book of the War in 2002. He inhabits ponds and rivers, burrowing in sand and living on aquatic micro-organisms. His first (and to date only) novel, Of the City of the Saved…, was the second in the series of original Faction Paradox novels. As a juvenile, Phil passes through several stages of metamorphosis, or ‘instars’, growing with each, until his eleventh instar seeks out the strong currents which draw him down to the ocean. His previous Faction Paradox short story, ‘A Hundred Words from a Civil War’ in A Romance in Twelve Parts, was a 10,000-word sequel to Of the City of the Saved. Now adapted for marine life, his twelfth instar takes up residence in an ocean crevice, coaxing small (and later large) fish into his mouth using his bioluminescent ‘lure’. He has written three novellas, Peculiar Lives, Nursery Politics and Predating the Predators, and some fifteen short stories for Obverse Books and others. His twelfth instar lives and grows indefinitely, occupying progressively larger trenches as his body-mass increases. Phil’s most recent book is Tales of the City, a shared-world anthology set in the City of the Saved and published as part of the Obverse Quarterly series. At the appropriate time, according to a combination of ecological, oceanographic and astrological factors, he enters a state of dormancy which coincides with the metamorphosis into his final apocalyptic instar. He produces 140-character microfiction on Twitter, under the account name @trapphic. Aeons hence, Phil will arise and ravage the lands, consuming all life thereupon and reclaiming its biomass for the world’s ancestral seas, to which he will return to die. He currently lives in Bristol, with his wife and three-year-old son.
When I was very small, my brother used to take me out at night and show me the stars. We would wait until everyone in our work camp was asleep. The men and women had put their pick-axes away for the day, the children their baskets for carrying food and supplies. Our guards, who never slept, retreated to their watchful towers and sat like fat, metal beetles, feeling every vibration, every little current of electrical energy to run past their sensors. They never missed a single rebellious action, never a movement that might lead to a break-out. But because they did not understand the human need to dream, they let us look at the sky.
My brother P.J. would sit down next to me on a small hill overlooking the centre of camp, and he would guide my hand as he traced the clusters of stars we could see past the floodlights and the spires of broken buildings. He showed me Orion, the Hunter; Taurus, the Bull; Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, the two Night Bears. They came alive when he told me the old stories and legends behind each formation. They were the storybooks I never had.
I can remember asking him, ‘What are the stars? Where do they come from?’
He would tell me that the stars are burning worlds, caught forever in their unending flames, raging, roaring against the night. They look out beyond their fragile spheres for places of calm and serenity to shine their brightness and bring life.
He would clasp me around the shoulder and say that we were like stars. We had to use the energy within us to defeat the cold spaces, to turn away the dark things that dared to destroy life. We had to find our own calmness and serenity even when it was denied us.
I don’t think I understood him then. I was too small, and my brother never spoke in the concrete terms that my brain could comprehend.
Looking back on it, though, I think that’s when P.J. began to burn.
Sarah Hadley is a highly acclaimed world champion tap dancer. Throughout her varied and interesting career, she has taken time to, amongst other things, reinforce her entire body with adamantium, conduct a survey of medical facility ceiling patterns, and conquer the expanse of the wild Argentine. Right now, she masquerades as a grad student and English instructor at a university near Nashville, Tennessee, where she forces people to expostulate, elaborate, disseminate and occasionally replace their own noses. She lives with seventeen tame hats and is almost certainly played on television by Teal Sherer.
And so the evening begins, and Jarasandha slumps back against his throne, trying to smile at and be gracious to every single man-jack who approaches him looking for a hand-out. Over the next hour, as his people drone on and on, he begins to feel drowsy, and keeps biting his cheek to stay awake. He is waiting.
As the final embers of sunlight die out, three Brahmins walk into the room and join the queue in front of him. He no longer feels sleepy.
He watches them shuffle along, pushed by those behind them. Two of the Brahmins are thin – one dark and lean, the other fair and lithe – and they drift forward amiably. The third, large and stocky, grumbles and snipes every few seconds at the people pressing into his back.
By the time this small assortment has reached him, Jarasandha sits straight up and listens attentively.
The three Brahmins stand in front of him, and Jarasandha smiles at them. ‘Welcome, honoured Brahmins,’ he says. ‘What wish can I grant you on this auspicious day?’
The dark Brahmin nods and says, ‘Great King of Magadha. We have enjoyed our time in your bounteous city. And we hope the name of Magadha and yours with it will echo throughout history as exemplars of honour and generosity. In consideration of this, our request may appear untoward on this of all days. But it is our dearest wish to do battle with you. I bid you to choose one of my two companions, and to fight him in unarmed combat to the death. This is our one humble wish.’
The court is hushed, as they wait for Jarasandha’s response. After a careful pause, he speaks. ‘You are Brahmins,’ he says, ‘and I am honour-bound to grant your wish if you insist on it. But I beseech you to reconsider. I have the greatest respect for Brahminkind, but if we do descend into the arena, I will show no mercy. I am old, but not decrepit. I have fought thousands of bouts to this day, and I have won all of them. So I ask you, is this truly what you want?’
The dark Brahmin nods without hesitation.
Jarasandha stands and points to the biggest of the three. ‘It is decided then. I will fight this man. Tomorrow at sunrise. If that is all, you may proceed to the banquet hall.’
He sits back on his throne, and to his apparent surprise, the Brahmins start laughing. As he watches, they shrug off their disguises. In a matter of seconds, the big Brahmin changes into Bhima, the Pandava prince. The small, fair Brahmin reveals himself to be Bhima’s brother Arjuna. And the dark Brahmin, the instigator of it all, is Krishna, their Yadava advisor.
Well, fuck, Jarasandha says to himself. Him again.
Krishna and Jarasandha, you see, have a History.
‘Aditya Bidikar’ is currently in its eighth cycle. It is worshipped by a colony of intergalactic insects living in a lunchbox in Kolkata. Its seventh form was a jacket owned by the cult leader known only as ‘Indian Jesus’. It currently masquerades as a beard, and writes short stories and comic-books to enable its disguise. Its extrusion has given rise to distinctive patterns in the Kolkata weather. This caused it to develop heavy memory problems, which later manifested in the form of graffiti for action figures. Dailyfiction contains clues to its ninth form. It does not exist. You never heard about it. Shh.
As far as actually making movies goes, Hollywood is more of a conceptual entity than a practical concern. There are no studios or production offices of note operating within its bounds. It serves as a decoy for tourists and aspirants so they don’t get in the way of the actual work. There are a few old businesses that have endured through the decades, but you have to sift through the stands selling cheesy t-shirts to get to them and you have to elbow your way past the people in costumes charging for photographs to get to the stands. Everything costs too much in Hollywood. That’s the way it has to be.
Those actually in the business only come to Hollywood for premieres and to eat. The old guard haunt the corner booths of Musso and Frank. The slightly younger executives have claimed the Pig and Whistle as their own. There they feel safe from the unmasked disdain of their elders and the hungry looks of their possible replacements. Norma can’t stand the patrons of either. When she takes lunch, she tries to avoid contact with anyone in the business. It is her time. She will read a book and pretend that she will never have to see her boss again.
Her favorite spot of late is on Sunset, a trendy little breakfast/lunch place called The Waffle. It’s still trendy enough that it attracts a young crowd, mostly jobbing or wannabe actors and musicians. It is precisely the kind of crowd guaranteed to repel producers, so she will not be recognized. The sidewalk tables also afford a view of the Cinerama Dome, which elicits a couple of the remaining good memories she has of Hollywood. There are still a few. It is here, on a Wednesday, that she met Sam Pierce. That meeting will not change her life, for Cousin Norma is eternal. It will change Sam’s.
Jonathan Dennis spent most of the seventies and early eighties as bassist for rock legends Mott the Hoople. Tired of the mainstream, he joined the first, and only, Popol Vuh tribute band. After a crippling accident with a volume pedal and a lava lamp ended his musical career, he worked in radio, publishing, telecommunications and private security. He has written for Iris Wildthyme, Senor 105, and Bernice Summerfield. He can see the end of his first novel from here.
One of her children had died in the night. Nevertheless it took Hester Prinzdottor, eight full minutes to register the fact as she paced out the morning routine in what she supposed to be the dark.
So far as astronomical-time went, she was right: the side of the cool moon that bore the Seven Sister’s Inn was deep in shadow; the giant world it orbited being between it and St. Vermis’ star, but she had not yet heard the thunder, and the lightning that splashed across the sky was therefore un-deduced for another few seconds.
Her night-sight retina implants had burned out long before, but the doorways and layout of the Inn were so familiar that she didn’t as a rule bother to open her eyes much before Nebula-rise, and the absence of Hettie’s rasping breath at the edge of her hearing didn’t make any impression until she had gone past her youngest daughter’s room, almost to the second balcony of the guest floor.
It had been fifty thousand years since the stars in the nebula died at the touch of the Grey Shroud, and its light when it came past the giant world of Ghul, was wan and insolently cool – like the light during a partial eclipse. Even St. Vermis’s star (if it could be seen) would have been draped with the distant fringes of the Shroud Weapons, like swollen black veins across it. A star, in a widow’s veil, forever mourning its dead cousins.
Raised diagonally opposite Paul McCartney in Liverpool, which enabled him to reach Mornington Crescent at an early age, during a trip to London, Simon Bucher-Jones is widely regarded as one of the twentieth four century’s most notable long dead people. Having studied English and Philosophy he naturally worked mainly as a statistician and IT expert for the Government while writing and performing poetry and pantomime in what, with a weak grasp of species dominant cosmology, he laughingly termed ‘his own time’. Despite rumour, its is categorically untrue that he ever worked for MI5, at least not for money. Given the relatively small sums involved this is also true of his work as a writer. He is the author or co-author at least some of the following: the novels The Death of Art, Ghost Devices, Grimm Reality, The Taking of Planet Five and the poetry collections Death Watch At Lake Saguaro and Godzilla In East Anglia. He wrote a lot of The Book Of The War. His most recent non-Faction short story can be found in Resurrection Engines : a steam-punk anthology. His two most sought after novels remain the cursed, and unfinished The Brakespeare Voyage and the obscure Oliver Hardy’s Lives Of The Great Murderers.
The front door banged shut behind Nick, and Alex slumped against the half-empty bookcase, fighting the urge to go to the window and watch him leaving. Nick had spent the day, tight-lipped, flinging his possessions into boxes by the handful, while Alex hovered behind him offering apologies, then promises, to no effect. Alex scowled, turning to run his fingers along the edge of the shelves. How was Alex supposed to have known that this time Nick had really meant it when he said he’d had enough?
A slim book caught his eye, fallen on its side on a shelf which had previously held a long run of Nick’s SF paperbacks. It was bound in battered green leather, and the spine was blank. Alex picked it up, curious. He didn’t remember buying it; had Nick left it behind? On the front a few specks of gilding clung to an indentation in the shape of a horned half-mask, and the spine cracked slightly under his fingers as he opened it.
The title page read simply Rituals and Bindings, and Alex rolled his eyes. Some religious nonsense, then. He flicked through a few pages which looked almost like recipes, each page bearing titles like Of Commanding Others, Of Calling Across, Of Minor Harm, with ingredients and instructions underneath. He stopped on one which read On Excision of Memories, his mind full suddenly of three years of living with Nick: the way he always left his damp towel puddled on the bedroom floor, the way he ducked his head when he laughed…
Alex thrust the book back onto the shelf. If it was Nick’s, the stupid bastard could come and ask for it back, and Alex would tell him to get lost. He didn’t need Nick. He went to the kitchen, where half a dozen bottles of cheap red stood in the wine-rack-shaped patch of dust on the floor, and settled in to an evening of self-medication.
Juliet Kemp lives in a narrow house in London with two grownups, one baby, a dog, and the ghost of Isambard Kingdom Brunel trapped in a tea-cosy. The tea-cosy no longer works particularly well. She likes plants, but only if you can eat them, or sometimes if they’re a particular shade of purple. She has travelled to Singapore by train, and spends the small hours of the morning digging very small tunnels under the Thames. She eats a huge amount of dark chocolate and stays up too late. She has had previous stories published in Obverse Quarterly’s ‘Tales of the City’, the Drollerie Press anthology ‘Hellebore & Rue’, and the Journal of Unlikely Entomology.
On his balcony of red glass, His Acclaimed whirled and promised. His words were hope and the masses loved him for it. They packed the square and, like every month, a handful would be crushed. Such adoration. Mercy-probes circled over the crowds with swathe-fields and hypodermics, awaiting the first casualties.
Odalisque Linbah Crowthorne watched the scene on a fireshell in his chamber. The performance on the balcony was striking, inarguably, but Crowthorne knew he could do better.
His masseuse – a youth from the archipelagos – smoothed more perfume into Crowthorne’s toned and winding back.
‘Soon time, Sir,’ the youth said. His accent echoed off the red glass walls.
Crowthorne said nothing. He finished working his long dark hair into a side plait and continued watching the images that rose from the shell’s blue flames.
His Acclaimed called for the masses’ patience. The Hoidrac had not forgotten this world. They loved it. Why, did not His Acclaimed remain here? Despite ageing, despite infirmity? His Acclaimed held his arms wide with talons extended and span about.
The mob roared its love.
His Acclaimed’s aspect, viewed even without narcotics, was magnificent. The alien stood near seven feet tall, discounting the two slender horns rising from His cranium. His snout bristled with fangs yet spoke only honey. But it was his Ambience, that unique aura all Hoidrac produced, that wreathed him with splendour. Mighty yet intimate, alien but somehow a friend. Strong enough, this Ambience, to bond a fractured, knife-ready world.
Crowthorne rose from his massage table. He towered over the youth, as Odalisques did over all people. The young man gazed up at him.
‘Robes,’ Crowthorne said.
The youth blinked. He collected the robes from a corner of the chamber and began draping them around his master’s naked body.
Crowthorne felt a brief agitation, almost stage fright. Good. It kept his edge. He countered it by picturing the masses’ ecstasy. Those in the square outside would be deranged on leaf-smoke billowing from giant braziers, pooling their identities into a nebulous, greater self. Beyond the square and the city, throughout the polar continent and into the archipelagos and further still unto the equator isles, a world gazed through fireshells enchanted. And, with judicious use of leaf-sap, His Acclaimed gazed back.
Fully dressed, Crowthorne lifted his blade from the pail of water that sat by the table. Its hilt, pure gold and stitched cloth, felt faultless in his palm. The youth passed him a cylinder of roughened quartz. With it, Crowthorne whetted the blade’s wooden black length. Razor-sharp. He wrapped it in cloth and tied it to his robes.
He leant down and kissed the youth on his thin lips. They tasted of pomegranate, myrrh. ‘Stay here,’ he told him. ‘The curtain calls.’
Like many aspiring writers, James Worrad began his working life on a Starshark insemination freighter. Eventually dissatisfied with massaging vast prostates in full exo-armour, he jumped ship at Roish-Amid-the-Stones and opened up a brain laundering service. It was here he sold a tale to Daily Science Fiction. Later, another story, ‘Eye-High’ got absorbed into ‘Flurb’; a ‘zine regularly tattooed onto the subcutaneous fat of the internet by the infamous Rudy Rucker.
Currently, James resides inside the much-shunned blog ‘Spool Pidgin’ with his beloved cyberplegic manatee, Sebastiano. James divides his time between writing and gazing down at his valley of oubliettes with their countless withered occupants. He likes root beer.
I am pleased to be able to report that I have been received here in Baden with a courtesy that I could scarcely have dared to expect! After a trifling difficulty in the matter of translation, my letters of introduction to the Grand Duke have served me well, and there has been no difficulty at all in my gaining access to the collection at the university.
The specimen itself is everything I might have hoped, after so many years of waiting for the opportunity to see it. Such an exquisite state of preservation! Such clarity of detail! Both elongated forefingers are clearly to be seen. It is most assuredly not a marine creature, as has been so often been asserted. I have no hesitation in concurring with the conclusions of M. Cuvier that this animal is a flying reptile. His nomenclature – Ptero-dactyle (from the Greek, pteron daktulos) – I also most gladly endorse.
Even you, Sister, must understand the significance of this discovery, and the uses that might be made of it by the unscrupulous. Any sensible God-fearing man mustrecognise the sacred doctrine of the immutability of species: that in the beginning God created the creatures of the air, the sea and the field, and that since that time new genera have neither come into being nor old genera died out. And yet there are those who argue that the existence of fossils such as M. Cuvier’s Ptero-dactyle imply the opposite: that by some occult mechanism new species come into existence whilst other creatures of God’s creation mysteriously cease to be! You must see what damage this does to natural faith, and I am resolved to fight it with every resource available to me.
I am determined, therefore. Upon my return to England, I shall seek out patronage and charter a ship. My researches have led me to believe that the Ptero-dactyle will most likely be found on the island of New Guinea, for it is an utterly unexplored wilderness where I understand that there are natives there who report sightings of flying reptiles they call ‘ropen’. This island, therefore, will be the object of my expedition, and as a Gentleman of Science and a Man of Faith I vow that I will make of this undertaking my life’s work.
Your respectful brother,
Helen Angove began her working life as an electrical engineer on the south coast of England, took a brief detour as a pricing analyst for an electricity supply company (which was as much fun as it sounds) and then veered off in a different direction altogether by becoming a priest in the Church of England. Now, however, she is living with her husband and two children in Southern California, and is against all the dictates of common sense exploring the possibility of writing as a viable career choice.
Most people believe that Helen’s obsession with the Regency era of British history is due to the fact that she is a Jane Austen fanatic, but this is actually only part of the truth. In fact, she is the reincarnation of Austen’s niece, Fanny Knight. Her current habit of setting everything she writes in the early nineteenth century is purely a cold-blooded and mercenary attempt to use her unequalled knowledge of her erstwhile Aunt’s social milieu to cash in on the Austen mania so prevalent in contemporary society.
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