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.