& STUART DOUGLAS
RELEASED IN MAY 2011.
"What's that? Did I
hear you ask what
romance has to do
with anything, little
Cousin? You surprise
me. Why Romance is
Story itself, nothing
less than that.
"Romance is the tale
with which a cunning
man CAN winkle out a
widow's secrets and
an honest one breaks
his beloved's heart.
"Romance locks us
away and sets us
free, brings us great
pleasure and also
great pain, is the
thread which binds
all other stories
together. Dear me,
little Cousin, I DID
expect better of you."
Faction Paradox has had, rather aptly, a long and tortuous history. Beginning as a mention in Lawrence Milesís New Adventures novel Christmas on a Rational Planet, the Faction developed into a fully-fledged adversarial organisation in the BBCís eighth Doctor novels, before Miles ripped them free of the Whoniverse and took them into worlds their own. Having fuelled novels from Mad Norwegian Press and Random Static, audio series by both BBV Productions and Magic Bullet, and a lamentably short-lived comic series by Image, the Faction are now in the hands of Obverse Books.
A Romance in Twelve Parts is, in Obverse tradition, an anthology of short fiction, set within the vast universe that is the Spiral Politic. The universe is in the thrall of a War between the Great Houses (read: the Time Lords, only far more impressive than theyíve ever been in Do-ctor Who or Gallifrey) and the Enemy (read: whomever you like, frankly). While these two sides battle over the right to construct history according to their essential needs, the Faction skulk on the sidelines, causing as much trouble as they can. They donít care too much who wins the War, as long as thereís some kind of history left to pervert afterwards.
Whatís so appealing about this shared universe is that it requires little to no knowledge of any other Faction Paradox materials to enjoy any one release set in it; the individual stories are linked, and often tenuously, only by the universe in which they occur (those that do occur - many stories tell of things that never actually took place, retroactively speaking). Indeed, the Faction donít even appear in every story of the anthology, though their insidious presence is felt throughout. More overt a theme is, once again in Obverse tradition, the power of story and narrative. History is our ongoing story, after all, and we are writing it all the time. Fear those who choose to go back and rewrite the details.
A Romance is edited by Obverse supremo Stuart Douglas and Faction creator Lawrence Miles, although Miles doesnít actually provide a story himself. The quality of the content is so high that I find it difficult to pick standout stories, so instead I shall address them in printing order (though the Faction would doubtless disapprove). Matt Kimpton opens the volume with Storyteller, written as an old Norse folk tale. Concerning the plight of the Storyteller, his need to tell his tales and desire to be a part of the story himself, it evokes the ancient sagas as much as it does Obverseís ongoing obsession with storytelling power. A beautifully written piece, it immediately sets the standard for the volume high.
Gramps by Jonathan Dennis is a short but brilliant piece that transposes a vital part of Fac-tion mythology to a retirement home, and gives it a dangerous, feline twist. Mightier Than the Sword by Jay Eales tells the tale of a habitual criminal and his transfer to a prison for writers. Written in the first person, it uses con lingo without ever quite stooping to ďnarksĒ and ďnaff orfĒ, and develops into another powerful exploration of the nature of story. Blair Bid-meadís Now or Thereabouts is a work of quiet genius that manages to work as a parody of The Apprentice (much funnier than it has any right to be), an exploration of the Factionís methods, and a truly surreal dream sequence.
Nothing Lasts Forever by David N Smith and Violet Addison takes us from the confines of the Factionís base in the Eleven Day Empire to a turning point in human history. It deals with similar ideas to Neil Gaimanís recent Doctor Who episode The Doctorís Wife, but develops the core concept further, and is far less comfortable. Stuart Douglas himself writes Library Pictures, a distinctly creepy story which brings Iris Wildthyme into the universe of the Faction. I wasnít sure how well this would work, but Douglas pulls it off beautifully. Irisís brazenness makes a wonderful contrast to the Factionís deliberate air of mystery. Concerning a perfect, eternal prison, itís a haunting tale - and funny too.
Scott Harrisonís Holding Pattern is a fine horror / sci-fi story. Told in a more straightforward fashion than most of the stories in the volume, it develops from what seems to be a fairly typical space story into something more interesting, as two people investigate a world on the frontier of the temporal War. Ian Potterís A Story of the Peace may, or may not, tell of the Factionís discovery of the ultimate weapon. The one thing that could turn the tide of the War is, naturally, the Peace. One precocious Faction Cousin manipulates both sides of the War, all the time a victim of the most heinous manipulation herself. If any story gives us a flavour of life in the Faction, then this is it.
The highly-regarded Daniel OíMahony provides a rollicking yarn in Print the Legend, set in a superbly realised Amerika, that lost era of the Old West when cyborgs rubbed shoulders with shuggoths. Related by that infamous Amerikan wordsmith Charlie Dickens and featuring the legendary John Gault, this is a thrilling period of history and we should all mourn its passing. Way back in his two-part novel Interference, Lawrence Miles explored the idea of a cosmic geek, and with Tonton Macoute, Dave Hoskin takes that idea to its ultimate, creating a bei-ng that can devour timeships and bleeds alternative histories. Alchemy by James Milton is an opaque but intriguing story of the battlefront between rationality and magic. When the tide is turned on the planet Tagonique, there are consequences for the entire, endless War.
The final story, A Hundred Words from a Civil War, is one of the best. Philip Purser-Hallard sequalises his masterpiece Of the City of the SavedÖ an earlier Faction Paradox novel set in a vast realm beyond the end of the universe, in which every human being who ever lived has been resurrected. A Hundred Words... takes the form of a hundred vignettes, each showing a snapshot of the war that has engulfed the City since the capacity for violence and death were reintroduced. Vast in its scope, it provides follow-up pieces for many of the other stories in the book, yet brings the story of uncounted undecillions to a resolute conclusion. Purser-Hallard explores the nature and consequences of two things that humanity will surely never escape - violence and faith.
A Romance in Twelve Parts is undoubtedly the strongest publication by Obverse Books to date. Its twelve stories are astonishingly different in content and style yet match in flavour. Offering glimpses of a vast and bewildering universe, this anthology promises that thereís still a great many more stories to be told. The Faction are in perfectly unsafe hands.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2011
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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