Saturday, 31 August 2013

Against Nature Nahuatl Glossary

Pronunciation is generally consistent with Spanish with x yielding a soft sh sound as in sherry, tl representing a single phoneme similar to the ch in loch, qu generally being a hard k, and hu amounting to w; so, by way of example, Ahuizotl is pronounced aweezotl, huexotl is pronounced weh-shotl, and Quetzalcoatl being ketzal-kwa-tl.

Fictional characters or concepts are denoted in bold italics.

Acamapichtli. first and founding Tlatoani of the Mexica centre of Tenochtitlan (1375 - 1395), former Cihuacoatl to the court of Culhuacan, born of a Culhua mother and Mexica father.
Achicatzin. a son of Axayacatl, brother of Xocoyotzin.
Acolhua. one of the numerous chichimec tribes who settled the Valley of Mexico from the seventh century onwards, associated primarily with the centres of Coatlinchan and Texcoco.
Acolmiztli. Acolhua Tlatoani of Coatlinchan (early fourteenth century), also a minor Death God.
Acuauhtla. small town east of Chalco at the southern extent of the Valley of Mexico, now San Francisco Acuauhtla.
ahuehuetl. cypress tree.
Ahuizotl. eighth Mexica Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan (1486 - 1502).
Amimitl. Hunter God of lakes and lake fishermen.
Anahuac. Mexico.
aoompa. a fool, one who walks along looking all around.
Apan. the great ocean found at the eastern limit of Tlalocan.
Atepexolotl. the beast of the city foreseen by Ocotochtli.
atlachinolli. symbolic conflation of fire and water, an explosive union of opposing forces representing sacred war.
Atlaua. Hunter God of lakes and lake fishermen.
Atlazol. a minor official within the court of Xocoyotzin, possibly a nephew of Itzcoatl.
Atlixocan. the mythic location of the entrance to Cincalco.
Atonal. an elder man of Xochimilco.
Atotonilco. town to which Tezozomoc reputedly sent warriors in search of the fugitive Acamapichtli, presumably Atotonilco el Grande in the state of Hidalgo.
Axayacatl. sixth Mexica Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan (1469 - 1481), father to Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin.
axocotl. hog plum.
Ayahueltec. a resident of Ayahueltlan.
Ayahueltlan. a town of dubious provenance.
Ayotzinco. small town to the south of Xicco in the Valley of Mexico, now Santa Catarina Ayotzingo.
Azcapotzalco. Tecpanec centre on the western shore of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico, Tecpanec capitol prior to the defeat of the Tecpanec hegemony by Itzcoatl in 1428.
Aztec. a tribal resident of Aztlan, ancestor to the Mexica.
Aztlan. the mythic island home of the Aztecs, variously reported to have been somewhere in the north of Mexico, or even in the United States, although Mexcaltitlan on the west coast seems a promising candidate.

Calmecac. clerical school.
Camaxtli. Hunter God.
Ce Calli. One House - day 183 of the 260 day Tonalpohualli count.
Ce Calli. One House - a specific trecena of the tonalpohualli calendar, a group of thirteen days sharing certain qualities and beginning on the day Ce Calli.
Ce Calli. One House - year 40 of the 52 year Xiuhmolpilli.
Ce Izcuintli. One Dog - a specific trecena of the tonalpohualli calendar, a group of thirteen days sharing certain qualities and beginning on the day Ce Izcuintli.
Ce Tochtli. One Rabbit - year 1 of the 52 year Xiuhmolpilli.
Centeotl. Corn God.
Chalchiuhtlatonac, Codex. indigenous account of events in and around the Valley of Mexico dated to the early 1500s.
Chalca. one of the numerous chichimec tribes who settled the lakes to the south of the Valley of Mexico from the seventh century onwards, associated primarily with the centres of Chalco and Xicco.
chalchihuitl. jade, a precious stone.
Chalchihuitlicue. River Goddess.
Chalco. Chalca centre on the eastern shore of the lakes south of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico.
Chalco Atenco. see Chalco.
Chantico. Goddess of the hearth and volcanic fire.
Chapultepetl. woodland area on the west bank of Lake Texcoco centred around the hill of Chapultepec.
chiauhcoatl. rattlesnake.
Chichimec. generic term for members of the nomadic tribes which began to arrive in the Valley of Mexico around the seventh century, mostly but not exclusively Nahuatl speakers.
Chicoce Cuauhtli. Six Eagle - day 175 of the 260 day Tonalpohualli count.
Chicoloapan. river on the eastern shore of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico, now Chicoloapan de Juarez.
Chicome Cozcacuauhtli. Seven Vulture - day 176 of the 260 day Tonalpohualli count.
Chiconahui Izcuintli. Calendrical designation of the Goddess Chantico.
Chimalma. mother of Quetzalcoatl and consort of Mixcoatl.
Chimalpopoca, Codex. indigenous account of events in and around the Valley of Mexico dated to the early 1500s.
chinampa. an artificially constructed field built up from the bed of a shallow lake with bricks of mud and soil.
Chitilma. an Ixtilli and colleague of Momacani.
Chollolan. large centre to the east of the Valley of Mexico, now Cholula de Rivadavia.
Cihuatecuhtli Hueyhueycuauhtliocelotlalayotl. Lorraine Conti.
cihuacoatl. political office roughly equating to first minister.
Cihuatlan. the land of women found at the western limit of Tlalocan, sometimes conflated with Tamoanchan.
Cincalco. a lesser known region of the dead associated with those who have perished by suicide.
Coahualxiuh. phonetic Nahuatl rendering of the name Goralschai which clumsily yields Fire in the Serpent.
Coatepetl. hill on the eastern shore of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico, now Coatepec.
Coatlicue. mother of Huitzilopochtli.
Coatlinchan. Acolhua centre on the eastern shore of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico, now San Miguel Coatlinchan.
copal. resin incense derived from the plant Protium copal.
Cuauhnahuac. large centre to the far south of the Valley of Mexico, now Cuernavaca.
Culhua. one of the numerous chichimec tribes who settled the Valley of Mexico from the seventh century onwards, associated primarily with Culhuacan and tracing certain dynastic ties back to Tollan.
CulhuacanCulhua centre on the southern shore of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico.

Ehecatepetl. hill on west bank of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico, now Ecatepec.
Ehecatl. Wind God and aspect of Quetzalcoatl.
Ehecatztintli. a priest who summoned the demon Coahualxiuh according to Codex Chalchiuhtlatonac.

Huastec. culture group inhabiting Mexico's northern gulf coast region and belonging to Macro-Mayan language stream.
Huehueicnocaltlan. the ultimate location of House Meddhoran.
Huemac. purportedly the ninth and final Tlatoani of the Toltecs, a man led into decadence by the sorcerer Tezcatlipoca, and who  thus brought about the destruction of his people at some point during the twelfth century.
Huetepol. a priest who summoned the demon Coahualxiuh according to Codex Chalchiuhtlatonac.
huexocanauhtli. black-crowned night heron.
huexotl. willow tree.
Huexotzinca. the people of Huexotzinco, a centre to the south of Chollolan.
huipil. blouse.
Huitzilopochtli. Patron God and culture hero of the Mexica.
Huitztlan. the Land of Thorns found at the southern limit of Tlalocan.
Huixachtepetlprominent hill to the south of Tenochtitlan, now Cerro de la Estrella.

Icnopilli. a senior and founding member of the Ixtilque.
ihiyotl. shadowy component of the tripartite Nahua soul.
Ihuilcamina. see Motecuhzoma Ihuilcamina.
Ilancueitl. wife of Acamapichtli.
ilhuitl. a festival period of twenty days, a Mexican month by some definition of which eighteen made up the solar year.
Itzcoatl. fourth Mexica Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan (1427 - 1440).
Itzlacoliuhqui. Frost God.
Itzpapalotl. Malign Goddess.
Itztapalapan. town on the southern shore of Lake Texcoco linked to Tenochtitlan by a major causeway.
ixihtec. an essence or quality.
Ixiptla. a person chosen to impersonate a God for a period of time.
Ixomitectin. people who wear masks of bone derived from unknown beasts.
Ixpuztec. minor Death God.
Ixtilcalli. the court of the Ixtilque, a subdivision of the Calmecac.
Ixtilli. a member of the Ixtilque.
Ixtilque. plural of Ixtilli and meaning People of Authority, a secretive organisation purportedly established during Ahuizotl's tenure.
Iztaccihuatl. one of the two largest volcanoes of the Valley of Mexico.

macehual. a commoner, generally meaning a young male.
Macuilli Ocelotl. Five Jaguar - day 174 of the 260 day Tonalpohualli count.
Macuilmalinaltzin. regional governor of Xochimilco during the reign of Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin.
Matlacoatl. an Ixtilli and colleague of Momacani.
Mactlactome Calli. Twelve House - year 12 of the 52 year Xiuhmolpilli.
Mactlactome Malinalli. Twelve Grass - day 12 of the 260 day Tonalpohualli count.
Mexitin. plural of Mexica.
Micapetlacoli. minor Death God.
michihuauhtli. literally fish amaranth, a curd of mosquito larva and insects harvested from lake waters for consumption, probably not a delicacy.
Mictecacihuatl. Death Goddess and consort of Mictlantecuhtli.
Mictlan. the Realm of the Fleshless found at the northern limit of Tlalocan.
Mictlantecuhtli. Death God and ruler of Mictlan.
Miec. the group of stars known in recent times as the Pleiades.
Mixcoatl. Hunter God and father to Quetzalcoatl.
mizquitl. mesquite tree.
Mocolxiutecatl. meaning Those of the Lineage of Time Twisted upon Itself.
Momacani. A young Ixtilli of uncertain origin.
Motecuhzoma Ihuilcamina. fifth Mexica Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan (1440 - 1469); father to Axayacatl, Tizoc, and Ahuizotl.
Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin. ninth Mexica Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan (1502 - 1520).

nahualli. spirit guide or twin, today referred to as the nagual.
Nahuatl. major indigenous Mexican language presently spoken by some two million people.
Nahui Acatl. Four Reed - day 173 of the 260 day Tonalpohualli count.
Nanautzin. Creator God and lowly aspect of Quetzalcoatl.
Nauhyotl. Acamapichtli's loyal adviser and grandfather.
Nemontemi. group of five unfavourable days occurring at the end of the solar year and outside the agricultural and civic calendars.
Nenecuani. a priest who summoned the demon Coahualxiuh according to Codex Chalchiuhtlatonac.
Nexquimilli. apparition of ill-omen taking the form of an ashen mummy bundle.
Nextepehua. minor Death God.
Nezahualcoyotl. sixth Acolhua Tlatoani of Texcoco (1418 - 1520).
nopal. cactus, prickly pear.

Ocotochtli. aged priest, formerly the sponsor of Momacani.
octli. alcoholic beverage made from maguey sap.
Olac Xochimilco. see Xochimilco.
ololiuhqui. morning glory plant.
Ome Acatl. Two Reed - year 2 of the 52 year Xiuhmolpilli.
Ome Ozmatli.  Two Dog - day 210 of the 260 day Tonalpohualli count.
Otomí. one of the numerous chichimec tribes who settled the Valley of Mexico from the seventh century onwards, associated primarily with the centres of Otompan and linguistically distinct from the Nahuatl speaking groups.
Otompan. Otomí centre in the north-east of the Valley of Mexico, today Otumba.
Oztomeca. a clandestine subset of the Pochteca guild.

Papaztac. Minor Octli God.
Paynalozmatli. an Ixtilli and colleague of Momacani.
pinauiztli. beetle of ill-omen.
Pochteca. travelling trader.
Popocatepetl. one of the two largest volcanoes of the Valley of Mexico.
Popoloca. culture group found to the east of the Valley of Mexico and speaking a language regarded by the Mexica as unintelligible.

Quecholli. yearly twenty day hunting festival, ilhuitl 2.3 of the agricultural and civic calendar roughly contemporaneous to November in the Gregorian count.
Quetzalcoatl. God of wisdom and culture hero commonly identified with a former ruler of Tollan.
Quetzalpetlatl. sister to Quetzalcoatl.
Quilaztli. Creator Goddess.
Quiname. a long extinct race of giants.

Tamoanchan. the land of women found at the western limit of Tlalocan, sometimes conflated with Cihuatlan.
Tecciztecatl. Lunar God and aspect of Tezcatlipoca.
tecolotl. screech owl.
Tecpaneca. one of the numerous chichimec tribes who settled the Valley of Mexico from the seventh century onwards, associated primarily with the centres of Azcapotzalco and Tlacopan.
Tecpatl. knife, also standing for the northern direction and sacrifice.
tecuitlatl. spirulina algae.
Temazcalteci. Matriarchal Goddess.
Tenochtitlan. Mexica centre founded on the largest island of the southern reaches of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico
Tenquauhui. a minor official within the court of Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin.
Teotihuacan. large centre in the north of the Valley of Mexico built and then abandoned around the seventh century, and wrongly believed to have been the work of the Toltecs up until fairly recent times.
Tepeilhuitl. yearly twenty day festival in honour of the mountains, ilhuitl 2.2 of the agricultural and civic calendar roughly contemporaneous to October in the Gregorian count.
Tepeyollotl. volcanic aspect of the God Tezcatlipoca.
Teuhtlan. town to the far south of the Valley of Mexico.
Texcoco. Acolhua centre on the eastern shore of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico
Tezcatlipoca. major Fate God of which but one lesser manifestation is the Towering Man.
tezontli. red volcanic stone.
Tezozomoc. early Tecpanec Tlatoani of Azcapotzalco (1343 - 1426).
tilmatli. cotton cloak.
Tititl. yearly twenty day generative festival, ilhuitl 2.6 of the agricultural and civic calendar roughly contemporaneous to January in the Gregorian count.
Tizapaan. barren volcanic plane in the Valley of Mexico upon which the Mexica were obliged to reside during their nomadic period.
Tlacalael. legendary Cihuacoatl to the court of Itzcoatl and four successive Mexica rulers.
Tlacopan. Tecpanec centre on the western shore of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico
Tlahuixcalpantecuhtli. God of Venus as the Morning Star.
Tlaloc. Rain God.
Tlalocan. that which is below the Earth.
tlamacazqui. priest.
Tlamatzincatl. the youngest aspect of Tezcatlipoca.
tlatoani. ruler or dynastic leader.
Tlazolteotl. Matriarchal Goddess of sin, sexual love and weaving.
tlazoteotecatl. a coarse grass.
Tlohtoxcatl. an ageing Tlamacazqui by the Nahuatl rendering of his name, elsewhere famously given as Tlotoxl which, being meaningless, was presumably set down by a non-Nahuatl speaker.
Tohcual. a priest who summoned the demon Coahualxiuh according to Codex Chalchiuhtlatonac.
Tollan. Toltec centre in far north of the Valley of Mexico which fell into ruin sometime around 1170, now Tula de Allende.
Tolteca. theoretically one of the first Nahuatl speaking groups to arrive in the valley of Mexico sometime around the fifth or sixth century.
tonalli. heat, one component of the tripartite Nahua soul.
tonalpohualli. the divinatory calendar.
Tonatiuhcan. the solar afterlife of those who perish in battle or by sacrifice located at Ilhuicatl Tonatiuh, the fourth level of heaven.
Totonac. culture group found to the north-east of the Valley of Mexico and regarded by the Mexica as rustic.
Tozoztontli. yearly twenty day agricultural festival, ilhuitl 1.2 of the agricultural and civic calendar roughly contemporaneous to March in the Gregorian count.
Tzitzimime. celestial demons which will one day descend to Earth as spiders down silken threads to devour the living.
Tzonatatetl. an aide to Acamapichtli.
Tzontemoc. Death God.
Tzonpanco. town based on an island to the far north of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico, today Zumpango.

Xicco. Chalca centre built upon a large volcanic island in the eastern stretch of the lakes south of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico.
Xilonen. Corn Goddess.
Xipe Totec. Corn God.
xiuhmolpilli. the tonalpohualli equivalent of a century, a period of fifty-two years equating to a single cycle of the calendar.
Xiuhtecuhtli. God of Fire and Time.
Xochimilca. one of the numerous chichimec tribes who settled the lakes to the south of the Valley of Mexico from the seventh century onwards, associated primarily with Xochimilco.
Xochimilco. Xochimilca centre built on the southern shore of Lake Xochimilco, itself south of Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico.
Xochipilli. a God of song and revelry responsible for punishing sins of excess.
Xochitonal. a monstrous alligator found in Mictlan.
Xocoyotzin. see Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin.
Xolotl. twin of Quetzalcoatl and Venus as the evening star.

Yaotl. a female aspect of Tezcatlipoca.
Yauhtlan. centre to the far south of the Valley of Mexico.
Yauhtloc. an ageing Tlamacazqui by the Nahuatl rendering of his name, elsewhere famously given as Autloc, which, being meaningless, was presumably set down by a non-Nahuatl speaker.
Yei Malinalli. Three Grass - day 172 of the 260 day Tonalpohualli count.
yolia. breath, one component of the tripartite Nahua soul.
yollotototl. honey creeper  or bananaquit bird.
Youaltepoztli. aspect of Tezcatlipoca appearing as a headless giant.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Smoking Mirror

I produced a POD version of
Smoking Mirror some time ago, so it really is old and probably not very interesting news. Nevertheless, it's just popped up as a topic of minor curiosity on the Outpost Gallifrey forum, presumably someone working their way backwards from my more recent, arguably more legitimate written efforts; and I realised I'd never got around to reposting this 2011 review from Andrew Hickey's wonderful Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!, so here it is:

Obligatory disclaimer-cum-explanation as to why I've bought this book. I've vaguely known Lawrence Burton as one of the more intelligent posters on the Doctor Who forum Outpost Gallifrey and on the Faction Paradox forum for a year or two. We've recently become Facebook friends, and he wrote a very flattering review of my most recent book. So I may be biased here.

On the other hand, I don't know him well enough that I think I'm biased - and if you read through that thread (Lawrence reviewing several hundred science fiction books) it's obvious both that he can actually write, and also that he shares a number of my tastes - of the books we've both read, I'd say I agree with at least 80% of his reviews, and especially the stuff he's most glowing about (Philip K. Dick, Lawrence Miles, David Louis Edelman) and his tastes in individual works by writers (preferring The End Of Eternity and The Gods Themselves to Asimov's Robot stuff).

So when I saw he'd self-published a couple of books himself, I bought this one without even reading the description.

It turns out to be an unofficial Doctor Who novel. I'd hesitate to call it fanfic, partly because it was intended for BBC Books (and quite why it was rejected I can't understand) and partly because fanfic tends to suggest something of poor quality, and this is anything but. It's a Doctor Who novel that happens not to have been licensed by the BBC, that's all. (Lawrence is selling the book at cost price and not making a penny from it, I hasten to add).

Given that it's self-published, there are surprisingly few criticisms I can make of it. The review thread linked above is called Crappy 70s Paperbacks with Airbrushed Spaceships on the Cover, and the cover design is a perfect imitation of those, the typography on the back being spookily reminiscent of some of them (the closest comparison I can find is the Granada paperback copies of The End Of Eternity and The Zap Gun, but I know I've seen something even closer). However, the typography in the book itself is less wonderful, being in Times New Roman (or a facsimile thereof) and eight- or ten-point type. Having a legally-blind wife, I know from experience that ideally one should print things in at least twelve-point, and wherever possible use a sans-serif font, for readability.

Other than that, the only really jarring thing about the book is a moment of lampshade hanging, when the Doctor is on a collect-the-plot-tokens quest and thinks about how he hates this kind of thing when it happens in books. It's not done quite well enough to overcome the problems.

One other problem I have - and one that's my problem rather than the book's - is that the book is set in pre-Columbian Mexico, and so the characters' names are all phonetically unlike anything I'm accustomed to. This gave me some difficulty in keeping track of the characters, but that can hardly be helped, given the subject.

The plot is a pretty good one - why has the universe shrunk, so that it now consists of only a small area of Central America and a few centuries? Why are the Gods walking among the humans? - but the plot is less important than the writing. Lawrence obviously has a huge love for the Mexica culture and mythology, and this comes across in every word. Before I read this, all I knew of the Mexica culture was that some of their sculptures in the British Museum look like they'd been made by Jack Kirby, if Kirby had had an obsession with skulls (which is a good thing). But Lawrence manages both to make this seem like a sympathetic culture (putting even the human sacrifice into a context where it seems entirely reasonable) and to bring out the utter strangeness of the culture's myths.

A lot of individual scenes will stay with me for a long time - the Doctor getting an inkling that problems are starting when Carl Sagan starts talking about how the Earth is a few thousand years old, the god at the centre of the TARDIS, the journey through Mictlan - this is a book as much about the journey as the destination, and Lawrence isn't afraid of devoting time to his interests, whether that be retelling old myths or explaining Mexica social structure or making asides about old sitcoms.

In fact, after the obvious in-joke that the Third Doctor used to watch Dad's Army (which starred Bill Pertwee) I started wondering about the other references - what does the confirmation of a Doctor-Who-universe Wilfred Brambell and Tony Hancock mean for the careers of the 'Whoniverse' Ron Grainer and Terry Nation? - but that's just the 60s-TV fan in me coming out.

And there's a very sitcom feel about parts of this book, but in a good way. It's a funny book, but the humour all flows from the situations, whether it be the Doctor's other console rooms (I want to see the McConsole Room™ now) or the TARDIS translation circuit malfunction that renders speech more… idiomatically than before. The one funny bit that doesn't quite fit in is the bit with three priests (trying not to spoil anything here). But that is so funny - and so incongruous - that it works, even though it could easily have fallen into the too-common trap of mistaking a reference for an actual joke.

The characterisation is spot-on as well. Lawrence catches Peri's voice perfectly, and his Sixth Doctor is definitely Colin Baker (although the character here is closer to the TV series than to the more nuanced portrayal in the audio stories - understandably, as this was written in 2002, when the audios hadn't been going that long). At times the Doctor seems almost too verbose, but then this is a Doctor whose defining writers were Pip & Jane Baker, and the fact that nobody else talks like that shows it as a stylistic choice rather than a tin ear.

It's a first novel, with all that that entails, and Lawrence's influences are clear (and he thanks Philip Purser-Hallard and Simon Bucher-Jones in the acknowledgements, if it hadn't been obvious) - I'm sure the use of Mictlan here is at least in part a reference to its use in the Faction Paradox books - but while this doesn't rise to the level of the very best Doctor Who books, it's funny, clever, well-written and written by someone with an obvious love for his subjects - both Doctor Who and pre-Columbian Mexica culture - and is certainly better than a good 90% of the Doctor Who books I've read.

Now if only Air France hadn’t lost my bag with my DVD of The Aztecs in, I could do a compare / contrast here. Oh well…

I wouldn't necessarily recommend this to a non-fan of Doctor Who, but it's an excellent self-contained story which requires a minimum of continuity knowledge, so if you're even a casual fan - especially if you're a fan of the Sixth Doctor, who's otherwise even worse-served in print than on TV - this is well worth a read. I'll definitely be buying Lawrence's book of short stories.

So there you go - that all seems fair. It's available here if anyone's tempted.

Finally, I should probably stress for the benefit of the three of you to whom this might make any sense, although Smoking Mirror shares a setting with Against Nature, it's a distant ancestor rather than a direct relative, and certainly isn't the first draft of the more recent title.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Roy of the Aztecs

As about three people in the entire universe may remember without too much wincing, I was once a regular contributor to Brian Moore's Head, the award-of-some-sort winning Gillingham F.C. fanzine, drawing a regular four page continuing strip called Roy of the Aztecs which appeared in issues 59 though to 79, running from late 1996 to October 2000. Brian Moore's Head, so far as many were concerned - myself included, was one of the better football fanzines more or less regardless of personal investment in Gillingham F.C., or even in the game itself, which I personally never quite understood, and it was a pleasure to be involved, and to feature in the same vessel as the mighty data correlation of Professor Tarquin Zoological-Garden.

Roy of the Aztecs was a ripping boys' tale of ballgames and human sacrifice in ancient Mexico - essentially Roy of the Rovers with more pyramids, tortillas, and creaking puns - the tale of one young Mexican's rise from obscurity to becoming the star ball player for his theocratic city-state; and now it's all collected together in a single volume with a fancy painted cover.

In case this all sounds vaguely familiar, I've spent two years trying to load this thing up to Lulu, each time managing to print out a single copy before the Lulu book generator throws a wobbly and tells me that my masterpiece is flawed. Anyway, I've finally worked out what I was doing wrong (I had black and white images set to default rather than grayscale, which apparently is terrible) and so at long last, you can buy the thing should you wish to do so.

It may not be Watchmen, but I know at least three people who laughed at the jokes; and it's reasonably cheap, and you can buy it here:

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Andrew Hickey on Against Nature

Tepoztlan, 2005.
This time a review of my leaflet from Andrew Hickey, posted originally on his excellent blog Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

Full disclosure before I start this - I am friendly with the author and the publisher, and I also potentially have a book coming out from this publisher. I don’t think that this has biased my opinions in any way - I became friendly with them because we shared a lot of tastes, so it's unsurprising that I would then enjoy this book - but it's only fair to point out up-front.

I've been putting off reviewing this one for quite some time, because as I've said before I've not been thinking very well for the last few months due to ill-health, and this is a book that deserves a more considered, thoughtful response than perhaps I am able to give. However, I'm still not fully well, and don't know how long I would have to wait otherwise, so this is my best assessment given my limited faculties.

Against Nature is a fascinating, difficult book, that makes no concessions to the reader but is all the better for it. It's dense, allusive, and expects its reader to think - but it gives plenty to think about. This is Faction Paradox in big, important, thoughtful mode, rather than light adventure mode - think Newtons Sleep or, especially, This Town Will Never Let Us Go rather than Erasing Sherlock or Warlords Of Utopia. I've read it twice, and I still haven't got all of it, but that's a good thing - this is a book that absolutely rewards rereading.

I loved it.

I'm mistletoe, Todd thought, I was living on that tree, and now I'm cut off, just moving forward until I sputter out. He wondered if this life might present him with other obvious symbols for his consideration, truths revealed in the everyday details. It felt a little like this whole world was all for his benefit, so maybe.

Against Nature is about sacrifice, and the nature of sacrifice, about dying-and-resurrected gods (and ones that die without resurrection), about what it means to be cut off from one's culture and one's past. It's a book that could only have been written by someone profoundly disconnected from his own culture - and it's no surprise that between writing the early drafts of this, and its final publication, Lawrence emigrated to the US.

The same injustice had befallen Europe a few centuries earlier, barbarians at the gates and so on, swords turning out to be mightier than pens despite the proverb. It was always the stupid idea that caught on, the story that even the village idiot could follow without giving himself a headache. Human history was a ratings war, and people would always choose the flashing lights, special effects, and generic hero pleading you don't have to do this! over things of value.

One of the ways in which Lawrence creates this effect has been misunderstood by several of the readers, particularly on some Doctor Who forums (Faction Paradox still has a residual connection to what Lawrence refers to as Magic Doctor Who Man Telly Adventure Time). The book is set in multiple times, in multiple locations, with multiple cultures. Two of those cultures - the Great Houses and the medieval Mexica people (the people we think of, wrongly, as the Aztecs) are ones which are very, very different from the likely cultures of any of the readers, not only in behaviour and attitudes, but in language.

Lawrence throws us in at the deep end, cutting rapidly, every two or three pages, between wildly different locations and time periods, with stories that parallel and comment upon each other, but do not link up until near the end. Each of these different cultures is presented to us without comment or explanation, so our first glimpse of the Great Houses' culture comes with:

The blinkers were fashioned from the clothing of the deceased, specifically a pressure suit once belonging to Herrare, the material cut to form a collar of hide curving around the eyes in the manner of goggles. Emioushameddhoran vel-Xianthellipse adjusted the knotted strips of fabric which kept the blinkers in place and took a moment to inspect herself in the cheval glass.

while the Mexica strand of the story starts:

It was the day Ome Ozmatli of the trecena Ce Izcuintli as reckoned by the Tonalpohualli calendar of the Mexica - Two Monkey, presiding Deities being Xochipilli, Xipe Totec and Quetzalcoatl. This was hardly an auspicious combination by which to embark upon travel, but there being only nine days left before the occasion of the impending New Fire Ceremony, Momacani was left with little choice.

The cultures involved are ones which Lawrence has an expert understanding of - he has been studying the Mexica people for decades, and has been involved in Faction Paradox fandom (for want of a better word) for almost as long. The result is that he can write about these cultures fluently, from the perspective of someone who lives there, because he does, at least internally.

Several readers complained about the fact that they had to keep track of unfamiliar names like Emioushameddhoran and terms like Ce Izcuintli, and there is no question that this does make the book many times more difficult to read than it otherwise would be. But this seems to me to be entirely intentional - the reader experiences a miniature culture shock every two to five pages, and has to assimilate everything with no background. One is as rootless as Todd, the closest thing to an audience-identification figure in this book.

But I'm making this sound like it's a hard slog, something to read out of a sense of duty, and it's anything but. It's a clever, thoughtful, sometimes funny, always thought-provoking book, and will almost certainly prove the best novel I read this year.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Obverse Books in Starburst Magazine

Well, technically it's on the website, and I'm not sure if that translates into the print edition, or even whether a print edition exists in these days of eBooks and virtually entertainment as it is known to youngsters; the point is that Against Nature gets a plug in Starburst, and a plug which even provides a sample of the first chapter, so woohoo.

I still remember buying the first issue of Starburst from Martin's newsagent back in 1722, an oddly sphericular painting of assorted Star Wars in Colour! characters on the cover, and inside exciting news of all sorts of great films I would never get to see - Message from Space, Laserblast, and The Manitou. I kept on buying for the next couple of years, and then stopped for reasons that escape me, probably because I'd discovered Throbbing Gristle or something. Anyway, the point is that it's quite exciting to get a mention in the magazine which first alerted me to the existence of Max Beeza and the City in the Sky.

Funnily enough I did actually watch Message from Space on Netflix only yesterday. Turns out it wasn't that great.

Monday, 17 June 2013

History of factor X (1983​/​1994) as remembered

Probably bit of an esoteric one this, but I have - much to my surprise - turned up on History of factor X (1983​/​1994) as remembered, a downloadable album thingy for which you name your price - so it's free if you want, or more if you feel inclined to donate some money that Shaun may have food on his table and shoes on his feet. I'm playing guitar on the track in question, which dates from 1994 back when we were sending each other tapes of stuff. The music of factor X has always been adventurous, tending towards experiments, humour, noise, and the like, but with a common touch, I suppose you might call it - that is to say, even when it sounds like cement mixers falling down a hill, it's composed for the sheer joy of sound, rather than so as to frown at you whilst wearing a black leather coat.

Download History of factor X from bandcamp

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Richard Dominic Flowers on Against Nature

There is of course no earthly reason why you can't just go direct to the source, the source in this case being the wonderful and
Very Fluffy Diary of Millennium Dome, Elephant by Richard Dominic Flowers, but here's another review of Against Nature for the sake of completism and blowing my own trumpet, or getting someone else to blow it for me, if you'll pardon the expression. For what it may be worth, Richard is a formidable author in his own right, and his aNARCHY rULES series is very much something to be anticipated with excitement, so this review prompted a good few hours of the Snoopy dance, I tell you what.

There is a very well-regarded Doctor Who story called The Aztecs which, unfortunately, contains the Western, Christian, Eurocentric, liberal English misconception of the Mexica civilisation in its very title and, rooted there, it informs - or misinforms - the entire narrative. Since The Aztecs is a not a story about a genuine historic people, but actually about predestination and time travel, and a view - that you cannot change history, not one line - that the series ultimately chooses to reject, this particularly black-and-white misconception is curiously apt and doesn't undermine the story. I love The Aztecs, but it's really not a story about the Aztecs (and I notice that Microsoft spell checker accepts the word Aztec but not the word Mexica which tells you this is not a forgotten problem).

In our comfort and our privilege, we tend to be very, very squeamish about the concept of sacrifice. In particular, we tend to jump straight in at chopping people's hearts out as an automatic by-word for evil and end any discussion there. Sacrifice becomes synonymous with murder.

It's worth referring to the entry on Sacrifice in The Book of the War (ed. Lawrence Miles), where it says, in simplified terms, sacrifice is something that you do, it isn't something you do or even can do to someone else; it's about giving up, not taking away.

I should say up front, you absolutely don't need a grounding in the lore of Faction Paradox or Doctor Who, or a copy of The Book of the War to hand in order to enjoy and fully understand everything that goes on here. Having said that, Against Nature does explore and expand a great many concepts and conceits from other Faction Paradox related titles, be they amaranths - Christmas on a Rational Planet; arithmancy - Interference; or House Xianthellipse, Walking Dead or Waves of the House Military - various entries in The Book of the War; which is the mark of a good player in a shared-world sandpit.

We have become so used to abundance that even the Wartime use of making sacrifices is becoming an almost alien concept to us, and even the comparatively slight slowing of growth is called austerity and hardship as if we can understand that. The idea that people who have very nearly next to nothing to give up might choose to do without things and especially people that they value highly totally dumbfounds us (and yet, how many Doctor Who stories finish with one character - usually a guest character, but every now and again the lead - dying for the greater good, often to save someone else, usually lots of someones, but again every now and again just one other someone?).

What Lawrence Burton does here is take that paragraph and really run with it.

It helps that he really knows his stuff. Don't let the peculiarity of the Nahuatl names of people and places put you off; instead let yourself fall into their alternate poetry. Later in the book, as time unwinds, passages of the text start to be written in the form of Mexica history, and this really works as a way of conveying a universe whose rules are being rewritten, and in parallel demonstrating the Faction concept of alter-time states.

The Mexica religion and philosophy is so different to the standard Western view of the universe - and yet with some curious parallels: for example, there are strong echoes of Plato in the understanding of the difference between what is and what really is - that this is the perfect place to examine what alternate forms of history could look like and what happens when their continuity clashes with ours.

But this isn't enemy action; rather the ultimate nihilism arising from within the ranks of the House Military, reflecting the damage that war does to the warrior, but also the dangers of forcing the highly conservative agents of the Great Houses, whose entire Universe literally begins and ends with them putting constraints on History, to fight a war on behalf of life in all its diversity.

Starting with five stories - representing the five cardinal directions of Mexica theosophy - that initially appear to echo one another as they revolve around their common axis before beginning to bleed into one another and finally colliding explosively. The conclusion is as satisfying as it is ingenious, an explanation that both makes sense and fully encompasses why the entire scheme to destroy the Universe fails, based as it is in the same misconception of the Mexica with which we began.

The book is full of striking and memorable characters, from Grandma Doña Ultima to a talking Chihuahua to the Gods of Death, by way of central characters Primo, Todd, Emiousha of House Meddhoran and Momacani, and a mysterious, almost-identifiable one time agent of Faction Paradox and/or demoness Yaotl, some of whom may be Time Lords and some of whom may be dead.

I spent a lot of the novel idly speculating whether Yaotl was Compassion or Lolita, and therefore which side she might come down on. In fact, a solitary use of the word Immaculata is suggestive, and the ambivalence about which side she is on becomes an obvious clue; and the idea that there are good and evil sides is something the whole book is pitching against anyway.

The landscapes of Mexico City; San Antonio, Texas; the recursive Netherweald where House Meddhoran finds itself lodged thanks to Faction-inspired arithmancy; historic Tenochtitlan and the cities of the Triple Alliance; and ultimately the Tlalocan underworld are all vividly drawn and gather you into their respective worlds, excepting maybe San Antonio - ironically in the light of events later in the book - which I felt was not as distinguishable from present-day Mexico as the other segments, its main character being that Todd's home town it was somehow less vivid than Primo's city. Though that does sort of make sense as well, he says cryptically.

It's also at times a funny book, including an (unobtrusive) nod to that Doctor Who story, and another to name-check Mr. Miles' This Town Will Never Let Us Go; and a climactic reveal that echoes another classic Doctor Who cliff-hanger (I really can't say which) raised to a whole new level. These are the sort of touches that, I have to admit, I do when I'm writing, and in so many ways it's the sort of book I would like to have written myself, if I had ten years to sit down and do the research.

Short of quaffing peyote-based alcohol, this is the best way to expand your mind, Mexica style.

...and whilst we're all here, the online version of Starburst magazine has just done a short feature on Obverse Books including a sample of the first chapter of Against Nature, which is nice.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Against Nature on sale in North America

Cholula, Mexico.

For anyone to whom this makes a significant difference with regard to prohibitive shipping costs for books sent from Europe,
Against Nature now has a North American distributor - Who North America who presently have print copies on sale for $30, presumably plus postage. So buy now while stocks last etc. etc.

On a related but otherwise entirely different note, how tickled I am to receive the commentary of a virtual friend generally addressed as Urizen, Foremost of the Western, Hermas or one of a number of other names depending upon which part of the internet you happen to be standing in. We've known each other - in so much as one can really know anyone - on various forums and have corresponded on and off for a couple of years mostly regarding our shared appreciation of Faction Paradox novels and early cultures - he has a formidable understanding and appreciation of ancient Egypt, so we've sort of compared notes a few times, which I've always found illuminating.

Anyway, Urizen is another person upon whom I was concerned that Against Nature should make a favourable impression on the grounds that if he judged it to be crap, then it probably was. So with regards to the present girth of my ego, anybody reading this who knows me in person - I'd give it a couple of days if I were you.

It is, to say the least, an impressive work, not only in its intricate structures, but also that this is matched by warm-blooded characters, excellent prose style and an overall high readability - not an unputdownable, but then, that term is usually used of the likes of Dan Brown, so I shouldn't take that as a criticism. Indeed, the book almost requires gaps and spaces between readings to sift and think about the contents along the way. The most important thing, however, I think is that it manages the difficult task of being both impressive and actually readable - in this, I think, scoring highly over both This Town and Newtons Sleep, which were both rather like the famed black monolith: admirable, but fearsome and somewhat unapproachable too.

Equally impressive is the bringing to life of a dead culture, which I know too well is no mean feat, given the often scrappy and rather finessed remains that we are often left with, let alone their often quite alien and alienating concerns (the use of the calendar in Momacani's sections is in particular excellent, I think). That you managed this and then, on top of this, created the first truly interesting presentation of the Great Houses since The Book of the War (and before that, probably The Deadly Assassin, though I have ignored the audios in this consideration), is once again a huge plus for the book. In the end, Against Nature just works, and I can see precious little to criticise it, which is normally a good sign: the true mark of craftsmanship usually being that it looks far, far simpler than it is, and that the amount of work which went into it is invisible.

With that said, I do not feel I could offer thoughts on a book without offering some criticism - what, after all, would be the point without it? I can certainly see what the other reviewers of this book have meant about catching up with the Nahuatl terminology, though I have to admit this only afflicted me slightly, at some point over the halfway mark, and was not terribly severe - I had to flip to the back cover a couple of times to sort Xiuhtecuhtli from Goralschai's Nahuatl name.

What I found more difficult, however, were the various chambers of House Meddhoran, which I found difficult to envisage, partly because I found their functions quite difficult to work out. What is a nosocomion for, or an air gallery? Then again, this also heightened the oddity of the House, and seemed to fit well with the formlessness of the Netherweald. I also found it a little difficult to keep track of the inhabitants, beyond Rhodenet, Laethynrisa, Thraenrellis and Emiousha, partly because some cousins, particularly I think Rothis and Dorhira, only appear relatively late (unless I forgot their earlier appearances).

I also found the jumps between segments could be a little offputting, if I had become particularly in the mood for one segment, but I did insist on reading the book beginning to end rather than following individual strands, so that's entirely my own fault. These are all, however, rather trifling criticisms in the overall scheme of the book, which remains highly to be praised.

That's all I can think of right now, because I am going to need some time to digest the book - which is, again, something of a testament to its qualities. I do not think, at the moment, that it is a great book; it is, however, a very good book, and one close, I think, to the border between the two states. I wouldn't presume to rate the book, but I would presume to call it entertaining, witty, clever, charming, engrossing, sympathetic and emotionally engaging while avoiding sentimentality and mawkishness, and above all, enjoyable. I wish I'd written it.

Thanks again to Urizen for allowing me to reproduce what was written as private correspondence and was as such not originally intended for public view.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Obverse Book of Detectives

The theoretically final edition of the Obverse Quarterly is now available to buy or download (if that's how you roll) and this time as I mentioned a few weeks ago it's detective fiction, hence the title; albeit detective fiction in unorthodox settings, so I'm told. My contribution is called The Unwoken Princess and is set in Chalco and Xochimilco in the fifteenth century valley of Mexico (and so readers should be forewarned that its conspicuously lacking in characters with names like Gavin, Keith and Shirley).

The full line up comprises The Sorcerous Dogsnatchers of Fishwife Lane by Chantelle Messier, The Bog-Man Of Bond Street by Thomas H. Pugh, The Crimson Dagger by Jamie Hailstone, The Witchfinder by Paul Hiscock, Exit Stage Left by Mark Manley, and my thing.

The print edition can be purchased here, the electronic version here, and seeing as I already posted Julia Andersson's lovely cover as part of the previous entry concerning The Obverse Book of Detectives, here's a picture of me smoking a fag in a boat in Xochimilco taken by Rob Colson back in September 2005 before everything went down the toilet.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Against Nature: Four Stars on Goodreads

Well, I was bored...

And another review of
Against Nature, this time as posted on Goodreads on the 30th April by Philip Purser-Hallard, himself a genuinely exceptional author whose own entry into the Faction Paradox canon, Of the City of the Saved... would easily rate amongst my all-time top ten science-fiction novels were I ever to attempt to pin down such a grouping. Whilst it would be untrue to suggest that I might have packed in writing to become a pole dancer had Phil given my novel the thumbs down, it would have nevertheless been a dark day, so this feels somewhat akin to Henry Rollins telling me my band rocks (conditional to some scenario in which I actually have a band):

There are some issues with the use of language in this novel: Lawrence Burton's knowledge of Mexica culture is rich and detailed and his research is meticulous, but Against Nature doesn't work with the reader to allow them to understand it as well as he does. In some ways that's admirable - as a reader I'm always willing to put in some work to understand a book rather than having its meanings handed to me on a plate - but despite the culture's inherent fascinations, the sheer profusion of unfamiliar terms did become a little alienating.

However, it's exactly the same approach taken to the material set among the inhabitants of the Great Houses, which I found much more comprehensible, and indeed to the contemporary US scenes - we're so immersed in the viewpoint of the current primary character that what they see is presented to us with no more explanation than they themselves would need. I'm confident that an early sixteenth-century Mexica cleric or a Homeworlder, if they were somehow able to read the book, would find exactly as much that was baffling about the contemporary sections.

As I say, I don't mind putting in the work to understand a story - it’s a common expectation in SF (see such books as Neuromancer or A Clockwork Orange), and one becomes used to it - but it’s not exactly restful to read. Couple that with the fivefold alternation between what for much of the book are separate plot strands, and a family life which means that I mostly get to read when I'm already tired, and I quite often picked up the book and found that I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I found it quite slow going.

Much of that is to do with my reading habits, though - I'm sure a younger, more intellectually agile reader would have had no issues with it. The one place where I thought this approach seriously compromised the book was in the suggestion that the actions of the various time-active participants had altered the mythology of the Mexica people, since without a comprehensive knowledge of said mythology it was impossible to detect which aspects of the myths depicted had been culturally imperialised.

That's it for the negatives, though. In a more general way, I loved the use of Aztec myth, religion and ritual, and the descriptive tours of Tenochtitlan and its environs, as well as its modern-day counterpart and the connections between the two. The bruja Ultima, with her matter-of-fact approach to ritual magic, was a particularly fine character, but Momacani (the Mexica cleric whose passages are naturally the most steeped in Nahuatl vocabulary) was also reassuringly sympathetic. The play with alternative timelines was fun - not just the revelation about Todd's relationship to Primo, but also the fractured present-day USA in which the former apparently finds himself about halfway through the book.

The book is crammed full of fascinating ideas, in fact, and its plot is wonderfully twisty, yielding up unexpected linkages between its apparently disparate strands, and building up to a climax whose ill-defined, partial and ambiguous nature is entirely in keeping with the book's presentation of the numinous and sacred. The biggest question of all - Goralschai's true intent - is ultimately unanswerable without an insight into the Ordnance-Tetrarch's thought processes which the book denies us, and I felt it was all the more satisfying that way.

I loved the House Meddhoran sections of the book, and their depiction of an alien but codified world being invaded by the weird, irrational and macabre. (From a smugly personal point of view, I was gratified to see that the Great Houses' vocabulary now includes a couple of my own coinages, specifically archemathics and childe.) The eventual humanisation of these childrene whom the Houses have rejected was touchingly done.

It's difficult for me to rank Against Nature in quality with the six previous Faction Paradox novels from Mad Norwegian and Random Static, even leaving my own horse out of the race... but as the first full-length novel Obverse Books have published, it's suitably impressive, and gives me a great deal of confidence in the quality of the range to come.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Against Nature absolutely captures the magic of the previous Faction Paradox books

Xicco, Lake Chalco (in case anyone was wondering).

Another review from the
Gallifrey Base forum, originally posted on the 29th April and reproduced here with kind permission of its author, Aaron George. There are some negatives, but nothing said which strikes me as being necessarily unjustified, and I'm hugely gratified that the novel still seemed to work for this reader despite his reservations:

I just finished this yesterday. I was planning on writing a long review like Humbert, but if I did, I think I'd harp on all of the things that I didn't like about it. And I hate those people who come on this forum to write big long posts about how terrible something is. It's a huge buzzkill, and it just stinks of venom. So here's what I'm going to say:

I was worried when Obverse took over the Faction Paradox license that we'd lose something that made Faction Paradox unique. I didn't have any reason to think this, it was just a general worry over change. And, as much as I liked Romance in Twelve Parts, it did feel very different. Each short story focused almost entirely on Faction Paradox, which was fine, but I always thought the magic of Faction Paradox was when it wasn't about Faction Paradox. This Town was a great book because it refused to be about the Faction, instead telling a unique story in the universe. Warlords of Utopia is the best thing Lance Parkin's ever written, and it didn't focus on the Faction at all, and Newtons Sleep, though it did have a large part for them, was wonderful because Daniel O'Mahony's characters, style and inventiveness was distinctive, unlike anything I'd seen before. So I'm happy to say that Against Nature absolutely captures the magic of the previous Faction Paradox books. It is exactly everything I want in this line, and it harkens back to the wonderful nature of This Town, combining creepy atmosphere with the idea that symbols reshape reality and the way something is said is often more important than what it says. So well done both to Lawrence and to Obverse.

Anyways, on the actual book: I love the plot. It's one of the most inventive plots I've ever read, and I love the ideas that went into it. And overall I liked the book. However, there were a lot of aspects of the book that made it very difficult to read, and I often felt like the writing of the book was preventing me from enjoying the book itself. I don't think Primo's a very good character, for instance, and I think that he really needed to be an audience identification figure. Moreover, while the Aztec words worked for Humbert, they really didn't for me. I would read a sentence that, for all intents and purposes read, xxxx walked up to the xxxx, his xxxx catching as he xxxx. xxxx knew that xxxx had told him of xxxx's xxxx four years ago, while xxxx was on the throne. To xxxx, this meant that xxxx was finally xxxx. It was xxxx. This may have been dismissible if that were only one of the threads of the book, but Primo loved throwing out these words too, and Emiousha's storyline had it's own words that just looked like Xs on a page. There are so many characters as well, so on top of not being able to picture anything because it's described using words I don't know, not being able to follow anything because it's using words I don't know, I also have to keep characters straight who all have names that look alike. My other problem with the writing is that for long, long swaths of the story, characters are sitting around talking to each other but not actually doing anything. This gets worse when characters like Primo and Momacani randomly figure out what's going on in the plot, for reasons I can't figure out, and then explain it to the reader through their internal monologue. That struck me as a little sloppy.

I'm sorry, it looks like despite my saying that I wouldn't harp on the negative, I did anyways. I want to stress that I do quite like the book. I love the ways that the book probably rewards future re-readings, and love how intricate everything is. So don't let my criticisms rain on the parade here.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Against Nature: Five Stars on Amazon!

This time I was going for more of a Sir Les Patterson vibe.

I'm beside myself and somewhat t
attifilarious to have received a second review of Against Nature, this time from Daniel Worsley writing on

It's a good book. That much I can tell you.

As for what it's about, that's something entirely different. Is it about someone with a death wish and wanting to take all of creation with him? Or is it about two men discovering that their lives are interwoven, impossible and all part of someone else's grand game? Or is it about what family means to a species who reproduce literally via technology? Or is it about the clash between society and it's gods and the tension created from having to live with but struggle against the gods? Or is it all of those things and more mixed together to create a rainbow cake of interesting text, flavour and thought?

Yes. Yes it is.

Lawrence Burton divides his story up into something that could be seen as five books in one, and uses the symbolism of a compass (the five points being North, South, East, West and the Centre point) and a uniquely Mexican mythology connected to that symbolism to create the foundation of his tale. Each compass point has it's own texture, it's own voice and feel. One has a sad ground-down weariness to it, another a faded pomp and majesty. As you read it, you're offered clues as to how the stories inter-relate and it's a genuinely rewarding feeling when you put two and two together and something you thought in passing a couple of chapters before turns out to be what's happening. He also litters it with little jokes and winks (such as one of the characters being a Priest in Black whose job it is to investigate mysterious sightings of gods out of their natural habitat).

I know it says Faction Paradox on the cover, but it's not directly a Faction Paradox novel. The Faction's referenced in it, some of their techniques and rituals turn up but it's more a other peoples and powers from the FP universe novel. It's a good stand-alone, you don't need to be au fait with the Faction to enjoy it, everything you need is within the covers, but it does offer a little something more for the Faction fan (including one of the famous mystery characters from The Book of the War if I'm not mistaken).

Friday, 19 April 2013

The Unwoken Princess

I have a short story called The Unwoken Princess in The Obverse Book of Detectives, currently on pre-order but available soon so far as I understand. Esteemed fellow contributors include Chantelle Messier, Thomas H. Pugh, Jamie Hailstone, Paul Hiscock, and Mark Manley with the emphasis on unconventional efforts to stretch the boundaries of detective fiction. My story, for example, is set in fifteenth century Mexico (which admittedly probably won't come as too much of a surprise) and presents a much earlier tale in the life of Icnopilli from Against Nature, one which draws stinking great chunks of inspiration from Terry LaBan's excellent strip Muktuk Wolfsbreath - Hardboiled Shaman from a few years back.

Should be good, and you can pre-order the print version by recontextualising your computer mouse in proximity to this here link:

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Against Nature Not Too Bad, Claims Bloke

Well, I'm hugely gratificated and enhumbled to have received the first full review of Against Nature by someone who actually shelled out for a copy. James Douglas Burton - to whom I should probably stress I am not knowingly related - posted this on the Gallifrey Base bulletin board on Wednesday 17th April. Whilst I have a few minor quibbles here and there, I have to say he really seems to get what the book is about, and I'm greatly pleased to learn that for the most part it reads as I hoped it would read.

Without further ado, here's what he wrote:
All right, I finally just finished reading Against Nature this morning. Took me a week to read - mostly because I have been working an awful lot and been extremely exhausted. And when a book is as complex as this one, reading when your brain is at the refusing to take in what is on the page stage of consciousness, you definitely have to just put the book down.

But I finally had the time to complete the novel, and what an excellent book it is. I am going to attempt to present some of my thoughts in a very random order here, so bear with me. It also may be less thorough than many of my book ramblings, because as sophisticated and complex as the book is, we end up in such a different place from where we started, with so much having gone on inbetween, that I find my initial thoughts gone by now. I will try to retrieve one or two of them.

I guess I'd better preface this by stating what ought to be obvious: the following is, of course, my opinion. Not just my opinion, but a specific description of the way I personally reacted to the text. My experience of it is likely to be different than the next person's - and I certainly don't want to suggest that it is reflective of the author's intent. Anything I take away from it is just that: what I take away from it.

Keeping that in mind, much of what I write here is likely to be nonsense. So be it.

Speaking of personal reactions, and of nonsense, I should state that my knowledge of Central American culture and history is so limited (to basically nothing) that I cannot tell how much of what Lawrence Burton writes makes sense and how much doesn't. (I refer specifically to the twists and turns of the mythology and culture as it applies to the events of this story, by the way - not to his prose in general!) I approach it all (including all of the long Nahuatl words) the same way I approach the Homeworld-related stuff - as a bunch of things I cannot possibly understand, so just roll with it.

Hopefully my approach is close to that which is expected by the book and its author - taking the wrong angle at this material is likely to end up with your experience of it being quite wrong. So I hope mine isn't too far off course.

Basically, whether I am reading the passages about the gods and history of the native Central Americans, or the technobabble of House Meddhoran, I read through it and try to take in the gist of what is going on, hoping I have gleaned enough for it all to make sense, and don't bother trying to fully understand every little piece of what is being presented.

If anyone here ever watched the TV series Alias from a few years back, the writers there had an interesting approach. They would begin by hitting the viewer over the head with fragments of backstory presented in a way that was impenetrable, then rattling off complicated explanations of who was on what side, in relation to whom, and the plot would usually unfold quickly with much back-and-forthing on motives and loyalties. Basically, the creators of the program presented the viewers up front with things they couldn't possibly understand completely - and in doing so were attempting to reassure the viewer that they were not going to fully comprehend the details and that we should just go with it.

In that context, it was possible for the approach to have the unfortunate effect of switching off one's brain and simply enjoying the ride. That wasn't quite what was intended, but I think it was the way most viewers would experience the show.

Here, obviously, that isn't even close to what ought to be experienced. But some of the same mindset had to be taken by me. Rather than try to parse every sentence, grasp the significance of every Nahuatl word, or Homeworld jargon, I try to grasp the implication of what is occurring, to get a sense of the situation and the motives of those involved, and accept that some things I simply will not understand. In the land of Faction Paradox it is usual, after all, to be unable to grasp the entire situation.

I'm also reminded here of a failed attempt at the same kind of thing. K.W. Jeter's novel Noir (set in a strange cyberpunk future that doesn't make much sense at all) opens with a chapter that deliberately throws every piece of nonsensical terminology native to this future world at the reader. It is deliberately unreadable, designed to throw the reader in at the deep end and say this is the world you're going to be in, folks - deal with it. There (partly due to the world's unrealistic nature, partly due to the author's lack of skill) it was merely off-putting and failed to have any positive effect.

Lawrence Burton is, of course, much more capable than Jeter. Rather than throwing these things out there as a challenge, or a warning, or a test, or whatever purpose such a technique may be designed for, Burton merely presents the world in which his characters live. No thought is given to the uneducated reader - but neither are terms and references tossed at us in order to specifically affect us one way or the other. Whether the character is from modern day America, seventeenth century Mexico, or the Homeworld of the Great Houses, the text is presented as one natural to the lead character of that segment. Terms that the protagonist would be familiar with are presented matter-of-factly, whether the alien reader will understand it or not.

This approach helps to give the feeling of a real world - not one created for our consumption, but one which exists with all its complexity, regardless of our reaction to it or conception of it. As much as I may be confused by it at times (and I use the term loosely - my favorite filmmaker is David Lynch and I enjoy the way one can fully experience something without necessarily understanding it) the novel always feels genuine and sincere and solid. Three-dimensional. Four-dimensional. Real people, in a real world.

Now, that's not necessarily to say that the book is centered on real people and how the events affect them. Burton has clearly put some work into making these into fully-developed people - but the complexity and fluidity (and mythicality) of the story take the focus away from how would these people react to this situation and more on the unfolding of the legend and the greater themes, and what happens to the world. Many novels focus their stories on the inner progress of their characters; some see the characters as simple game pieces to move about on their board to create the plot. (Both of these can be equally valid ways of storytelling). Against Nature is neither of these, and is more about the unfolding of a myth and the recreation of the characters' realities. Unfortunately, I'm not very good at explaining what I mean, so you will have to read the book itself to get a sense of the approach it takes.

Because of the mythical tack the book takes, I'm not sure a plot is something I can say it has. But allow me to briefly describe the premise of the novel:

Structurally, each chapter is split into five, describing five points of a quincunx. East, North, West, South, and Center. Each segment focuses on a different protagonist - though their lives overlap significantly and they will appear in each other's segments as the story unfolds. East focuses on Primo - a Mexican youth who is beset by a mysterious ailment. North is about Todd, a man whose recent history begins to unravel. West we see House Meddhoran and its Kithriarch - Emiousha - as they encounter the nebulous Netherweald in which they are stranded. South is for Momacani in ancient Mexico as he moves toward what will be a very important ceremony for everyone. And in the center of everything is Goralschai from the Homeworld, whose motives are impossible to comprehend.

The whole tale is rooted in Central American culture. It shapes the Homeworld segments as much as it does the Earth-bound ones. Mictlan, the underworld, becomes the most important location in the universe as the story progresses, being entwined with the paths and fates of all parties.

Anyone who has read Lawrence Burton's work before knows that he is a ridiculously good author. This novel shows that particularly well. The amount of work that went into this is plain to see, and the talent that causes it to come into being is immense.

That's not to say that I have no issues with it. I don't believe I have ever read a book that I had no problems with. Against Nature can at times be vague. It is deliberate, of course, but can be off-putting. Never more so than at the climax of the book - which I didn't even realize was the climax until after the fact. As I say, it is intentional (Whatever had happened back there had apparently been for the best, but no one seemed clear about what that might have been, the book says of this event) but can be frustrating - for me at least.

And we all have out little bugbears, right? This author's fellow Lawrence (Faction-creator Lawrence Miles) has a tendency to present things that he thinks are profound statements about life and the universe, but which are often inane. But I am able to ignore the things that bug me about an author's work (again: nothing and no one is perfect). With Lawrence Burton, I have discussed before how the way his extreme dislike of the current direction of Doctor Who gets into so much of what he writes gets a bit wearisome for me. His Señor 105 novella (The Grail - a very good story indeed) devoted a large part of its plot to being an allegory of the way he feels modern Doctor Who has been ruined, and of its fans' attitudes.

He hasn't done much of that lately (I mean, he still hates modern Who but it doesn't usually pervade his writings either here, on facebook, or wherever) but I admit that when I read this comment (about a tapestry from the Homeworld) I groaned a little:

It told of some minor President, a record of his later years, a narrative that had turned garish and vulgar; of interest only to an addlepate.

As I said, though, this is just a little bugbear of my own, and not a black mark against the novel, or its author.

While I am commenting on little details, I wish I had made more highlights on the text to discuss now. There are a lot of lovely little touches in the text, but one humorous aside tickled me particularly. One character has just been tested by having another character attack him unexpectedly - the attacker loses an arm in the process of this little test.
Had someone simply thought to ask have you or have you not recently found yourself tainted by sacred forces? he might simply have answered yes and Chitilma would still be blessed with a plurality of arms.

One of my favorite quotes of the book, that...

There is an awful lot of attention to detail in this book. The author's knowledge of Central American history and culture is obviously great, and I imagine the specific research for this story must have been immense, but his realization of the people from the Homeworld and their technology and society is wonderful as well. I am actually a little surprised at how much of Marc Platt's House structure Burton was able to use (looms, Drudges, Kithriarch - the word cousin is not used in the House, since in this universe the term is too tied to Faction Paradox) but there is a lot of the West segment that has been fleshed out by Burton himself. I don't pretend to understand the technology, or the way the Netherweald works (even after later revelations as to its nature) but it all feels very much of a piece. The actual denizens of House Meddhoran are not fully realistic individuals, but there are reasons for this. Besides being Homeworlders (and largely unknowable therefore) they are newly-loomed childrene, and deliberately unique ones at that. Some of them are more individual than others, and the way the House works (or doesn't) is fascinating to me.

Goralschai, the center-piece of the novel, as it were, is a less interesting character than the others. His motivations are unclear (deliberately) and even his specific intent is something I am incapable of understanding (and hopefully everyone else is as well - I wouldn't like to think I am just being stupid here). Worst of all (for me) is the finale (in which he and the other characters are, of course, involved) which comes and goes without the reader (or, at least, this reader) realizing that it even was a finale.

The resolution is disappointing (to me) but not crushingly so. It fits in with the mythological approach of the novel, and works exactly as I am sure it was meant to. (Commentary on the event afterwards makes it appear that the characters feel the same way about it that I do.) I refuse to spoil the events of the novel by explaining what about it seemed unsatisfactory to me, but would be interested in seeing if others experience this in the same way that I did, or if their way of seeing it is dramatically different.

You may or may not have noticed that I have mentioned no specifically Faction Paradox-related characters or events yet. In fact, there is one such in the book, who has a distinct hand in events. Called variously Yaotl or Lorraine Conti she is (or was) an agent of Faction Paradox who takes a specific interest in events and ends up really stirring things up. She is, I suppose, the only real outsider to this tale - and while not one of the primary forces in the book, her actions are central to several of the story strands.

But the whole story is very "Paradoxical" - even without the Conti character this book would sit right at home among the Faction Paradox works. One of my favorites of the series (This Town Will Never Let Us Go) doesn't even have any real members of the Faction either. It is the themes of the book, the way they weave together, as well as the complex way they are told, that make this a very Faction novel.

As I seem to have waffled on for ages without actually saying anything (I look at the clock ticking away in the corner of my screen and wonder where the morning went to) let me briefly mention some nice little allusions in the book that tickled my fancy.

I mentioned already an oblique reference to Burton's dislike for modern Doctor Who. I may groan at the intrusion of the sentiment into this novel, but it is amusingly and slickly done. And frankly, all of the Lungbarrovian allusions in House Meddhoran make me smile.

In one character's dream-vision early on, he sees a masked wrestler speaking to a young boy selling chiclé - an obvious reference to Señor 105 and Rodrigo.

There is a face-painted Aztec priest called Tlohtoxcatl, and one reference to an exile named Yauhtloc. Are these more accurate renditions of characters from the Doctor Who serial The Aztecs?

I'm sure there are lots more references to other things that I either missed or forgot, but those are some that amused me personally.

Obverse Books has produced an awful lot of wonderful stuff. For my money, Against Nature is the best so far; the bar has been raised, and I hope someone sees this as a challenge and is ready to step up to the plate. To mix my sports metaphor even further: this one's a knockout.

Thanks to James for taking the time and effort to set down his thoughts, and for conceding to my reproducing them here, and also to Cody for the strangely philosophical illustration...

Against Nature is available from Obverse Books in print form here or as an eBook here, just in case I didn't already mention that five billion times.