What Keeps Their Lines Alive: A (Musically) Annotated Guide

In the tradition of Lawrence Burton, Andrew Hickey and Nate Bumber, here’s an almost-complete list of references & secrets seen in my Faction Paradox: The Book of the Peace story…

Read on to see my notes. WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD!

What Keeps Their Lines Alive

My title is a reference to Bertolt Brecht’s line “What keeps mankind alive?” from The Threepenny Opera. The story as a whole was inspired by Brecht’s dialectical theatre, and especially by the amazing 2009 Deutsches Theater Berlin performance of St Joan Of The Stockyards.

One spotlight glides across a bone-faced man pacing the stage. He swishes his red cloak about, thick cloth draped in scrimshaw teeth and matted tufts of hair.

Axastyakis’ species has roamed the universe for a long time. Maybe even on your TV screen.

Cousin Cá Bảy Màu

Cá Bảy Màu is Vietnamese for “guppy.” I used to own a Gyarados with that name. Shout-out to my friend Athenodora Cat for her Vietnamese-Australian cultural sensitivity reading.

Little Sister Amara

Folk etymology has it that Amara’s name means “undying.” It actually just means “bitter.”

Look at this, it’s complete fragmented nonsense. An entire book of utter Dada.

I wrote Cá Bảy Màu as having pretty massive ADHD. I think he loves to hyperfocus on silly fringe art — the more outrageous and nonsensical, the better.

My main concept for Cá Bảy Màu was that he evokes all those lovely romantic tropes that surround the Doctor, the Eighth in particular, but that he severely lacks any drive for adventure or justice. He thinks of himself as the grand actor, the keen detective, the rebel who cleverly points out whatever others are too scared to address. He is spectacularly wrong on all counts. As a result, his presence in the story is also an absence of everything he could have accomplished, had he been just a little bit better at the whole protagonist thing. 

Cá Bảy Màu’s background track, I think, is Smash Mouth’s Then The Morning Comes

Its words are slow and joined by little flecks of clay.

Some of Hole’s physiognomy was inspired by the Clay Men of Fallen London. (If you’re in the Neath as well, please feel free to send me a calling card!) 

“When I was young,” she proclaims, “I looked through eternity’s eye, and eternity created me!” The lines of A sound clear and artless on her tongue.

Sounds like a certain something Homeworlders go through when they’re childrene, doesn’t it? Which would make perfect sense. If the book of A were Mullion’s.

Paradox anxiety!

Paradox anxiety is still my all-time goddamn favourite part of Faction lore.

Cá Bảy Màu had her nose stuck in C when I got there

Cá Bảy Màu is a genderfluid human, and uses he and she pronoun sets depending on her mood (like I do as well). I deliberately stayed away from describing her body in much detail.

Faction Paradox has always addressed gender in transformative ways, and has included trans people throughout its lore. From realistic, historical portrayals (d’Éon in the BBV audios) to futuristic transitions (Cathy / Catal Summerfield in Dead Romance) to sci-fi medical horror (the Manfolk in Of the City of the Saved…, Father-Mother Olympia in Newtons Sleep.) All of those depictions are relatable, but I wanted to add this very human, contemporary perspective as well — and showcase the way regular old nerds can be regular trans people too.

Writing this story was a brilliant way for me to explore my own gender journey. I had my gender confirmation surgery halfway through the editing stage, and started HRT just before the book was published.

“There’s a mote in our eye that’s rammed itself into the core!” she quotes, her words projected clearly through the oval. “Pull it forth, tear it off, wash it out!”

The first of several hints as to what’s going on behind the scenes in this story. If you’ve read Head of State, maybe you can guess at this point where the eye sits, and who the mote is meant to be…

“Oh, I love cats so much.”

Lots of planets have cats. Not only the planet that C is from…

the throaty bursts of Weimar stage tradition

Cá Bảy Màu’s pretty much imagining herself as the next Lotta Lenya here.

This scene was the first one I wrote (as part of my pitch), and I still adore its dream-like atmosphere.

our little loa

A loa, originally a concept from Haitian culture, is something quite unique in Faction Paradox lore. They’re beings of thought, of time and mathematics; outside the universe, given shape by people’s belief in them.

“I guess? Like how it goes in the shanties, the… right, the tilly-tally clusterbomb of cluttered shab-rag self, wrapped snug and thick in ground-down layers of meaning…”

Such “shanties” would have been written by Little Sister Shotgun, following the events of Weapons Grade Snake Oil. Shout-out to Blair Bidmead for approving the line.

Please, please no, I’ve only just been woven

Sure sounds like something a Homeworlder would experience… if the book of A were Mullion’s…

Cá Bảy Màu’s lips are in her hair.

Probably the most overt pop culture quote in the story, to Amanda Palmer’s Bed Song. An early hint that things are about to go pear-shaped for these two.

The eye the gaping lady splinter digging in the lifekind gaze the parasite the blind.

If you’re familiar with Head of State, you may have suspicions about who the “gaping lady” is.

Additionally, the word “lifekind” was used by the Shift in Head of State, and was originally coined by Douglas Adams in the Hitchhiker’s Guide.

His voice clings to the separated paths.

Although Borges’ An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain was the bigger inspiration here, his short story The Garden of Forking Paths also really shaped my views on time travel fiction. A little homage to the title in this line.

Hell’s champion Lord Grinning Soul

My friend Iris requested this wonderfully blatant Bowie reference, made up on the spot here by Cá Bảy Màu.

The Lords of Hell in Faction lore — of Mictlan, the Celestis’ realm stuck to the skin of the universe — traditionally take on names made up of “Lord,” some menacing gerund, and a spooky noun.

Cá Bảy Màu runs a hand through his hair and tucks some grey-black strands behind an ear.

I picture Cá Bảy Màu being in his early 40s. Probably born on Earth around 2010, after the Ghost Point, making him culturally sterile and dependent on the pop discourse of the generations before him. Fled the boredom of human life in favour of grand space adventures.

Just a thingy from this TV show I watched as a kid, back on Earth. Sci-fi rubbish.

If you’ve got your copy of The Book of the War handy, take another look at some of Simon Bucher-Jones’ Faction Hollywood entries. Amara may start to sound familiar…

When it comes to sci-fi rubbish, nothing beats the nineties.

I swear to fuck this nod to the McGann movie was completely unintentional. But maybe I’ve just got McGann on the brain 24/7.

“Come on, Mullion,” Cá Bảy Màu says mischievously. “I thought you Homeworlders liked to watch?”

A common prejudice against Homeworlders, if Big Finish is to be believed.

Before the Eleven-Day Empire was eaten

See the BBV Faction Paradox audios. Lolita, a lady timeship, vored the Faction homeland whole.

before the drafting of the mock Venue Accords

See The Book of the War. The Venue Accords were a fake peace ploy that went tits-up for everyone involved.

I wear the anathematic fossils of my tainted Homeworld kin!

As established in Alien Bodies and other works, many Faction members wear the skulls of alternative-timeline Homeworlders infected by the Yssgaroth curse.

I wonder. Yeah, I wonder… […]  Know what I wonder?

I just had to include a sly reference to the series Shoujo Kakumei Utena. A huge influence on my writing and probably the closest thing to Faction Paradox in the entirety of Japanese media. Kashira, kashira… gozonji kashira?

She makes such an exquisite corpse

A double nod to cadavre exquis art (reflected heavily in this story) and to Hedwig And The Angry Inch (a movie Cá Bảy Màu’s seen forty-seven times).

There, right there!

I didn’t mean for Cá Bảy Màu to start quoting from Legally Blonde: The Musical, but when it happened it felt very right.

call that tulpic miscarriage a loa

A tulpa, originally a concept in Tibetan culture, is not unlike an extra-strength imaginary friend. (David Lynch also used the concept in Twin Peaks just weeks after I wrote this line and I’m still salty.)

the anchored thread

Building on Lawrence Miles’ VNA concepts, Jonathan Dennis established the “Anchoring of the Thread” in The Book of the War — the way in which the Homeworld tries to rule over its own rigid concept of history.

So I killed. I maimed! I destroyed one part of myself after another, until there was only my next life left to drain!

I’m so sorry. 

By the calm lake beyond the grassland, gleaming in the sun, a figure stands and watches. From this distance, its wet features are thick brush strokes of bone.

Funfact: I learned about Watchers long before I knew about most of the rest of Doctor Who, and the entire concept still freaks me the fuck out.

(Second funfact: I really like Divided Loyalties.)

Her fingers run frantically across her clothes, dipping into folds and pockets.

The true meaning of sci-fi is getting to write skirts with pockets.

It’s as far as he gets before Amara guts him.

I remember the first time I read Friedrich Schiller’s The Robbers, and the shock I felt at a certain character’s very sudden, very painful death. I think that play’s brutality gave me the courage to go there myself. 

The body crashes to the grass, triple gas wisps stretched toward its brain’s clear stems.

Hole was always three separate entities. Extremis establishing triple brain stems halfway through my writing process was a very welcome surprise.

“Out!” it bellows, its fingers clawing wildly at its stomach. “From the welded… fold… away…”

The first of the three book identities revealed. One down, two to go…

You must have thought I was the world’s greatest performer.

The second one, and the most explicit of the three… 

Because you know who I am. It was never Mullion’s book. The thing, the fake me—

And number three. The book of A isn’t Mullion. Nor anyone else in the cabal, strictly speaking…

“I killed myself,” she tells him softly. “Stabbed and hung and burned and shot myself. Over and over and I lived. Every time. Back on the stage. Holding my book.”

I fucking love Groundhog Day.

“They made me into a ticking bomb,” she says gently.

Do you think The Book of the War speaks of Amara? Or did her story only inspire certain events? Maybe the other way around. Who knows… 

Some yards away, Mullion’s amalgamate tears off a floppy arm.

Hi Undertale fandom!

The only response comes from Axastyakis’ dead mouth by her feet. “Want this,” the loa gurgles.

There’s enough of the loa left alive to speak, to feel, to realise the body’s stuck… 

It’s said that we sustain our history through their gaze. That their gaze was moulded by the ripples of our history. I saw them, I know I did, and they saw me and I saw them as they saw me and they made me whole.

There’s a couple of lines in The Book of the Enemy which mirror this bit almost perfectly. Sent chills down my spine, since that book came out after I’d finished writing this…

I’d have… I’d have been the enemy’s all-seeing eye in Faction ranks. And from there, what’s in our Earth would…

The enemy’s plan would have been lofty.

The mote is still digging her way in. 

Image (c) Obverse Books
Image (c) Obverse Books

Aaaaand that’s all! Comments? Questions? Let me know on twitter!

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