THE BOOK OF THE WAR
‘SO, WHO WROTE WHAT?’
(This piece consists at best of my subjective impressions of the writing of The Book. I can't answer for the experiences of any of the eight other contributors – let alone those of Lawrence Miles, who had the near inconceivable task of tying up the disparate outlandish witterings of nine reasonably opinionated authors, along with his own no less remarkable ideas, into a coherent whole.)
At the time of writing I'm in a unique position among the authors of The Book of the War. Nominally we all take collective responsibility for every word that appears between the volume's covers (although I think we let Lawrence carry the can for the title and blurb). In theory none of us admits to being the author of one segment in particular, although it 's obvious to most readers that the various interspersed narratives which pick their way like stepping-stones across the text have very different flavours. The North American Warrior Tribes, the Clockwork Ouroboros, the Thirteen-Day Republic, Faction Hollywood... the diversity of these strands is pretty strong indication of the voices of individual authors.
By and large, each of us now knows who else wrote what. (If anyone knows what Mark Clapham's contribution was, though, I'd be delighted to be told. It's been bugging me.) Supposedly, though (and yes, there have been occasional aberrations) none of us will admit to creating a particular character or concept... even the really cool ones like Faction Hollywood.
However, the announcement of Of the City of the Saved... has rather blown the gaff on this as far as my part in the story is concerned. I've been outed (on the Mad Norwegian website no less) as having created the setting for the “City of the Saved” entries in The Book of the War. I'm hoping, then, that a little elucidation of the process that went into building those segments won't come amiss, and will be of interest to The Book's readers.
When Lawrence Miles first asked me to contribute to The Book of the War, I was a) surprised, b) very pleased, and c) extremely busy. Surprised and pleased because prior to this my fiction had never been professionally published, and busy because – well you know how it gets sometimes. As it turned out, three of the other authors of The Book – Ian McIntire, Helen Fayle and Jon Dennis – were also first-time professional publishees, although all of us had seen publication in various fan-produced charity anthologies.
My lack of time wasn't easily resolved, though, and consequently my first submission to Lawrence was pretty feeble. I sent him three unrelated entries (the encyclopedia format of The Book was a given at this stage) of around 250 words each. The first of these was the core around which the “CITY OF THE SAVED” entry and its offshoots later developed. The second was very close to the “Cousin PINOCCHIO” entry which made it into the published book. The third was an inappropriate and entirely incomprehensible joke featuring Brian Blessed.
The City was an idea that had been germinating in my mind for quite a while. It had been the setting for a novel proposal I'd submitted to a series that never quite made it off the ground, and I'd been fascinated ever since by the idea of a hedonistic, secular Heaven achieved at the end of time by dubiously technological means. Eschatological science fiction has always thrilled me, from Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men to Iain Banks's Feersum Endjinn, and I'd recently been inspired by the ideas of David Deutsch, who maintains that the universe will recapitulate its entire development in its last seconds, as the artificial processing power created by its inhabitants tends towards infinity.
Quite how I imagined that such a large concept could be dealt with and dismissed in 250 words escapes me for the moment. The presence of a verifiable afterlife would, after all, have a huge impact on almost every area of human endeavour. Accordingly the City entries themselves expanded to fill up around 9 000 words of The Book – and the current draft of the novel those have spawned weighs in at 125 000 words.
Responding to my initial submission, Lawrence showed considerable editorial tact by suggesting that, of the entries I had sent him, one was particularly interesting and could I expand on it while he quietly junked the Brian Blessed thing? Reasoning that cash and the opportunity of professional publication made it worth working like a bastard for a couple of weeks, I did.
My second submission to Lawrence consisted of a vastly expanded “CITY OF THE SAVED” entry, along with seventeen satellite entries. The basic story – the City's exchanges of Ambassador with Mictlan and the Homeworld, and the attacks and swift retribution which followed – was there, as were the six City factions I felt warranted entries of their own. Lawrence had mentioned that at this stage more characters were particularly needed, to give The Book more of a personal (if not precisely a human) focus; so I had also written eight biographies of individuals associated with the City (four Citizens, two Faction Paradox members, one Great House member and a Lord of the Celestis, if anyone's counting).
I think Lawrence was rather surprised at how greatly my initial diffident submission had expanded, but he gamely absorbed the City, and its consequences, into his fictional universe. He suggested a handful of sensible rewrites: in the second draft some extraneous information was omitted from the main entry, some other material (and, in fact, the City itself) were relocated, the Uptime Gate got its own entry and the “PILTDOWN MOB” piece was slightly expanded. (I also changed Gargil Krymtorpor's sex, because I could do that sort of thing and no-one would stop me.) Later Lawrence invited me to write an additional entry for one of the Homeworld's six ruling Houses.
After this the final edit started, and the City was seamlessly integrated with the rest of the material in The Book. It found its way into Michael Brookhaven's filmography (that's how I read “Some Kind of Afterworld”, at any rate), became a coda to Rasputin's biography, and was listed as one of the major “non-worlds” in the “SPIRAL POLITIC” entry. My writing (which I'm aware tends occasionally towards the drily academic) needed a bit of recasting to fit Lawrence's (ahem) House style. In particular, The Book's characteristic speech contractions were introduced.
The most major piece of rewriting (except to my House profile, which received a rather more thorough overhaul) was to the “SONS OF TEPES” entry, which I had written this in the belief that Vlad Dracula could be identified with impunity (if not actually named) as a vampire. It took a certain amount of editorial acrobatics to reconcile it with another author's (considerably better researched and thought-out) “Wallachia” narrative, where he isn't.
I also got to write the illustration specifications for my characters, which was very exciting.
When my copy of The Book of the War arrived, I was fascinated to see how much of my material had been changed, and rather disappointed that so little had. I was, however, blown away by admiration for the quality of The Book's other narratives, of the writing and of the illustrations – particularly the action shot of the Timebeast Assault, which has to be one of the most stunning things I've been instrumental in creating.
The Book of the War is a lot of things – a reference book, an anthology, possibly even a novel. It's also a testament to Lawrence Miles's considerable proficiency as an editor. It's a remarkable cultural artefact, and I'm still proud to have been associated with it.
- Buy The Book of the War from Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com or Mad Norwegian Press.
- Discuss The Book of the War at the Faction Paradox forum, or visit the unofficial Faction Paradox website.
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The Book of the War cover © Steve Johnson 2002.