QUIRE BRIEFING DOCUMENT
WARNING: This page contains substantial SPOILERS for Collected Works.
As far as I was concerned, the most appealing thing about contributing to Collected Works was the opportinity to work on a ‘spine’ running throughout the anthology: the recurring plotline of the Quire, the posthuman scholars from the distant future, whose story becomes increasingly entangled with that of the Braxiatel Collection and its staff.
Nick Wallace, the book’s editor, asked me to help create this background material when he first contacted me about the project. He had some intriguing ideas about where the story might be heading, which he explained as follows:
One very vague thought I’d had about structuring this – and making that sense of locale key to the book – is that throughout the book, we have a group of posthuman visitors studying at the collection. Possibly they’ve time-travelled from the far future at the invitation of Brax (before he left) and Bev and Benny are stuck with them, but don’t quite understand who they are or what exactly it is that they’re studying.This put me almost immediately in mind of a way in which the posthuman characters might be constructed, such that this story could be made to grow organically out of their nature and background.
And it turns out that they’re actually studying the Collection itself. In their future, societies are regarded as living breathing creatures all of their own. They’ve come to study an example of academia in its prime, only as the place slowly goes to hell, this in turn affects them because of their relationship with the place in how they study it (details to be worked out later).
I’m thinking the book would probably climax with one of the posthumans so badly infected by the Collection’s decline that they turn violent and someone – possibly Bev, maybe Jason – has to kill them to save Benny. The other posthumans then shake their heads sadly and leave.
Over the course of a few weeks, Nick and I refined these original ideas into the document reproduced below, which was then circulated to the anthology’s contributors. (Some details of the process of literary evolution undergone by the Quire, as they eventually became known, are given in the footnotes). The general shape the Quire’s story takes in the final anthology is therefore Nick’s, but much of the detail and almost all of the background is mine.
The only substantial difference between the material below and the Quire in the published book is that two of the characters were merged. This happened at a late stage, when all the stories were written and it was obvious that neither the clan elder, Incipit, nor the ‘older brother’ figure, Rubric, had been given very much to do. I'd always felt that they were fairly similar characters anyway, and this seemed the obvious solution. The Rubric who appears in Collected Works combines many of the characteristics of the ‘Rubric’ and ‘Incipit’ described below.
A second half of the document, outlining the Quire storyline in detail, is not reproduced here, as very little changed between that outline and the published book. (The only significant alteration was that some of the material I had suggested as forming the interludes – what eventually became the ‘Perspectives’ pieces – was instead incorporated into other authors’ story briefs. Thus Benny getting Verso drunk became the basis of Lance Parkin’s ‘anightintheninthage’, while Incunabula being found abandoned forms the jumping-off point for Kate Orman’s ‘Lock’.)
Several of the contributors – notably Lance, Simon Bucher-Jones and John Fletcher – made very creative and imaginative use of the Quire, which helped to flesh them out into convincing and three-dimensional characters. Whatever Quire material in Collected Works does not appear in this document almost certainly comes from the authors of the stories they appear in.
THE QUIRE: NOTES FOR CONTRIBUTORS
The Quire are visitors to the Braxiatel Collection from the far future. Irving Braxiatel invited them before he left to come and study with the Collection’s staff, and their arrival takes place in the first story of the anthology. They are a clan of scholars, although just what they are studying is not made particularly clear. They arrive through a time-corridor from their own era, and expect to leave through another in a year’s time.
Their development will mostly be explored in short pieces by Phil Purser-Hallard, but they are fixtures at the Collection during the period covered by the anthology, and you are encouraged to use them in your own stories, which PPH will also be trying to link into.
The Quire are posthuman, which is to say that they are descendants of humanity, shaped both by evolution and bioengineering. Just how far in the future they come from is another unanswered question, as is their own name for their species – ‘Quire’ being the name of the clan. Although some of them have exotic features (see Individuals below), all seven of the visitors are broadly humanoid, mostly about five feet tall, with powerful limbs and multi-jointed fingers. Their skin, which is a reddish-brown teak colour, is covered all over with fine hairs. Their heads are large, their faces superficially human (although even at a cursory glance there’s something strange about each of their right eyes) and their scalps are no hairier than the rest of their bodies. They wear artlessly stylish toga-smocks in complicated, vaguely African-looking print patterns.
On closer inspection, each Quire’s right eye-socket holds a different specialised visual-perception organ. Some have eyes constructed to see in different light-wavelengths, or organic radio-receptors, or microscopic or telescopic vision... or even a perfectly normal eye at the end of a tentacle, for close-up observation work.
It will turn out that the Quire are able to swap these appendages between them, and keep a bank of them for communal use. Occasionally, though rarely, they will replace their hands in the same way, with specialist manipulation-organs for heavy-lifting or finely-detailed work.
The Quire take over a suite of quarters at the Collection, which outsiders are occasionally permitted to visit. These are hung about with draperies printed with similar complex, colourful patterns, among which live the clan’s organic servitors. These appear at first glance to be small monkey-type creatures, but on closer inspection look uncomfortably similar to the Quire themselves. A beautifully-engraved wooden cabinet is constantly projecting a holographic display resembling a breathtakingly intricate sculpture, which one or two clansmen are always at work shaping and moulding. This construct somehow models the clan’s current research, although its structure remains incomprehensible to the Collection’s academics.
When speaking to outsiders the Quire are dignified, stately and formal. Their superior intellect is apparent in much of what they say, which is more than a little intimidating. Their thinking is strangely holistic, focussing on odd details then making jumps to unexpected insights about the big picture. These generally sound absurd at first, but come back to the hearers, hours or days later, as making a frightening amount of sense. They have no designated leader, or even spokesperson, and at first their characters seem indistinguishable from one another.
The Quire are renowned scholars in the posthuman era: Bernice’s working assumption is that they are historians or archaeologists, visiting to study those cultural artefacts in the Collection which by their time are lost or destroyed. While they do spend time with the artefacts and in the libraries, they seem as interested in how the local academics perceive and interact with these resources as in the objects themselves. Their academic approach is distinctly unorthodox, and the questions they ask range from the impertinent to the downright bizarre.
However, the behaviour of the Quire when alone together is quite different. Between themselves their interaction reverts to a childish, almost cartoonish simplicity. Their limited social range of squabbling and sentimentality and let’s-pretend means that spying on them – which Bev does – feels rather like watching Teletubbies re-enacting scenes from Waiting for Godot. This makes the clan’s formality when conversing with outsiders all the more puzzling, and early on their apparent (though quite unintentional) arrogance and standoffishness causes friction with the Collection staff.
They refuse to reveal information about the future era from which they hail, for what are assumed to be the usual ‘smug time-traveller’ reasons.
The reasons for the anomalies in the Quire’s character will remain unexplained until the final story, when Benny is finally able to piece together a picture of the civilisation where the clan originates. Benny comes to realise that, in their time, the tribal unit has replaced the individual. Thus one clan might function (and function very effectively, on the ‘many heads are better than one’ principle) as a political leader; another might be an inventor, artist, manufacturer, merchant or whatever. In many ways it’s less accurate to refer to the Quire clan as a tribe of scholars than as a scholar in its own right.
All the relationships in this future civilisation – commercial, professional, personal and even romantic – are between clans, not between persons. Outside the group a clansman is always speaking for his or her fellows collectively, never as an individual. Their work takes place collaboratively, carried out by the entire clan in shifts, and is a manifestation of the same communal persona. The interactions within the clan are analogous to the workings of the human subconscious, and operate similarly beneath the threshold of the clan’s conscious personality. It may even be the clan’s analogue of sleep (which as individuals the Quire do not appear to need).
For this reason, the posthumans see other cultures, too, as independent living creatures in their own right. The Quire have come back in time to study an example of an ancient academic proto-clan, and at first they can only see the Braxiatel Collection and its personnel as one gigantic entity. Their apparent unfriendliness arises from their genuine unawareness of the importance of individuals. Every time a Quire speaks to a local during their first months on the Collection, they are speaking formally, clan to clan.
However, certain events act to change this state of affairs. These include Benny’s assiduous attempts at getting one of the female clansmen drunk, and Bev losing her temper and insisting that the Quire make more effort to fit in with the Collection and its work. Following this, the clansmen – who have come to realise that the Collection is not functioning as they expected – take the brave decision to abandon their traditional approach, and to interact with the Collection on its own terms, as individuals. The decision ultimately has tragic consequences for them.
From this point onwards, the Quire open up as individual characters. They are still capable of speaking with dignity on behalf of the clan, but they also act and speak alone, pursuing more personal agendas. In this personal capacity, they display the same streamlined, cartoonish personalities which they demonstrate in private.
As their visit to the Collection progresses, the behaviour of the Quire becomes more humanlike, yet also increasingly unstable. By stepping outside the boundaries of its normal functioning, the clan has effectively fractured its mind, and rendered its components unhealthily open to outside influence. The posthumans’ individual passions and concerns are unsophisticated, childish and – as they come to be more and more influenced by the Collection under Bev Tarrant’s leadership – increasingly selfish. Though none of them is a complex personality, communally they are slowly approaching the point of breakdown, a point which they reach in the last story in the book.
There are seven posthumans visiting the Collection, who make up the entire Quire clan. They act like a family, although the relationships between them are not those of conventional biology.
When speaking for the clan (which, during their early days on the Collection, is whenever they converse with an outsider) each Quire’s individual personality is subsumed, and he or she displays only the gravitas and intellect of the clan as a whole. Individually, by contrast, the Quire are extremely uncomplicated: just basic, simplified character-sketches of what a person might be like.
Verso is the friendliest and most loquacious of the Quire, and the one whom the humans find the most approachable. She appears to be in her late teens, and is funny, sexy and compassionate. However, she is also naïve, trusting and unwilling to believe bad things of anybody. She is the first member of the clan whom Benny befriends, and the first to enter into real relationships with the Collection staff – a fact which will ultimately prove tragic for her.
Dorso is an older female, appearing to be roughly Benny’s age. Following the clan’s change of approach, Dorso’s personality emerges as sharp-tongued, bitchy and arrogant. She is by far the least pleasant of the Quire: conceited over her intellect and abilities, vocal about the humans’ inferiority, and scornful of the various overtures of the regulars. She acts grudgingly as a carer to Incunabula, whose mother she may possibly also be.
Incunabula is the youngest Quire, and appears to be around six years old. Bizarrely, she spends much of her time encased in a transparent egg which is carried around by the other members of the clan, although she can be independent of it if the need arises. As articulate in company as her fellow clansmen, in private she reverts to an infantile baby-personality. The other members of the clan dote sentimentally on her, with the exception of Dorso, who seems largely indifferent to her existence.
Bifolium is piebald, with negroid and caucasian skin patching his body like a jester’s motley. He is indeed a practical joker, although his cruel sense of humour is rarely shared by his victims. His love of argument and contradiction goes way beyond the patience of most of the Collection’s staff. He is quite capable of arguing with somebody until they give in and wearily accept his point of view, whereupon he will disagree with them again and begin arguing passionately from their original position.
Incipit is the oldest of the clan and is therefore often mistaken for its leader, sometimes by himself. His body-hair is white, his skin wrinkled and his fixed left eye is milky with age. He is pompous and tends to stand on his dignity, dispensing wisdom which is so zenlike as to be either beyond the comprehension of mere humans or else complete drivel. The other Quire affect solemn respect when in his presence, but appear to disregard his opinions the rest of the time.
Rubric is male, bald all over, and physically wiry rather than well-muscled. He is a fond yet censorious elder-brother figure, always concerned that he (and, more importantly, everybody else) should do whatever seems right to him. Although like Incipit he clearly feels himself to be in some degree of authority, the rest of the clan cheerfully ignore his stern pronouncements.
Colophon, the most frequent object of Rubric’s censure, is also male, the most muscular of his clan and the hairiest, being positively shaggy with russet fur. Greedy, oversexed and boastful, he is also by far the most fun at parties.
It’s important to note that the Quire aren’t anything so dull as a hive-mind – just individuals who have what seems to humans an uncanny, twin-like rapport with one another, and who are far more used to thinking collectively than as individuals. Nor is there any special need to concentrate on particular Quire, or to give them equal page-time – the developing plot concentrates most heavily on Verso, with some attention paid to Dorso, Incunabula and Rubric, but appearances by any or all of the clan in other stories will be most welcome.
the name of the clan: In an earlier version of this document (not circulated to contributors), the clan were called the ‘Elenoi’, but even then I was worried that this sounded too like H.G. Wells’ far-future ‘Eloi’. At one point I considered calling the clan the ‘Ellorgast’, the nearest I could find to an Old English word meaning ‘alien’ (more literally ‘otherworldly spirit’). That didn’t stick either. ‘Quire’ is a term derived from codicology, the physical study of ancient manuscripts. It refers to a collection of pages assembled for binding. In this naming scheme – the one which did stick – all the Quire have codicological names: the clan's dead matriarch, for instance, is called ‘Epitome’, which in the context of codicology refers to a summary of a written work.
something strange about each of their right eyes: An earlier idea was to suggest the ‘partial’ nature of each of the individual clansmen, and to foreground the theme of ‘perspectives’, by making them single-eyed cyclopes. (When I was very young I was told, with what accuracy I have no idea, that human eyes had moved closer together during the course of evolution. The idea that in the far future they might grow together into one has stuck with me ever since.)
Nick wisely pointed out that one-eyed humanoids from the far future had already been done in the elderly Doctor Who story The Ark, and imported into Benny continuity in The Kingdom of the Blind. I think what we came up with instead is rather more creative.
A beautifully-engraved wooden cabinet: in the published version of Collected Works, the Quire own three such cabinets: one containing their research (called ‘the clanscape’ in John Fletcher’s story ‘Sleeptalking’), one acting as their organ-bank, and (though this is never actually stated) the third housing the monkey-servitors.
the workings of the human subconscious: The earliest conception of the Quire was that they should each represent a specific element of the human psyche; and that (moving from futuristic evolutionary psychology into literary symbolism) each clansman should correspond specifically to an element of Bernice’s own psyche.
As I explained to Nick:
Because I feel it kind of works symbolically – and this may be where I was going with the whole ‘they're descended from Benny’ thing [an idea which didn’t make it explicitly into the final draft of Collected Works, but which I revived for Nobody’s Children] – this current draft makes the [Quire] not only symbolic of the Jungian model of the human mind, but specifically of Benny’s mind. This means that their personalities represent Benny’s own internal archetypes, which are to some extent influenced by the major figures in her life. This also makes them parallel in some ways to the regular characters in the series.Very little of this schema survived into the final draft of the book, but its legacy is visible in the personalities of the clansmen as they were eventually presented. I’ve therefore explained the characters’ original psychological functions in the notes below. Verso: When the Quire were the Elenoi, Verso was ‘Verno’. In codicology, the ‘verso’ is the reverse side of a page. Verso was to represent Benny’s ‘persona’ – the face she presents to the world – and thus to embody the qualities she hopes, perhaps naïvely, are most typical of herself. Dorso: Dorso was to personify Benny’s ‘shadow’, and thus displays the qualities Benny is least willing to acknowledge in herself – especially, in her relationship with Incunabula, her fears of being a bad mother to Peter. (This, at least, persisted into the book, in ‘Perspectives: The Injured Party’). Her counterpart among the regular characters is Bev, the art-thief turned museum administrator who in Collected Works is acting as Benny’s boss. Originally known as ‘Lentre’, Dorso was renamed after an alternative term for the reverse side of a page, suggesting that she and Verso are fundamentally the same. (It might have made more sense to have called Verso ‘Recto’, meaning the front side of a page, but that sounded too rude.) Incunabula: Formerly ‘Troxi’, ‘incunabula’ being a term for early printed manuscripts. Incunabula’s rôle is that of the child-archetype, and the responses she draws from the various adults, and Benny in particular, are the main function of the character as originally conceived. Fortunately she develops beyond this in the final text. Her equivalent in Benny’s life is, obviously, Benny’s son Peter. Bifolium: Bifolium is the clansman who changed most between conception and execution. He was originally representative of Jung’s archetypal lovers, or ‘syzgy’, and a ‘bifolium’ in codicology refers to two pages which have been folded together. When the Quire were the cyclopean Elenoi, this character was called ‘Tespa-Apset’, and was a two-eyed, two-mouthed hermaphrodite. The two mouths were to speak in male and female voices, argue acrimoniously, bitch about each other and take opposing sides in any given debate, and generally to represent Benny’s perception of her relationship with her partner Jason. A post-cyclops draft of the ‘Elenoi’ document makes Tespa-Apset a four-eyed, Janus-faced hermaphrodite, but that was clearly too outré. Eventually the character’s duality was toned down, and the particoloured, bipolar Bifolium of Collected Works emerged.
Incipit: An ‘incipit’ (in Latin literally ‘it begins’) is a heading marking the opening of a work, at a time when multiple works were often bound together in a single volume to save precious pages. Formerly known as ‘Mysas’, the character is an archetypal ‘wise old man’ or hermit: his nearest equivalent on the Collection would probably have been Hass, the gardener. As it is, the character was merged with...
Rubric: Previously called ‘Pramer’, he was a superego figure, or in Jungian terms Benny’s ‘animus’ or male principle. In terms of her life he was to be equivalent to her absent father Isaac, or more recently her absent employer Braxiatel. Insofar as any of this schema survived, this is the function the older Rubric still serves in the final text (as seen particularly in Nick Walters’ ‘False Security’). A ‘rubric’ in codicology is a heading in red which comments on the text (still seen in,for instance, some editions of certain translations of the Bible).
Colophon: Previously known as ‘Ksomer’, a ‘colophon’ being a publisher’s printed mark. In some ways the id to Rubric’s superego, Colophon also represents Benny’s ‘libido’ or animal appetite, and is most reminiscent of Peter’s father, Adrian Wall.
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