IRIS WILDTHYME IN THE CITY OF THE SAVED

REJECTED NOVEL PROPOSAL


This novel proposal was submitted in January of 2001, over a year before I was professionally commissioned to contribute to The Book of the War. Strictly speaking, it belongs in the Early Work section of this site, and is (unfortunately) of a quality to match. However, I've listed it as an ‘Extra’ on my Iris Wildthyme pages, primarily for its historical curiosity value.

‘Iris Wildthyme in the City of the Saved’ was not my first attempt at writing for the character of Iris: that was the short story ‘Cabinet of Changes’, which appeared in the (unofficial, fan-published) Doctor Who anthology Walking in Eternity (2000). It was on the basis of this story that Paul Magrs generously encouraged me to submit a proposal to Big Finish (the eventual publishers of Wildthyme on Top), who were at that time considering launching a series of Iris Wildthyme novels to run parallel with their Bernice Summerfield series.

With me so far? Good.

When considering an environment with which a cheerfully hedonistic and self-sentred time-traveller like Iris might interact, I thought it might be fun to use a concept which I'd been toying with for a while: that of an artificial virtual environment, located at the end of time, where the whole of humanity, past present and future, had been resurrected (although by resolutely secular and technological means) to live forever, and where peace, harmony and the throwing of magnificently decadent parties would be de rigeur.

Unfortunately, the Iris Wildthyme novel range was not considered at that time to be a viable business proposition, and nothing came of my proposal. Fortunately, I was able to recycle the key concepts as entries in The Book of the War, and later to build a whole novel – although a very different novel – around the premise (see Of the City of the Saved...). In The Book of the War, a ‘traveller’ is quoted describing the City as ‘an urban sprawl the size of a spiral galaxy... a fabulous shimmering lightscape nonillions of miles across’. That’s Iris.

What follows is the original novel proposal ‘Iris Wildthyme in the City of the Saved’. The City as outlined here would undergo quite a bit of evolution before becoming the version in the Faction Paradox universe. Given that the range is predicated upon a history-defying Time War, it would be possible – although by no means compulsory – to see this earlier version of the City which the Faction Paradox universe has now overwritten as, well, an earlier version of the City which the Faction Paradox universe has now overwritten.

Admiral Rex Halidom has since appeared in print, as an old friend of Iris’, in my short story ‘Battleship Anathema’ in Iris Wildthyme and the Celestial Omnibus. He appears in the City in my short story ’A Hundred Words from a Civil War’ in Faction Paradox: A Romance in Twelve Parts, in which Iris also makes a cameo apperance. Both collections are published by Obverse Books.

I have provided hyperlinked Footnotes throughout the following, explaining how the various concepts altered between this early conception of the City and the final version.



IRIS WILDTHYME IN THE CITY OF THE SAVED

A NOVEL OUTLINE
by Philip Purser-Hallard

[The story is narrated in the first person by Iris.]


I

Finding herself the victim of an officious space station parking attendant, cosmic adventuress Miss Iris Wildthyme resorts to desperate measures to rid her time-travelling bus of an unwelcome quantum wheel clamp. As well as clamping wheels, the clamp prevents a vehicle leaving physical space: unable to dematerialise, Iris has to tow the bus to a nearby black hole, whose gravity she uses to separate the clamp – only to find bus, clamp, space tug and herself drawn through the singularity into unknown space. When they are expelled into reality once more, the bus’s sensors register no matter in the vicinity – but Iris puts this down to a malfunction caused by the journey, particularly since she recognises the surrounding cityscape as that of Bath in the 1800s.

All is not as it seems, however, as Iris discovers when she inveigles herself into a nearby house. A Jane Austen tea party is in full swing – forthright young ladies, reserved bachelors and amusingly batty mothers abound – but surreal elements begin to intrude. Some of the company are using anachronistic drugs without a murmur of disapproval from the others; the younger son of the house disgraces himself by bringing home an antisocial Neanderthal woman as his fiancée, and eventually, to Iris’ amusement, a loud party of drunken cyborgs arrive and ruin the mood. One of the guests has recognised Iris, however, and takes her aside: our heroine is flabbergasted to recognise the dashing Admiral Rex Halidom, an old acquaintance from the seventy-ninth century.

Rex explains that Iris’s bus has brought her not to nineteenth century England, but to the City of the Saved. An awesome edifice the size of a galaxy, built by the last humans late in the history of the universe, the City houses every single human individual since the dawn of time, miraculously reincarnated and living out comfortable lives. In an urban sprawl sextillions of times larger than the surface area of the Earth, there are districts for every taste, and Rex, a keen Austen fan, often visits the genteel quarter in which he met Iris. Flattered by Rex’s attentions (a grizzled old spacedog when they previously met, he has reverted to his younger, square-jawed and heroic self), Iris accepts his invitation to stay with him for a while. First, however, he takes her (via ‘the Tube’, the city’s wormhole-based transport system) to the light-decade-tall central Spire, from which the entire Cityscape is visible.


II

Over the next few months, Iris attends near-constant glittering parties packed with celebrities from all eras of humanity’s history: she is, needless to say, utterly in her element. She takes tea with Oscar Wilde and his latest paramour; exchanges vile cocktail recipes with the earliest human, now a popular media pundit; swills mead with Eric the Red and his warriors in a district named Valhalla; and chews strange substances with an extended family of genetically altered posthumans. She learns that in the mundane sense the human race is extinct: the City of the Saved and its inhabitants, although physically ‘real’, are not made of matter, but of software running on the fabric of the universe itself. Iris meets many individuals who began in the City, and never knew real human life – including formerly fictional characters whom their authors have brought into real existence – and some who have created numerous duplicates of themselves to live out their many potentials simultaneously. Rex himself is aware of at least three alternative versions of himself living in other areas of the City, and mentions occasions on which this has been socially embarrassing.

The erudite and urbane Lord Venturus – a nineteenth-century second-hand bookseller turned City statesman – invites Iris to a reception in the Republic of Nowhere, a quarter of the City founded by Victorian utopianists. The Nowherians are agnostic, cheerfully polygamous and fanatically vegetarian; they are also aristocratic, unthinkingly sexist and culturally imperialist. They consider their prime achievement the abolition of sewage. Although she finds the Nowherians thoroughly dull, Iris meets numerous other Citizens with nineteenth-century connections. Sherlock Holmes’ brother Mycroft takes a keen interest in her unusual status as a visitor to the City; a militant-queer iteration of Oscar Wilde tests the extent of the Nowherians’ liberalism (egged on, naturally, by Iris herself); the anarchic author Lewis Carroll nearly comes to blows with the shy don Charles Dodgson. A brace of scholars specialising in Victorian studies, Ved Barimost (originally from the thirty-second-century Collegium of Draco) and John Mostyn (from the Open University in the 1970s), are observing proceedings. Cardovus Eets, a popular artist born in the City, is fascinated by the way Carroll / Dodgson has dissociated his dual personality into separate individuals: he explains to Iris that he himself works in the very esoteric medium of ‘metahumanity’ – that of altering his own underlying software. He is collecting copies of other people’s minds, assimilating them into an increasingly vast collective personality inside his own: this makes his/their conversation, and indeed mode of existence, very bizarre.

Iris is having a blissful time in the City, but her time traveller’s unerring nose for trouble soon begins to spoil things. At Cardovus’ invitation, she and Rex attend the rebirth party for one of his fellow metahumanists, Isko Thratts, who recently died under strange circumstances. Her restoration from backup software would normally be a matter of routine, and when she fails to resurrect on schedule the guests at the welcome-back party are at a loss to understand. While they are distracted, an assassin attacks Cardovus, stabbing him with a mysterious artefact which causes him to fade out of existence completely. Rex and an indignant Iris pursue the assassin, who is dressed as a 1920s flapper. Following her through the Tube to a massive concert in a distant suburb, they are startled to run into Mycroft Holmes, who it turns out is an agent for the City itself – the nearest equivalent to a police force. In the confusion of this encounter, however, all three of them lose track of the assassin.


III

Mycroft is keen to get away, but Iris, sniffing adventure, forcefully demands to be let in on the action. Back at Rex’s rooms – and in the face of extensive interruption from Iris herself – he patiently explains that progressive artists like Cardovus and Isko have recently been the target of terrorist activities: in the City of the Saved assassination is usually a minor inconvenience, but in this case something has been physically removing the victims’ data from the City, ensuring that they cannot be resurrected. The incidents have been hushed up to avoid panic, but each of the assassins wore twentieth-century clothing (ranging from punk gear to World War I uniform) and used an identical unidentified weapon: more tellingly, obsolete twentieth-century technology such as mobile phones appears to have been used instead of more appropriate advanced technology. Mycroft suspects the terrorism may be the responsibility of a statelet known as Stability.

Out in the hinterlands of the City, totalitarian suburbs still exist – there are Third and subsequent Reichs that have lasted a thousand years; single-sex ‘utopias’; assimilationist posthuman hive-minds; even religious enclaves who maintain that the City is the afterlife they have anticipated all along (and that most of it must therefore be some kind of bizarre illusion). The inhabitants of Stability are one of the weirder such societies: they are twentieth-century traditionalists who, rather like the Amish, refuse to use any technology beyond that of their own time, and live a resolutely twentieth-century life in isolation from the rest of the City. They strongly disapprove of innovation, and feel it is everyone’s duty to live a basic human life. The experiments in living of Isko, Cardovus and their colleagues are repugnant to them. (As it happens, Iris has already heard of Stability: one of the posthumans she met previously complained of the locals’ bigoted behaviour when it visited as a tourist.) If their complicity is proven, Mycroft intends to have Stability excised from the City altogether and isolated in its own pocket universe – the ultimate sanction, but one which has been enforced in the past.

Iris has her doubts about Mycroft’s theory: surely a weapon which interferes with the City’s own data is just the kind of technology Stability has explicitly rejected? Despite protestations of danger from Mycroft, Iris and Rex retrieve the bus from Jane Austen country, and venture into Stability to investigate. After a few passes round the bewildering (but terribly depressing) cityscape of car parks, fast food, graffiti, blitzed terraces and repeats of Last of the Summer Wine, Iris is desperate to make something happen. Following up Rex’s guess that the mysterious weapon used by the assassins must be of non-City origin, Iris uses the bus’s systems to scan for real matter as opposed to software, and immediately detects half a dozen non-software individuals within Stability. The nearest of them – and the weapon – are in an office building in Stability’s business district.

Breaking open the bus’s armoury, Iris and Rex proceed to sneak into the building in heroic fashion. Although armed guards patrol with authentic twentieth-century weaponry, they discover that the toilets have been left completely unguarded, and work their way up from floor to floor by cutting through the ceilings. Iris is amused, then extremely bored: Rex doggedly determined. The guards’ evident lack of attention to bodily functions has aroused Iris’ suspicions, however, and sure enough when they reach the topmost floor of the building, they discover that the infiltrators – including the ‘flapper’ assassin who killed Cardovus – are from the Republic of Nowhere. Clearly the Nowherians are killing metahumanist artists, and making it look as if Stability is responsible, in order to get the district excised from the City.

Iris sends Rex off to apprise Mycroft Holmes of this urgent news. Her smugness at having guessed the plot is short lived, however, when she sees that the leader of the Nowherian military contingent is her elderly Auntie Connie. Her vocal indignation and dismay cause her to be instantly captured.


IV

Iris’ bus is impounded in the building’s car park, and, after Auntie Connie has given her a stern telling-off, Iris is placed there under armed guard.

Constance Wildthyme is a puritanical, apparently frail old lady who thinks young tearaways like Iris should be pressed into military service for their own good. Despite her appearance, she is an expert at armed and unarmed combat, and a time-travelling agent representing her people’s interests in many time zones. She has the ability to reduce Iris to incoherent rage, and takes grim delight in doing so. Of course she is also, like Iris, not human, and thus has no business being in the City at all. Iris resents her muscling in on what she sees as her territory, and resolves to put a stop to her plans, whatever they may happen to be. She suspects her of trying to destabilise the City – perhaps out of jealousy that humanity has created for itself a utopia, albeit a rather rough and ready one.

Iris is shortly joined by a fellow prisoner – John Mostyn, the OU lecturer from the reception. It turns out that he, too, is a secret agent, Stability’s man in Nowhere, and that he has just been captured after tailing a messenger from Lord Venturus to Connie. Iris’ guards (by flirting with them, she has discovered that they are called Martin and Peter) are given the mysterious weapon used to stab Cardovus. Alien technology from one of the City’s few remaining neighbours, it incorporates a universal hacking engine, used to download the victim’s data from the City into the weapon itself. Connie cannot risk Mostyn being shot trying to escape, since he – and his new knowledge – would be imminently reborn elsewhere. Mostyn explains the bad feeling that exists between Stability and Nowhere: as idealistic Victorians, the Nowherians longed for the twentieth century to be the era of peace and progress they have created in their own district. The fact of how the century actually turned out is a source of annoyance to them, and Stability’s unwarranted idealising of the period a constant thorn in their side. Iris realises that Connie is making use of this resentment to establish a bolthole, an escape hatch for her ruthless time-travelling superiors to use in time of extreme emergency. Once Stability has become its own pocket universe, her agents will be able to establish a bridgehead to the home planet, and (after easily enslaving its primitive inhabitants) turn the suburb into their own secure city-state at the end of time. Iris is furious at this, although whether her outrage is genuinely moral rather than personal is anyone’s guess.

Almost as soon as this is revealed, Iris and Mostyn – and Martin and Peter – are bundled into the top deck of the bus as Connie and her fellow time-travellers take over. Abandoning their Nowherian colleagues, Connie pilots the bus to a piece of parkland adjacent to Venturus’ palace. Iris is confused, until (using the driver’s periscopic mirror arrangement and a stethoscope) she watches Connie intercept a communication between Mycroft and Venturus, informing his Lordship that the game is up. Excited, Iris realises that Rex must be safe – but is dismayed at Mycroft’s threat that the Republic of Nowhere will be excised from the City instead, which will suit Connie very nearly as well. It does, however, convince Martin and Peter to help Iris save their home. Iris patches their alien weapon into the bus’s systems, uploading all the murdered artists into its internal environment. Within the confines of the bus, Cardovus and his colleagues are now as real as Mostyn and the guards. After the distraction of realising that one of the artists is her old friend Andy Warhol, and fixing up a dinner date, Iris sends the lot of them downstairs to keep Connie and her fellow agents busy. Meanwhile she makes a daring escape via a window, the roof and a tall tree – having first pocketed the quantum wheel clamp.

Fleeing to Lord Venturus’ palace, Iris offers to help him avoid Nowhere’s removal from the City. Connie leads an assault on Venturus’ state room, and confronts Iris. Melodramatic as ever, Iris waits until the last possible moment before she attaches the clamp to the palace wall, effectively anchoring the whole of Nowhere within real space. Connie flees defeated, and suddenly Rex arrives, having mounted a daring rescue attempt too late to be of any actual use. Iris swoons calculatingly into his arms.


V

Rex throws an enormous farewell party for Iris as she decides to leave the City. All her friends are there – including the murdered artists, downloaded back into the City, and a disgraced Lord Venturus, who feels he might go back to running a bookshop. The party is marred only by Auntie Connie’s unexpected arrival, to undermine Iris’ confidence one more time before making her escape. Mycroft presents Iris with the freedom of the City, making her an honorary Citizen before she leaves.


Text © Philip Purser-Hallard 2001.
Iris Wildthyme created by Paul Magrs and © 1995.


FOOTNOTES

Neanderthal [...] cyborgs: Both Neanderthals and cyborgs are fixtures in the City, as seen in the Piltdown Mob and Order of the Iron Soul entries in The Book of the War. The City-born Neanderthal Julian White Mammoth Tusk becomes a major character in Of the City of the Saved....

built by the last humans late in the history of the universe: The first point at which the City Iris would have visited diverges from the City of the Saved in the Faction Paradox universe. The final version of the City occupies a pocket universe beyond the end of time, and was built by persons unknown (at least until Of the City of the Saved... went and revealed their identity).

sextillions of times larger than the surface area of the Earth: I still hadn't done the maths properly at this point.

‘the Tube’ [...] Spire: The Tube survives unchanged in Of the City of the Saved...; the ‘Spire’ becomes the ‘Watchtower’, and shrinks from tens of light years to a mere astronomic unit in height.

posthumans: Posthumans are also common in the City proper – although note that here ‘posthuman’ is used in the ‘traditional’ sense of one who has developed (evolutionarily or otherwise) beyond the human. The Book of the War would later give it a more specialist meaning (see the entry on Posthumanity).

software running on the fabric of the universe itself: While this is certainly considered as a possibility in Of the City of the Saved... and The Book of the War, it's never quite as explicit as it is here.

formerly fictional characters: In Of the City of the Saved... such individuals are known as ‘Remakes‘, and (reflecting the perennial obsession with media culture in the Faction Paradox universe) are now recreated by consumers of popular culture, not its originators.

Lord Venturus: Venturus receives a mention, as ‘Councillor Venturus’ in Of the City of the Saved....

Republic of Nowhere: The republic is named for William Morris’s classic utopian novel News from Nowhere (1890), (Which, if I’d been commissioned to write the novel, I would almost very possibly have finally got around to reading). The Nowherians’ ideals parody Victorian utopianism in general.

Sherlock Holmes: In Of the City of the Saved..., Sherlock Holmes exists in multiple Remake iterations, many of whom have clubbed together to found the ‘Great Detective Agency’: it's one of these who drops Councillor Venturus’s name. Mycroft Holmes does not put in an appearance in the City proper.

Lewis Carroll [...]Charles Dodgson: Carroll and Dodgson put in a showing at the party in Chapter 70 of Of the City of the Saved....

Ved Barimost [...] John Mostyn: The perceptive among you may detect here the nominal origins of ‘Ved Mostyn’, the City Councillor whose death precipitates the plot of Of the City of the Saved....

‘metahumanity’: Aesthetically speaking, the experiments of the metahumanists in personality-as-art could be seen as prefiguring Godfather Avatar’s origins in Of the City of the Saved....

restoration from backup software: A major divergence here. In ‘Iris Wildthyme in the City of the Saved’, the Citizens may be hurt and even killed, but can expect to be reborn afterwards, unharmed. In the Faction Paradox City, they are straightforwardly invulnerable.

physically removing the victimsí data: A very similar weapon is used against Lord Foaming Sky in The Book of the War.

Third and subsequent Reichs: The ‘Last Reich’ receives a namecheck in both the Faction Paradox volumes which deal with the City.

assimilationist posthuman hive-minds: One such is ‘Associative Network 9’, as seen in Of the City of the Saved....

excised from the City: In The Book of the War, this happens to Snakefell District during the Timebeast Assault. The repercussions are still being felt in Of the City of the Saved....

bewildering (but terribly depressing) cityscape: The secessionist enclave of Stablity rather strongly recalls the secessionist enclave of Manfold in Of the City of the Saved....

to scan for real matter as opposed to software: Ahem. Bit of a Star Trek moment there. As I say, this was an early attempt – I've learnt a lot since then.

Auntie Connie: Although one is a villain and the other possibly the nearest thing the novel has to a hero, Auntie Connie was a very strong influence on Of the City of the Saved...’s Dr Melicia Clutterbuck.

Mostyn [...] a secret agent: Again, readers of Of the City of the Saved... may find this fact hauntingly familiar.

Alien technology from one of the City’s few remaining neighbours: This would, of course, be unthinkable within the Faction Paradox version of the City, but in ‘Iris Wildthyme in the City of the Saved’ the City still exists in the real universe.

their own secure city-state at the end of time: This plan is virtually identical to that of The Book of the War’s Lord Foaming Sky, for the very good reason that I cannibalised the novel proposal to provide the plot of my entries in The Book. This, more than anything else, explains why the story of Of the City of the Saved... has so little in common with that of ‘Iris Wildthyme in the City of the Saved’: I’d basically recycled all the usable bits already.




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