Jay Eales (editor) Burning with Optimism's Flame (2012)
Despite my salivating each time some new Faction Paradox commodity extends itself into noumenal reality, it's taken me an age to get around to this one, and partially because it first appeared as I was up to my eyeballs in writing Against Nature. Initially I was cautious on the grounds of fearing there might be some short story coincidentally duplicating one or more of my own vague ideas or themes, and so I wished to avoid the collection as a source of possible influence - not least due to having heard that Daniel Ribot's La Santa Muerte was not only set in Mexico but would also feature a certain Death Goddess who briefly turns up in my own extended leaflet. Since then it's just been a case of it slowly rising to the summit of a mountainous to-be-read pile.
I had been primed with slightly lowered expectations by internet mumblings along the lines of it's not as good as the last one, is it? - referring of course to 2011's A Romance in Twelve Parts, the previous Faction Paradox collection. Thankfully and possibly inevitably said mumblings translate to it's not identical to the last one, is it?, for the tone and focus of this anthology is somehow quite different. It feels more like an extension into mainstream science-fiction writing, by which I mean Isaac Asimov and all of those guys, as opposed to Babylon fucking 5 or any of those Doctor Who affiliated Short Trips collections but with more skulls. Jay Eales, it turns out, really knows how to pull an anthology together, as distinct from just asking a load of mates to come up with stories. I'm still not entirely sure how the title figures in all of this, whether it refers to some overarching theme I've failed to spot, but whatever the book does, it does it exceptionally well for the most part.
As has probably been said by someone or other, the beauty of Faction Paradox is that it really doesn't have to be about Faction Paradox to the point that no-one has yet really demonstrated that it's definitively about either the shared universe created by Lawrence Miles and others, or even just something so vague as a certain aesthetic. Some of the connections made here are accordingly very tenuous indeed, but it doesn't really matter because the only legitimate reason to pick up a book so far as I'm concerned is in anticipation of good writing, which is what you get.
Admittedly I found the opening stories a little variable - either too subtle for their own good or a little closer in spirit to Neil Gaiman than I generally like in one case, although they're all decent in their own ways. Nevertheless, the contrast - at least for me - when I came to Kelly Hale's contribution was almost shocking - a woman apparently incapable of writing a dull sentence whose work exudes the sort of effortless class that draws the reader in without the need for any obvious narrative hooks; and this quality recurs throughout the collection making the necessity of clear ties to some unifying mythology entirely peripheral.
Stephen Marley's All the Fun of the Fear, for one example, seems particularly tenuous as Faction Paradox literature, but if you can't appreciate a story in which the moon is seen to appear in the heavens wearing a hat, then maybe books aren't for you after all. Similarly sickeningly impressive are contributions from Simon Bucher-Jones, Jonathan Dennis, Sarah Hadley, and Philip Purser-Hallard all of which inspire questions as to why these four aren't yet at the stage of finding themselves buried in gold by eager publishers in the style of Edifis at the end of Asterix and Cleopatra.
They each respectively pack enough ideas for a decent novel into short form; and to concede a couple of specifics, Remake / Remodel begs the question of whether we might ever expect a full-length Faction Hollywood book, and Philip Purser-Hallard's wonderful ecclesiastically themed De Umbris Idearum only makes me resent the time and brain cells I wasted on Mary Doria Russell's Godawful Sparrow, all the more demonstrating as it does that strong religious themes can make for elegant science-fiction in the right hands.
I seem to have ended up gushing again, which can probably be safely dismissed as symptomatic of a lack of impartiality on my part. This book hasn't actually changed my life, and may not be the greatest collection I've ever read; but nevertheless it takes its subject mythology in a variety of unexpected directions, and does so with consistent style, and is as such difficult to fault; even though I didn't get to do the cover. Mutter. Mumble.