Thursday, 16 January 2014


"A large fire was blazing on the hearth and the scent from burning logs of juniper and cedar was wafted far across the island. Inside, Calypso was singing with her beautiful voice as she went to and fro at her loom, weaving with a golden shuttle. The cave was sheltered by a copse of alders and fragrant cypresses, which was the roosting-place of wide-winged birds, horned owls and falcons and cormorants with long tongues, birds of the coast, whose business takes them down to the sea."

And lost at sea the City has been. Or else stranded on an island fragrant with burning juniper and cedar. Cold months and hotter ones have passed, wet and dry, abroad and at home, lost, and again, found. It's been a long time sitting fallow, but work is underway on the book again. Provided the gods have lifted their curse, expect to see its sails filled by a gentle breeze and heading for Ithaca someday soon.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Ruin

‘The Ruin’
The city buildings fell apart, the works
Of giants crumble. Tumbled are the towers
Ruined the roofs, and broken the barred gate,
Frost in the plaster, all the ceilings gape,
Torn and collapsed and eaten up by age.
And grit holds in its grip, the hard embrace
Of earth, the dead-departed master-builders,
Until a hundred generations now
Of people have passed by. Often this wall
Stained red and grey with lichen has stood by
Surviving storms while kingdoms rose and fell.
And now the high curved wall itself has fallen.
The heart inspired, incited to swift action.
Resolute masons, skilled in rounded building
Wondrously linked the framework with iron bonds.
The public halls were bright, with lofty gables,
Bath-houses many; great the cheerful noise,
And many mead-halls filled with human pleasures.
Till mighty fate brought change upon it all.
Slaughter was widespread, pestilence was rife,
And death took all those valiant men away.
The martial halls became deserted places,
The cities crumbled, its repairers fell,
Its armies to the earth. And so these halls
Are empty, and this red curved roof now sheds
Its tiles, decay has brought it to the ground,
Smashed it to piles of rubble, where long since
A host of heroes, glorious, gold-adorned,
Gleaming in splendour, proud and flushed with wine,
Shone in their armour, gazed on gems and treasure,
On silver, riches, wealth and jewellery,
On this bright city with its wide domains.
Stone buildings stood, and the hot streams cast forth
Wide sprays of water, which a wall enclosed
In its bright compass, where convenient
Stood hot baths ready for them at the centre.
Hot streams poured forth over the clear grey stone,
To the round pool and down into the baths.
Hamer, R. 1970 A Choice of Anglo-Saxon Verse

Saturday, 20 July 2013

A Family Portrait


Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Son of Misfortune

My rising and my falling march with theirs.
Born thus, I ask to be no other man
Than that I am, and will know who I am.

- Oedipus Rex, Sophocles, p. 49

After a long, long hiatus, the engineer lost in the wasteland, workmen are again seen moving amid the ruins. No end in sight, but then the City is circular. Eventually when the beginning is reached, I will know I've arrived at an end.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Daughter of Time

She was the City of Peace, eternal and ancient. All lesser nations bowed before her high mud walls, many gated, their arches picked out in blue and red tiles in which glimmered bits of the captured rising and setting sun. Temples and brothels, camel trains and a thousand different races all co-mingled beside her green waters, while visitors and citizens alike made love in bowered gardens through which drifted clouds of sweet incense and birdsong. No raiders from the waste could breach her bull and eagle guarded crenellations. All greater ones, those bellicose nations occasionally stirred into orgiastic expressions of war, led by conquering kings, who would send out their vast armies snaking down from the mountains or across the desert, seeking to batter and pull them down, were met with open arms. Doors thrown wide, dancing and singing women and men lining the causeways bestowing flowers, gifts of gold, silver and flesh, they drew off the stream of martial vigour into her carnal embrace. No army could defeat the great City of Peace, for those who might, she seduced, and those who lacked the means to force her subservience, she rebuffed and then enslaved, one by one, be they nomads or merchants, allowed to be led through her postern gates beneath a crescent moon and a flower hued flame.

In the end, the dynasties of the desert and the high passes would disappear, their far flung satrapies rising in rebellion to sunder with civil war the chains which held them all. Kings died, their lines grown weak or dissipate over time and whole kingdoms might evaporate like salt on the plains. But she did not, Daughter-Cradled-by-Rivers. She had been there since the gods had first raised the world from the primordial sea, laid dust upon the reeds, and made a home for themselves and those they created to worship them at the centre of the world emergent. And she would remain, long after, undisturbed by war, famine, and empire, which were mere ripples in her vast apsu of time, that sweet reflecting pool in which she snared both the moon and sun. City of Peace, she would outlast all but the gods themselves, her dancers chanting the same songs they had first learned back when the waters were tamed by the divine breath, and go on with their ancient ways in the alleys and streets of the city long after the final sword was broken and the last chariot had tumbled to dust.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Tigers & Nomads

Tigers and nomads. They were going no place, quickly. Someone says something offhand about tigers and nomads, a crude laugh splits the air, and E. opens his mouth to ask about it but then the train lurches forward. The wheels start to turn and the smoke rises from the chimney in white vapourous billows. The town disappears, not really being a town it disappears in a single breath, one partial turn of the track as the forest closes in. Walls of trees, the darkness of green hillsides while a hawk rides the thermals on the lip of the valley and E. leans his head against the window, despite the chill and the fact that only the upper parts of it are clean enough to see through. He watches the hawk, and then it too is gone.

He thinks about tigers. And yet he doesn’t see any. Miles pass, the forests rise thick and hedge them in, and nothing but the silence and their own conversation emerge to disturb the journey. He’d settle for a wolf, but there is no sign of the beasts either.

“I thought you said there were tigers here?”

“What? Not any more, I don’t think. Not for a long time, but there were tigers here once. They prowled the forests eating up people - before the wolves took over. Honey harvesters, foresters, tea pickers - they all lived in mortal fear of them.” Aisha drags deeply on her cigarette and flicks ash into the aisle. “Fresh tracks found near a stream or a well was enough to clear out whole villages.”

“What happened?” But E. knows. Deep down or even on the surface, he knows what always happens, happened. People get their revenge on the wild for its wildness, sooner or later, even if it was always lopsided, a pogrom inflicted for a scratch.

“They hired some nomads out of the Waste. An old tribe, one of the last, still herding sheep and murdering each other over mares and the best dried up bits of grazing. They came in with these rifles and bows - bows and arrows! Can you believe that?” Aisha shook her head. She clearly didn’t, but she continued with the story as she lit another cigarette, the smoke rising up and then being whipped out of the window by the passing air. “Packs of dogs - well, more like barely tame wolves, bred from the ravenous beasts of the steppe. They hunted the tigers up and down the valleys for months, years, atop their shaggy ponies, it’s said. They lost a lot of nomads and ponies and wolf-dogs of course, but in the end, there were a few of them left and not a single tiger. Then they took their payment in gold, and stole what they weren’t given, even some of the village women, packed up their ill-tempered shitty ponies and left. Pissed back off to the Waste to do who knows what with it all. Didn’t take their mongrels either, and they interbred with the native wolves of the forest to ill effect, who ever since they say, have had no fear of men. The nomads, they never came back, but then neither did the tigers. I expect they’re both all dead by now, anyway.”

There is a loud bang and clatter from the roof and we all jump. Except Aisha. She just puts down her cigarette and pulls a long barreled gun out from under her jacket.

“Stay here. Away from the windows,” she says. “It might be tigers or nomads.” She doesn’t smile.

E. thinks she’s joking, but then she might not be. Aisha is not always a trustworthy narrator he’s come to know. Perhaps the story about the nomads is just that: a story; and somewhere in the forest there are still tigers. Or the other way around. So he watches her, and sees how she holds her weapon in no casual manner.

She goes to the door between the carriages, listens but there aren’t any more sounds to be heard except for the normal clattering and wheezing of the train and the conductor doesn’t appear. E. takes this as a good sign. Or perhaps it's a bad one? The one other traveler who is in the same carriage as we are, some sort of commercial salesman with his portmanteau stuffed full of samples, doesn’t appear to have even woken up. He goes on snoring, a bit of his mustache fluttering at the edge of his mouth, eyes invisible asleep or awake, under the brim of his hat.

Moments go by along with the scenery. The forests are gone and the tea plantations give way to ugly hills scalped of their timber and bleeding orange mud down their blank faces. Aisha puts away her pistol and returns to her seat. She sighs. In the bright light which falls like mortars among the dead hills it is hard to imagine anything ever living here: wolves, tigers, nomads, or villagers.

“I doubt there were ever either tigers or nomads in these valleys,” she says, her eyes reading E.’s own thoughts so precisely that he jumps a little in his seat as her gaze fastens on him. “The people here are known to be terrible liars. Like the Uzbeks say: ‘In the desert there's a man among those dying of thirst selling tickets to the next mirage; and there's always a queue.’ People will believe any nonsense these days.”

She lights another cigarette and blows clouds of blue smoke across the carriage. The sleeper, if he’s a local, but E. seems to recall he got on before they reached the forest and its valleys, while they were passing through the lonely outskirts of the City of A., sees him in his memory in fact, struggling with his heavy bag up the steps with the smell of the city clinging to his coat, doesn’t wake up and contradict her.

“Still, it’s a good story. I wouldn’t have minded seeing a tiger,” E. says, wistfully even, but no one hears him now over the noise of the train.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Desert Wolves

After they watch the last of the rockets disperse in an orange blaze smeared like a false dawn on the horizon, they climb down the sand dunes. Their footsteps produce a susurrus, sliding this way and that. Several times they stop to empty out the grains from their socks and shoes.

While they are doing so, at one of their many halts near the bottom of a red dusted ravine, there is a sound of something moving atop it, causing little spills of sand to roll down from the crest. Tiny streams that sprinkle the shoulders of their jackets as the listen.

They turn and scan the line of the sky as it presses against the dune but they can make out nothing except for the stars. Any light from the rockets is long gone.

“A fox?” says E..

“Perhaps,” replies the other, as he wipes his face with one hand and grimaces, feeling the grit his fingers leave behind, “better than if it was a wolf,” he says with a laugh.

“A wolf?” repeats E. “What would a wolf be doing out here in the desert? Watching Mughal rockets?”

The other man laughs again, but with less ease. “There are wolves in the desert,” he cautions, “Truly, not like there are in the forests, but a few have been seen.” He shakes his head, “Not like in the forest where they are many.”

“Are there many? Still?” E. is skeptical. He’s seen the old faded pelts that are hung in the market, moth-eaten whole heads lolling in death. Paws that haven’t known movement and the chase for decades if not centuries.

“Yes, they’ve never been hunted to decimation like they were on the steppes - not for a long time. And even then, they were like fleas it is said, so thick that the khans couldn’t kill them quick enough, and who lost an army of horsemen in trying. Now - who knows?” His friend shrugs, round shoulders rising and falling in the starlight. “But I used to have to travel east. Sometimes west. In both directions the train runs first south and then turns along the edge of the mountains where the steppe becomes level and there are no sand storms to bury the tracks. Well, in all directions the forest is total, until one reaches the mountains themselves, of course. And amid the trees, the tracks have been laid out straight and go on for miles and miles. Hard to imagine how busy the foresters once were. Or how many were lost to the wolves.”

“Better than to raiders from the steppes, though,” E. says.

“Yes, better than bandits, but there are wolves aplenty. I’ve seen them myself, loping alongside the train for mile after mile,” says the smaller man with an involuntarily shake. “Their eyes are yellow. And at night, it’s all you can see! Or that’s what you think anyway, when you peer outside your window having been awoken, or God help you - should the train be forced off onto a siding to let another train pass, or to remove a downed tree - and of those their are many, as many or more than the wolves, to be cleared from the tracks. Or simply to let the engines rest for they are old trains mostly, and the distance is great. It is then that you see them, eyes like rush lights or djinn staring into the coaches from out the forest.”

“Why would they follow the train?” asks E.. He looks at the smaller man with his skeptical expression plain on his face as both crane their necks trying to listen to yet another outbreak of nocturnal scrambling from somewhere above them. “I’d have expected them to stay clear of all that. They’re shy creatures really, and I can’t imagine why you would think they’d actually follow a train. I would say that’s just your imagination. Fireflies perhaps, or sparks from the funnel.”

“Ah, well you see, when the line was first laid, it was principally for carrying passengers of a particular sort: convicts and prisoners from the Great War. And convicts and prisoners, especially when wounded or suffering from disease as they always are, contracted after if not before they are herded first into unsanitary camps and later into even less spacious and less sanitary quarters - if that is possible - when they are forced onto the narrow carriages like famished cattle - tend to die either of disease, malnutrition, heat, or cold, depending on the season, or from trying to escape. In such conditions, I can imagine many even murder each other.”

The commercial traveler falls silent. The noise of whatever animal or person it was atop the dune that neither can catch sight of but which both hear, fades away. In the darkness E. says nothing.

With a slight hitch to his voice, the other continues: “And considering how difficult conditions are on the trains, and how far it is to the next station - in fact, there are none, only the distant destinations on both fronts, between which there is only the wilderness on one side with its trees and its wolves and the nearby inhospitable mountains - and the desert and the steppe on the other side - so bodies, you see, can’t be kept and they are thrown over the sides, sometimes without even stopping the train in fact, or less frequently, a captive may manage to escape, slip away into the forest, wounded or hale. Either way, the wolves are waiting. Endless and hungry and they make short work of anyone. So that’s why it is said that they still follow the train even though it doesn’t carry convicts anymore. And why should it? Nowadays they take care of these things locally. Any city will do, especially a provincial capital. The camps are all empty, why go to the work of fighting a war to gain captives when men and women will sell themselves for a pittance and work in the factories and in the mines until they drop from exhaustion and can be carted away at no expense to the manufacturer by their loved ones? Why build camps indeed, when the secret police can simply come to your own rooms and drag you out into the street should they feel like it and someone pass them your name?”

The man shook his head again, looking either frightened by his own words or simply embarrassed, and then as the two men keep walking, one in silence the other jolting suddenly as if from a waking sleep a few moments later, and starting back up again, “Perhaps you don’t believe me. But no one gets off the train when it stops, except for the engineers and even then only under armed guard and none wander so far from the tracks that they can not be sighted through the barrel of a rifle as they clear away any branches or debris. Because the wolves are waiting, and they’d not give you a pass if you did. Not a man or a women, not even a soldier would likely stand a chance if they went too far and let the trees surround them. What wolf would pause or even recognize the difference between free persons and convicts? Would the meat taste any different?”

“No,” says E. having grown tired of the conversation but unable to admit his disinterest, “I believe it would taste exactly the same. But still I don’t believe you about the wolves following the trains. That was long ago after all. How many years do individual wolves live? Surely they can’t still be the same ones?”

“Perhaps,” admits the traveler whose eyes E. can’t see and which are still scanning the blind crests of the dunes around them as the land slowly rises. “But at night you can hear their howling close by and if you peer between the trees which go on and on forever into the darkness it seems from your window, all you can see is their yellow eyes. Wolves have children, that’s all that I’m willing to say. Perhaps, they teach them to follow the train. As wolves of a different type instruct each other in the city.”

“Yes,” laughs E. and at the loud suddenness of it something crashes away from the tip of the rolling hill of sand, sending small avalanches slipping down and leaving both men feeling chilled even though the night is warm. “Perhaps they do,” whispers E and with his hand on his belt knife now the pair hurry their steps, feeling the dark and the unseen possibilities of the desert opening wide all around them, as impenetrable as any tree-covered landscape, and ready to swallow them. “And some children are wolves. That’s more likely. Some urchins crawled out here like us two, to watch the rockets explode. I don’t doubt it.”

Now it is the other man’s turn to look unconvinced, and together they trudge slowly along the wadi, each lost in their own private determinations, towards the brightly lit city of A..

Monday, 19 November 2012

A Modern Babylon

Invisible Cities: An Aftermath

On Saturday evening in the attic space of Foyles on Charring Cross Road, three authors of urban fantasy came together under the same London roof to discuss their books and their thoughts on “Invisible Cities: Great Imaginary Cities.”
It was a night that resulted in more satisfying questions than answers. But that is a good sign, for answers frequently signal the end of a conversation, questions the start of a new one.
Being authors, the panel enthusiastically spent the evening being wrongheaded about everything. Do cities exist? Mark Charan Newton didn’t think so. He was perniciously wrong, of course, as a glance outside the windows might have proven. Can cities be characters? Tom Pollock stated emphatically - and mistakenly it goes almost without saying - that they should not be considered as such. Kate Griffin was wrong about something or other, I have no doubt, perhaps or perhaps not, involving lighting design in the metropolis.
All three were asked if placing a fantasy in urban surroundings changed more than just the setting. The panel seemed sceptical. But it was a silly question, to judge by the authorial response, and the audience moved on to more impertinent ones.
A person in the audience with all the marks of a social agitator asked where the working classes were to be found in urban fantasy. Once it looked unlikely that the ruffian would be ejected, there was a brief bout of head-scratching over what if any was the urban fantasy novel’s representation the urban proletariat.
Did they exist as more than a lumpen threat, or an underclass for the everyman and everywoman protagonist to rise above? Hairy subhumans - alien rat people, if I might suggest a broad metaphor - necessary only to unblock the sewers? Some, albeit limited by the demands of time, squabbling on the point ensued, but the consensus among the authors was that they were sufficiently egalitarian in their own approach. They then sat back in their chairs and discussed which portion of the underclass made for the best pets.
Very little was mentioned about Italo Calvino. There was a quick notation made regarding his vividly imagined cities as found in the titular novel of the night’s theme. But then no one in the room was qualified to speak intelligently of Italo Calvino. Such a person may not exist anywhere among the living, Gore Vidal aside. So we mostly spoke about Italo Calvino by not speaking of Italo Calvino, which is the only way in this case to say anything sensible about his monumental contribution to literature.
So that gives a sense of the questioning nature of the evening, but what of the answers? However wrongheaded they might be? What of them? And what of the promise of rum, so cruelly bandied about to so little result?
Well, firstly let us look at Mark Charan Newton’s dismissal of cities, that they are only a collection of people, and that one is better off grubbing up pumpkins in the countryside, really.
It’s a very modern take on urbanity, of course. A 20th and 21st century view of the hyper-conurbations that stand in for cities these days. A reaction against their Kafkaesque tyranny over us perhaps, coupled with a bone deep fear of all things progressive and hygienic.
Wrong, because historically, cities have shaped those who have created them, at least as much as the cities themselves have been shaped by the hands which built them in situ. The impulses and needs of those among our ancestors who chose to live behind walls, within the confines of those first formative urban spaces, represent a major sea-change in the human psyche.
Once brought into existence, there was no going back. This was perhaps as radical an upheaval to the way humans not only lived, but saw themselves and the world around them, as the discovery of agriculture and animal husbandry. The ur-cities of the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks, Indians, Chinese, Persians, Romans and all the latter great civilizations of the globe, ensured this.
Everything about a city informs the life of the citizen who dwells within one. The transformative power of organized spaces for worship, trade, protection, learning, justice, and leisure, is almost unimaginable outside of it. These institutions however now distributed and replicated along smaller communities, have their modern genesis in these first and subsequent cities.
It is telling that what we typically consider to be cornerstones of civilized life, disappear almost entirely, or at least change in radical ways, wherever and whenever cities disappear from the map of the world.
But I believe Newton knows this, and typical of his writerly sort, is lying to us when he says that cities are purely figments of our imagination. If they are the latter, they are as powerful and affecting ones as any other human delusion.
It would be difficult to imagine Mark Charan Newton’s novels in the Legends of the Red Sun series, without the important role played by the city - several cities in fact - and how it informs his characters and their world-view. Social unrest, labour unions, strikes, street gangs, masses of refugees seeking refuge behind the walls of his crumbling city-states from a freezing boreal wilderness  - none of this would be the same in a world where the forms of human - and inhuman - life were limited to the Romantic pastoralism of Tolkien and his inheritors. Though they both seem to have a predilection for giant spiders.
As for cities as characters, a trend which Tom Pollock scoffs at and warns against, it seems impossible to avoid. As well as significant aggregations of diverse human populations, cities have their own personalities as well. Moods and atmospheres which seep into and from the stones. Caryatids that sing popular tunes to the passerby in exchange for lumps of sugar pressed to their stone lips. Both overall and more readily delineated along wards, districts, neighborhoods, and boroughs within and dependent on time, size, and historical founding, great cities stamp themselves on their citizens.
It is impossible to write of London for example, without being influenced by its strong representation as an urbi et orbi for the British Empire, or its many incarnations as a strong character in previous works of fiction.
Cities in fiction, from the many fictional Londons to M. John Harrison’s Viriconium and others of more recent coining, almost always emerge - intentionally or accidentally - as important characters not just urban landscapes.
Tom Pollock’s mention of liminal spaces within a city, or the city as a vast liminal space itself was one of the few worthwhile observations made, if possibly for the wrong reasons or uttered in a moment of distraction due to acute dehydration. His interest lay there, he claimed, not in the city as a presence itself on the page, but as a space of ambiguous dimensions, serving as a gateway between a mundane visible world and a hidden magical one.
To strike a balance was necessary, so that the credulity of the readership was not unduly abused, he insisted. Not that I’d thought that a particular danger. Or that the same liminality should not be broken and the two cities flood into one another. I’m not convinced this is a necessary fear either. 
The startling transformation of a city such as occurs in Alfred Kubin’s The Other Side or Jeff VanderMeer’s Finch, is phantasmagorical and yet their inhabitants take it much in stride, no matter how much weirdness pierces the veil. I think readers are no more susceptible to this than are fictional characters. We experience many strange events in our own urban lives and shrug them off with aplomb.
Mundanity and magic was a theme brought up next by Kate Griffin. A warden searches for his hat, and a doom is brought down on a metropolis. Small and closely observed weeds can thus blossom in the cracks of a large city, better really for a wide range of reasons, than they might in the open countryside.
In a village or amid scattered rural communities, everyone knows the business of everyone. In a city, dwellers can live both as part of a wider community and insulated from it. City inhabitants are used to setting up walls between themselves and their fellows; they are familiar with partitioned space, specialized activities, and with moving sometimes unseen within a monolithic structure.
While cities bear the stamp of modernity, they are human constructions and hidden in the foundations are always human concerns, fears, and superstitions. Just as ever home not with an infant’s skull secreted in the corner brickwork first touched by the sun is destined to all manner of ills and disaster. The familiar here can become as strange and alienating as the horror of the primordial forest.
In Stefan Grabiński’s short story The White Wyrak the unsettling disappearance of chimney sweeps is eventually tied to the malevolence of old soot. Cities can become, as we all half-suspect and fear, carnivorous in their habits. There are good reasons why the gas-lighters and white spirit peddlers keep the lamps burning all through the night.
They also entomb us, and it is very hard not to view a city, however broad its avenues and shining its towers, and not see the imaginary prisons of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. A reversal of Bořivoj Čelavský’s famous claim that “A prison is solely a prison when viewed from outside; inside it is a society; a city...” seems just as likely, and that all cities are prisons, only with varying policies applied to their gates.
In such a location, Kate Griffin suggests that she is compelled to write about the city - or sections of the same - that is well known to her, even if such areas represent only a portion of the larger metropolis in which her books are set. But I would suggest that we do not need to write about what is true, in order to write truthful fiction. As Newton remarks, in his own novel some places are psychological states, not actual streets or even modeled after real spaces.
I’ve never found a more vividly realized New York City than that described by Franz Kafka in Amerika: or The Missing Person, and this despite Kafka never setting foot in America. I will forever expect to see the Statue of Liberty holding aloft a sword and not a torch, should I enter the harbour.
Returning to the masses: if the archetypical city of English urban fantasy is some version of London, it isn’t surprising that urban fantasy with rare exception, deals poorly with matters of class.
Novels, are in the large, a middle class product, fascinated with middle class concerns, middle class fears, and laden with bourgeois characters. Charles Dickens is formative in this, and his portrayals of the poor only rarely veer from the caricatured or the demonized.
Not that his very English fear of the mob, a tendency strengthened in the wake of the French Revolution and its terrors, is unique to Englishmen. Louis-Ferdinand Céline for all his disgust with the rich, saves his greatest venom for the poor. Cicero was there long before either with his “Nihil est incertius volgo.” And for all the reliance on and courting of, the lower class urban population of Rome, those on the margins and on the corn dole were despised and feared almost universally by their rulers. Nero was often condemned most fervently by Roman critics and rather strangely considering his many other vices, for his reciprocal love of the lower classes, actors, prostitutes, and entertainers chief among them.
Despite all the ancient and modern claims of “Fex urbis lex orbis” more often the underclass is seen as a simmering depository of violence and stupidity. They are either provoked to rioting or criminality, or else stand in as heaving masses for the protagonists to save, penetrate, or emerge from - very rarely to they become the focus of what is at heart a middle class novel. Genre hasn’t moved far from this either.
Not that this is an unforgivable fault. For writers of the novel are on the whole, selected from the middle class as is their readership. Certainly this is so in fantasy, urban or otherwise. Science fiction has been more welcoming as whole to the working classes, by the barest of margins. Fantasy has taken a longer time to shake off the influence of its Romantic roots.
There are a few authors who regardless of their own origins in the class structure, have made it their business, wrongheadedly or otherwise, to involve the proles more actively in their fantasies. But I can only think of two, Mark Charan Newton and China Miéville, who are asking these questions in their work at the moment. One receives every award given in genre, the other preserves his own ketchup, so the signals for this trend remain mixed.
Indeed when compared to the chivalrous romantics and pastoralists which predate Tolkien and those who have lingered on churning out thirteen volume trilogies involving orcs and dragons, modern urban fantasy seems primed to do more than transfer Anglo-Saxon and feudal concerns to a cosmopolitan background. That it often fails to do more than this, may be a limitation of genre, or a limitation of its middle class roots - and market. So we do not escape the shadow of nobility in disguise, hierarchies of privilege and power, and the self-involved dalliances of Romance - or the Lonely Mountain without risk.
A shame, or at least a missed opportunity for creating a greater diversity of story and a deeper degree of social engagement. But as the boundaries between sub-genre are growing increasingly porous, it is perhaps not too optimistic to hazard this may be changing.
One question not asked, though an important one, is the role of race and gender in urban fantasy. Any answers forthcoming I suspect would have been depressing, so perhaps this was for the best.
In the whole it was a well spent evening, for those with books to flog to the easily led, and the young man with his first growth of facial hair who came in at the end and slipped away with a jug of gratis rum. Hair of the kraken I suppose, though I’d have not taken him for a shaver let alone a drinker had not the light caught his face in just the right way.
The rest of us were left only with questions and visions of improbable cities, unsettling our minds and leading us into labyrinths of speculation long into the night.


E. M. Edwards is the author of Invisible City - Tales From A Hidden Metropolis, possesses no sense of humour, and hopes to one day be at least as published and twice as wrong as the authors discussed.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Invisible Cities

Cities of Our Imagination

Imaginary cities are not limited to popular speculative fiction. As a western tradition, they go right back to the foundation of the idea of the city itself, to the dream of urbanism that changed forever the human landscape.

It was in the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia that the city was born. Among a wealth of innovations ranging from agriculture to writing, the city perhaps, was the Mesopotamians' most enduring legacy.¹ Certainly in terms of its impact on the number of humans living in antiquity and today who have been shaped by its unique environment, the city ranks among its most revolutionary contributions. 

Eridu was the formative city, and is important to our discussion of imaginary cities because it was both a mythical place and a reality. In the creation stories of the Sumerians it was the first city raised among sweet waters bounded on all sides by the primordial sea. It was formed when the gods spread mud upon a reed platform and made both their temple and their home there. The first city then, is both a functional dwelling in the midst of a challenging environment, and a sacred space where gods and men come together to set the rules down for their harmonious co-existance.

It is telling that the first Eden is not a garden, but a city. A place purpose-built, and neither natural nor unplanned in its construction. It is not simply a temple or a temporary gathering where early agriculturists come together to worship or engage in barter and trade - it is a haven made to house the gods, and the men and women who have been made to worship them. And to give sweetness to a life in the midst of a dangerous, even if tamable, wilderness.

If the Mesopotamians wove urbanity into their foundation myths, the myth of the city continues to be an important tale throughout antiquity. Not simply the civic pursuits of the Greeks and Romans - but the idealization of the concept of the city and what it means to live as part of one. Myth and reality are hard to separate, as the Troy of Homer shows us much later on, and in the founding of such important cities such as Rome by fratricidal wolf-reared twins.

Indeed our earliest ideas about 'utopia' come from this quest to delineate the perfect city and pry it from the hands of fable. Not all perfect cities are as unreachable or humorous as Aristophanes' Cloud Cuckoo Land. The imaginary polis of Plato's Republic might be ruled by philosopher-kings but it isn't merely an airy, intellectual exercise; it is meant to be shaped by and in turn shape, all layers of its proposed society, one founded on justice and the perfect forms of social and political organization that would not just make a perfect city, but raise its citizens to their highest human potential. It is a story, and a serious philosophical quest for improving humanity, all at once. If it is an imaginary space, it is one which the author hoped all civilized Greeks would in time fill and emulate.

If the cradles of civilization in Asia, the Mediterranean, and in great Egypt founded our pre-occupation with cities in the west, the inheritors of the trans-Mediterranean world continued to be fascinated with them. The Greeks and Romans of the classical periods despite their oft declared love for pastoralism, remain faithful to the city.

In Western Europe, that flame faltered for a time. It is telling that our most famous city from this period is no longer Rome, however diminished, nor unbowed Constantinople, or even Theodoric's Ravenna - but the Camelot of King Arthur. We've gone from the city as the centre of a rich tapestry of communal life to petty tribalism and barbarous warlords holed up in fortresses only slightly better than cramped hill forts.

That lamp of urbanism doesn't go out entirely. Ancient cities like Eboracum - or York - though Londinium itself goes dark for nearly four hundred years, never lose their lure or their populations entirely. Charlemagne's brief flicker in the west highlights what is mostly a long slog to the Renaissance, framing a period in Europe that isn't the most conducive for the city in fiction. Most of what is found, is the ideal and idealized, and now lies only in the realm of God not man. 

This dualism between the perfect and imperfect, is important to understanding the flights of urbanism we engage in when we re-imagine these spaces. As is the dynamism that exists between the real and imagined. The tensions between these opposing forces give rise to drama and the longevity of the concept. St. Augustine of Hippo's City of God and his Worldly City, are reflections of each other. Just as all the impossibly imaginative cities detailed in Calvino's Invisible Cities are revealed in the end by his narrator Marco Polo to be reflections of Venice.

Of course Venice is the perfect imaginary city. For what exists in the present is more artifice than living metropolis, a well preserved dream of what Venice was imagined to be by its past inhabitants and by those who were told its stories. Like Kublai Khan we are unsure what is truth, and what is utter invention. What we are left with is not strictly history or entirely myth then, but a blending of these two streams. We can find its reflected form in a thousand different fictional places.

Perhaps this is why the sinking, tourist choked remains of La Serenissima remain my most cherished urban space. It is an fabled ur-city, raised on platforms over the mud and surrounded by waters both sweet and salty. Almost everyone is a visitor here; even if they live in the Venice of the present, few if any can trace their tenancy to the Venice of the past - a past which the city has sought to preserve over any forward progression as a metropolis. Just as Marco Polo insisted all cities were Venice, when in Venice I always experience the need to argue that we are all Venetians. 

Not all cities in fiction come from this liminal space between the real and the imaginary - but they share a portion of its magic. The Utopia of Thomas More has been transformed from a biting satire of our failings to a quest for a perfect urban society. It has left the misty "nowhere" of its secret location for a reality that however farfetched, is earnestly pursued even today.

Of course, not all utopias turn out to be perfect cities when we find them in literature. Borges' city of immortals is a terrifying place where the long lives and boredom of its inhabitants have rendered a Piranesian nightmare, an empty Malpertuis - not a golden city of God and eternals as envisioned by St. Augustine. The Swiftian flying city of Laputa and its quest to dominate the lands over which it flies is likewise at once both magnificent and comic. Juvinus' cautionary tale beguiles us with its strange city of Cynocephali and Hemikunes - but is it meant to be a fiction, or it he repeating the just-so-stories laid down by Hesiod and Herodotus? We will never know for certain. 

But still we and our fictional selves pursue the mirage of the perfect city. Prester John's capitals of Susa and Nyse, the Eldorado of Voltaire and others, inspire but remain tantalizingly out of reach however much they glitter. The theme of cities being hidden away from the undeserving or uninitiated is another element of the tradition. The idea of hidden cities, invisible cities, cities which have either placed themselves behind walls or at the literal and figurative ends of the earth is a fascinating one. In such locales we combine both the ideal of the self-sufficient city-state of the Mesopotamians and the ancient Greeks and the idea of a secret, sacred omphalos where the space between the worlds has thinned - or revolves. It takes us full circle to our earliest conceptions of what a city is, and the idea that the hidden city is not just a sacred place, but a dwelling place where the sacred and the everyday must learn to co-exist.

I wasn't surprised to find that one of my favourite recent fictional cities, the New Vencie of Jean-Christophe Valtat's excellent Aurorarama, is described as a "Boreal Bohemia" and is set atop the icy pole. Or that China Miéville's award-winning The City & The City hides one fictional city behind or within, another. Or that in the even better Finch by Jeff VanderMeer, the imaginary city-state of Ambergris is being literally taken over by another fungal reality which is consuming it from within.

With the re-birth of cities, comes the resurgence of imaginary ones. Paris and the urges of free cities eager to throw off their vassalage and imperial yokes become synonymous with learning and writing. A sense of modern nations being more than just a king or an emperor's domain add to the importance of civil centres that are no longer just feudal castles. Much later, Charles Dickens' victorian London is born as much a blend of the fanciful and faithful as was Thomas Hardy's bucolic Wessex.

For myself, I find that the city represents both the beginning, and the near end of human striving. It is the classical gift of our first city-dwellers, and it is the progressive and liberalizing thrust of modernity. It is likewise a break with the dominance of Tolkien in popular fantasy, that supreme pastoralist and medievalist, whose books hardly contain any great cities at all - and if they do - they are passed by in favour of ruins or the open countryside. At the heart of his Middle Earth is the shire, and at the heart of the shire is the country-squire. There is good reason then, to see the rebirth of the city as a place for our imaginations to take flight as a rebuff to the reactionary and rather conservative call contained within Tolkien's fiction for a return to village and county. But also, it is part of a continuous thread of urban myth-making that has never fully died out.

Mixed in with these freedoms of course, is the price that is often paid for their possession. Crime, pollution, plague, overcrowding, fire, murder, theft, and all deeds foul and terrible - these are coin that cities demand in exchange for their concentration of riches. At the end of Albert Camus' The Plague, we are reminded that all civic displays of joy are imperilled in a metropolis where the bacillus awaits for "the day (which) would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city." None of this is a bar to fiction, of course - to the contrary, with the cynicism of the post-industrial, post-great war societies, and the birth of horror, these are often jewels in the rough for the shrewd fabulist and author to polish.

So there is every reason to be confident that the dream of cities will provide fertile space for our imaginations to build new conurbations, just as their pull, both concrete and imaginary, will continue to shape our expectations of life lived within them - or within their pages. And for those multitudes who dwell there, past, present, and future - real or fictitious - until civilization itself passes away perhaps under the pressure of melting poles and rising waters - it is hard to think of a more important setting for fantastical fiction than the city.

We are all Venetians now, and all cities Venice.


¹ Leick, Gwendolyn - Mesopotamia, The Invention of The City, 2001, Allen Lane, The Penguin Press

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Tank

Here's a non-'Invisible City' story for your cold-blooded enjoyment called 'The Tank.'

Happy Hallowe'en.

The Tank

Wednesday, 24 October 2012


Having been put up for this by the devious and my suffering applauded by, K.T. Davies. Or from one set of mysterious first and middle initials to another…

What is the working title of your book?
Invisible City. 

Where did the idea for the book come from? 
From the feeling you get in certain great cities when traveling through them late at night, namely that the buildings themselves are in motion - obeying a secret plan and forming subtle new arrangements even as you walk past them. That behind their facades lurk aspects of a hidden city whose meaning and entry can only be arrived at by those who can decipher the layout of their stones as a type of code. 
But most of all, from the visual work of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, specifically his Carceri d'invenzione or Imaginary Prisons, but also his startling views of a crumbling and ancient Rome that never existed or perhaps did, depending on how you look upon Antiquity and its untrustworthy chroniclers.

What genre does your book fall under?
Speculative fiction, strange fantasy, horror, with an undercoating of weird tales and classical antiquity. Rat people and Euripides, gaslights, Romans, Phoenicians, mutant fruit bats and petroleum deities intermix freely inside it. 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
All future movies will feature CGI superheroes endlessly replicating themselves amidst digitalized explosions and simulated laughter. No human actors will be used in the industry after 2017.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book? 
In the city of the lost who fill find the finder?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 
My book will crawl out of its underground sewer and devour all other works of fiction it finds on the surface which are too sluggish or inattentive to run away.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? 
Roughly a year. Editing and re-writing of the novel has at least tripled that figure. But it’s competing with five other book shaped projects that I’m working on simultaneously, and of course, I’m naturally lethargic.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? 
I like to consider it has its own charms, and its own flawed origins. In truth it owes very little to other contemporary fantasies, or at least I hope - and more to a feverish nightmare spawned by Apuleius, Procopius, Borges, and of course, Calvino. 

Who or what inspired you to write this book?  
All of the writers named above and many others. Most if not all of them safely dead.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? 
It will feature some lovely artwork on its cover and frontispiece. It will tell only the truth about entirely fictitious events. 

Nominate five people to roll this onto
Like Atlas and Heracles, I cast my eye about and find this p̶o̶o̶r̶ ̶s̶u̶c̶k̶e̶r̶, worthy author and writer,  R J Barker at It's been kindly agreed that he'll take this pillar off my hands while I nip next door to the communal latrine. I've promised to bring him back a 'golden apple.'

Friday, 12 October 2012

Up From The Earth


Wednesday, 19 September 2012


'... in Italy ominous prodigies had once again been widely witnessed; at Veii showers of stones were reported; at Menturnae the temple of Jupiter had been struck by lightning; and at Capua a wolf had stolen into the city and savaged one of the sentries. Most dramatically, at Frusino a hermaphrodite child was born the same size as a four-year-old. Diviners summoned from Etruria announced that the monstrous infant should be banished from Roman territory without any contact with the earth. After being placed in a box, therefore, the unfortunate child was taken out to sea and thrown overboard. The priests of Rome also decreed that three bands of nine virgins should process through the city chanting a hymn written for the occasion by the Tarentine poet ...'

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Mountain Bears

Interlude II: Mountain Bears, A Sample Chapter from The White Owl

Mountain Bears

Where we live there are mountains. Not far from where people drive and sit in their houses eating dinner. In those same mountains are bears. They don’t come down very often. When they do they are sickly or old, or just confused. They make messes, they eat dogs, sometimes they are shot or poisoned.

There is a boy on our street who is very afraid of bears. We tell him a bear has come down from its mountain and he cries and won’t come out. We tell him it’s not a bear like that, and that we didn’t really see it anyway.

One day the boy goes to the end of the street where the back yard of a house they tore down five years ago when the boy wasn’t even a boy but some other thing - a thing that crawls and pees on itself and can’t play any games - has become a jungle.

A small one, full of trees and sometimes, we tell him, bears which have come down from the mountains. He doesn’t like it when we tell him this, even though he has learned not to be afraid. Learned that we are not always entirely truthful about these rumours.

But he’s a fat boy, perhaps because he is afraid of bears and does not join us on those walks and hikes between the town and the forest which covers up the base of the mountains like two green hands. We have baked him a pie. It’s not very good, but he eats it anyway because it is very sweet.

We don’t join him. It is too sweet for us and not very big, we explain. And there is poison in it. Not that we say anything about the poison because we’re too excited about the tracks we’ve found, about the strange markings and the ursine scent we think we’ve noticed hanging thick and heavy.

Someone’s dog is missing, but likely it ran away or was run over by a truck. We mention all this, only after he’s had the pie and is feeling sleepy and his stomach isn’t so good - but he’s sleepy most of all, and just a little bit afraid now.

You can smell it, like a memory of those piss-stained days when he wasn’t a boy but a thing that couldn’t play. We take him to the place where we saw the bits of fur and a half-chewed collar. He doesn’t want to go, but we show him.

He cries and now he has peed down his leg like a dog. We laugh though we’re sad because he knows there isn’t any bear. Just this hole in the foundations full of broken bottles and trash and used tires. But he falls down a few times, and cuts his face so we run away.

Later that night we hear the boy’s mother calling. The boy hasn’t returned for his dinner. Have we seen him? No. There’s an old man with a red pebbly nose like a strawberry that’s gone rotten and a baseball cap with a grizzly on it, putting up LOST DOG flyers.

We explain, carefully, having cleaned up all evidence of our baking, and hidden the bottles of poison where the homeless teenagers sleep in the bushes, that we haven’t.

The next week there is a story in the local paper about how a bear came down from the mountains and ate a boy. This is sad but we live near the mountains, and sometimes, bears come down and eat boys.

We could move away but then we’d miss the mountains.

Monday, 20 August 2012

The Signal

An Interlude: The Signal - A Short Story

With thanks to Berit Ellingsen for the idea.

The Signal.

The shape wanders through the night, one spectral hand held high, searching for the signal. Moans rise from the alleyway below where other ghosts have congregated. Pleas for an RT or a final like whisper forth from throats that haven't the cartilage to form words.

As Stephen lies in bed, he can hear them pacing the landing, going up and down the hallway, bony digits clicking, clicking, endlessly through the night. They've lost the signal, the one they think will lead them back to life.

But it's gone and so are they. Only static and the long grass and poplar trees which buzz with hidden insectile life.

He rolls over and tries to ignore their airy cries. It's only an afterimage, Yvonne says. A magnetized echo. Like the shadows they left behind on the walls when they blew up Hiroshima.

Only our shadows, Stephen always says, are mobile ones. They make noises, they move things.

Doesn't matter, is her reply. Like everything else, they're just fading. Another season, I bet you, and they'll be gone. Rust and ruin, like all the rest. Soon we won't even notice them.

I'm not so sure. There are so many. So many still searching for the signal.

Shush, little one. Be quiet and rest. We've got to keep moving now that the well is gone off. We'll pack the vans in the morning. There's not enough fodder around here to keep the horses alive through winter anyhow.

I know, I just wish someone could tell them - could turn them off. Especially at night, Stephen says trying hard not to look.

They will, dove, she says, softer now. Over time they'll ...fade out. It's just that their implants were self-sustaining. It takes a long time for that to wind down. They've a lot of half-lives still to go through, poor things. I bet they didn't guess they'd spend their lives in the loop and still be just as disconnected at the end.

Stephen doesn't say anything more. In the closet there is a luminescent presence hunched over a broken desk, eyes that are just deeper pits locked on something that isn't there. Not for them, or anyone else. A paw moves rapidly back and forth, leaving tiny trails of light that cling to the rotten wood as if they were insects.

I just wish they'd rest sometimes, at night. His voice has grown heavy with sleep despite his claim to never close his eyes when they're around.

Poor dove, I know. But they didn't rest much then, why should they now?

Closing his eyes Stephen thinks for a moment that he can hear a humming coming from the closet, from the street below, from the dead wires on which only crows and starlings move back and forth anymore. But that's just a phantom, his imagination he knows.

Because there's a part of him, of all of us Yvonne has told him, that keeps searching for the signal even if we've never known it before. In time that too will fade, she says, and leave the world quiet once more.

Just the insects you and me, little dove, and the starlings and the crows.

Monday, 13 August 2012

The Rainy Season

In the trickle whole and immaculate is the flood.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Woe To The Vanquished!

When the Romans extended their kingdom into Europe and later into the Levant and North Africa, they did not expand into a vacuum. In these areas existed complex, sophisticated societies with roads, trade, coinage, language, and cultures easily their match in terms of civilizing values - in truth, many exceeded the militaristic, patriarchal, plutocracy of Rome.

When the legions had finished their work nearly half a millennia later, filling coffers with Celtic riches, slaves and trade purloined from Punic cities, and the spoils of the ancient Near Eastern lands of the Levant, Persia and great Egypt - the Mediterranean world had been rendered into a Latin desert. Subservient to and dependent on Rome with its centralized industry and governance, culturally embedded in the victors' systematic re-writing of local and Roman history to reflect Rome's aggressive imperial triumph, it stood indeed transformed.

In admittedly oversimplified terms, it was the uprooting of a wide variety of native systems for the sake of a dominant monoculture. So long as the efficient distribution network of the empire could be maintained, the desolation made by Rome could be kept fertile. But this was in many ways an artificial and alien system compared to the more indigenous ones which it had replaced. Once this collapsed, shaken to its base and forced to retract by the influx of Germanic warriors crossing over into the empire in the West, and the Arab explosion in the East, those formerly independent regions were left in perilous condition.

And it was not the gradual return of Romanesque civilization after the dark period of early medievalism and late antiquity, but the slow re-efflorecence of native, localized cultures who had long been suppressed, which saw the transformation of these lands from a wilderness into pockets of production again. Of course, by now, the greatest damage was irreversible: the wholesale destruction of narrative by Roman and even earlier, Greek writers. So while the descendants of the Caesars would no longer be the rulers of these lands, the ideological stamp of Rome would be harder to shake.

Any progress, any organizing tendency would henceforth be seen as a return to Roman values, despite or even in the face of, evidence that local tribes and local customs were in truth in ascendence. These would be endlessly reinterpreted through the greatest lasting victory of Rome: that civilization itself in the West and along its margins, was Roman.

So we reach a point today where the rise and fall of modern "empires" must be couched in terms of their relationship with and emulation of Rome and its enemies. And despite the clearer picture which has emerged of a historical European and Mediterranean world that was far more complex, vibrant, and indeed often more civilized by the standards we hold now, before the hegemony of Rome.

But if that is the lasting victory of the Romans, it is made no less glorious by its entirely fictional nature. We see the same trend with its self-proclaimed successors. And live in a present where the most powerful legacy of the imperial age of the modern West now that its commercial, political and military influence is in decline, is its continued domination of global narrative. A narrative in which human rights, progress, enlightenment, freedom, and indeed, civilization itself, is seen through a Western framing.

Like the Romans, the West has perhaps lost the battle of empires, but won the more important struggle of narrative. Only time will show if it is capable of matching its glorious predecessor. Africa and Asia struggle even now to position their current successes within a framework of both their deep history and their more immediate past as dictated by the West. They wisely seek to reassert their independence and restore their fuller histories in the bargain.

Will the future look back to localized resurgence as a return to "Western values" or title as Westernization what has been throughout the 19th and 20th centuries a far more vibrant and global synthesis of traditions and cultures? It may be hoped that others will be more perceptive, and learn from the victory of the Romans and the collective failure of Europe and its Mediterranean littoral. For if the history of the Roman Empire is to be a guidepost, the answer will be an affirmative, at least for those of us still living the shadows of Rome.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

We Winter In Darkness

Our lives are brief affairs. 
We winter in darkness. 
And see no light until spring: 
the cruelest of seasons
Excepting summer's apogee 
which is the universal herald 
of famine, pestilence, and war. 
Autumn comes and is gone 
before we have banked our fires. 
Then winter returns, and we 
are plunged into darkness 
and dying once more.
As much strangers to mildness, 
as the depths of the sea 
are to the light of the sun.

Saturday, 17 September 2011


It is not the heart of the City which mattered, nor its brain from which commands radiated outwards, streaking along the paved roadways and brushing by broken marble colonnades - but its navel, the Omphalos, the Umbilicus Urbis, which was the same as the universe’s in miniature, or so the priests claimed, the axis mundi and seat of all its wisdom and from which the voices of the City’s many oracles descended, replete with terror, promise, and cryptic declarations.

Thursday, 25 August 2011


There is a lot going on below the water line.  Damp seeps in, and the Invisible City absorbs it all.

I'll however be gone for a while.  Not that you'll miss the regular posts and cozy fireside chats we've all had. First off to Crete, for sun and ruins.  Then farther still to a small island off the southern coast lying like an earthen shipwreck in the Libyan sea.

We'll be back.  Gods and ferries withstanding.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Invisible City

People keep asking me what the book is about.  Well, I say, "Gaslights and Late Antiquity, Euripides and Alien Rat-People."

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Gods And Monsters

While viewed through the oculus, the god had been fearsome.  Terrifying.  A tall, titan like figure, embodying chaos and darkness, striding across the storm-warped plain.  Armoured in sheets of black metal inlaid with runes and patters of silver fire which crawled like fluorescent sea-larva.  A sword or an monstrous axe, it was uncertain which of the two it might be, as not all details were made clearer by the mechanism, was strapped to its heaving back - not that it seemed to have much need of its doomsday weapon.  Eldritch fire dripped from its white hands, and bolts of violet lighting forked across the battlefield from the glowing pits of its eyes, immolating its massed foes and scattering the opposing ranks of sorcerers, witch-doctors, and armoured eight-legged, four-armed centaurs which sported their own diminutive magical riders on their backs.
Laughing as it tore out the spine of a centaur, its white-skin crinkling around its sensual lips and its black hair lifted in the field of its own thaumaturgical energies, the terminuses of its tresses braided with miniature silver skulls and swirling in the air like the heads of snakes.  It crushed a female wizard under one iron heel, her brains jetting out of the shattered orbits of her eyes as her head deformed.  Yellow sun-dogs woven from ancient spells acquired at dear price to the souls of the casters, swarmed, coal-red eyes burning above their narrow muzzles as they washed impotently around the giant’s shins, blue-flamed teeth sparking from its armour.  The god drew in its breath, sucked up the sorcerous apparitions like incense rich in human fat into its nostrils.  It spoke a Word: a chasm opened up as something obscene and maddeningly inhuman tore a rent in the clouds at its bequest, and drooped poisonous tendrils of mist and inchoate purple flashes onto the remaining forces who melted as if figures cast from wax in its elder embrace, first skin and then muscle, and then bursting internal organs, whilst the lungs of the victims and glowing nervous systems still perversely remained intact, and kept up their screaming.
“Now, I think, would be an opportune time to employ the lasso,” said Thylasses.  “While the god-head is distracted by its enjoyment of the spectacle.”
“Yes, magister,” replied the short brown khiropean, and flicked one of the many levers with its arm-wing.  There was relatively little noise, a slight click, and a muted humming from the ovoids, then all crowded forward to view the silver mirror of the oculus which had first gone matte and now cleared.
Appearing just over the god’s armoured right shoulder, a noose of pale gossamer light dropped around its neck, tightened, and then both god and lasso disappeared from view even as the titan’s fist closed around its insubstantial substance.  There had been no fear on the destroyer’s face, as it did so, only the flicker of minor irritation.
“Ready,” said Thylasses, “we should have it now in the containment zone.”
The others suddenly fearful, hung back, and only in fits and starts dared to approach the flat metal platform where the magister waited.  On its dull zinc surface, a strange being was crouched, the lasso still around its neck - hunchbacked, lank white hair falling in greasy clumps across its corpse white skin.  Thin as an malnourished child, or a convict diminished by years of slave labour in the gas mines, it quivered with confused rage.  Rags and flat pieces of bone were its only clothing, while a twisted stick, with a knapped flint point, banged against its pustulant shoulders.
Thylasses frowned.  The god leaped up, drool spiraling down from its slack bottom lip and with a groan sprang at the magister’s throat, a crudely shaped stone in its hand.
Before it could clear the platform, one of the guardians stepped forward and with a chop of the blade of its palm, brought the god crashing to its knees.  Picking up the fallen stone, he bashed the god’s head in with the rock.
It whimpered once, and then rolled onto its pale belly and expired, eyes that once feasted on the suffering of millions and to the lamentation of worlds, clouding over.  Its last laboured breath forever stilled, they looked up at the finder’s own with the luster of clay marbles.
“Tartarus take it,” said Sevius, “so that’s a god, is it?”
“Pitiful, really,” replied the magister, “but I thought you should see it, all the same.  In its own realm it is a monster, a devourer of universes but here, in the ruling reality of the City - we have revealed it for what it is.  A beast, barely sentient, the product of infantile desires admixed and bloated by the worship of feeble imaginations.”
“Not very pretty,” said the finder and stepped back away from the dead god.  A pair of servants dragged it by its heels from the platform and the magister and his winged assistant turned their attentions to the larger of the black ovoids, which had misted over with ice.
“No,” said the magister, watching the khiropean chip away at the hoarfrost, “they never are.”
* * * *
- Excerpt from Book IV, Hidden Universe