Tales of the City Edited by Philip Purser-Hallard. Book review

TALES OF THE CITY Edited by Philip Purser-Hallard, Obverse Books, p/b £9.99 154pp, http:// obversebooks.co.uk/

Reviewed by Chris Limb

The City of the Saved – a conurbation the size of a galaxy – lies outside of time, beyond the end of the universe. Its inhabitants? Every human being who has ever lived. From the earliest Neanderthals, through victims of contemporary infant mortality to the strangest of their post-human descendants, all are resurrected here. All human afterlife is here because – despite hints of a technological underpinning to this miracle – this is to all intents and purposes the hereafter.

However, if it is heaven, then it’s a heaven with a difference. For a start there doesn’t seem to be anyone in charge, no big beard in the sky. And whilst violence and death are impossible, other quintessentially worldly occurrences aren’t. Here technology sits happily alongside sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Most importantly pregnancy and birth can occur here, resulting in the city-born, a generation who have never known anything other than immortality and infinite possibilities…

The City was originally created by Purser-Hallard for Lawrence Miles’s ‘Faction Paradox’ series of books (themselves a spin-off from characters and situations introduced in the BBC’s range of original ‘Doctor Who’ novels in the late 1990s), but foreknowledge of any back-story or premise is unnecessary to enjoy this collection. The basic set-up itself – the whole of humanity, past, present and future in an almost infinite playground – is such a wide-ranging and flexible format where almost anything can happen that the reader is instantly drawn in.

As a collection the tales serve to drip-feed the reader with important facets of information about this idiosyncratic afterverse, building up a coherent back-story. By the time all the characters collide in the final chapter the reader realises that he or she has been seeing small pieces of a puzzle without realising and that a larger whole has been coalescing just below the conscious threshold of the narrative.

Of course the tales can all be enjoyed on their own merit. Each explores different aspects of this grand “what if” and has something unique about it. Figures from both ancient and modern history appear (including Helen of Troy, Socrates, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse) rubbing shoulders with almost-alien post-humans, cyborgs and sentient vehicles. At times played for laughs there is always a serious note at the core of each of these stories as they each explore important facets of how such a diverse macrocosm would actually work.  What happens when you meet your intellectual heroes?  In a world where violence is impossible what do sadomasochists do for kicks? Despite being written in an array of satisfyingly different voices there is a definite coherence to the universe constructed here, multiple points of view of the same trans-dimensional object.

At the end the reader is left with many questions – not least of which are how did this all happen and what is going to happen next – but hopefully at least some of these are answered in the pre-existing range of books and other media dealing with the City of the Saved and the wider ‘Faction Paradox’ worlds. As such, ‘Tales from the City’ may be the perfect gateway collection for anyone wanting to engage with this fictional universe but unsure where to start.