The Traction Codex

The short story is, a book(let)(thing) I wrote with the renowned and wonderful Philip Reeve is now for sale! For 85p! And I think it’s actually pretty good and worth reading, if you are even remotely interested in Mr Reeve’s excellent Mortal Engines series and its universe.

The long story is somewhat longer. Quite some time ago, Mr Reeve got me to help with a side project, a “Fan’s Guide to Mortal Engines” – the sort of thing I’d probably happily do for free, except he was offering fame and fortune (well, co-author credit and a one-off fee.) So I read through all the Mortal Engines and Fever Crumb books, noting down all the proper nouns and references to times and dates, and accumulated a great long list of potential entries and data-points on the WOME’s great sprawling timeline, and he visited me in Bristol and we bounced ideas off one another and hashed out ideas and concepts to reconcile the various wild, outlandish claims and references within the books into a coherent history.

Mr Reeve is one of those people I’m terribly proud to count as a friend* – not just because he’s a superb writer (and, you know, famous – not incredibly, but a hell of a lot of my friends have independently heard of him) but because he is an all-around top bloke; very well-read, really rather cultured (but because he genuinely likes watching and reading things, rather than for the sake of being “cultured”), a man of great integrity, and a highly independent and rational thinker. Also, despite claims of curmudgeonliness, a really nice chap and a proper gentleman. I wasn’t sure how working with him was going to turn out – it’s his world, and I didn’t want to step on his creative toes! – but it turned out to all be extremely chilled-out and great fun. It was almost all history geekery and world-building, which for me is honestly the best part of writing – world-building with rubbish puns and giant moving cities which eat each other. Getting paid to do that sort of thing was A Fanboy Dream Come True.

A sample quote:

Anti-Traction League

Though politically its roots can be traced to an alliance of upland nobles based around the static city of Tienjing, Shan Guonese legend holds that the League began in spirit when Lama Batmunkh laid the first stone in what was to become the Shield-Wall. While Tractionist historians sniffily point out that specific references to a “League” do not begin until many centuries later, and postmodernist historians contend that the concept of “walls” merely represents the pseudosemiotic discourse derived from the deconstruction of subcultural narratives, Batmunkh’s act was the beginning of a great wall-building tradition among the eastern kingdoms. The Mortar and Harmony Period, as it later came to be known, pooled the resources of the flatland kingdoms that had long sought to keep marauding nomads from their territory, and the monastic mountain orders who wished for better feng shui in the shape of the nations all about them; walls were laid out according to the Eight Trigrams and the principles of overlapping fields of fire. The walls at one point stretched from the Novosibirsk crater-clover to Kandahar, combining powerful symbolism with an obstacle that presented far more trouble than it was worth. While initially just a mutual defence-and-cosmic-harmony arrangement among a loose confederation of eastern states, with the rise of Traction Cities in the fifth and sixth centuries TE the League consolidated into a formal alliance, its member states contributing to a standing military. However, in its early days this military was rarely successful against Tractionism, and with ever-larger cities devouring its walls and flatland castles, the League gradually withdrew to the mountains and turned to rocketry and airships over bagua-based defences. While retaining its capital at Tienjing and spiritual home in Shan Guo, the League gradually came to represent anti-Tractionism everywhere, with the Spitzbergen Static, Tibesti and Zagwa variously counted among its member states or allies.
(See Lama Batmunkh; Shan Guo; Green Storm)

This was however a very long time ago, and sadly, after months and months and months of publisher stalling, the release they’ve finally put out is… a bit shambolic. They’ve misspelled Philip’s name as “Phillip” in the ebook metadata, the cover isn’t particularly appropriate (or good), Philip’s gorgeous high-res illustrations are reduced to postage-stamp size, the actual page-to-page formatting is a mess. Most galling of all, they’ve screwed me out of cover credit. Which is, I know, vain, as I contributed probably less than half of the words, and none of the illustrations, but still: I worked on this, this was my work, and they said they would.

Mr Reeve is wondering – no promises! – about making a proper dead-tree edition, an expanded de luxe version with everything fixed up and laid out properly and his illustrations restored to their proper glory, but that’s a way off if it ever happens. For now, of course, you can get it off Amazon; neither I nor Philip get any money if you do, but it’s not dear, and it is hopefully worth your time. (He does of course get money if you buy copies of the rebranded “Predator Cities” books, which come with the Codex free, and if you haven’t read ’em yet you should.)

So yeah, I am now officially a Published Author (sort of) (hah.) Cool.

* How we met is a story I’ve told far too many separate times, so I’ll write it up here for reference and just refer everyone here in future: he visited my old school in my gap year, and I of course came along to listen and get all my books signed. I stayed at the end to ask incoherent, breathless fanboyish variations of “so where do you get your ideas from”, and promised to write him a letter – which I did, but thanks to either Scholastic or Royal Mail it never got through. So I assumed that was that, until many months later he was first venturing onto The Internet, and our paths crossed, and I said “hello, do you remember me?” and he said “hello, yes!” and we wrote each other emails and it sort of snowballed from there.

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5 thoughts on “The Traction Codex

  1. nickpheas says:

    You don’t get a cent? That sucks. I’ll totally buy the deluxe hardcover edition of you can get it published – it looks exactly the thing I need to help run the traction cities game I’ve been threatening people with for a while now.

    • brosencrantz says:

      Oh, I got a one-off fee to do the work, which as a student without any credentials was very generous – I don’t mean to complain! (Mr Reeve deserves to, though, he put a lot of work in, including some ace illustrations.)

      What system are you using to run the game, if you don’t mind me asking? Do tell all!

  2. nickpheas says:

    Probably something fairly minimal. Fate, Fudge or Heroquest, something like that.

  3. […] here’s a blog on the subject by my co-author and ace technical/historical/military advisor Jeremy […]

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