Authors: Tony Ballantyne
PRAISE FOR DREAM LONDON
is a sweetly dark satire shot through with Occupy-era indignation and a bizarre dream logic in which everything makes sense as long as you accept that nothing makes sense. This is as strange and unclassifiable a novel as it’s possible to imagine, and a marvellous achievement.”
The Financial Times
is one of those unclassifiable gems that crop up from time to time... The novel shares the surreal, absurdist whimsy of
Alice in Wonderland
The Man Who Was Thursday
“The world of altered aesthetics, reengineered roles and unfamiliar fundamentals is so deeply disconcerting that identifying what’s wonderful about it, and what’s just window-dressing, takes time—but once you get into the swing of things, Ballantyne’s exceptional new novel goes from strength to strength... Smart, stylish, and as alarming as it is indubitably alluring,
deftly demonstrates that the weird still has a thing or two to prove.”
“A real feat of the imagination, this is a really exceptional book, unlike anything I’ve ever read before.”
Chris Beckett, Arthur C Clarke Award-winning author of
“A strong, well-executed novel bearing comparison to
. The opening chapter is as well crafted as any I have read for a long time, the setting and characters are increasingly outlandish... London-based urban fantasies are quite common at the moment, but this carves out its own niche by allowing the author’s imagination to twist every aspect of the city.”
“From the moment you step into the first page of
, you are left wondering just what is going on – and the slow pace at which answers are dealt is beautifully done. The characters filling out the world around Captain Jim Wedderburn are complex, mysterious, and engaging. My favourite, the 17-year-old Anna, lives up to her full potential, and leaves you wanting much more.”
Fantasy Book Review
“The setting is a large part of what makes
tick. Ballantyne creates arresting concepts and images out of Dream London’s malleable reality, such as the Spiral, a vortex of concrete that used to be Piccadilly Circus and now leads down to an entirely different (and unknown) city; or Mr Monagan, a large orange frog who has now become human. It’s not all about playfulness, though; there is also a sense of Dream London as something insidious and encroaching. The city is not just changing: it’s doing so with an apparent, though inscrutable, purpose.”
First published 2015 by Solaris
an imprint of Rebellion Publishing Ltd,
Riverside House, Osney Mead,
Oxford, OX2 0ES, UK
Copyright © 2015 Tony Ballantyne
Cover art by Joey Hi-Fi
The right of the author to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owners.
L’homme armé doibt on doubter.
On a fait partout crier
Que chacun vienne armer
D’un haubregon de fer.
L’homme armé doibt on doubter.
The armed man should be feared.
Everywhere it has been proclaimed
That each man shall arm himself
With a coat of iron mail.
The armed man should be feared.
THE SOCIAL WORKER
HE SKY WAS
the colour of an unpolished euphonium, tuned to a dead key.
I paused. It didn’t do to let odd thoughts pass by unexamined. Dream London may have passed away months ago, I may have been living in plain old London once more, but strange thoughts still curled into the mind and tried to take root. If you wanted to stay sane, then those thoughts had to be examined, checked and classified.
A dead key,
Exactly what colour is that?
The colour of this January evening, when there is no life to the world. When it’s cold, but not winter cold. When the air doesn’t burn the cheeks or fill the lungs with icy excitement, when the streets hold a chilly dampness that can’t commit itself to rain. That’s the colour.
I resumed my walk home. Beneath my duffel I wore a vest, a thick shirt and jumper. Hot sweaty air puffed from the neck and cuffs as I walked, but I didn’t unbutton my coat. They may have been relaying the gas pipes, but they’d yet to make it to Hayling Street and so it didn’t do to waste warmth.
The workmen had dug a service trench across the entrance to my road some weeks ago and had then, typically, forgotten about it. Yellow pipes lay curled up at the bottom, wrapped around piles of gravel, half submerged in puddles of dirty water. Nothing unusual in that, the whole of London was being reconnected to the rest of the world, pipe by pipe, wire by wire. I used the narrow plank bridge to cross, jumping over the sickly puddle that covered one end, my heavy carrier bag banging my leg as I landed.
one of the many thoughts that had taken root in people’s minds and flourished was that females were incapable of looking after themselves. Many of the people living in Hayling Street no doubt still imagined I needed a man looking after me. I could see the curtains twitch as I made my way down the street. Funny that, all that concern about
moral wellbeing, whilst other neighbours were left to go hungry.
I rang Mr Hiatt’s bell.
“Corned beef,” I said, holding up the carrier bag as he opened the door. “I tried for some milk but there was none left.”
“Maybe next time,” he said, pulling out his wallet. I could hear music playing softly in the background, and I shuddered. Mr Hiatt handed across a couple of Dream London dollars, the once bright patterns faded to dull mustard.
“You’re a good girl, Anna. How’s your Mum and Dad?”
“I heard that they found another whale skeleton under Cooper Street. That makes four.”
“I heard that, too.”
The sound of violins playing on the radio wove their way through the house. Violins weren’t so bad, I told myself. Still, I felt myself trembling.
“I wonder what’s buried beneath our houses?”
“Best not to think about it, Mr Hiatt. Look, I’ve got to be off.”
“Thank you for the food. Goodbye, Anna.”
“See you, Mr Hiatt.”
He closed the door, gently. I crumpled the worthless Dream London dollars and dropped them on the pile of rubbish overflowing from the dustbin, making a mental note to take some of his waste to the communal tip down on Katherine Street.
I continued home, turning to pass beneath the dark yews guarding the garden. The house was still too tall, just like all the others in the street. Workmen had been through and erected scaffolding a few months ago, making things safe: propping up a wall here, throwing polythene sheets over the spaces where the tiles had separated on the roof there. They’d even gone to the trouble of placing braces beneath the bedrooms that had grown outwards. One of the workmen had taken a shine to me, he kept asking if I wanted to go for a coffee after I’d finished school. His gaffer had told him to leave me alone, said he wouldn’t like to think of one of his daughters living by herself. He took offence when I asked him how he’d feel if it were one of his sons, and I pointed out that there were lots of people worse off than me in London. At least I had somewhere to live.
The evening shadows made my home look as if it were dying. In the middle of this scene of unchanging stillness, the sudden movement of the woman waiting by my door made me start. She was drinking tea from a plastic cup. Something about that relaxed me a little. When she saw me, she drained the cup and quickly screwed it onto the top of a thermos flask.
“Can I help you?” I asked.
“Anna Margaret Louise Sinfield?” She pushed the flask into a large bag, speaking all the time in a broad Brummie accent. “I’m Petrina. I’ve come to check that everything’s okay.”
She fumbled in her pocket and produced a laminated card bearing her name and photograph.
“Social Services,” I read out loud. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.”
Petrina was back in her bag again. That irritated me. It’s not so difficult to keep things organised. Perhaps if she’d got herself a briefcase with separators instead of that impractical handknitted ethnic bag…