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Echo Bazaar

November 26, 2010

You are CORDIALLY INVITED to an EVENING of WINE, WIT and SONG in the QUAINT and PICTURESQUE ENVIRONS of FALLEN LONDON. ENTERTAINMENT to include a DIONYSAN EXCURSUS on the PLEASURES OF THE NEATH, an EDUCATIONAL EXPOSITION on the MYSTERIOUS WORKINGS of the BAZAAR, and some DIGRESSIONS on the HISTORY and CULTURE of the FIFTH CITY.

To be presented with POETICAL INTERLUDES.

~

MY Lords, Ladies, gentlemen, esteemed colleagues of other persuasions, and (dare I hope!) Masters of the Bazaar: – allow me to bid you the warmest of welcomes to my humble salon and to this celebration of the wonders of our dear city. I trust that your journeys have been safe and that you find the décor, seating arrangements and refreshments to your liking.

Most of this evening’s information may – nay, indeed, surely shall – already be familiar to you, as long-time denizens of our fallen home; but I hope that everyone shall find at least a few tidbits of the unknown to amuse and delight. If any present should remain entirely unsurprised at the end of the evening, I nominate them for the host of the next of these little gatherings, for their knowledge of the quirks and charms of the Neath is clearly far superior to mine! (Laughter.)

Without further ado, then, let us turn to the business – or more accurately, pleasures – of the evening. If I may have the first slide, please?

~ LONDON-BOUND: JOURNEY to the NEATH ~

Who among us does not remember our first steps into the echoing cavern of the Neath? Only those young enough to have been born in London after its Fall – do I see a few smiles? It is always wonderful to have young people at these events – but the vast preponderance of us surely share those first memories. My own entrance to the Neath was somewhat ignominious (Laughter.) To be entirely frank, as is surely common knowledge by now – for what peccadillo of the reputable is not? – my own first glimpse of the moonish light was, alas, from the windows of New Newgate. How well I remember it! – the crust of glowing glim on the hanging stalactites, and the faint gleam of the Unterzee far below. A magical place and yet also faintly terrifying, as, I have since learned, is so characteristic of our – my – beloved home.

~ INTERLUDE: Composed upon the Forgotten-Quarter Bridge, with apologies to William Wordsworth ~

Neath has not anything to show more fair:
Only the soulless find no joy therein,
The night that eggs on Londoners to sin:
This City now, like scarlet stockings, wears
The red blush of the evening: London bares
Unbolted windows, watchmen soused in gin,
Unguarded doors with tempting things within,
All ripe for plunder, plump and unawares.
Never did day to more resentment break
On the horizon as the glim does here;
The grumbling thieves retire with their take,
The river-barges start to reappear;
Dear God! The very houses seem to wake;
And all that mighty sprawl begins to stir . . .

*

~ PEOPLES of the FIFTH CITY ~

What strength is found in adversity! Thirty years ago, when our city was first snatched – too strong a word? Allow me to amend it: say simply brought – beneath the surface of the earth and emplaced around the Bazaar, London, though the capital of a prosperous empire, was riven by hatred, violence and intolerance of those peoples who differed from us but in colour or in speech. Yet in the decades since, what change there has been! Not only do the peoples of humanity live side-by-side in harmony – somewhat fractious harmony, to be sure, but harmony nonetheless – but we have daily commerce with the citizens of Hell (cheers from the party from the Brass Embassy), with the Rubbery Men (approving gurgles), and with the so unexpectedly sapient members of the genus R. faber (squeaks of “Hear, hear!”), and interact even with the un-human in peace and mutual prosperity.

Contention and prejudice will, I fear, never be wholly erased from the human race – nor any other; but as a proud citizen of the Neath it fills my heart with the profoundest joy to be able to say, with barely a quantum of dissimulation, that in Fallen London (to paraphrase the manifesto of les révolutionnaires) all are born, and remain, equal, whether they be any colour of the rainbow; male, female, or outside the ambit of such circumscriptive terms; old or young; native-born or but newly arrived. (Wipes single tear.) Forgive me, my friends, but the contemplation of our joyous circumstance may sometimes move even such a hardened cynic as myself to shed a tear. (Laughter.)

~ The MANIFOLD PLEASURES of OUR GLORIOUS CITY ~

One must, naturally, refrain from overt vulgarity; but in such discreet and, crucially, adult company surely a little licence may be permissible . . . (Conspiratorial grin.) The fame of the divertissements of Fallen London has spread far and wide, both over the earth and under it – a deserved fame, undoubtedly, for nowhere else in the world but here can one access the peculiar delights supplied by our reverend Masters and their excellent Bazaar. The employees of Mr Wines, for example – (appreciative noises) Do I discern that some of my audience may have had, ahem, commerce with the ladies and gentlemen in scarlet stockings? But quite apart from the paid-for avenues of enjoyment, in all my years of wandering I have seldom encountered a city so full of citizens so ready to indulge in the pursuit of life’s better things, and so eager to embark on that wondrous venture called infatuation. I personally (coughs demurely) can attest only to the virtues of the gentlemen of the city, being inclined by nature only in that direction, but I am sure that many of my audience have equally fond memories of ladies and other gentlefolk. Few people in our benighted – forgive me my quibble – world have minds as open, hearts as free, or such courtesy in rejection as do Fallen Londoners.

~ INTERLUDE: Symphony in Black, with apologies to Oscar Wilde ~

An airship passing overhead
Crawls like a spider, beetle-black;
And here and there among the pack
Show the white faces of the dead.

Flat barges piled with coal and tar
Are moored along the Wolfstack dock;
And, blacker than a bishop’s frock,
The smoke hangs over the Bazaar.

The withered leaves are black and bleak,
The stinking breezes make them shiver;
And at my feet the Stolen River
Lies like a spilt Primordial Shriek.

*

~ The WILD CREATURES of the CAVERNS ~

Whilst some would undoubtedly lobby for the people of the Fifth City to be accounted its strangest animals (laughter) the variety of unusual fauna that prowl the Neath is the envy of the surface world. I was once acquainted with an eminent professor of taxonomy who drove himself quite to distraction in his quest to classify, name and describe the unique creatures of our city. He is, sadly, now deceased – a most unfortunate accident in Bugsby’s Marshes – but the gallery of Natural and Unnatural History at the University bears witness to his perseverance in collecting type-specimens for a positive zoo of underworldly creatures. The Reprehensible Lizard, the marsh-wolf, the Overgoat, the sorrow-spider (does nobody else find them a little charming, in the soulful way they hold their stolen eyes? No? Ah well) and no fewer than six distinct strains of Felis loquens, the talking Neath-cat; such wondrous variety makes the soul sing.

I cannot pass on to my next subject without at least touching on the continuing controversy in academic circles over whether the giant Neath-mushrooms should be properly considered animal rather than fungi. Certainly they are ambulatory – though I am sure that the rumours that they have consumed unwary travellers are quite unwarranted – but whether they have successfully crossbred with alligators, as is rumoured, remains unresolved; and will, I fear, remain a mystery until a specimen can be caught and dissected.

~ The NOOKS and BY-WAYS of FALLEN LONDON ~

Rarely has such a flower of cities been placed in such a strange and dark place – and yet, perversely (for what is London, if not perverse?) our city has flourished. Though the old names may have passed on, from their ashes we have forged a new, vibrant city the very nomenclature of which hints at dark and wonderful tales. How many cities can boast of such a tantalisingly-named district as the Forgotten Quarter, or the ominous yet baroque flavour of Ladybones Road? The constellation of associations intimate, secretive and exotic that swirl around Veilgarden remind one of the haiku in their depth of connotation. And Watchmaker’s Hill, though prosaic in its origins, does far more justice to the past astronomers and clockmakers of its Observatory than did its previous name; for what sighted Londoner is so dazed as to require a place-name to inform them that a meadow is green?

~ INTERLUDE: My Favourite Things, with Apologies to Oscar Hammerstein II ~

Spider-silk slippers and cutpurse’s mittens;
Weasels and ravens and Starveling-Cat-kittens;
Luminous scarabs and rats upon strings;
These are a few of my favourite things . . .

Old London street signs and pre-Descent money;
Deep-amber droplets and prisoner’s honey;
Nevercold ingots and rostygold rings;
These are a few of my favourite things . . .

London being London, though fallen and shattered;
People being people, though winnowed and scattered;
That life here is playful, and death barely stings,
These are a few of my favourite things . . .

When I look at
What the night brings,
And it’s getting bad –
I simply remember my favourite things,
And then I don’t feel so mad . . .

*

~ The STRANGE and BEGUILING LURE of the BAZAAR ~

There have been many markets, fora, souks and bazaars since the dawn of history of which it has been said that the citizen with enough money may buy anything – Haroun al Raschid’s Baghdad, city of towers and marvels, was one such – but only here, beneath the earth, in the market of the Masters, is that ancient hyperbole true. One must, to be sure, approach the Bazaar with caution, for the complex lines of its stalls do not trace lines that quite correspond with the requirements of geometry; I have, personally, taken routes through that teeming venue that would make a cartographer weep in terror – but the navigation of the Bazaar is a skill easily learned, and the rewards for penetrating its innermost secrets quite extraordinary.

The variety of wares is quite bewildering. Here one may pass a milliner, watched unblinkingly by her rack of Exceptional Hats; here, on the other hand, a weasel-seller, his charges frantically attempting to gnaw at one another’s ears. There one may see a tray of relics of the Third and Fourth Cities, there a purveyor of rats-on-strings, and there again a covered wagon hawking Greyfields’ mushroom wine. And – ah! – every so often, down the twisting lanes, one may glimpse a Master itself, eyes glowing pale under the curve of its hood. But when one has hurried down the lane to present one’s courtesies, rarely is it still there.

~ The MASTERS of the BAZAAR ~

Which brings me, quite naturally, to my penultimate subject: the mysterious beings known to us only as the Masters of the Bazaar. Though they adopt the style ‘Mr’, it seems entirely improbable that they are truly men, or indeed anything more than the vaguest analogy to men; but it would seem discourteous in the extreme to address them untitled. I have heard that a few intrepid members of the Society of Friends have refused to bestow the title; it seems that opinion was divided amongst the Masters as to whether this was the height of insult or an amusing display of misplaced integrity. I have, however, so far been unable to reach any of the surviving Quakers to find how the gesture was taken at the time.

I myself have had dealings with only a few of the Masters, and then only at arm’s length, as it were; far be it from me to profess any great knowledge of their doings or nature, or even of their numbers. Mr Fires I would count an acquaintance, Mr Wines and Mr Stones perhaps so far as friends; and Mr Spices, Mr Apples and Mr Iron have nodded to me in the street. I count it a singular honour to be so acknowledged, for it would seem that in the span of a Master mere mortals pass like mayflies, and to be remembered is a recognition of memorability indeed.

~ INTERLUDE: To the City of London, with Apologies to William Dunbar and also to Thomas Gray, slightly ~

In Fallen London everything is sold.
Here may be bought both poison and rebirth;
Reason and madness have their price in gold;
Here every soul is held at equal worth,
And little may be done with luck of birth;
Here exiles shuck their chains, the dead their pall,
Here Fate is freer than above the earth;
London, thou art the flower of cities all!

The rugged cavern-ceiling, up away,
Glows softly green or white as turns the tide;
Its phosphorescent speckles, in the day,
Encrust the rocks in pattern broad and wide.
It is not like the sun we had outside,
And scarce lights up old London’s twisted sprawl;
The shadows cluster close on every side;
London, thou art the flower of cities all!

The hawkers and the barkers, out in strength,
Pack up their rats on strings and go for tea;
Along the Stolen River’s muddy length
Night falls, and leaves the grimy streets to me.
From north to south, from Marsh to Unterzee,
From out their holes the rowdy lowlifes crawl;
O wretched hive of scum and villainy!
London, thou art the flower of cities all.

These are the folk who people London’s night:
A stockinged dolly, bonnet à la mode;
Her client, green eyes honey-fever bright;
A shady type hands over amber owed;
A spirifer drags past his moaning load;
A débutante is chauffeured from a ball;
The moonish light illumes my homeward road –
London, thou art the flower of cities all.

*

~ The MYSTERIES of the BAZAAR ~

I cannot leave off the topic of Fallen London entirely without devoting some little time to that most alluring of subjects – the unknown. Our city is rife with mysteries; it is one of its foremost charms and one of its deepest horrors. What is meant, to take an example surely known to all of you, by the old saying that once “the Bazaar was between stars”? Where, to take a far more prosaic and yet perhaps more worrying problem, have all the foxes gone? Why do the Masters harbour such antipathy to the Second City? These and dozens more niggling uncertainties remain to torment us in quiet minutes.

Perhaps we will never know all the answers; but (turns over final page of notes) it is my very great pleasure and honour to confide to this audience a truth I have jealously harboured for some time now, waiting for the right moment to unveil it to the populace; for I believe this should be known. Through long study both within and without the hallowed halls of Benthic College; through many long nights in the company of dusty and irascible books; through many a dangerous quest to the outer limits and most treacherous wynds of our twisted city, I have at last established beyond reasonable doubt the true nature of one of the greatest mysteries of our existence here below the earth.

Gentle folk, I have exposed the Correspondence. And I shall dissemble no longer: in plain terms, the Correspondence is –

[At this point something happened: a blast of some variety shook the building, and though most of the audience survived, the speaker’s body was never recovered from the rubble. No two eyewitnesses can agree on what exactly happened: some say an explosion as of gas, some an earthquake, while some say they smelt sulphur and suspect the involvement of Hell. The above programme has been pieced together from the speaker’s surviving notes and the testimony of witnesses, but its concluding revelation is, alas, lost to history. – Ed.]

~ ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS A.K.A. WHAT THIS IS REALLY ABOUT ~

If you like pseudo-Victoriana and whimsical horror – or, hell, if you like good storytelling and vaguely worrying jokes – you should give Echo Bazaar a shot. The world they’ve built is exceptionally deep and detailed, and I’m not even halfway into it yet (current level cap is 110; all my stats are hovering in the mid-40s.) They are polite and helpful about answering bug reports. In short, they are wonderful. They are also not paying me for this: if anything, the opposite, as they are and remain the only online games company to whom I have given real-life money. Linkdump time!

Echo Bazaar: the game itself. You’ll need either a Twitter or Facebook account to play, but Twitter accounts especially are set-up-able in minutes and don’t have to be used for anything.

Failbetter Games: website of the parent company. I say company; as far as I can tell it consists of about twelve very nice, very frazzled Londoners in an office somewhere.

EBZ’s Twitter feed: Self-explanatory. Should have links to other Twitter feeds connected to the game/used by the devs. It’s almost enough to make me want to join Twitter.

Border House review of EBZ: Extremely favourable. BH is a gaming review site focused on the portrayal of marginalised people in games and the experiences of gamers from marginalised groups. EBZ does damn well on both counts.

Border House interview with Alexis Kennedy: Kennedy is the lead writer for EBZ. Here he talks about issues of diversity within the game, and how the player base can help to improve it.

*

Poem pastiches created under fair use/parody, with sincere apologies to the poets who are probably even now turning in their graves. EBZ-related names, places, etc. are the property of Failbetter Games. If anyone from FBG is reading this, please accept it as the loving homage it is and don’t throw me to your lawyers, assuming you have lawyers. (Do you have lawyers?)

Anyone wishing to reproduce any portion of this, whether the prose or the verse, please do so with attribution, some version of the above disclaimer, and a link back.

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