Monday, August 03, 2015

The Night Land -- John C. Wright, William Hodgson, et al

This is a collection of four novellas based on the world of William Hodgson's The Night Lands. The first novella is available as a free download, which I read before buying the full version. After reading the second one in the series, I went to and downloaded William H. Hodgson's book, The Night Lands. I'd say those actions should speak for themselves as to how much I liked John Wright's work.

William Hodgson's Night Lands could be up there with Middle Earth and the Star Wars universe, except that Hodgson's narration of it is so difficult to slough through. John Wright has done a commendable job of moving it into public literary consciousness with his excellent writing -- much easier to read while still using grand literary style.

The premise: it's millions of years in the future, the sun has died, and the earth is in darkness. The thick cloud surrounding the earth also blocks out the stars. A variety of horrific monsters have taken over the landscape, some of which can, not only kill the body, but also consume the soul as well. Humanity is surviving with the help of subterranean heat. Human technology of that time has enabled them to build a 7 mile tall pyramid shaped tower, called The Last Redoubt, capable of holding millions of people -- all that's left of humanity. Each floor is a whole city. For more details of the fascinating world, read the Wikipedia entry.

I never did finish William Hodgson's book. I got more than half way through, which was enough to give me the basic idea of the story. William Hodgson was a Victorian age writer, but he intentionally wrote it in 16th century style, from the narrative point of view of a gentleman living at the time. He falls in love with a young lady named Merdath. They marry, but she dies. During his mourning, he has a dream of the far future, where a reincarnation of himself, a young man, lives in the Last Reoubt. Through highly advanced instruments and his own telepathic powers (which humanity has developed by then), he hears a voice he recognises, that of the reincarnation of Merdath. She's calling from a lesser redoubt at the opposite end of the extremely deep valley in which both redoubts were built. They were built there because the air at the old earth's surface is too thin to breath. Also, in the valley, there are scattered pot holes of lava that are good for warming oneself. The Last Redoubt, itself, is warmed and energised by a large vein of subterranean energy.

After Hodgson's hero begins hearing the voice of his ancient lover, it becomes apparent that something horrible has happened to the Lesser Redoubt. The first half of the book is the journey through a landscape every bit as full and detailed as Tolkein's Middle Earth -- the difference being that almost everything is hostile and dangerous. He finds her, and the second half covers their journey home, and, I suppose, a bit of their life back at the Greater Redoubt. As I said, I didn't make it to the end, as a lot of that was more like a 16th century romance, with very wordy and detailed descriptions of their love, which didn't appeal to me.

When John C. Wright was young, Hodgson's book existed in two out-of-print volumes. Young John had found the first volume, read it up to the part where the hero was on the verge of finding Merdath, and spent the rest of his young adulthood pining for the second volume. wasn't around then. His compendium of novellas stays faithful to the world of William Hodgson, including the reincarnation aspect. Reincarnation is a necessary part of the Night Lands universe. John C. Wright is a Roman Catholic who doesn't believe in reincarnation, but neither does he, nor I, believe in witches riding on broomsticks or small men with hairy feet who live in holes, but we still enjoy an occasional story or two that feature such things.

The first three stories in Wright's collection are set in the Night Lands as Hodgson knew them. His story of the search and rescue of Merdath, is a part of the history. The fourth is set at the end of the universe as we know it, one that has passed the "Night Lands" phase of human history, but takes a twist that only John Wright can give it, with his brilliant adaptation of the physics of time and space.

My recommendation: discover the Night Lands through John C. Wright's book, and later, if your appetite has been sufficiently whetted, download William Hodgson's book.

1 comment:

jay c said...

Wright's style can still be difficult for less literary-minded readers to follow, but I appreciate that he's not writing for the lowest common denominator. I thought Awake in the Nightland was brilliant.