Our walk through the Night Land looks at the anthology that kicked off a modern resurgence of fiction related to Hodgson’s novel.
Essay: William Hope Hodgson’s Night Lands, Volume 1: Eternal Love, ed. Andy W. Robertson, 2003.
The Night Land website started by the late Andy Robertson in 2001 was responsible for a resurgence of interest, homages, and extensions of William Hope Hodgson’s eponymous novel.
Originally, Robertson just intended the website to collect “pictures, documents, and essays” about that work. But, starting with Nigel Atkinson’s “An Exhalation of Butterflies”, people began to contribute their own stories set in Hodgson’s world. They extended his story or interpolated stories alluded to in it.
Eventually this anthology and a second came out of those contributions as did the James Stoppard and Hodgson collaboration The Night Land: A Story Retold and most of the contents of John C. Wright’s Awake in the Night.
You can read many of the stories in the two anthologies on the website as well as stories that weren’t included. (I won’t be covering those in this series.) I get the impression that a third anthology was planned about “The Days of Darkening”, when the sun was going dim and man was not yet huddled in the Last Redoubt. However, Robertson’s death in 2014 seems to have ended that project.
The stories don’t imitate Hodgson’s prose style, but they certainly capture Hodgson’s great themes: the power of love, the Night Land as sort of an existential metaphor for the struggle of life, and the doom that humanity knows lies in its future when, at last, the monsters of the Night Land can no longer be resisted. Several authors introduce new technologies unknown to Hodgson and, like Wright, depict the ways that the forces of the Night Land attempt to corrupt love and loyalty to breach man’s last fortress.
Robertson, who was associated with Interzone magazine, wrote his first fiction under the influence of Hodgson’s story. He and another writer in the anthology, Brett Davidson, seemed to have been the primary shapers of the anthology’s shared world. The stories are surprisingly consistent in their depiction of the history of the Last Redoubt.
In a moving review of John C. Wright’s Awake in the Night, Robertson spoke of the power of Hodgson’s central plot: a man’s beautiful young wife dying and the two reunified “at the end of time, when the Sun was dead”. (Robertson’s first wife died at a young age.)
Since the stories are presented chronologically, that’s how I’ll be talking about them.
After a brief introduction by Robertson, we have the same essay Wright introduced Awake in the Night with.
While most of the stories are successful, some are too obscure, none more so than the first story, Robertson’s “Dream”. Told in dialogue form between two unidentified people, it recounts a dream of a man killing something in a tower called a “witch”. It seems to be some sort of alien creature imitating a woman. On the other hand, maybe it is a real woman, and one of the party indicates he is now in love with the figure.
“The Siege of Humanity” from Sean McLachlan is an effective and moody story that uses two key elements of Hodgson’s novel: reincarnation and the gloomy siege that humanity finds itself under in its final days. The narrator remembers his previous incarnations, one as a commander of Uhruk, an early city under siege by nomads in pre-history, one as the final Byzantine emperor when Constantinople fell, and one as a commander in Heliopolis, one of the cities where man huddles in the days of the darkening sun, when few cities are left, before the Last Redoubt was built, a city besieged by the Changed, corrupted humans.
In the Last Redoubt, he leads a rebellion, disgusted at the Master of the Watch who has refused his suggestion to go out into the Night Land. He wants to use an old weapon long unused, the Current Cannon which uses the same Earth Current the Last Redoubt does. He regards it as futile to wait for the inevitable defeat of the Last Redoubt by the forces of the Night Land. He would rather go out fighting. But his effort is undercut by the Watch who fear the drain of the Earth Current. The story ends with the narrator dying and knowing he will awaken in the future, but it won’t be to a Night Land free of its menacing creatures, but with man still under siege.
“An Exhalation of Butterflies” from Nigel Atkinson has the Last Redoubt engaging in a “defiant exultation”: the release of millions of butterflies, bred and raised over five years, into the Night Land.
Brett Davidson’s “Imago” develops an obvious backstory to Hodgson’s novel: how did that crashed flying craft the hero finds get there? We follow Ael, a young girl of romantic notions who fancies herself a poet and is a talented liar. She talks Sartor, an Aviator (aviators only fly inside the Great Redoubt – the air in the Night Land is now too thin for heavier-than-air flight) into taking her outside the Last Redoubt. This story introduces the idea of a guild of Eugenicists in the Last Redoubt. It is marred by a slightly gimmicky ending.
“Catharsis” from Nigel Brown is a brief story about an engineer of the Last Redoubt who, as part of a Clearing Team helping to empty the lowest half-mile of the structure to improve defense against the Night Land’s monsters. He encounters, living in the squalid ruins after most of the residents of the area have left, his grandfather. We hear the latter’s contempt for the son who left when the clearing was ordered. The grandfather stayed behind and is going to stay put at the end of the story.
“The Testament of Andros, Being the Second Chapter of William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land Rewritten”, is exactly as titled and a part of The Night Land: A Story Retold by James Stoppard and William Hodgson which I’ve covered already.
“A Mouse in the Walls of the Lesser Redoubt” by Nigel Atkinson is another filling in of the interstices between the events of Hodgson’s novel, and one of the book’s major stories. Here we learn the story of how the Lesser Redoubt fell. Atkinson introduces, at least in the Lesser Redoubt, new technologies: cold fusion, nanotechnology (the “Jackotrades”), and cybernetics (the “kernel” that Moramor, and every Master Monstruwacan must encounter as part of their initiation ritual). Atkinson also introduces elements of decadence and decay.
The story opens with the start of that kernel initiation and also a battle scene in which the Redoubt fends off an attack from the abhumans and creatures of the Night Land as it has done for eight million years. The initial population of 500,000 that left the Last Redoubt is now an “inviable” 50,000. Various messianic religions have been suppressed including that of the Harlequin which becomes important to the plot.
There is political intrigue. Children are assessed at a given age. If they are found to be abhuman, they are killed or cast outside the Lesser Redoubt. When he first merges with the kernel, Moramor mentally encounters the thoughts of the Fixed Giants outside of the Lesser Redoubt. He learns they have existed since the beginning of the universe when it “cracked open”, and they intend to survive its “entropic death agonies”. They engage Moramor’s in a catechism, and he admits to four heresies.
The first is that man is a fallen spirit who has forgotten his divinity. The second is that the soul can transmigrate, on death, to animals and plants. The third is that
transmigrations of the soul are tiny incidents in the great drama of world annihilations and restorations that occur over enormous periods of time.
The fourth is that
the restoration of humanity depends both on human ethics and the performance of meritorious acts by an avatar of godhead.
The Fixed Giants tell him there is one hope for humanity’s future. A child will be born, “a surprising iteration of humanity”. She will be met by another who “has come into this world” in the Great Redoubt. The descendants of those two will help humanity restore its vigor. Perhaps humanity will even then “reach out into the wider universe”. But the Lesser Redoubt is doomed. Even the Last Redoubt is.
They offer Moramor a choice. He must
destroy the Lesser Redoubt and cast your people into the Night Land. The hammer and anvil of Darkness will decide who is worthy.
But, if Moramor is to commit treason in service of a greater cause, he must know if the Fixed Giants are telling him the truth?
John C. Wright’s “Awake in the Night” is next, but I’ve already covered that extensively in my post of the collection of the same name.
In “Meanwhile, She Dreams”, Brett Davidson introduces a new monster to the Night Land, a thicket-like creature called the Eater that exists in numbers and seems to absorb the souls of men it kills. It will play a role in several more stories in the Night Lands anthologies. Here a young woman, a scholar, tabulates the “omens” of those who go out into the Night Land and survive to return and give their report. She is not to interpret what they mean. That is a job of the Monstruwacan. She becomes involved with a former member of the watch who is now a member of the Horologist Guild who make clocks. She also has dreams which seem to be of her past lives. The story ends on a rather inconclusive note, but we get a further development of eugenics in the Last Redoubt. The woman’s genes do not restrict her getting a marriage license or from certain matches. Presumably that is because her genes are good since her father went out into the Night Land and died a hero there.
Robertson’s “Out” further develops the theme of eternal and recurring lovers. Barn is a trainee of the Watch who goes on Rim Patrol under the legendary Scyrr who, centuries ago, went into the Night Land and returned. (The Rim is the area between the Last Redoubt and the circle of Earth Current that protects.) Barn is romantically involved with Cairhe, a woman scholar. She wants to know about the Night Land and what Barn thinks of it. The story opens with Barn disobeying rules and trying to bring a stone from the Night Land into the Last Redoubt. He is caught and flogged. Nothing of the Night Land must come into the Last Redoubt.
Scyrr likes Barn, though, because Barn doesn’t try to interpret the monsters and wonders he sees that include the monsters and giants that fix his eyes (and others in the Watch) and render him immobile. Scyrr wants to take Barn with a probe into the Night Land. We’re not sure what his motives are. Barn gives two possibilities. Scyrr wants to form some sort of alliance with some of the creatures of the Night Land against its other denizens. Or he may also feel that life is only real when he is contesting forces in the Night Land. Barn marries Cairhe, mostly because her father thinks he’s going out into the Night Land to die. But Scyrr doesn’t take Barn.
Perhaps, and here Robertson strongly asserts the theme of love against the darkness, he realizes Barn has found something “real” to him: Cairhe’s love. Cairhe disputes the whole notion of reincarnation and reincarnated lovers – including the reality of Andros and Naani’s story. Barn argues that it’s real, that some eternally reincarnated lovers have to have a first meeting and that’s what his love for Cairhe is. The story ends with him realizing that love is a force standing against the darkness, that it is not just mindless rutting as some Night Land creatures may view it.
Robertson’s “Eater” is a heroic, if somewhat obscure, tale. It emphasizes the resolute stand its heroine, and, by extension, all of humanity locked in the Last Redoubt against the forces of the Night Land and their constant attempts at subversion. Khresten is a Seer, one who makes mental contact with the forces of the Night and reports to the Monstruwacans. Seers’ terms of service is rather short because of the strain. Here Khresten seems to become possessed by another new menace in the Night Land she observes. Eventually, it seems to possess here totally in the top of the Last Redoubt. But we see this contingency has been prepared for.
The next stop on the walk through the Night land is a recent science fiction homage to Hodgson.