Walking the Night Land: “Low the Ascomycotan Sky”

Making my notes on recent reading, I found another story set in William Hope Hodgson’s Night Land.

Essay: “Low the Ascomycotan Sky”, Deborah Walker, 2014.

Cover by Robert H. Knox

This story first appeared on Andy Robertson’s Night Land website.

Most writers choosing to create a work using Hodgson’s The Night Land as a setting set their stories between the time of it and the end of humanity. However, there is obviously a lot of potential in setting a story between now and the time when all humanity is huddled in two buildings. That’s what Walker does.

There are Five Cities and the vanguard force goes on patrols and exploration missions in the Night Land. In this novel, the massive tanks of the Vanguards are powered by diesel but we hear that work is being done to power them with the Earth Current.

Heroine Tazim is reluctantly assigned by Fintrar, head of the vanguards, to the Lady Bug, unique in the huge, crawling ironclads used by the vanguards in that it has an all-female crew.

She has her first encounters with the disturbingly alien abhumans (their form here includes three faces in a slug like body). We hear some of the crew talk about how the abhumans are mutants who did not have the time, unlike the ancestors of those in the Five Cities, to slowly adapt to conditions. Unlike the settlers of the West Valley (and there are a growing number who want to go no further) and those who slowly descended the Great Wall, the abhumans had to adapt to quickly via mutations.

Tazim discovers that the crew has been infected with a fungus (very appropriate for a takeoff on a Hodgson story given that some of his most memorable short fiction is filled with fungal horrors), and that a fungal-human mind is suborning the Vanguard.

Tazim ends up killing the crews of two ironclads. It seems that was her mission all along, an undercover operation coordinated by Fintrar.

This is a story about the odd effects on humans — the strange and menacing adaptations and mutations that crop up, and the brutality needed to suppress them – of the Night Land even before it reaches the stage of Hodgson’s novel.


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