Walking the Night Land: Nightland Racer

I didn’t expect to return to the Night Land so soon, but I found out about this one on Fenton Wood’s Twitter feed and bought it upon release about four months back.

Review: Nightland Racer, Fenton Wood, 2021. 

Cover by ESO/M. Kornmesser

Wood states, right up front, who influenced this novel beside William Hope Hodgson and his The Night Land: “John C. Wright, Gene Wolfe, Alfred Bester, A.E. van Vogt, Philip K. Dick, Jack Vance, J.G. Ballard, Larry Niven, Frank Herbert, Cordwainer Smith, Arthur C. Clarke, Roger Zelazny, H.G. Wells, Herman Melville, Tom Wolfe, and the SCP Foundation”.

Part of the fun of this novel is spotting all those influences which I think I did except for Herbert and van Vogt and the SCP Foundation whose work I am entirely unfamiliar with.

There are a few similarities in plot between Hodgson’s novel and this one. Both thrust a man into the distant future. Hodgson’s X is psychically projected into the future. The hero here is Reynard Douglas. Like his model, the real-life Junior Johnson, Douglas is a former moonshine runner turned race car driver who ran afoul of the law.

The book is something of an alternate history starting out in roughly 1984 when no less than the President shows up in person with a job offer for Douglas. They want a man to drive a vehicle into the Zone, an mysterious area that appeared years ago in the American Southwest and is expanding. (Wood credits Jon Mollison’s Barbarian Emperor as inspiration for the Zone.)

Continue reading

Walking the Night Land: Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of Eternity

I’ve been reading Brian Stableford recently – the “fruits” of which you won’t see in for a while. However, when prowling around on The Brian Stableford Website, I actually looked at the description for this luridly titled book with a cover not up to Black Coat Press’ usual standards. (I often prefer to buy paper editions of Black Coat Press works because of the covers.)

Since William Hope Hodgson plays a part in the story, I immediately ordered it and read it.

And, when I found out that Stableford also puts The Night Land to use in the book, I put it at the head of the review queue as another installment in the series.

Sallystartup, over at her Reviews of Brian Stableford, which, as you would expect reviews only Stableford, provides reviewer parallax on this one. I didn’t indicate that in the title because of space and because nobody should have two colons in the title of a blog post.

Essay: Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of Eternity, Brian Stableford, 2009.

Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of Eternity
Cover by Danielle Serra

‘I had not expected to travel 12 million years,’ I said, before the android could ask another question, ‘but I suppose that I have come as far before, and even further. I have seen the final act of the story of mankind played out against the backcloth of the Night Land, and the death of the Earth itself as it spiraled into the dying Sun.’

‘Yes’, said the metal man, after another brief hesitation. ‘We know something of your previous visions.’

It is Hodgson’s story that begins (after a brief prologue) the novel and ends it. His “Soldier’s Story” is interspersed with accounts of four other men: Count Lugard (reputed to be a vampire) who gives us, of course, the “Count’s Story; the “Explorer’s Story”; the “Writer’s Story”; and the “Detective’s Story”. Hodgson is summoned to a secret mission, leaving his identification disks behind, just before his Forward Observation Post is blown up and, so our history says, he is killed on April 17, 1918.

This is not only a masterful science fiction novel but a conte philosophique that combines many of Stableford’s interests and characteristic themes: an interest in literary decadence; a future history (seen in his emortal series and Tales from the Biotech Revolution series) that includes severe environmental degradation and nuclear and biological warfare in the early 21st century followed by a massive die off and then a heavy use of genetic engineering to create an near utopia on Earth; vampires; sympathy with the Devil’s Party and literary Satanism; art for art’s sake, the value of artifice, and the related ideas of personal myth and the power of the imagination; the stance to take when facing an uncertain future (also seen in his “Taken for a Ride” which also deals with questions of destiny, predestination, and free will), and an interest in early British and French science fiction. Continue reading

Walking the Night Land: “The Dark Island”

The series on William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land and its literary descendants continues.

Essay: Carnacki: Heaven and Hell, William Meikle, 2011.

Cover by Wayne Miller

John C. Wright”s “The Last of All Suns” and Avalon Brantley’s The House of Silence merged elements of Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland and The Night Land, William Meikle’s “The Dark Island” did it and threw in Hodgson’s Carnacki too. (Carnacki gets a brief mention in “The Last of All Suns” too.)

I was a ways into “The Dark Island” before I realized that this is the back story referenced in Meikle’s Pentacle, but, at the time I read that story, I had read little Hodgson and none of his novels. Since that story is also part of Carnacki’s Sigils and Totems series, this story stands as a nexus with several works.

In this story, Carnacki’s help is sought by one James Doig whose friend, Sir John, seems under threat of a curse. Said curse was placed on the male heirs of his line after an ancestor, Richard de Bourcy, tangled with a necromancer on an island in the loch by Sir John’s castle. Michael Scott decreed that no male member of the family would live past his 50th birthday, and, by that measure, Sir John has two weeks to live.

The whole business of the curse seems a bit of nonsense to Sir John. But Doig comes across it cataloging his friend’s extensive library of occult and historical works. Sir John, to prove the whole curse thing is nonsense, takes Doig to the island. There something comes out of the burial mound on the island, frightens Sir John who flees, falling and hitting his head. Continue reading

Walking the Night Land: Eternal Love

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.

Cover by Stephen Fabian

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. Continue reading

Walking the Night Land: Awake in the Night Land

The series on William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land continues.

Essay: Awake in the Night Land, John C. Wright, 2014.

Cover by JartStar

After reading William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, I looked up some reviews and criticisms of the work. I was surprised to learn that a devoted group of writers still pay homage to the novel over a hundred years later and have extended Hodgson’s story.

The most extensive and highly regarded such work is this collection.

In his introduction, “On the Lure of the Night Land”, Wright describes himself, post-college, as a somewhat jaded lover of fantastic fiction who was pointed to this novel by a friend. Wright had been working on a piece called “Nigh-Forgotten Sun” which his friend thought was a takeoff on Hodgson’s novel. Wright, however, had not read the novel yet.

In those days, Hodgson’s novel was only available in two volumes from Ballantine Books. He was immediately captivated by the first volume. It was years, though, before he got to read the second volume. Still, Wright’s sense of wonder was rekindled with the heroic tale of Naani’s rescue, the eerie menaces and features of the Night Land that were full of awe and impenetrable mysteries. He loved Hodgson’s archaic “formal and gravid” language which captured the “dark, heavy, grim and gothic majesty” of the Night Land. Continue reading

Year’s Best SF 3

I’ve read and liked most of David Hartewell’s Year’s Best SF (which is no longer published) but reviewed few of them.

Here’s one.  A retro review from July 28, 2003 …

Review: Year’s Best SF, ed. David G. Hartwell, 1998.Year's Best SF 3

The one piece of dross comes from an unexpected source: William Gibson and his story “Thirteen Views of a Cardboard City“. It’s a minute, camera-eye examination of a cardboard structure in a Tokyo subway and obviously inspired by J.G. Ballard’s work. I detected no point to the series of descriptions, or, indeed, anything of a fantastical or science fictional nature.

Nancy Kress’ “Always True to Thee, in My Fashion” gives us a witty satire with a world where the seasonal variations of fashion cover not only clothes but also your pharmaceutically modulated attitudes.. The caged dinosaur of Gene Wolfe’s “Petting Zoo” represents not only the lost childhood of the story’s protagonist but a vitality lost from the race of man. Tom Cool gives us “Universal Emulators” with its future of economic hypercompetition that has created a black market for those who impersonate, in every way, the few employed professionals. In effect, the emulators grant them an extra set of hands. Its plot and characters would have done Roger Zelazny proud.

The voice of past science fiction writers echoes through many of the anthology’s best stories. Jack London’s The Sea Wolf provides the inspiration for Michael Swanwick’s “The Wisdom of Old Earth“. Its heroine realizes, despite whatever dangers she overcomes guiding posthumans through the Pennsylvania’s jungles, she will never bootstrap herself into being their equal. H.G. Wells looms over Robert Silverberg’s “Beauty in the Night“. Its child hero undertakes the first successful assassination of the brutal aliens that have occupied Earth, but his reasons have more to do with his oppressive father rather than the aliens’ behavior. John C. Wright’s “Guest Law” is a welcome return to the flashy decadence of Cordwainer Smith’s fiction. Its hero, a slave-engineer, watches in disgust as his aristocratic overlords corrupt the customary requirements of hospitality to justify piracy in deep space. Gregory Benford’s “The Voice” responds to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Here the convenience of implanted intelligent agents, hooked up to a computer network, led to literacy fading, and not a repressive regime of firemen. Benford agrees with Bradbury about literacy’s value but also undercuts him on the supremacy of writing as a means of communication. Continue reading