A review of AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND

As part of Night Land Day, I asked Andy Robertson, who founded The Night Land site and first published the novellas there, to share his thoughts on the new book. He went one better and explained both how the site developed as well as his initial reaction to John C. Wright’s forays into the Night Lands, now collected in AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND:

The dark, looming, images of the Land had made
such an impact on me.  When I started to
write stories set in that world, it was as if I
remembered a life I had lived in that society,
with its prim manners overlaying iron values and
its dauntless courage.   I didn’t need
to make anything up. I just watched it happen.

Brett Davidson sent me a story from New
Zealand with a background that
complemented  and extended my own, and I
found the person who would be my principle
creative partner.   For years we’ve
batted ideas back and forth by email late at
night.   Other writers joined us and
mostly took their lead from Brett and
I. We were building a shared world
but one so rich and vivid felt as if we were
were discovering something that already
existed.  I don’t think I’ve ever had such
fun ((while vertical)) in my life.  

And then I got a new submission, from John C
Wright, which was quite apart from all the other
Night Land tales.

I’d written a fusion of  Hodgson’s vision
with cutting-edge science, and tried to evoke a
credible Redoubt culture, a culture that might
really last ten million years.  
Therefore my Redoubt was a society of strict
moral codes, an actual functional and enforced
marriage contract, strong kinship bonds, and
sharply differentiated complementary behavior of
men and women. ((It strikes me only now that
this is mistaken by some readers for archaism.
But of course  it isn’t.  It’s
futurism.  Or just realism. No society
without these values or something like them can
survive more than a couple of
generations.))  And I’d written of a
society rich in technical and scientific
knowledge, including as unremarked givens such
familiar SF tropes as nanotechnology,
cyborgisation, and Artificial
Intelligence.   I had some fun
integrating these into Hodgson’s “scientific”
formulation of reincarnation and psychic
predation.

I had done my best to reinterpret the Night Land as science fiction, and other writers
had followed me.   But  John’s
story followed his own dreams.

His character names were derived from classical
Greek, not generic IndoEuropean sememes. The
manners of the society were likewise closely
modeled on the ancient pagans. Dozois has called
this an air of distanced antiquity, and it works
well, but I repeat it’s distinctly different
from my own, which is not antique at all. His
was not a technically sophisticated society and
seemed not to have a scientific attitude to the
alien Land that surrounded it. It ran off rote
technology and was ignorant of the workings of
much of the machinery it depended on. It was
doomed and dwindling and dark and candle-lit, a
tumbledown place with a hint of Ghormenghast to
it. (I know John will hate that comparison, and
I apologize). The story was one of childhood
friendship, rivalry, disaster and rescue. The
writing style was, incidentally, brilliant.

I bought it and published it in our first
hardcopy anthology, ENDLESS LOVE. It got into
Dozois’ BEST SF and several other yearly
anthlogies and created a minor sensation. There
are still places where the first taste of
Hodgson’s work a casual reader will get is the
translation of “Awake in the Night” in that
year’s Dozois, and the story is an entry drug
not only for THE NIGHT LAND but for Hodgson
himself and all his work. This was a story which
Hodgson might have written if he had been a more
gifted weaver of words. John remarked to me at
one point that he was surprised at the story’s
popularity. I think we both understood that
despite its author’s talent, the real power
resided in the way it had stayed faithful to
Hodgson’s own visions, without elaborating them
too much. The whole world could now see and
share Hodgson’s original Night Land. They were
seeing it through John’s eyes, not mine, but
that didn’t matter to me.   This was
what I had set the NightLand website up for.

*****

 
I expected a whole series of tales from John
set in his version of The Night Land, but his
next story was a radical departure from anything
that he or any of the rest of us had ever done.
It surpassed not only Hodgson’s talents but,
damn it, Lovecraft’s.

When I read “Awake in the
Night” I felt some envy, but when the ms for
“The Last of All Suns” crossed my inbox I felt
something like awe. It’s almost impossible to describe this
story without employing spoilers, because there
is nothing else like it to compare it to or to
hint that it is like.

Read the whole thing at The Night Land.