Tuesday, 20 August 2013

F Paul Wilson: Nightworld

I wonder, without being interested enough even to Google it, how much difference there is between the original 1992 edition of Nightworld and the revision I've just finished. Obviously there had to be a lot of small tweaks to keep apace with technology (though the end of the world is a handy shorthand for switching off a lot of modern conveniences and so not having to deal with people saying "But what about…."). But how much rewriting did he have to do to get his characters lined up properly with all the backstory he's spent the last fourteen years filling in with the Repairman Jack books? 

I suppose one answer is, probably not all that much. After all, he'd known for twenty years where all this was going, so as he drudged his way through the adventures of Jack, all he had to do was make sure that nothing he wrote would be out of kilter with what he'd already written. And if that's true, I suppose the question I ought to be asking myself is what it might have been like to read the recent Jack novels having actually found a copy of Nightworld (which was very hard to locate in the 1990s in Europe). Presumably as characters like Drexler and Hank wandered in during the last five or six books I'd have been going "A-ha! You're going to make it out of this alive, but only so that you can die really horribly later in Nightworld."

Fantasy and horror are full of long turgid sagas of good versus evil, but I'm not aware of another sequence quite as messy as Wilson's Adversary cycle, where the beginning and end were slapped into place years ago, and then the writer kept coming back to fill in the details for two decades. If you were reading the books as they were published, you'd be working with the mother of all spoilers at all times from 1992 onwards. I'm not sure how many people would stick with that; Wilson's not a great stylist, more one of those guys where you read to see what's going to happen. If you already know, there's not a lot else to keep you reading.

Nightworld is a bit of a letdown after all the buildup. It's icky and nasty, but it pulls some of its punches out of pure sentimentality, and Wilson's not quite enough of a writer to get some of the full force punches to land properly. A lot of long-established characters get clobbered in this book, but somehow, even the moments which are supposed to be affecting don't have enough wallop. Nightworld wasn't a very good book when it came out, and not enough has been done in the rewrite to improve that much.

As mystical ends of the world, Nightworld has a certain amount of ambition; the big bad makes great big bottomless holes appear all over the world, and then mystically arranges for the day to keep shrinking and the night to get longer until the world is in darkness all the time. This doesn't make any sense in the real world, but the hocus locus at the heart of the whole sequence explicitly suspends the laws of physics on a regular basis, so that's OK. And once it's dark, all kinds of horrors and beasties appear out of the big holes and devour all around them in nasty ways. Wilson's very upfront about the way that people's own fear and selfishness just makes matters worse; death and destruction haunt the night, but in the daytime, people are looting and pillaging and generally screwing each other over. Which is all part of the grand design of the big bad, who feeds off human misery. 

And this brings me to the headache of the endgame. The big bad has been driven the whole way through human history to create a world in which he will rule over endless fear and torment, because his big bad backers be loving the fear and torment. But Nightworld gives us a world in which about 75% of the population are dead within a matter of days and the rest of them are going to be either eaten up by monsters or starve to death because of the lack of sunlight, and thus of food, within a matter of months. And who is the big bad going to rule over and torment then, huh? Answer me that, smart guy.

Perhaps inevitably, given the lack of sustainability and environmental awareness inherent in his so-called plan, the big bad meets his come-uppance at the hands of a plucky band of mere mortals, some of whom get to live happily ever after in the devastated post-apocalyptic world which Wilson has long since told us all we're never going to see anything more written about. Until I actually finished the book, I had always assumed that he really did flat out end the world completely and there was nothing left to write about, but the day is kind of saved. I suspect he just didn't want to write a whole series of books set in the medieval era of misery which was likely to follow the complete destruction of modernity.

1 comment:

Stephe said...

There is a noteworthy series that follows upon an end-of-the-world scenario: Suzy McKee Charnas' Holdfast Chronicles.

The series consists of four books which supposedly evoke different schools of femininism as applied to a third world war. The titles are Walk to the End of the World (1974), Motherlines (1978), The Furies (1994), and The Conqueror's Child (1999).

In this series, men and women are separate and hate each other, which make just about everyone non-heterosexual (for want of a more polarizing term), and power dynamics make up the bulk of what goes on. Very grim stuff which will never find its way to the movies, but thought provoking and gripping with some fantastic characterization.

And for those who want a nice compact end-of-the-world triptych in miniature that covers 1,700 years, there is A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Even more succinct is "Heresies of the Huge God" by Brian Aldiss in which the arrival of a nearly-static continent-sized alien insect throws the world into a spiral of devolvement.