In the far future, an unnamed narrator, who along with what remains of the human race dwells uneasily in an underground fortress-city surrounded by brooding, chaotic, relentless Watching Things, Silent Ones, Hounds, Giants, "Ab-humans", Brutes, and enormous slugs and spiders, follows a telepathic distress signal into the unfathomable darkness. The Earth's surface is frozen. At some point in the distant past, overreaching scientists breached "the Barrier of Life" that separates our dimension from one populated by "monstrosities and Forces" who have sought humankind's destruction ever since. Armed only with a lightsaber-esque weapon called a Diskos, and fortified only by his sense of honor, our hero braves every sort of terror en route to rescue a woman he loves but has never met.
"[Good science fiction stories] give, like certain rare dreams, sensations we never had before, and enlarge our conception of the range of possible experience.... W. H. Hodgson's The Night Land [makes the grade] in eminence from the unforgettable sombre splendour of the images it presents...." (C.S. Lewis)
"For all its flaws and idiosyncrasies, The Night Land is utterly unsurpassed, unique, astounding. A mutant vision like nothing else there has ever been." (China Miéville)
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An unbearably turgid classic
Yes to both. I have read other work my Hodgson, including "The House on the Borderland" and would be pleased to listen to it again. I think most of his work is better written than "The Night Land".
The artificial prose style, the repetition, the descriptions that should have been evocative but fell short, the lack of twists or surprises - in short the sheer linearity of the story.
Oh yes, especially as I could get on with the laundry, the washing up, the weeding and so on. And there is a diamond of a story in there. Shame it's buries under a mountain of soot.
"The Night Land" is an early and highly influential example of Dying Earth fiction. If, like me, you are a fan of the genre and a bit of a completist, it's probably on your "must read" list. However, you might have gathered that reading it is a bit of a trial; H.P. Lovecraft described it as "seriously marred by painful verboseness, repetitiousness, artificial and nauseously sticky romantic sentimentality, and an attempt at archaic language even more grotesque and absurd than that in 'Glen Carrig'."
Aside from not having read "Glen Carrig", I have to agree with Lovecraft in the strongest terms. Regarding the verboseness, bear in mind that it's 200,000 words long, about 600 pages. An abridged version, "The Dream of X", is 20,000 words long, which means that for every 10 words Hodgson wrote, 9 were discarded. This audiobook is unabridged, but once I was halfway through I could see that it should have been cut down even more. The author's vision is wonderfully powerful, but the prose and storytelling are simply dreadful, especially in the second half, and the cod-archaic style reduces the power to evoke. For entire chapters, Hodgson inserts a variant on "truly", "surely" or "in verity" in every single sentence, which becomes very annoying - and anyway, when you highlight EVERYTHING, that's just the same as not have highlighted anything.
Every time the narrator repeats something (which is often) he'll point out the fact to the reader. Indeed, he has no use for such handy devices as saying, "The next few days proceeded in much the same way." There are lengthy homilies on love that would probably make a Twilight fan wince. Despite being in extreme danger, the heroine is driven by her "naughtiness" to engage in risky "pranks". We then have the problem of how to root for a hero who beats the woman he loves.
The reader, Drew Ariana, doesn't have a different voice for each character, because there isn't any dialogue AT ALL. He does manage to convey emotion in places, but frankly, he's got so little to work with, I'm giving him 5 stars for sheer perseverence - he should really be given a medal.
- Dr Caterpillar
fantasy WRIT LARGE!