The Night Land is a wonderfully imaginative, yet starkly creepy novel written by William Hope Hodgson in 1912. Imagine a world, millions of years in the future, where the sun has gone dark, and a cold, stark Earth is lit only by residual volcanism. What's left of mankind, about five hundred thousand of us, cower behind a force field, in a great arcology called the Last Redoubt. All around are monstrous things, some alien, some once human, and some that very nearly defy categorization.

Mankind is a dying breed, no longer adapted to exist in the black hell that the Earth has become - but some things endure, even across the ages. Somewhere in 17th century Earth, a man is separated from his love, and loses himself in mourning. He then has a vision of this bleak, shadowy future. At this point, the reader's vantage point shifts to that of one man, X, living in the Last Redoubt. Mankind in this age is gifted with at least limited telepathy, and through this, X hears one voice, all alone in the night. He knows that this voice belongs to the soul of his lost love, whatever form she might be in now, and he sets off into the shadows to find her.

There is so much more to this story, but I shan't give spoilers here. The copyright on this book has expired, so now it's within the public domain, and can be obtained freely and legally on the internet. * Anyone who's a fan of dark yet hopeful fantasy, or of bleak horror, owes it to themself to give this book a good read.

*Yes, even with the author's life plus 70 years extension. William Hope Hodgson, alas, was killed in 1918 while fighting in World War I, and as such, even the extended copyright on The Night Land expired in 1988.

After listening to the House on the Borderland off of LibriVox I was pretty stoked for the Night Land; Hodgson's other overly long adventure/horror/romance. I tried starting the novel several times but it has this stupid framing device where it's a first person narration coming directly from the protagonist and he speaks Shakespearean English which is annoying at best and utterly mystifying for some of the longer sentences. This style persists through the whole story. This guy and his lady, Mirdath, are people in some earlier century and they have some little courtship with convoluted and sitcomesque misunderstandings and this leads into them getting hitched. Then Mirdath dies in child birth and our protagonist is very sad about this but he soon learns that time is an illusion and he and his girl are lovers throughout the ages. To the Future!

The sun has burnt out, the stars are gone, and the Earth is shrouded in endless night. The human race as we knew them prepared for this eventuality by building a miles tall pyramid called the Last Redoubt which is fed and powered by the Earth Current and live in relative comfort while monster stalk the outer dark. It's pretty metal. The protagonist has dream/visions of being a different him in this strange far away place. This other self is having the same dream/visions of him and they have full access to each others memories which is how future him knows about Mirdath and how this story is getting back to our time.

So, the protagonist is chilling in the Last Redoubt, learning about the monsters of the night land, when he gets a psychic message through his BRAIN-ELEMENTS that his princess is in another castle his wife is also reincarnated and living in a different pyramid. She and him chat until the Earth Current begins to falter in her pyramid and he has to leave to save her. What follows is a long and arduous trek through dim and hellish landscapes to save his beloved.

That's the plot in a nutshell. It's a long, long story or at least it felt that way to me. Lots of walking through cool desolate landscapes, a few decent monster fights, some horror that felt like it was right out of SCP. This story has a lot to recommend it.

I would not recommend it.

For all of the cool worldbuilding and the neat moments the whole emotional arc of the story fell flat for me. Actually, it was a bit worse than flat. I kinda disliked the couple before the end of the story. Starting with the protagonist: he is ridiculously athletic, highly intelligent, and has extremely rare telepathic gifts. He's a total Gary Stu is what I'm saying. Early on in the story a bunch of red shirts go out to save the other pyramid and they all get massacred. Our hero leaves on his own and he's fine. He finds his long lost love who fled her pyramid when the lights failed and has somehow survived for days or weeks in the wilds. Neither of them have personalities. He loves her because she's beautiful and stuff. She loves him because ... I guess he's perfect in the blandest possible way. They are really deeply in love and you can really feel this oozing off the page. Like just the most super possessive loving. Hodgson is trying so hard to make them compelling and for my part it just isn't working. Then it gets bad.

Mirdath, who I will remind the reader spent some unspecified amount of time nearly dying in the Night Land, decides that she needs to test their relationship or try and exert some control on him or something and runs headlong into danger, repeatedly. She keeps doing this until he whips her. You read that correctly. Her wrist were bound for this so the whole thing had a bondage vibe but I really don't think that was what it was about. It is a first person narration from a guy from the 17th century so maybe I'm not actually supposed to identify with the extremely talented and cool protagonist but that's not how it reads. I think Hodgson just needed to manufacture some wholly unnecessary conflict between them so the man could put the woman in her place. I'm not a sensitive reader. I've read Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and a slew of other authors who come off as way more sexist than those two and none of them ever quite managed to skeeve me out like this did. It's not the physical abuse or the sexism that really get to me (though I certainly didn't enjoy them), it's how far out of his own way he twisted Mirdath's character to turn her into a psychotic brat so that the protagonist could be paternalistic to her. I nearly quit listening but the sunk cost fallacy got me through the last quarter. All of that ugliness aside, they get injured on the way back and she passes out and he has to carry her back as the full forces of the night arise to kill them in the last leg of the journey. They reach the Pyramid and a doctor declares her dead, then during the funeral she revives ... somehow ... and they live happily ever after. The end.

The narrator is bland wish fulfillment. The romance (which is the whole impetus for the plot) starts off generically boring, gets creepily possessive, dips into abusive, and culminates in a Deus ex Machina for maximum melodrama. All of that against one of the most creative secondary worlds ever conceived at the time. The Night Lands is a monument to bad character writing but it could have stopped there. House on the Border Lands had an equally lousy protagonist but nothing about how he was written suggested I was supposed to want to be him.

I'm sorry for this rambling review, I'm working from about a year old memory and it probably contains some errors. I loved parts of this book but it fell flat in ways that seem so avoidable. I honestly can't tell if Hodgson was a creepy sexist or simply decided that his gothic science fantasy epic ought to have one for a protagonist for reasons that are beyond my comprehension. I wish I had a better take away than that for what is considered the best work of one of the major inspirations of the Weird Tales era pulp and speculative fiction.


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