Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Sword Of The Dawn

Cover art by Michael Whelan

That cover. Did anyone but me buy this edition? This is Vintage Science Fiction Month, so we're back with a third roleplaying-minded review of a pre-1979 SF classic - in this case, Michael Moorcock's third Hawkmoon novel, The Sword of the Dawn.  (Our first review, featuring Moorcock's second and third Kane of Old Mars novels is here; my second review focuses on Moorcock's second Hawkmoon novel, The Mad God's Amulet, and is here.)

This is the fifth Moorcock novel I have read in the last two months.

The Sword of the Dawn (1968) continues Hawkmoon's quest for the weapons necessary to defeat the Dark Empire of Granbretan. The adventure is driven by Hawkmoon's sense of unease and restlessness. Hawkmoon's beloved Yisselda and her father, Count Brass, are safe for the moment, hidden in a planar adjacency. But like Goethe's Faust, Hawkmoon has an urge to keep things moving.

He wants to stay ahead of the enemy, and prevent that enemy from threatening his loved ones. So Hawkmoon goes to the very heart of the Dark Empire, Londra, as his first stop. The traitor to Granbretan, the deadly dandy Huillam D'Averc, is Hawkmoon's companion on this journey.

Like The Mad God's Amulet, the second Hawkmoon novel, The Sword of the Dawn is all about collecting what John Clute in the Encyclopedia of Fantasy calls "plot coupons." In this case, Hawkmoon and D'Averc move across the fantastic landscape in search of a sword whose destiny is linked to yet another plot coupon: the Runestaff (which - perhaps it's no accident - is the title of the fourth novel in the series).

Our heroes arrive in Amarehk, the legendary continent to the west of Granbretan and the rest of Tragic Millennium Europa. They head south along a great river, toward the pirate city of Narleen on the continent's southern gulf coast.

This should sound familiar,

There are a few traces of New Orleans in some of the details. In particular, many dwellings in the city still have the classic cast iron decorative gates that one sees in the French Quarter. We don't get much sense of race in the city, although oddly enough the warriors summoned by the Sword of the Dawn are described as brown skinned. It would have been interesting to have seen the city developed in greater depth. I'd like to see whether some form of Voudoun persisted in the Tragic Millennium.

Narleen might make a good home base for a roleplaying campaign. There is conflict between the pirates, who have a walled enclave within the city, and the merchants that the pirates prey upon and extort. So we have the potential for river piracy outside the city, and political intrigue within it. There's the mystery of the blood drinking tentacular monsters that lurk within the Temple of Batach Gerandiun, where the Sword of the Dawn is enshrined. How did they get there? Why haven't they torn down the entire city, like their larger kindred on the plains? Then there are all the adventures that might occur among the other cities of the coast, which can be reached by sail from Narleen.

There has to be a lot more to explore in this setting. We haven't even gotten a good look at the technological marvels that must be scattered here and there among the ruins from the times before the Tragic Millennium.

One thing is for sure though: we don't get much sense of the natural climactic destruction that we now know is very sure to happen along the gulf coast in the time just before the Tragic Millennium. Our time. These aspects of climate change hadn't been figured out in 1968.

Rough Map of Amarehk from Chaosium's Hawkmoon

We know that Amarehk bore the brunt of the radiation from whatever brought on the Tragic Millennium. The gulf coastline has changed a bit - particularly in what is left of Texas. So for game's sake, I might play up the climate change even a bit more. Things don't have to get quite as bleak as in Paolo Bacigalupi's Shipbreaker, but a hint that there are drowned cities off the coast raises all sorts of possibilities.

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