I was lucky enough to play briefly in John Whitbourn's now-legendary Continuum role-playing game, set in the same world as his early novels - as I reminisced in a recent comment on this blog:
An alternative England where magic works, science is retarded, and everyone grovels to the Vatican. It's a dark world, with witty touches – like Winston Churchill's eulogy to the martyred hero whose successful action shaped this history, Saint Guy Fawkes.
Something is rotten, though, in the alternative 1995. A major new demon is loose, and besides alarming sexual tastes she has a nasty sense of humour. King Charles IV himself is diabolically abducted. So is an entire castle. The workers – the Levellers – are revolting.
Enter papal investigator Adam, a one-man Inquisition who demonstrates painful martial arts on anyone slow to answer questions. After a spectacularly disastrous conjuration in Westminster and gory mayhem in Guildford, Adam locates the she-demon's lethal private universe and leads in the troops...
There are worse things than the demon, whose excesses are limited by an unnamed but guessable Power. England's real rottenness is the dispossession of farm workers, echoing the Thatcherite feeding frenzy of our own world. The fate of the rescued King is an ultra-black joke; Adam's fate is best not thought about.
A worthy successor to A Dangerous Energy: clever, uncompromising and uncosy.
Why mention all this now? Because Fabled Lands Publishing has just snapped up the rights to John Whitbourn's latest novel and we'll be setting it loose on the world in less than a month. If you like your science fiction to be uncompromising, unsettling, amazing and laced with dry-as-a-bone black humour, you're going to love this.
Player-characters could summon up magical powers; they just couldn't control them. I remember the first time I called on the Wild Hunt. I was being pursued cross-country by foes and fondly imagined I could sic Herne and his horde on them. Instead, I heard the thudding of hooves, the blaring of horns, I was seized by the scruff of my neck and carried pellmell over miles of fields at terrifying speed, finally to be dumped in a ditch as slavering red-eyed hounds barked around me. The Wild Hunt departed, leaving me bruised and muddy, but far from my enemies. That was real magic - it raises hairs on my neck just remembering it now.