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Friday, 4 March 2011

Coming attractions

SF author John Whitbourn's first novel, A Dangerous Energy, won the coveted BBC/Gollancz prize for its virtuoso depiction of how a young hedge wizard's progress towards his goal of becoming a master sorcerer is a long, slippery slope over a precipice of damnation. Harry Potter it ain't. The follow up, To Build Jerusalem, won these accolades from one-time White Dwarf book reviewer Dave Langford:

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.

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:

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.

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.


  1. Wait...You played in this person's Continuum game? Hmmm, maybe I'll have to check out that first book...

  2. John, Continuum was only the single biggest influence on Dragon Warriors, is all! And if anybody out there has ever raised a glass at the Bat & Ball in Farnham - I was the landlord of that pub in the Continuum universe. (Rather appropriately, as Oliver and I often popped in for a pint while writing DW.)

  3. Could you give a brief synopsis of one of your Continuum sessions? And was Mr Whitbourn involved in the making of the RPG itself?

  4. Sure thing, Hamza. Continuum was a completely original RPG written entirely by John Whitbourn with combat rules based on Steve Foster's Mortal Combat game, which we've previously discussed on this blog as being the precursor of Dragon Warriors.

    The game was set in an alternate timeline that John used as the setting for his novels A Dangerous Energy and To Build Jerusalem. The first book starts with the rather clever idea of a university exam paper with a bunch of history questions that tell you everything you need to know. I've got a feeling that may be on John's website.

  5. Ooh...Actually I was thinking of the other Continuum RPG...the one with the society of time travellers that spans all of history. Ah, well, the books still sound interesting.

  6. I never heard of that, John. Whole other Continuum by the sound of it!