There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Nightworld by F. Paul Wilson (1992)

….The stars do look kind of sparse up there, Bill thought.

"It's almost as if the planet's been moved to a different part of the universe."

"Cosmic, man," Joe said, eyes widening. "Maybe it has."

"No," Bill said. "That would be too logical an explanation, and easier to accept than what we're going through."

"Magnetic north's changed too," Joe said. "Compasses have been pointing anywhere they damn well please for the past couple days."

The stars do look kind of sparse up there, Bill thought.

Like Bloch's Strange Eons, Wilson's Nightworld gives us the plight of characters caught in a global disaster as an ancient power manifests again in physical form. Some forms are human, some are not. As with many an F. Paul Wilson novel, those not ready for battle get their noses rubbed right in it.

The trouble begins when the sun starts rising late and setting too soon. Then come the bottomless sinkholes. Then come the things out of the sinkholes.

....Then came another sound, a heavy, chitonous slithering from the impenetrable darkness beyond his feet. As it grew louder, Hank began to whimper in fear. He began to thrash in the water, struggling desperately to pull free but the pincers in his arms and legs tightened their grip, digging deeper into his already bleeding flesh.

And then in the growing shaft of light from the rising moon he saw it. A millipede like all the rest, but so much larger. Its head was the size of Hank's torso, its body a good two feet across, half-filling the drain pipe.

Hank screamed as understanding exploded within him. These other, smaller horrors were workers or drones of some sort; they'd captured him and were holding him here for their queen! He renewed his struggles, ignoring the tearing pain in his limbs. He had to get free!

But he couldn't. Sliding over the bodies of her obedient subjects the queen crawled between Hank's squirming legs until she held her head poised over his chest, staring at him with her huge, black, multifaceted eyes. As Hank watched in mute horror, a drill-like proboscis extruded from between her huge mandibles. Slowly, she raised her head and angled it down over Hank's abdomen. Hank found his voice and screamed again as she plunged the proboscis deep into his abdomen.

Nightworld is the conclusion of a series of novels called The Adversary Cycle.

I have not read the other novels, but Nightworld does backfill enough plot points to flesh-out character motivations. I have read a number of Wilson's Repairman Jack vigilante novels, where the author always enjoys having his cake and eating it, too. In Nightworld - where Repairman Jack does play a subsidiary role - there is some real physical and moral self-sacrifice.

Nightworld also gives us a scale of "cosmic" (as opposed to merely eschatological) menace. On a private jet on a night flight to Hawaii:

....Jack held on to his seats arm rests and knew if he looked down at his hands he'd see two sets of white knuckles.

"We'll be okay," Frank said.

"Good. A much better choice of three words."

"Be cool, Jack. Some weird air currents out of nowhere, that's all."

The grayness lightened as abruptly as it had darkened. Jack began to breath easier. He was leaning against his window, staring out into the unrelieved grayness, when the plane passed through a brief break in the vog. His throat closed and his hands renewed their chokehold on his armrests. Directly below the wings he saw a broad flat surface, smooth and black as new asphalt, spanning off in all directions until it disappeared into the gray. He was about to shout to Frank that they were going to crash when he saw the eye: Far off to his right, perhaps a quarter-mile away, cathedral-sized, huge and yellow with a slit pupil, it sat embedded in the black surface, staring back at him like a lab tech eying a microbe.

Jack slammed back in his seat, gasping for breath.

Nightworld doesn't take its apocalypse all the way, like Strange Eons or Koontz's superb The Taking. But that's not an authorial failure: Wilson gives us an averted religious calamity with good thwarting evil in combat.

However, after a couple of hundred pages where good guys are sent on a scavenger hunt for elements to build their armaments, the final battle is at best perfunctory.

"But even the trying counts for something," as one character says.

12 May 2019

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