Monday, November 3, 2008

Pulp Fantasy Gallery: Hiero's Journey

Hiero's Journey by Sterling Lanier was published in 1973 and is unique for having been an influence not just on Dungeons & Dragons but also on Gamma World. The novel chronicles the adventures of the eponymous Hiero Desteen, telepathic priest and "killman" of a futuristic descendant of the Catholic Church, as he searches for lost technology to use against the Dark Brotherhood, would-be conquerors of the postapocalyptic world they all inhabit. The connection to Gamma World is obvious to anyone who ever played the game, but I suspect the D&D connection is less clear and perhaps understandably so. Nonetheless, I continue to hold to the opinion that pulp fantasy frequently possesses strong postapocalyptic overtones, with the action taking place in the aftermath of the collapse of some mythical Golden Age. Exploring and looting "dungeons" certainly makes more sense in this context, as does the lawlessness of the implied D&D setting. It's yet another reason why I find high/epic fantasy a poor fit for the game.

I was very fond of Hiero's Journey as a kid. What's not to like about a psychic warrior-priest with a mutant moose and bear as companions? There was sequel to the book -- The Unforsaken Hiero -- which ended on a cliffhanger, as I recall. There was never a third book in the series, which may be just as well. Third books (or movies) are frequently the weakest offerings in a series and I'm glad my fondness for these characters isn't sullied by knowing the conclusion didn't live up to my expectations.

9 comments:

  1. This is one of the true underappreciated, underknown gems of the postapocolyptic generes!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are set post-apocalypse - post the Fall of Numenor and in particular post the fall of Arnor - so everything in The Hobbit and everything in LoTR up until the protagonists reach Rohan is set in a very typical post-apocalypse sort of landscape, IMO, with pockets of habitation interspersed by vast tracts of howling wilderness.

    I'd argue that nearly all modern fantasy either High or S&S shares this trope, which likely goes back to the Renaissance and awareness of the Fall of Rome - that we are living in the shadow of the greatness of the past.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'd argue that nearly all modern fantasy either High or S&S shares this trope, which likely goes back to the Renaissance and awareness of the Fall of Rome - that we are living in the shadow of the greatness of the past.

    Tolkien certainly has it, but then I'd argue that Tolkien didn't really write "fantasy." As for others, you're right that it's a common enough theme. Perhaps the big difference is in the way the theme is used, with S&S tales tending to treat the Fall as an irrevocable tragedy that's doomed mankind to a Dark Age, while high/epic fantasy is about restoring the Golden Age and maybe even surpassing it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Three big influences of _Hiero's Journey_ on D&D:

    1) Slimes/oozes/fungi as monsters, especially psionically potent ones = the slime molds of the House.
    2) AD&D psionic combat as a contest which takes place entirely separate from the non-psionic characters, often outside their awareness entirely = exciting for readers following the protagonist of _Hiero's Journey_, dull for players of a game
    3) Giant animals are frequently encountered both in Gygax's wilderness encounter tables and in Hiero's travels

    The idea of a nuclear defense bunker affording a multi-level "dungeon" is even more evident in Margaret St. Clair's _Sign of the Labrys_, another strange and mostly-forgotten post-apocalyptic entry on the DMG reading list that has characters explicitly seeking entry to the next level, dealing with teleport traps and illusions, and allegorically assimilating the teachings of neo-paganism, just like D&D. (Well, at least two out of three).

    ReplyDelete
  5. His later sci-fi book "Menace Under Marswood" is pretty good as well. The Rukh (the vast forest that mars becomes) in that book would make an excellent setting for a game.

    ReplyDelete
  6. jm:
    "Tolkien certainly has it, but then I'd argue that Tolkien didn't really write "fantasy." As for others, you're right that it's a common enough theme. Perhaps the big difference is in the way the theme is used, with S&S tales tending to treat the Fall as an irrevocable tragedy that's doomed mankind to a Dark Age, while high/epic fantasy is about restoring the Golden Age and maybe even surpassing it."

    Hmm, I don't recall reading anything like this - can you give an example or two of this sort of high/epic fantasy?

    My own predilections are the likes of Leiber, Moorcock, Vance, Gene Wolfe (New Sun) and Howard, in roughly that order. In book terms I'm very much more an S&S fan than fantasy - but I always thought of modern fantasy as the genre of Tolkien and his imitators. Apart from Hobbit/LOTR, I've read little - the 1st & 2nd Chronicles of Thomas Covenant; very post-modernist take on Tolkien, shares his declinist ethos.

    What non-Tolkienesque fantasy is there? There are the pre-Tolkien fantastic romances, and there's the historical fantasy (takes on King Arthur and such). Earthsea... not Tolkien-y, but no surpassing the past either.

    Sorry, bit of a shock realising the depth of my ignorance!

    ReplyDelete
  7. 1) Slimes/oozes/fungi as monsters, especially psionically potent ones = the slime molds of the House.

    Good catch.

    2) AD&D psionic combat as a contest which takes place entirely separate from the non-psionic characters, often outside their awareness entirely = exciting for readers following the protagonist of _Hiero's Journey_, dull for players of a game

    Hard to say about this point, because Gary frequently claimed he had no interest in psionics and that it was someone else who wrote the rules for it. For some reason, I think it was Tim Kask or Steve Marsh who was responsible.

    3) Giant animals are frequently encountered both in Gygax's wilderness encounter tables and in Hiero's travels

    Some of that too comes from Lost World pulp fiction.

    The idea of a nuclear defense bunker affording a multi-level "dungeon" is even more evident in Margaret St. Clair's _Sign of the Labrys_, another strange and mostly-forgotten post-apocalyptic entry on the DMG reading list

    Too true!

    ReplyDelete
  8. S'mon,

    You may be correct about the idea of surpassing the past in general. I was thinking offhandedly about various types of "utopian" high fantasy, such as that written by Mercedes Lackey and so forth, which bring very modern sensibilities into a fantasy setting. These strike me as at least implicitly denigrating the past as a "dark" age to be improved upon rather than a glorious height from which the present has fallen.

    ReplyDelete
  9. James - just read your last comment - thanks. I haven't read any feminist or similar overtly 'liberal' fantasy, not something that interests me.

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.