On Monday, I mentioned that my current goal is to finish Arcana Universalis: The Hanged Man’s Revelation, and for many of you, the immediate response was doubtlessly, “What the heck is that?” I can hardly blame you; I published the last part nearly two years ago, and have spoken nary a word about it since. Well, consider this your refresher.
The very short answer is that Arcana Universalis is a story about wizards in space. Simple enough, right?
I had been watching Dragonslayer, a fairly wonderful movie about a young magician in training, and it got me thinking about the entire fantasy genre. These stories are infested with nigh-omnipotent practitioners of arcane arts, but where’s their ambition? Why are they content to sit around in drafty towers while the simple folk below farm the land? Despite all their power and ingenuity, these wizards are trapped in a pseudo-Medieval pastiche, when they could just as soon ascend to the stars.
So, I set out to tell a story about just that. I dreamed up a world where starships powered by ancient artifacts blast through the cosmos in search of star-born dragons; where spells operate with the depth and complexity of computer programs, manipulating energies invisible to the naked eye; where nothing is at it seems, and even death may not be the end of a contract.
There’s more to it, of course. The story that takes place in that setting deals in big themes like gender & class inequality, and the twisted ways that our traumas sometimes heal. It’s actually a very morose tale that only grows more so as it spins on.
It’s also the most ambitiously overwritten thing I’ve ever worked on. I make no bones about the fact that I really like to hammer at my prose, and this is the story where I decided to let the hammer fly. Take for example the opening paragraphs:
The universe is vast. It’s so vast that the very concept of it—the sheer beastly immensity of it—thrashes at the fabric of reason itself, and to our mortal minds, it appears chaotic. Stars flare into existence while others perish, great stones hurtle through the empty dark only to crash into one another and be obliterated, and life pervades everywhere.
All of this activity carries on seemingly without direction or purpose, but such appearances belie a strange truth: the veil of chaos conceals a subtle order which governs all things, a queer music that suffuses and binds, pulsing through the glittering stars and clouds of burning gas, over crystalline shores and fields of shifting sands, weaving all of creation into a single unbroken whole.
There is harmony, though we lack ears to hear it. There is order, and in its intricate majesty, that order is divine. There is music among the spheres, and all the petty toils of men are but the transitory notes and cadence of its forever wandering melody.
And that, more or less, is Arcana Universalis: a strange premise saddled with heavy ideas, written with all pretentiousness turned up to 11. I rather love it, and I hope you will as well.