Friday, September 15, 2017

What Comes Next: Questions & Potential Answers Regarding The No-God Duology

In the wake of reading my review of The Unholy Consult, R. Scott Bakker’s concluding volume to the Aspect-Emperor series, a gentleman from the Second Apocalypse forum (the place for discussion on anything Earwa) contacted me privately, asking what I thought of the conclusion to The Unholy Consult and my opinion what might come next—what the follow up and concluding duology, tentatively titled The No-God series, might hold for readers. The more I thought about answers to these questions, the more I realized I should organize them ‘on paper’, and if going that far, why not post them. It is, indeed, intriguing.  So, if you haven’t read The Unholy Consult, do not read this post as it will contain major spoilers.  Another warning, I am writing this with extremely little knowledge of what's happening in forums and other discussions on the Second Apocalypse, so apologies if the post seems naive to readers who have invested themselves significantly more than than me into the lore of the series.

Before I dive in, a few things I take as basic assumptions: 

1. The ending of The Unholy Consult was planned all along, and as such should be considered as completing the series
2. Bakker’s thematic agenda has been delivered
3. Anything that may come next is therefore likely to be more complementary and confirming than revolutionary or game-changing (i.e. perhaps the series' denouement some readers were hoping for?)

Therefore, the question is: where to go from the rise of the No-God and the dawn of the Second-Apocalypse?  Before getting into the possibilities, we need to establish three key baselines.

Baseline #1

The first is a baselineI don’t think many readers would immediately go to: Bakker’s belief in humanity.  Let me explain.  To date, The Prince of Nothing and Aspect-Emperor series have not highlighted the brighter side of our species.  There have been a few silver linings (for example, Sorweel’s falling in love or Achamian learning he has as son, to name a couple), but overall I think it’s fair to say hubris, deception, egoism, the limits of human perception, reversion to atavism, and other vices of humanity have played a stronger role, culminating in a scenario wherein humanity has inadvertently destroyed itself in the Second Apocalypse.  Looking ahead to the No-God series, the door is wide open to the question: does Bakker believe humanity can redeem itself after falling so far—certainly not in Tolkien-ian fashion, but in some other relevant way?  Another way pf phrasing this question is, does the No-God duology drive that human nail in the coffin deeper, or does Bakker take The Unholy Consult as nadir to a new cycle of history?  Does Earwa shift into a new phase of existence/civilization?  Given Bakker's aversion to such classic epic fantasy tropes, not to mention character focus, I'd be incliined to lean toward coffin nail, but there is certainly space for something more. 

Baseline #2

At of the conclusion of The Unholy Consult all of the men of Earwa have been killed or are about to be.  Kellhus left Momemm to destroy intimates chaos and the Great Ordeal (aka known as 90% of humanity's sperm) is entirely eliminated - as The Unholy Consult intimates.  Top this off with the No-God rendering every woman's womb bare and we have a recipe for humanity's inability to recreate itself after destruction.  Earwa is facing extinction.

Baseline #3

The third and final baseline is the overarching mythos of Earwa. The continent’s history, from non-men to men, has never been directly portrayed but has been a constant element of the series' backdrop, from Achamian’s dreams to flashbacks.  Mainly due to said dreams, the First Apocalypse has held the most prominence in the series internal lore.  Its events are just as well known to the reader as the actual events of Achamian’s life.  Looking at the exact point on which The Unholy Consult concludes, the First Apocalypse provides a sounding board for the events of the Second Apocalypse: does the second ultimately play out like the first, or does something change?  Does humanity somehow find a way to save itself, i.e. First Apocalypse, or does somethign change, i.e. doom?

Potential Directions

Taking these three baselines into consideration, and assuming that humanity wants to make a comeback against the No-God, I think Bakker is first faced with a basic choice in extending the Earwa storyline: go long-term or go short term.  

The short term direction for the No-God series would follow immediately upon the events of The Unholy Consult.  In this scenario, the denouement of the battle on Golgoterath takes place through the stories of characters whose lives are left hanging in the balance.   While I believe Bakker indirectly described humanity’s downfall by ending The Unholy Consult the way he did, there is still room for a handful of humans and wizards to fashion some miraculous comeback, or at least survive Golgoterath and a few years later foment a rebellion that takes down the No-God. (The Scylvendi/Moenghus seem likely players in such a scenario, and fittingly so when life is reduced to barbarism.)  Perhaps the Heron Spear, one of which did feature in the final battle, finds its way into the right hands?  I’m sure a lot of readers were disappointed that Achamian, or least his wizardly powers, did not play as crucial a role in the Aspect-Emperor as they did in The Prince of Nothing, so perhaps there is still a little room for them?  Achamian the closest thing Bakker has created to an overarching ‘hero’, a standard epic fantasy storyline would see Achamian kill the No-God with his powers.  But given how Bakker has increasingly distanced himself from formulaic fantasy, I don’t think this is likely, just a possibility.  And of course there are wild cards that could appear on the scene to change things - giant non-men, Kellhus' demon rampaging Mommemm, etc.  

But regardless how individual events actually play out, choosing the short term option would likely also be commentary on the results of the First Apocalypse, either in how it mirrors or breaks from them.  If there is space for theme, it would be here., 

Looking at going long-term, I think something akin to Frank Herbert’s God Emperor of Dune would be a reasonable parallel.  Without anyone able to contend with the No-God’s power, there would be a lengthy period in which it establishes and maintains power over Earwa.  This would effectively remove all of the middle- to old-age characters readers are familiar with, and leave the young.  People like Moenghus, Achamiam and Mimara's' son, Serwe, Kayutas, and others would potentially still exist to carry the story's torch.  There are many different directions such a scenario could go, but again, the question remains: what thematic territory would Bakker want to explore if such a route were taken?  Frank Herbert explored loneliness, long term power, and perhaps the inevitable change in power.  To do as such, Bakker would need to humanize the No-God, something possible given we know who exists at its core.  That being said, Bakker did make something alien of it, something non-human, something pure evil.  So, difficult to say.  Anothher thematic option here would be paralleling real-world tyrants with the No-God's rule - to manifest reader expectation.  A very dark vision, but hey, Bakker does like dark, and so do we....   


In summary, I understand why Bakker may not have a concrete direction to go after The Unholy Consult.  Nearly everything he has written thus far, most significantly the characters, has been to arrive at the moment of the Second Apocalypse, and that, for certain, has come.  If he wants to continue the story of Earwa, I think he faces a simple choice: long or short term.  Either wipe the slate almost clean and rejoin the story many years down the road at a time when the No-God has entirely subjugated humanity, or, pick up immediately after the events of The Unholy Consult in a scenario that either parallels or breaks from the events of the First Apocalypse.  It’s a tough choice.  If the former is true, then it’s likely there is extremely little left of humanity, meaning some small group would be mounting a revenge against the No-God, and likely would not be any of the characters we are familiar with (though possible—perhaps an ancient, wheelchair-bound Achamian and teenage son combo?).  The short-term scenario would allow Bakker to stick with the characters readers are familiar with (at least those who survive), as well as play events against the happenings of the First Apocalypse for comparison and contrast.  I guess ultimately it depends on what Bakker hopes to accomplish thematically with The No-God duology, and which of those scenarios, long or short term, can best present said themes.  I know for myself I would like to see Bakker’s thoughts on humanity’s potential at large, confirmed.

(Just as a joke, there is a third option possible for the No-God series: the alien mothership lands, gives the No-God a spanking, tells him to leave those flawed humans to their own devices, and sweeps all the sranc and bashrag away in a blinking green UFO…)

*Note: Portions of this post were re-written upon a re-read of the Aspect-Emperor series in April 2024.

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