A cycle of genre-crossing fantasy novels, The Hidden Lands of Nod plunges into exploration of the manifold, multiform nature of reality with all the wit and spirit I can muster. Through the devices of two fictional species, the Dvarsh and Thrm, and the humans with whom they interact, the constituent fictions range across universes, through alternate realities and into the cobwebby recesses of self. More a cluster of related books than a traditionally sequential series, I trust The Hidden Lands of Nod to synthesize without too much reflection all my many influences, and to express my hopes, my dreams, my visions—the dark as well as the light.
In plan, the novels are loosely chronological, although decades pass between one tale and the next, temporal discontinuities between one book and another are ignored, and—although there is a cast of evolving characters active across the body of material—no warrant is made that the same version of any given character appears in all volumes. The novels are probably not even set in the same space-time continuum, consensus reality or consistent thread through bifurcating being. That is the nature of the world evoked in these stories. In fact, the inconsistencies are meant to be telling.
The “hidden lands” of the series title refers to Habdvarsha, the exile realm to which the Dvarsh long ago removed themselves from our familiar Earth. It also refers to the undiscovered potential of our realm—this Earth of which we humans have made such a mess—to sustain us if we but respect it.
Prelude to a Change of Mind was the first work to emerge from Sleeper Awakes. After I finished a first draft of the latter title, I was seized by an urge to tell the story of the main character’s mother. I mean “seized” in quite an actual way. For the first of what proved to be many times, I set Sleeper aside to focus on a derivative project.
Like a phoenix, Prelude to a Change of Mind rose six times from scratch. Each of the first five attempts I destroyed so I would be unencumbered when I attempted the next version. The sixth attempt produced a manuscript worth revising. At that point, I tossed the first draft of Sleeper Awakes, wrote a new outline and began again at the beginning. For years I worked on the two novels in alternation, interspersing development of the oracle, Nod’s Way, and invention of the Dvarsh language. Finally, in 2000, I self-published an unfinished version of Prelude to a Change of Mind using the print on demand service, Xlibris. The main reason I did this was to get it out of the way while I turned attention fully onto Sleeper Awakes. Ironically, Sleeper had to take a backseat again when I undertook to finish Prelude to a Change of Mind for a February 2007 release by its first commercial publisher.
The story is that of Meg Christmas, found, as the book begins, sick unto death in a remote mountain camp. Beings out of legend arrive to save her, emerging from an alternate realm where they live in exile. Before the tale is told, it is Meg who must rise to save another. A quiet, intimate adventure, Prelude to a Change of Mind boasts dire peril and brave feats, but also lots of tea with Ekaterina Rigidstick, poems by Jack Plenty, and talk with both about the nature of reality and conditions of being. There is also a distinct erotic thread that simmers along until the exciting conclusion.
Ultimately, I cannot promise that Prelude to a Change of Mind really is the story of the mother of the main character of Sleeper Awakes. As the second novel in the series, Entranscing, makes clear, there are multiple inputs into that particular state of parentage. The most accurate description of the narrative relationship between the books is that Prelude is the story of one of the figures contributing to motherhood of Sleeper’s protagonist, but not necessarily the primary contributor. Although, she could be.
Blue Moose Press published a third, revised edition from June 2010 through December 2014. Stikmantica will publish a fourth, revised edition in 2015.
I had no plans to write Entranscing, the second book of The Hidden Lands of Nod, until pressed to do so first by my dear friend, Janel Nye, and then by my original publisher and editor. Sleeper Awakes has always assumed that a story like Entranscing had taken place, but without the specificity of an actual tale. Well, the power trio of friend, publisher and editor insisted on more story of Meg Christmas. It would have taken a stronger, braver man than this author to refuse. Of course, once the specifics were written in Entranscing, another revision of Sleeper Awakes was required in order to conform (or not) to the new detail.
From outline through fourth draft, I wrote Entranscing in thirteen weeks, then spent another seven creating the cover illustration. The plot structure consciously emulates those of serially published novels from the pulp sci-fi heydays of the mid-twentieth century. Each chapter has an arc and a hook, the first to up the stakes and the second to keep one reading. A book as much fun to write as it is to read, I sometimes fret that it may contribute to an ultimately erroneous expectation that the other novels of The Hidden Lands of Nod will follow in the same tidy, sequential fashion as this does from book one. NOT!
Blue Moose Press published the second edition, revised and augmented, from October 2010 through December 2014. It is currently in the cue for revision before Stikmantica releases a third edition.
Sleeper Awakes, denominated third in The Hidden Lands of Nod series, is the mother book from which the entire world of Habdvarsha and its parallels derive. The story of a traveler, Boyd, made homeless by monstrous catastrophe, and hunted for the very fact of his survival, Sleeper Awakes is part bildungsroman, part finger-snapping beat fantasy, part green anarcho-social surrealist manifesto, part comic peroration, part Taoist meditation on the nature of being, part—you get the picture. If you are a reader who must fit every title on your shelf into a pre-existing category, this is not the book for you.
On the other hand, if your imagination takes flight at the shape of a cloud, the dapple pattern under a tree or the gait of a stranger two blocks distant, if you have ever translated a poem from a language you do not speak, or wondered how the other yous are doing in alternate worlds where you made different choices, then chances are good this work will tickle several parts of your fancy. Within its pages are adventures of a hero well known, if not from the mirror, then at least in the house. Boyd, the traveler, is not stupid, but he sets out as a blockhead, a blockhead not unlike the present author or—be harsh and honest—the reader’s own self. Or, more likely, the reader’s significant other. Faced with grave peril but aided by beings both puissant and odd, Boyd strives across landscapes mundane and remarkable to find true love, save his skin and become somehow less of a numbskull. Upon these premises hangs the tale.
I began writing Sleeper Awakes in May 1984. Through all the changes to which I have subjected it, the story has always begun in May of some year—not this one, but another. The book was finally released in June 2009—not on the day I wanted and hoped, but another. For twenty-five years I worked on this book, pausing for repeated asides to create related works and materials needed to flesh out a world, but always centering my labor on, around or near Sleeper Awakes. This is the tale in which the Dvarsh trio—Mathilde and Ekaterina Rigidstick, and their cousin Jackanapes Plenty—first came to life as agents of an exiled civilization hidden in an alternate reality. In the course of discovering the culture of these characters, I began developing the Dvarsh oracle, Nod’s Way, as well as a Dvarsh language and decorative/illustrative tradition. Ekaterina became Ekaterina and Jack became Jack in the first draft of this story. For the longest time this book has been THE book, the big project. Now that it has escaped into the world, my task is to assimilate the fact that, though Sleeper Awakes is the mother work of The Hidden Lands of Nod, it is not the definitive work. It is my Grundrisse; my Kapital lies in the future.
Look for a second, revised edition as soon as circumstances permit.
The official plan for The Hidden Lands of Nod calls for two more novels following Sleeper Awakes. Next in the schedule will be book four, Rataxes, the General, to be followed by the fifth book, Another Noon. At the moment, these books exist primarily as outlines and sketches, although I have begun a first draft of Rataxes, the General. This book I expect to approach the length of Sleeper Awakes, as it drills down into the several worlds of The Hidden Lands of Nod, not least into the sphere of the great antagonist of Habdvarsha, the conquering swarm of trillions of identical generals each known as Rataxes. Where Sleeper Awakes covers a sprawling landscape, Rataxes, the General will probe, even now is probing, intimate, internal depths. In plan the story is a triple murder mystery, a murder in each of three different realities. Three deaths lead to three investigations, one on Earth, another in Habdvarsha and the third among the Horde. Does more than coincidence connect them?
Finishing out the planned series, Another Noon, the fifth book of The Hidden Lands of Nod will be a slimmer volume, probably of a size with Prelude to a Change of Mind. In this novel we shall encounter Bigger as a man past middle age, with a long and difficult history he doesn’t much care to talk about. The plot confronts him with a classic line-in-the-sand decision. Imagine Gary Cooper directed by Sergio Leone to a script by Carlos Castañeda. Then mix in the Dvarsh.
Beyond the fifth book lie shadowy possibilities. I have one large outtake from Sleeper Awakes that is itself nearly book length. There are also tributary stories that may demand to be told. At some point I hope to collect all my Habdvarsha-inspired illustrations and graphic pieces between covers or on a website. Like the Nod’s Way oracle, like the planned grammar and lexicon of the Dvarsh language, these eventual future projects will see light as companions, rather than parts of the cycle proper. As Mathilde Rigidstick would insist, the distinction is crucial.
Copyright © 2017 Robert Stikmanz (unless otherwise noted)