Monday, 26 August 2019

Silent Titans: The Manmade and the Liminal

I am rather late to the party on this; much has been said (and conclusions drawn) about Silent Titans. Despite having contributed to the Kickstarter campaign at the time (full disclosure, as they say) and having read and enjoyed it, I didn't think I had much to contribute on the subject. I certainly haven't managed to play it.

That was until I encountered a comment referring to 'the bewildering liminality of Northwest England'. The train of thought promptly left the station.

The Wirral (or Wir-Heal) unquestionably has something of the liminal about it. As the book says, Wir-Heal is made from swamp and hill with little in between. One way lies The Sea of Broken Eons, another way the Wrecked Heptarchy, still another way Wales. ('Beyond the Rood-Die lie the black hill of the Welsh, to whom every fear and terror-legend clings. No one from Wir-Heal would ever willingly go there.') The place Silent Titans deals with is stuck between terrains, between states, between legal systems (as the roaming Courts make clear), between realities.

The titular Titans, in the soil itself of Wir-Heal are the stand-out feature of the book. They are strange distillations of the modern and/or the world to come, both grotesquely artificial and biological. However, they are not what I wish to talk about.

The inter-connective tissue of the peninsula has a feel about it that might be very familiar to those who have wondered round portions of the intensely farmed, settled English countryside, especially where town and country meet. The landscape is distorted, made difficult to navigate, by the schemes of human cultivation and construction. One simple indication of this is the difficulty one experiences in walking across a newly-ploughed East Anglian field in November.

I shall offer two more briefly. I once had it in mind to walk out of Canterbury for a quick run near the back of the student quarter. I could leave by a fairly obvious gate - but then found myself in a sloping field, with a concrete wall at the bottom. The wall was continuous, as if trying to firmly separate town houses and fields - though it had not been built at a time that would require defence from beasts or raiders. Water gathered at the foot of the wall, by the most obvious path, making it a muddy bog. There was in time a turning back into the streets, but far further along than I had predicted.

Another occasion had me cycling through a portion of Cambridgeshire. My path had diverged from that predicted, and thrust me onto an odd set of lanes to turn away from a major road. This in time took me to a solar farm. It was quite new, a field of panels surrounded by a high, secure, green-painted metal fence. A wide track ran around it. The field and the track shared the same soil: light, biscuit-hard, almost devoid of plants. It is tempting to think that it had been chemically treated. The track had clearly been made by tractors and earth-movers; anyone not in one of these vehicles would likely have a troublesome journey.

These are fairly well fleshed-out examples: I leave aside walled, dead-end villages, innumerable broken barns, concrete slabs, old railway lines and bunkers. When Silent Titans describes 'A maze of narrow pathways squeezed between dense nettles, thorny bushes and chain-linked fence.' it is certainly familiar. An inhospitable suburbia, as well as the effects of intensive agriculture and dense transport infrastructure all produce the confusion that defines Wir-Heal and the Wrecked Heptarchy, titans or no.

All this is to say that in the world of Silent Titans it would be quite correct for you to fight goblins clad in armour made from discarded lager cans who dwell in the hawthorn thicket between the back of the supermarket and the golf course.

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