Empire of the East

Something a little more in the vein of D&D today, Fred Saberhagen’s Empire of the East trilogy—The Broken Lands (1968), The Black Mountains (1971) and Changeling Earth (1973). They concern a resistance by the West against the forces of the sorcerous, demon-sworn East. Despite its sword and sorcery feel, the series is post-apocalyptic, and there is a lot of tech that is recognizable by readers, but not by the protagonists. The first novel is mainly concerned with the retrieval of the “Elephant,” an atomic tank, by the West. The second chronicles their army’s push into the East, against the forces of Som the Dead, his bound demons and a giant mutant dog that uses healing technology to revive dead soldiers. That volume is probably my favorite, because Som is a creepy villain (and maybe inspiration for a death knight? The dog mutant sure looks like an owl bear on the cover).

The third novel sees the final conflict between East and West, and reveals the big twist. In our near future, nuclear war was triggered, but a failsafe, the super computer ARDNEH, stopped the destruction of the world by effectively neutralizing science and replacing it with magic. The nukes in flight changed into demons. Their chief, Orcus, was bound by the East, who then took over the world. To defeat the East, ARDNEH wants them to release Orcus so he can destroy the computer, and undo the Change, remaking the world once again, into a synthesis of science and magic. It’s very strange to explain, but the story is rip-roaring—Saberhagen was a hell of a writer. They’re also full of energy that was clearly an inspiration to D&D, Gamma World and a whole host of other early RPGs.

Check ‘em out—I read the single novels, but the single-volume collection, Empire of the East (1979), apparently has substantial revisions by Saberhagen. I enjoyed the singles just fine, but the collection might be smoother.

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