La Horde du Contrevent (LHDC) is a 2004 French novel by Alain Damasio.
It is a deep dive within a stark, imaginary world.
LHDC is a landmark work, and was critically and commercially successful. In some ways it is reminiscent of Dune.
However, in typical French fashion, there was never enough capital to turn it into an #international #brand #product. Though I’m told there’s an Italian translation, L’orda del vento.
This article is a primer, a glimpse. Since the material doesn’t lend itself to a standard writeup either.
Due to time constraints (and the need for illustrations) it covers the material in the first graphic novel adaptation by Éric Henninot, Le cosmos est mon campement. Not the novel, which covers many more events.
If you speak some French, be aware that the book requires a high level of fluency.
- It goes for full immersion. So there’s a lot of world-specific jargon, concepts, notation and ways of thinking.
- The narration constantly rotates between 23 protagonists, who all “speak” in a different manner and have different points of view.
- The writing is extremely dense and precise.
All translations therein are mine.
The planet in LHDC is almost entirely frozen. Only a 3,000 miles wide band at the equator is inhabitable.
In the comics, it looks like an immense valley, with huge glacier cliffs on both sides.
However, thermal exchanges mean that hurricane-force winds are frequently funnelled westward down this band.
“Hurricane force” isn’t where the winds stop. Several classes would need to be added to the Beaufort Scale . Winds frequently reach such force as to obliterate anything that isn’t sufficiently hard and massive. Some forms of wind, such as a “blaast”, are essentially an explosion.
As one gets upwind, new forms of winds appear. Go far enough, and the additional classes stop having purely physical properties. They become more akin to spiritual principles.
The equatorial band is inhabited by Humans, and some Earthlike animals such as goats. It might be Earth in the far future, or a lost space colony, or simply an alternate reality.
Some lifeforms, however, seem inexplicable. For instance the windborne “chrones” are like a giant egg-shaped children’s balloon, filled with a sort of energy field. Schools of chrones are carried by the wind.
Based on their colour and patterns, it is possible to predict what the field inside *might* do. Some effects seem impossible, such as turning stone into vegetation, providing visions of the past or future, or teleportation.
Most people live at a medieval tech level. However, the larger settlements are massive underground complexes with extremely high, concrete-like ceilings. This doesn’t necessarily mean a higher tech – the Ancient Egyptians could build ’em pyramids, after all.
Some of the hardware — notably the carabiners and tethers — is very similar to late XXth Century climbing equipment.
Most people, the “sheltereds”, live bunkered down in small settlements. A key feature of these are wells, where people rush to safety when the winds pick up. Being caught by surprise would be almost certainly fatal.
Sheltereds lead harsh lives of constant death, fear and destruction.
A much smaller population are nomads. These use gliders and the like to work with the wind rather than bunker down. Many of those, the “sidelongs”, are raiders.
But others, the “freoles”, live in huge flying buildings. The lives of this literal upper class are far less awful than those of the sheltereds or sidelongs.
The underground city of Aberlaas is located at the Ultima Downwind. Behind it is a massive cliff that ends the “valley”.
An important tradition in Aberlaas is the Windwarders. These are expeditions sent windward. Their hope is to reach the Ultima Upwind point, perhaps all the way around the planet.
Over time, a vague belief has developed that reaching the Ultima Upwind would mean something wonderful for the world. Perhaps a way to abate the winds. Or perhaps the end of the world, or perhaps transcendental knowledge about it.
Whether it even makes sense for an “Ultima Upwind point” to exist is unknown.
Expeditions have been launched windward for 800 years.
LHDC follows the 34th Horde of Windwarders. Survivors of previous Hordes have either managed to come back after failure, or settled windward after they gave up.
The 34th Horde of Windwarders are the best-prepared, most knowledgeable Windwarders ever. They were selected circa age 4, trained ever since, and left when they were 9 or 10.
During the bulk of the comic book adaptation’s first volume, they have been walking for 27 years.
This Horde of Windwarders has also been the fastest. They are three years ahead of their fastest predecessors.
From previous Hordes, they know that they still have to reach the Lapsan Puddle (a large but shallow lake), then the suspended towers of Alticcio, then the snow-covered mountains of Norska. No-one has ever been past those.
A Horde of Windwarders faces extreme, easily fatal conditions.
Therefore, it is tightly organised. Think of an extreme sports team (say, free-climbing glaciers), combined with the crew of a racing sailboat during a storm, combined with an unsupported military long-range patrol team.
The main unit is the Spearhead, supported by a three-persons Pack. Every component of the Spearhead is a well-trained specialist.
All need to perform flawlessly. When hiking windward any mistakes could have disastrous consequences. Within a second, one can be lifted by the wind and shattered against a rock.
The Spearhead progresses en blocAs a whole, as single mass. It is like a diamond-shaped rugby scrum, though there are different formations when faced by different winds. All members hold onto each other so they aren’t blown away, and adopt an aerodynamic posture.
The lighter members — mostly women — and the wounded members are at the center of the Spearhead.
Most of the gear is carried using wheeled sleds, dragged by the Pack. These have a propeller at the prow, using the force of the wind to make the sled roll forward.
The 34th Horde is about 18 persons strong during most of the comics adaptation’s first graphic novel.
They have been through significant casualties. In particular, the life expectancy among the less-skilled Pack isn’t good. But they recruit from the communities they meet.
Many such communities know about and respect the Windwarders. Some even see them as the sole hope that the world will ever be liveable.
Beyond their physical training and discipline, the Windwarders can rely on :
- The experience from survivors and notes taken by previous Hordes. These include spots equipped with anchoring points to withstand the more violent winds.
- Centuries of codified experience when it comes to predicting the behaviour of various sorts of winds, including their backwash. This comes both from observation and from interviewing local sages, the “airudites”.
- Clothes and gear optimised to catch as little wind as possible. That includes masks to keep breathing when the wind is too strong. And low-tech goggles like those that were used by Arctic natives.
- Experts analysing the types of sand and vegetation blown downwind, to predict the sort of terrain that lies ahead — and how exposed it is. The two experts for this are the “aeromaster” and the “geomaster”.
- Similar expertise to read the vegetation and rocks to locate springs. During this era, the person with this knowledge is also the medic.
- The “flamesmith” has special techniques and equipment to create and maintain a campfire, despite the winds.
- High-grade climbing equipment. When caught in the faster winds — such as a “ferwind” — the only way to survive is anchored to something, and shielded against projectiles. Even then the Windwarders will be helplessly aloft like twigs, and the pressure may induce internal bleeding.
- Spearhead members have two kinds of hunting birds (falcons and “ulturs”), which are an efficient way to find food.
- There’s also a trapper, who uses lightweight cages to catch jellyfish-like creatures that drift in the wind. These are usually edible.
Most Windwarders can fight. But one is a dedicated soldier, the “fighter-protector”.
The fighter protector’s backpack includes a sort of airfoil or paraglider, and their outfit has small propellers for additional manoeuvrability. This allows them to engage nomad bandits, who use similar ways to fly – or ride fast sand yachts.
The fighter-protector of the 34th Horde of Windwarders is an incredible killer. He can take down a half-dozen common bandits within a minute, then start fighting for real.
The fighter-protector is particularly useful against the Chasers. There exists some unclear, covert opposition to the Windwarders’ mission. These pay forces, often nomad bandits, to chase and attack the Windwarders.
One expert among the Spearhead is the “prince”.
Their role is to sense conflicts among the Windwarders, and otherwise manage emotions and ties. They ensure that the Horde remains united year after year, through deaths and decades of endless hardships. The prince is also the team’s “face” and diplomat when meeting other folks.
Symbolically, the prince has a special belt where all Spearhead members can attach their tether.
Another expert is the “troubadour”, a poet, mythographer and storyteller. And arguably a priest, jester and philosopher. The 34th Horde’s troubadour is an enigmatic outsider and nomad, who joined them four years into their progression.
There are two craftspersons among the Spearhead – a blacksmith and a woodworker.
As to the “scribe”, they hold a copy of the cumulative journals of 800 years of Windwarders. They continue to extend it, recording what has been learned. If at all possible, the journal will be returned to Ultima Downwind after the Horde fails.
The leader of a Horde of Windwarders is called the “strider”. The strider of the 34th Horde is Golgoth, the ninth person of that name to be a strider.
A good part of the 34th Horde’s pace is down to Golgoth’s brutal determination. He’s a solid block of crude aggression and swearing, focused on reaching the Ultima Upwind.
Part of Golgoth’s work is to relentlessly build up the physical endurance of his Windwarders. The further windward they progress, the harsher it gets. If the Ultima Upwind exists, it can only be reached by the toughest, most indefatigable explorers.
Anything less, and Golgoth knows he’s just leading his Windwarders to their death.
(In Francophone countries, “Golgoth” is also a UFO Robot Grendizer reference by way of the Bible. It’s complicated. I’ll explain when I get around to writing a Grendizer profile.)
Source of Character: La horde du Contrevent Vol. 1 — Le cosmos est mon campement.
Writeup completed on the 7th of November, 2019.