Saturday, December 10, 2011

Reflections of a Midnight Sun

By Dale Rippke
This article originally appeared in REHUPA #167

In 1970, Karl Edward Wagner unleashed upon the world a new character in the Heroic Fantasy vein, a perfect human killing machine named Kane. Kane was an immortal, cursed to wander the Earth until killed by the violence that he himself had created. While not as popular as Robert Howard's Conan character, the Kane character seems to have carved out a respectable niche for himself.

The thing I find most fascinating about Kane is that there is a subtle story arc that is alluded to in the published saga, but never directly addressed. It is the reason why Wagner describes Kane as the Black Prometheus.

Now in Greek mythology Prometheus gave the gift of fire to mankind and was punished by the gods for it. Did Kane give a gift to mankind as well? We know he was the first man on Earth to murder another. Was that the gift? Or was there another?

This story arc was supposed to have been made clear in a loosely related trilogy of Kane novels. Their titles were BLACK EDEN, IN THE WAKE OF THE NIGHT, and AT FIRST JUST GHOSTLY. Two of these novels were started but never finished. They were to delve into who and what Kane really was.

The first book of the trilogy was to be called BLACK EDEN. While I do not know with absolute certainty what the book is about, I believe that the title refers to a "corrupted paradise". This implies that BLACK EDEN is the novel of Kane's origin. The plot of the novel can be discerned by collating those snippets of information concerning Kane's origins as recounted in the various published stories. His origin seems to have been patterned after the Biblical Cain, however there are some differences.

Some time after the fall of the Elder Races (due to wars over the Earth's dwindling resources in the new Ice Age) an alien god referred to as the "Creator" fashioned a race after his own image, and named that race "man". Unfortunately, this "Creator" didn't take into account that his imperfections would mirror themselves in his new creation. He placed his new men and women in a sheltered, Golden Age paradise and interacted with them in much the same way that you or I would interact with pets for our amusement. It is not stated with any certainty whether this paradise was actually on the Earth or within this god's abode. One gets the impression that mankind existed in this paradise for some time, as they became quite numerous and apparently highly civilized.

One of these "First Men", was Kane, a son of Adam (Eve was his stepmother, presumably Lilith was his mother). Kane decided to be the master of his own destiny and rebelled against this god's authority. He spurred the infant race of man to independent will by provoking them to rise in rebellion against their "Creator" and his stifling paradise. Kane's own brother and the "Creator's" favorite plaything, a man named Abel, initiated an attempt to thwart Kane's defiance. It failed when Kane violently strangled his brother before the smoking altar of his temple. Thus Kane gave the gift of murder, as well as rebellion, to mankind. 

Despair racked the mind of the "Creator" god when he finally recognized that his own imperfections were the actual cause of mankind's rebellion, so he cast man out of paradise and scattered him across the face of the Earth in an act of abandonment. For Kane he reserved a special punishment.

Because of his propensity to murderous violence, the "Creator" decided to recreate Kane into the very avatar of that violence; a biological weapon along the lines of a Terminator type cyborg. It is unknown how much of this was done genetically and how much he was augmented mechanically (most likely done through nano-technology). Mechanical and organic life melded to become the perfect killing machine. His speed, strength and stamina were increased. His conscience was either removed or greatly reduced (THE GOTHIC TOUCH implies his soul was removed) and he was given immortality and immunity to disease. Finally, he was given the glowing blue eyes of an insane killer (allowing him to see in the dark) so that everyone could recognize him for who he was. The "curse" behind this was that Kane could only die by the same violence that he had introduced to the world.

It is not certain how long it took to complete this transformation, but somewhat under a century seems to have passed before Kane reappeared on the Earth stage (BLOODSTONE states that man had wandered the earth somewhat over five hundred years, but that Kane was only somewhere over 450 years old). What also seems certain is that it was finished prior to the rebellion of the angels and their subsequent war with "God". Apparently, this war was to be modeled after John Milton's PARADISE LOST. The "re-created" Kane ended up with a little too much intelligence and free will and escaped his "Creator's" control. I imagine the role Kane played in this war was probably that of a catalyst. BLACK EDEN would have made for a very exciting book!

IN THE WAKE OF THE NIGHT was the second novel of the trilogy and was planned to have been about 150,000 words (twice the size of BLOODSTONE). Fantasy author David Drake states that Karl had written the opening chapters of the novel, but only an excerpt of the prologue has ever seen the light of day. Several friends of Karl's remember the other bits and pieces of the novel. One remembers a fight scene and another recalls a part describing a crashed space ship. 

What I have deduced from the various clues (some of them contradictory) I've had to work with is pretty interesting, to put it mildly. The book seems to be about Kane's fall to Earth and his attempt to return and kill his creator.

IN THE WAKE OF THE NIGHT begins with the discovery of an elder race shipwreck by a human visionary named Kethrid and his resolve to rebuild the ship into a vessel to be used to explore, discover, and restore elder race science and technology to the world. He names his ship the Yhosal-Monyr. Kethrid was the greatest mind of his age, and it was because of him that his home city of Carsultyal became the preeminent city in the early history of mankind. His voyages took place around a century after mankind's Diaspora. 

Kane's first appearance in the novel deals with his escape on a spaceship that he pilots to the Earth and manages to destroy in a crash-landing. He is fleeing from the war between the angels. I do not know whether this war would have been fleshed out as a major part of this book or in BLACK EDEN. If it appeared in the latter then it would have been told as a one or two page flashback in IN THE WAKE OF THE NIGHT. It would also have introduced a continuity error in that BLOODSTONE has Kethrid recounting the legend of a Kane cursed by his god to wander the Earth shunned by mankind; a legend that couldn't have taken root if Kane only appeared on Earth at the beginning of Kethrid's voyages.

I do not know how Kane and Kethrid got together. At any rate, Kane joins Kethrid on his voyages of discovery. Kethrid is obsessed with finding the fallen cities of the Ancients so he can unlock their secrets for the benefit of mankind. Kane could care less about mankind. He has come along in an effort to discover an ancient technology that will allow him to leave the Earth so he can rejoin and kill his "Creator".

Interestingly enough, the book was to be unlike Wagner's other novels, and did not feature Kane as leading an army or a navy. It also would not have focused on Kane as the primary character of the book; Kethrid was to have taken that role. Kane is Kethrid's close friend and advisor and he plays a major part in the discoveries that the Yhosal-Monyr uncovers. The two make several voyages and the knowledge they return with forms the core of Carsultyal's civilization. The book is about those voyages.

The novel was supposed to have ended with man's first rocket launch from the city of Carsultyal. I would imagine that this was Kane's attempt to return and kill his creator. At any rate, the launch was obviously not successful.

We know from BLOODSTONE that Kethrid, his crew, and the Yhosal-Monyr disappear on his final voyage and are never heard from again. Whether this happened prior to or subsequent to the rocket launch is unknown.

After the end of IN THE WAKE OF THE NIGHT Kane begins his long road of discovery that is chronicled over the course of three novels and eleven short story/novelettes. He develops the nihilistic philosophy that Chaos is a kinetic force that must wage eternal war against the stagnant principle of Order. His actions in the pursuit of this philosophy range from lust for power to boredom to revenge, and we are only given hints in the stories as to his actual motives. The best view of his outlook came in the novel BLOODSTONE, where he attempts to explain to Teres that his mastery of the Bloodstone is a key that will allow him to unlock the doors of the infinite. He is still trying, after a half millennia, to get the hell off the Earth! 

Another interesting fact makes itself apparent during the course of the series. Living through the passage of millenia has made Kane insane. The form this insanity takes manifests in his performing deeds that are not always in his own best interest. The cold-blooded games and schemes that he spends years on can be swept away in a moment of berserk rage. In doing so he risks the violent death that he was promised by his creator; a death that he dreads yet, paradoxically enough, longs for. I imagine reason behind Kane's inconsistent behavior was best summed up by Karl Wagner's best friend John Mayer: Imagine knowing for a fact that God is out to get you.
"Ride on through the night, Kane, alone,
Like a comet that comes and destroys,
And drives on.
Play the game to the end, Kane.
Maybe this time."

The first hint that he ever succeeded in leaving the Earth was recounted in a poem written by Karl called THE MIDNIGHT SUN. The poem recounts how Kane comes to appear in the 20th century. It was written fairly early in Wagner's career, and first published in 1974. It established early on the thread of a story arc that is really only hinted at until the publication of the "modern" Kane tales. 

THE MIDNIGHT SUN is the first mention of Kane to be linked with our current age. It shows some of the inner workings of his mind and why he does what he will. It states that Kane is a true lord of Chaos and will brook no control by the forces of Law. It also implies that he has destroyed his "Creator":
"I vanquished Law once, I'll conquer yet again--
And force upon Mankind the Freedom he fears--
And dead gods I will again defy…"
This will not be the last time Karl Wagner returns to this theme.

Besides the poem, there are four other tales of Kane that take place in "modern" times. These are LACUNAE, DEEP IN THE DEPTHS OF THE ACME WAREHOUSE, THE GOTHIC TOUCH, and AT FIRST JUST GHOSTLY. The first two add nothing of real substance to Kane's story arc. The final two do, and it is these I will take a special look at.

THE GOTHIC TOUCH establishes that Kane is now able to travel between alternate realities/universes to pursue his ultimate plan. He is attempting to acquire a weapon to be used against a powerful unnamed enemy. This enemy has sent agents after Kane in an attempt to stop him. The weapon must be rare and pretty powerful, as Kane is carrying a portable nuclear device with him to seal the gateway behind him! While it could probably be argued that THE GOTHIC TOUCH is not one of the modern day tales, the presence of the nuke would seem to place it there.

Things really get wild in AT FIRST JUST GHOSTLY. Originally planned to be the opening chapters of a 100,000-word novel of the same name, AT FIRST JUST GHOSTLY would have been the third and final part of the trilogy arc. As a novelette, the story finds Kane in conflict with his former acquaintance, Sathonys (Satan), and for once, the two opposing powers are evenly matched. The story is complex and shows Kane in a completely different light than his stories usually do. He is not the primary character in the story. That role is reserved for a man named Cody Lennox: a wild card with the ability to manipulate synchronicity. Kane enlists Lennox's aid in an attempt to prevent Satan from manifesting Hell on Earth during the Harmonic Convergence. That Kane is the only person who can do this is made clear when Lennox asks him why the forces of Good don't intervene:
(Kane) "Because there are no good forces."
(Lennox) "So, then. You don't believe that there is a God."
"There was a god."
"Well, then. Where is he now?"
"I killed him," said Kane.

AT FIRST JUST GHOSTLY would have made for a great novel! Just from what information was given in the novelette, it appears that the plot of the novel would have been a war and probably the conclusion of that war between the final evil forces of control (Law) in the universe and the default forces of good led by Kane (Wagner referred to it as "the epic struggle between Bad vs. Evil")! Since it was presented in the novelette, the novel would also have presumably given us a look at how Kane killed his "Creator". An author of murder who would dare bestow that gift upon the very gods themselves!

The subtle story arc that I have alluded to runs throughout the Kane Saga. It is about a man who perceives outside, imposed control on one's self to be the greatest crime. This man then sets out to seek a way to eliminate the forces that would control him, thus in effect, becoming a Lord of Chaos. In doing so, he would also free the universe of those forces and by association, the whole of mankind.

It is pure, unadulterated speculation on my part that Kane was built as a weapon by his "Creator" to be used against any uprising by the more militant of the rogue angels. And somehow these angels managed to co-opt Kane and enlist his help on their side, presumably by showing how his "Creator" was controlling every aspect of his life. Kane threw his lot in with the rebellion (RAVEN'S EYRIE practically states as much), even through the newly fallen angels were using him in much the same way as his god was. Eventually he recognized that their control was just as pervasive, and he fled on a spaceship to get away from all of the controlling influences and to decide what he wanted for himself. 

Kane eventually came to the realization that the only way he could be free of everyone's control would be to destroy the sources of that control. In the process of freeing himself he would sever the human race's connection to the gods and free them to be the masters of their own destiny, for good or evil.

Kane's time on prehistoric Earth showed him honing his skills for an attempt to free himself if and when the time came. He was actively looking for a way of striking back at the forces that created him. 

While we are never made privy to the details, it appears that Kane was successful in his attempt to destroy his "Creator". What is really astounding is that he not only managed to kill god, but that he also totally removed the inimical forces of Good from the universe. In all fairness, the minions of the Demonlord probably destroyed their share.

Kane must have realized fairly quickly that his destruction of the forces of good would have dire consequences for mankind, so he refocused his sights on the only other forces left, those of Evil. While the stories give no clue as to whether he was successful, I'm betting that anyone who could kill God could destroy Satan and his forces. He freed mankind from the dictates of the hostile forces that surrounded him. 

That is why I believe Karl Edward Wagner referred to the immortal Kane as the Black Prometheus. His gift wasn't fire, but freedom. Real freedom.

Reflections of a Midnight Sun essay Copyright 2001-2012 by Dale E Rippke
All rights reserved


  1. Thanks for writing this, Dale, I found it very interesting and I think your analysis is spot on.

  2. Hi Dale, i keep returning to this site and rereading about Kane every few years since i discovered Bloodstone when i was in high school. After thinking about how awesome it would have been to read the story that could have been developed through In the Wake of the night, i think what a tragedy Wagner didn't survive to write these stories of Kane's genesis. but then again maybe Wagner's passing leaves all his fans wondering in speculation,a bit like Kethrid's last voyage, when Dribeck mentions in Bloodstone, its a tragedy the full tale has never been told, to which Kane asserts " he lived for the poetry of the mysterious"