Invasion was the big bomb dropping, setting up the world and the event that changed everything as we knew it. World Divided is not just picking up the pieces, but all the standard expectations for how much our species can suck in a dystopia. The Secret World Chronicle isn’t really a dystopian series, but you can’t help finding similarities when the attack took out a number of governmental centers. National still seems to be functioning, but the individual neighborhoods are now being run by all sorts of groups, ranging from democratic organizations to crime lords, and everything in between.
Probably the most important difference between an invasion and an apocalypse is that the latter is generally a one-time event. The former keeps going until one side wins, one side is destroyed, or the invaders give up and go home. At the moment, the lattermost seems unlikely, probably because, up until the end of World Divided, our heroes can only react, instead of acting offensively. They haven’t hurt the Thulians enough yet, for them to even dream of calling off the invasion.
I should also mention that this time, the book is written by Mercedes Lackey with Cody Martin, Dennis Lee, and Veronica Giguere. I don’t recall seeing an explanation about the change in contributing authors, but from my own experience I can tell you that players pass in and out of a roleplaying group all the time. Sometimes they leave because of other, Real Life concerns which take precedence over any game. Other times they lose interest and move on to different things. If the group is good and interesting, there will always be more people who want to join in.
That’s really what fan fiction is too, save that instead of it being a more original setting, it’s the fans who really want to have a chance to play in the world they’ve fallen in love with. Not necessarily with the author’s characters, but definitely in some of the same settings. I won’t knock it, seeing as how there are so many anthologies that have been legitimately published. Lackey’s Valdemar is a great example of this – all those anthologies are filled with people who’ve gotten a chance to make their fan fiction canon. In fact, I’m pretty sure that some of those stories sprang out of roleplays, in particular the set by Kate Paulk and Sarah A. Hoyt featuring Jem and Ree out in the remains of the Eastern Empire. In that case, you have two authors, two main characters (one for each), set in an area that is relatively isolated from most of the Valdemar storyline. The first couple stories with Jem and Ree were by both authors, but then they started writing separately, yet still telling a cohesive narrative progressing the two characters to their logical endpoint. It took five anthologies to get there, but they did it.
Regardless, World Divided shares themes with a number of other Lackey books, including one that I find particularly worthwhile. This is the idea of overcoming one’s fears, one’s past, and one’s injuries. We have a lot of traumatized and injured people in these books; and most of their problems are from before the invasion. Now that so many of their fellows have been killed by the Thulians, they have to step up and try to become fully functioning human beings again. They suffer from anxiety, from PTSD, from panic attacks, from scars, from survivor’s guilt…the whole gamut. And they will all have to face their fears and inadequacies and overcome them. It’s a powerful message, though I can’t help wondering if maybe Lackey’s hitting it a little too hard, given how many characters this encompasses. This may be a factor of the roleplay origination – everyone likes to torment their characters. A character with no problems is boring, and they go around with all their interactions being “meet and greets” where nothing of substance happens. Still, there can be too much of a good thing, and you have to be careful not to overdo it.
Up next is Revolution, book three, in which things ramp up. I think the thing which makes the least sense to me here is the bit with the charter. I’m trying to understand why the founders of Echo went to such insane lengths to keep its contents secret. I do understand that Echo is the premier metahuman organization on the planet, and as such is likely to have enemies. But one would think that important procedures, such as the naming of a new CEO, should be slightly more accessible? Or would that have simply allowed Dominic Verdigris III, supervillain extraordinaire, to find a more permanent way to subvert Echo and take control?
Whatever, not important. As I said, the stakes go up in book three, and several characters die. Apparently, according to the note before the title page, two of the deaths in here were auctioned off for charity. They were suitably heroic and crazy, one of which belonged to a meta with a fascinating superpower. His callsign is Paperback Rider, and he always always always has a book in his hands. As he reads, the words disappear off the page and reappear on his body. Any powers, skills, or knowledge within that text are his for as long as those words are scrolling over his flesh. Once they’re gone though, they’re gone. He can’t use a book twice. As a compulsive rereader, I think that’s the saddest part of his powers.
We also get a brief analysis of metahuman powers midway through Revolution. It discusses how the first metahumans, back in WWII, triggered in pairs, one on each side of the conflict, and how they’d face each other like gladiators while the armies fought separately. Also that the first metas tended to have only one power. Then, in the sixties, metas began triggering individually. Also they could have a secondary ability. This leads up to the present, where metas may have multiple abilities that combine in strange new ways. Not to mention that they seem to get stronger with practice, or develop new skills. Also, the child of two metas is always a meta.
If I were in this world, I would want to look at stats on meta percentages amongst humans, because it seems like they are popping up far more frequently in the books’ present than in the past. Yes, triggering seems to generally be the result of stress, danger, or life-or-death situations, and the invasion certainly qualifies. But, even acknowledging that metas are far more likely to survive an apocalypse than normal humans, it seems as if a far higher percentage of the population are metahumans now. Kind of like one of those curves in math that never actually ends, just keeps going up and up and up. Would there come a point where every single human is a metahuman? Is it possible that this is someone’s end goal? Invasion seemed to imply that the first metahumans, on the German side, were artificially created or triggered. So where do metas actually come from…and why?
I’m not entirely certain why I’m questioning the underlying base of the Secret World Chronicle. It just seems to me that it’s a question the characters should be asking themselves. Oh sure, they themselves benefit by being metahumans, but it just seems so sudden an origin; there should be a reason.
Marvel put out a comic called 1602, which was essentially the characters we know and love in Elizabethan times. An alternate history for the Marvel Universe. The characters concluded that something had slipped through the timestream, and was triggering the existence of these remarkable people in a world that had previously been much tamer. All of these things were traceable back to a single origin point. I have to wonder if Secret World Chronicle is the same, but only time will tell. Or not. Authors don’t always answer the big questions. There almost certainly is an answer somewhere, but it may not be for me to know.