Wednesday 28 August 2013

Guest Post | "Giants, Gods and Deep Time" by A. J. Smith

I had my problems with The Black Guard — see Monday's review for more on those — but at its best it struck me as the beginning of an "ambitious, engrossing and positively action-packed" fantasy saga reminiscent of the work of Brent Weeks and Brandon Sanderson.

What I didn't get to talk about in the review I wrote, because I'm careful not to give too much of any tale away, was how very different the latter part of the inaugural volume of The Long War is from the former. I rather not get into it here either, but suffice it to say the sinister subjects of the guest post below are indicative of what so sets The Black Guard apart.

Here, then, is the owner of 24 goblins — evidently one too many — on "Giants, Gods and Deep Time."


Geological time is a mind-numbingly difficult thing to understand; the time scale in which tectonic plates move, mountains rise, coastlines erode and continents form. Alternatively called deep time, it’s a scale measured in millennia, ages, strata and other things I struggle to comprehend. 

In our own world it’s the province of the hardcore geologist. In a fantasy world it’s the province of a writer obsessed with myth and legend, for anything can happen in the endless obscurity of deep time. Cultures and entire civilisations could have had their moment in the sun and died out. Unknowable beasts and monsters could have been dominant and then non-existent. With no scientific tools or sophisticated dating techniques, you are left only with legend and this, my dear readers, is what I do comprehend. 

What whispers yet remain? What corners of the world still harbour remnants of a bygone age? What can the endless past teach the present in the blink of an eye it occupies? The events I write about take place as a mere cough in deep time, a momentary point where vast forces converge. The protagonists may feel differently, they may think they are at some kind of nexus point where their actions do have meaning. To know and understand the reality – that individual endeavour means nothing in the grand scheme of things – is too nihilistic a concept for most fantasy heroes to accept. 

The few beings that bridge the gap – Giants in my world – are as unknowable as the timescale they occupy. And yet their influence and motivations echo throughout time. They guide actions, start and end wars, reach across boundless millennia to twist the short-lived protagonists into their own schemes. For this reason the Giants are seen as gods, when, in fact, they are merely older, wiser and more alien than the beings that worship them. The Giants don’t care about kings, countries and politics – it’s doubtful they even understand them – they have lived in and beyond the world since before these concepts emerged, since before humans appeared, since before the continents moved into their current positions. Why should they care about a few sentient apes that choose to build temples and invoke their names? 

Put simply: they care because they are playing their own game, fighting their own war with their own rules and their own conditions of victory. The Giants and their chief servants call it The Long War, the Dokkalfar call it The Slow Pain. The humans have no name for it and huddle in the shadow of their gods, hoping that they matter, all the time oblivious to the dance of birth and extinction that they are a part of. When you have a life-expectancy of seventy or eighty years (hopefully without accident or injury hastening the inevitable), you can’t be expected to grasp the infinite or appreciate your own insignificance; you look at the world around you – the towns, cities, churches, structures – both social and literal – and you hope that they matter, all the time fearing that they might not. 

And the ultimate curse of deep time? The war can never be won, for geological time never stops, never stands still, has no mercy or personality and exists only as a force of change. It’s scary, humbling, nihilistic, but, in my opinion, deeply fascinating. Civilizations, seemingly as strong as mountains, will eventually crumble to dust. Others will be built on their ruins, using the legends of a bygone age to structure their own society, until, once again, the inevitable roll of the ages crushes them.


Many thanks, A. J., for what must be the most epic guest post I've had to pleasure to publish here on TSS.

Now I don't believe he blogs — you what?! — but for more information, you can find A. J. Smith on Twitter, and he's a user of Goodreads too.

Now then: has anyone read The Black Guard yet? Share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. There are few writers that make you *feel* deep chasms of time. Even Erikson, with some people thousands of years old, doesn't always convey that effectively as he might.

  2. The picture from Skyrim made me laugh. Fewer tentacles than some of my "giants".

  3. Niall, can you PM me your email? Been trying to reach you via Twitter PM.