THE HORDE OF THE COUNTERWIND is a cult epic-length French science fiction novel published in 2004, written by Alain Damasio.
The novel combines elements of science fiction, fantasy, and philosophy to recount a mythic journey by a « horde » of absolutely dedicated members to find the ultimate origin point of the devastating winds that traverse their planet, making it almost completely uninhabitable, to understand and perhaps even to put an end to the deadly Wind that makes life so rare and difficult to maintain and to endure.
There are twenty-three members of the horde, trained from early childhood to participate in the sacred quest for the Absolute, of nature unknown, perhaps in the form of the Absolute Wind, from which all other winds derive.They have committed their life to this attempt which is both mystical and intensely physical, as they confront destructive winds of ever greater intensity. There are nine types or degrees of wind in their culture’s anemology (the study of winds), of which only six have been encountered at the opening of the story.
We can conjecture that the horde will encounter on their journey all nine winds, ascending in intensity to include the three unknown winds, and perhaps a further wind the tenth or perhaps zeroth Absolute Wind or as close as any human can get. Undoubtedly many of the horde will die, but someone, the equivalent of Ishmael in MOBY-DICK, will survive to tell the tale, or at least leave us their manuscript.
There are twenty-three members of the horde, each with a precise function, having committed their lives to struggling upwind, moving against or counter to the wind. They are like warrior-monks, but their war is against the wind. There have been thirty-three previous hordes over a timespan of eight centuries, this one is meant to be the one that succeeds, the last and ultimate horde.
From the back cover:
« A sandblasted Land, in its centre a band 5,000 kilometers across surrounded on both sides by almost unscratchable ice, totally uninhabited. A fierce wind scrapes the surface. The villages clinging to it, with their teardrop-shaped houses, the wind-chariots that plough it, the wind-combers standing upright in full blast, all resist. It was in the Extreme Downstream that an élite block was formed, composed of twenty-some children able to stagger step-by-step upstream, taking the brutal wind head-on, their whole life, to make it to the still undiscovered source: the Extreme Upstream » (my translation).
Think DUNE, only a thousand times worse: a stark planet whose population is reduced to living on a narrow band of barely inhabitable band of desert surrounded by ice and traversed constantly by deadly winds of varying intensity, and the demented quest of a select few to journey upwind all their life to find the wind’s secret or die trying.
Think also ANATHEM in the sense that the characters are real flesh-and-blood human beings that also have a conceptual dimension. The world of THE HORDE OF THE COUNTERWIND is like Arbre, the world of ANATHEM in that both are one step up from Earth on the Platonic ladder that ascends towards the Ideas, but still far down enough to be populated by real-seeming people, with distinct character traits and relatable personalities.
The book has a trailer:
THE HORDE OF THE COUNTERWIND is a major work of philosophically informed contemporary sf that is situated more towards the Speculative Fiction end of the spectrum. It is very much inspired by the ideas of Gilles Deleuze and Friedrich Nietzsche. It contains impressive world-building stimulating ideas and contemporary relevance. It is told from the points of view of a wide array of emotionally engaging characters, and the story holds us captive from beginning to end.
Unfortunately, despite all these features the novel has not been published in English translation, despite the fact that there exists a translation, by Alexander Dickow, who has made the first chapter available, here:
THE HORDE OF COUNTERWIND — The French Publishers’ Agency (frenchrights.com)
To make up for this lacuna I shall be live-blogging my reading of the novel.