Guest Post: Geography and War In Battle for the Wastelands

22 Jan

Geography and War In Battle for the Wastelands

By Matthew W. Quinn

One major influence on human culture and warfare is geography. Great Britain’s tradition of having a large navy without a large army — and thus a stronger history of constitutional government instead of military strongmen — emerged from being an island difficult to invade from mainland Europe. Meanwhile, the Eurasian steppes, too dry for farming but perfect for livestock, allowed for the rise of the great pastoral cultures like the Scythians, Huns, and Mongols. Like real life, geography plays a major role in the cultures and the events of my new novel Battle for the Wastelands.

Battle takes place in the Northlands, a realm bounded by “the mountains and the deserts and the sea.” To the north rises massive mountain ranges that nobody has ever crossed, or at least crossed and returned. The east and west are bounded by large oceans, while to the south is the vast and terrifying Iron Desert. Although the trading city-state of Everett lies off the western coast and there is intermittent contact with civilizations south of the desert, the Everetti are very good at keeping their secrets and the desert is extraordinarily difficult to cross. This makes the goods brought across by nomadic traders even more expensive and thus fascinating, an effect much like the goods of China brought at great expense along the Silk Road had on medieval Europe. And so the realms south of the Iron Desert are a deeply interesting target for the coalition of warlords commanded by the military dictator Grendel, who has united the Northlands and is now finding his men increasingly difficult to manage without an outside enemy to command them against.

Grendel rules the Northlands from the Basin, a vast region ringed by mountains. The closest real-world analogue to the Basin is the Sichuan Basin in central China. Like Sichuan, the Basin is both a rich region due to farming and industrial cities like Grendel’s capital of Norridge and, owing to its mountainous frontiers, eminently defensible against outside assault. It was the conquest of the Sichuan region by the Qin state in ancient China that played a major role in their defeat of the rival Chu state, which helped transform the Qin family from a regional power to the founders of the first truly imperial Chinese dynasty. Like the Qin and Sichuan, Grendel is not native to the Basin — he hails from Sejera, a coastal region to the west — and it is the joining of this new realm to his original one much like the Qin conquest of Sichuan that makes him a fearsome power decades before Battle begins.

One noted feature of the Basin is the enormous gap in the mountains known as the Pass, much like the Hangu Pass that the Qin fortified and used to check an assault by a coalition of rival Chinese states alarmed at their growing power. Owing to Grendel’s domination of the Basin and the weakness of rivals to its south, this has been an avenue of armies launched against others, but in the event of a reverse this would be a formidable defense, much like the Black Gate of Mordor.

One conquered region south of the Pass was ruled by the Merrill family, which took control in the distant past when a civilization much like ours came to a sudden and unpleasant end. The Merrills ruled along the Grand River, which begins in the mountains ringing the Basin and rolls eastward toward the ocean. The region southeast of the Pass ruled by the Merrills is wide open country and the Merrills, like the ancient steppe peoples, were noted for their cavalry. Although the machine guns and especially the dirigibles of Grendel’s armies broke the Merrills in the open, it is the mobility of the survivors that allowed them to survive and fight years after the fall of the Merrill capital of Jacinto when Battle begins. Though cavalry charges no longer have their old potency in an age of machine guns, the Merrill horsemanship allows virtually their entire army to function as dragoons, moving rapidly on horseback but dismounting to fight. And although aerial reconnaissance and attack make the Merrill remnants less effective, the high plans and badlands where the Grand River valley bleeds into the Iron Desert provide a base for harrying their foes much like a similar environment in West Texas gave the Comanche Nation.

And geography plays a major role in the functioning of the Flesh-Eating Legion, Grendel’s local help in subduing the Grand River valley and main villains of Battle. The Flesh-Eaters hail from the mountainous country northeast of the Merrill realm, a spur of the ranges ringing the Basin. Owing to their homeland’s nature, they are not known for their cavalry, much like how southern Greece where the major classical city-states arose was not known for its cavalry either. Instead the Flesh-Eaters rely on infantry, infantry infamous for their practice of ritualized cannibalism. This too has its origins in geography — mountainous country is not great for farming. In times of want – and the dark years after the collapse of civilization certainly count – the ability of the natives of the region to trade their coal and minerals for food became greatly restricted. So it was that the ancestors of the Flesh-Eaters took up cannibalism and created a faith that made a virtue out of necessity. This faith, ultimately another function of geography, drives their armies to battle and makes them fearsome opponents for Merrill chieftain Alonzo Merrill and Battle protagonist Andrew Sutter, a soldier in his army.

-Matthew W. Quinn is a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror based in Atlanta, GA, USA. Battle for the Wastelands is his first independent novel; his horror tale The Thing in the Woods and horror-comedy Little People, Big Guns are through small presses.

2 Responses to “Guest Post: Geography and War In Battle for the Wastelands”

  1. PhilippeO January 23, 2020 at 4:15 am #

    These sound awfully predetermined, especially in Airship Age. There should be human and time character of geography. Qin could conquer Sichuan because Basin has a pass and Qin had knowledge to take it. Flying technology negate advantage of desert and grassland. Firearm render “good warrior” culture ineffective. etc. Human manipulation (bridge, fort), technology (airship, horse breeding), and organizations (Empire, courier service, Ideology) affect and change geography. Its not one way determination.

    • Matthew W. Quinn January 23, 2020 at 11:39 pm #

      Thank you for your comment. I haven’t worked out all the timelines (especially just how long it’s been since the apocalypse, although blacktop roads have crumbled and had to be repaired with crushed stone), but the vibe I’m getting is that airships are a relatively new and expensive thing. Grendel and his chief lieutenants each have their own personal war-dirigibles, for example, and those represent a significant expenditure of resources and quite a lot of killing power when deployed.

      And it’s the en masse deployment of flying technology that breaks the Merrills, whose military culture was based on what SM Stirling describes in one of his Black Chamber books, “When the vaquero was lord.” Dirigibles are something the Merrill remnants find absolutely *terrifying,* and with good reason.

      That said, although technology trumps pure physical geography in many ways, there are limitations. The Pass (and lesser, smaller passes that made Grendel’s entry into the Basin from the northwest possible in the first place–to use LOTR as an analogy, compare Cirith Ungol or Nargil Pass to the Black Gate) are important because getting whole armies over the Basin’s rim by dirigible would be an incredibly time-consuming, expensive, dangerous process. Think flying over the Hump from India to China during WWII.

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