"It is the Spring of the World. The Great Ice has retreated, leaving verdant fields and fledgling new civilizations. It is a time of wild and terrifying magic, wondrous opportunity, and great danger."
That's the pitch for The Eternity Quartet, a cycle of fantasy stories set in an original world by renowned worldbuilder Ed Greenwood and elder internet sage Robert B. Marks. Their latest work, and first collaboration, charts an epic scope through standalone stories: A fantasy world from one Ice Age to the next. They're exploring millennia of history through vignettes of story, and stretching their storytelling prowess as they do it. "Ed Greenwood and I have been trying to work together for about a dozen years, and this seemed a perfect project to bring him in on," said Marks in a joint interview with co-author Ed Greenwood and The Escapist. The two are tag-teaming the stories, with each author serving as the other's editor.
So who's responsible for the epic's generation and development? "I got the idea for the Eternity Quartet after watching Cloud Atlas a few months after reading the Bible cover-to-cover," said Marks. Last October he got in touch with Greenwood and the work began. At this point, though, when you talk to the two it's clear that their work has been intertwined now - the stories are a product of two minds. When you ask them the same questions, the answers are remarkably similar - they want to talk about human nature, about cycles of behavior we engage in, and they want to base their ideas on what people really do and have done. Marks said that his interests lie in "the cycle of fall and redemption" and "emphasizing how people change over time."
Greenwood, meanwhile, charts a similar course for his work in the Quartet. "People are generally self-serving," he said, "but there are always new ideas, new possibilities, and individuals passionate about exploring them - even when they know they're going to crash into the establishment, the old ways, and the accepted social norms." However, working in such short formats while still telling a connected story forced some constraints on the authors. "Plot needs for such short tales dictate what I need the characters to do, but the plots are born out of character traits - like being stubborn, or hunger for power," said Greenwood.
That's not to say there's too much planning and not enough inventiveness in the stories, though. Marks gave the example of his story Of Wizards and Watchers, due to release this April. He explained that the story "Explores just how something like [The Lord of the Rings'] Watcher in the Water ends up appearing. So, you've got these two idiots who tried to make a security system that has gone horribly, (and hopefully) hilariously wrong." For that story, though, his character came from his original conception as a harried bureaucrat, but after a line in Greenwood's story An Evil Wind the character took a left turn, "turning out to be quite an arrogant jerk."
It's an interesting cross-pollination that you can see as your read the stories so far released. From Seizing the Torch you can see the genesis of the ice age ideas become reality, with tribes rediscovering basic techniques lost during the long lull of civilization that the cold brought on. In the second released story, An Evil Wind, you can see where Greenwood has moved forward in time from the rekindling of civilization that Marks depicts - running with the same themes but innovating in a different voice and tone.
So far, the stories show quite a bit of promise. They have a clever verve, carefree attitude, and easy tone that mimics both legend, myth, and common fantasy parlance. It's also clear that this is Marks and Greenwood working outside their traditional scope - an obvious passion project they both enjoy, and a world where they're beholden to nobody's whims but their own. I'm definitely interested in continuing to read them, especially as Marks promises we'll see the next ice age bring it all crashing down again - in his own words: "The ancient world come to an end, a modern world emerge, and it will all end in ice."
If you'd like to learn more about the stories as they release, you can find information at the Legacy Books Press page on The Eternity Quartet.