Mortal Engines Quartet
Original cover designs for the Mortal Engines Quartet
|Cover artist||David Frankland, David Wyatt|
|Media type||Print (hardback and paperback)|
The Mortal Engines Quartet is a tetralogy consisting of four novels written by the British author Philip Reeve: Mortal Engines (2001), Predator's Gold (2003), Infernal Devices (2005), and A Darkling Plain (2006). It has also been referred to as the Predator Cities Quartet or the Hungry City Chronicles, although the author has objected to those names.
The series is set in a distant future, known as the Traction Era, in which Earth has been reduced to wasteland by a devastating conflict, known as the Sixty Minute War. Nations no longer exist, except in the lands of the Anti-Traction League; whereas Traction Cities – mobile cities mounted on caterpillar tracks – are fiercely independent city-states, which use giant mechanical jaws to dismantle one another for resources. Trade is mostly accomplished by airship, or between mobile cities of roughly equal size (unable to devour each other). Old-Tech (technology from before the Traction Era, some from the 21st century) is the most sought-after commodity.
- The Great Hunting Ground – Consists of Europe and Northern Asia, and is the domain of the Traction Cities. It is a muddy wasteland, in which the constant movement of the cities has destroyed all vegetation. The land is identified by city-dwellers as the "Out-Country".
- The Ice Wastes – New name for the Arctic, wherein Traction Cities use iron runners to skate across the ice. In some places, the ice is thin, and they risk falling in the ocean.
- Africa – Africa is split between the Sahara Desert, governed by Traction Cities, and the southern regions, run by Anti-Tractionists. Areas of the southern continent include the static cities of Zagwa and Tibetsi, and the highland area known as the Mountains of the Moon.
- The Dead Continent – North America, supposedly reduced to an irradiated wasteland by the Sixty Minute War. In Predator's Gold, it is proven not to be completely dead; in the north there are forests with some animals which survived the Sixty Minute War.
- Asia – The stronghold of the Anti-Traction League. Eastern China is evidently irradiated by the War, and the Himalayas are now the centre of civilization, where the mountains make it impossible for cities to approach.
- Nuevo Maya – New name for South America, severed from North America when "slow bombs" destroyed Central America during the War. Static settlements rule the Andes, but the lowlands are filled with ziggurat Traction Cities. Protagonists Tom and Hester visit Nuevo Maya between the first two books, but it is never visited in the text. Philip Reeve has said that he will explore Nuevo Maya in more detail in the future.
- Antarctica – Mentioned only once, and evidently the domain of oil-drilling Traction Cities. Tom and Hester visit Antarctica between the first two books, but it is never visited in the text.
- Australia Though not mentioned in the original series or Fever Crumb, Philip Reeve says that he will explore places like Australia and Nuevo Maya in the future, as he never had a chance to do so in the original quartet.
- Anchorage-in-Vineland – The static and stable version of the Traction City of Anchorage, that had decided to stop wandering the Arctic wastes and settle in the green and unspoilt land of Vineland (in North America). When Anchorage was a Traction City, it was not predatory but gained its wealth by trading with other cities, under more scrupulous leaders.
The Orbital Defence Initiative (abbreviated ODIN) is an orbital satellite weapon; a very powerful remnant of the Sixty Minute War and a major feature of the third and fourth books in the series: Infernal Devices and A Darkling Plain. It was built as part of the arms race between the American Empire and Greater China. It and MEDUSA are the only superweapons known to have survived until the events of the series, although there are several references to other orbital superweapons (Diamond Bat, Jinju 14, and the Nine Sisters, for example). ODIN is more powerful than MEDUSA and is able to hit almost any target on the surface of the earth. ODIN is implied to be an American satellite, as the code for controlling the satellite comes off an American submarine. The other orbital weapons are hinted to have broken up over time and fallen from the sky.
ODIN is an energy weapon which converts a small nuclear bomb into a directed incinerating beam (a weapon concept similar to the Strategic Defense Initiative's Project Excalibur). This has the power to exterminate cities (both traction and static) and provoke volcanic eruptions. Its beam can be seen for very long distances and seems to interfere with the mechanical minds of Stalkers. Only Shrike's Old-Tech Stalker brain has the mettle to withstand this, although he goes into a fit-like state and it is hinted he is saved by Dr Oenone Zero. Anna Fang is unaffected. Other Stalkers lose all power.
The Tin Book, copied from a US Military document recovered by the refugees of the original Anchorage from a submarine, is a codebook for controlling ODIN. It is stolen by the Lost Boys and, later, Brighton. It then falls into the hands of the Stalker Fang, who memorises its contents and then leaves it to be destroyed on Cloud 9. It is then destroyed in a fire; when Fang is rebuilt by Fishcake, her Stalker alter-ego travels towards Batmunkh Gompa to steal parts for a transmitter with the power to reach ODIN, and then travels on Anna Fang's residence, where there is enough Old-Tech to finish the transmitter. The journey is delayed by Anna Fang's confused and caring personality. At Batmunkh Gompa the Stalker takes control until the final scene.
When ODIN is fired, confusion ensues as both the Green Storm and Traction Cities are targeted. Both sides try to find the transmitter, leading to the Storm's assault of London, but it is Tom, Hester, Shrike and Pennyroyal who find Fang. As Fang prepares to target all the volcanoes on the earth and so destroy humanity, a final confrontation from Tom brings Anna to the fore once more and she orders ODIN to turn its beam weapon upon itself, destroying it completely.
As well as its immensely powerful weaponry, ODIN appears to show signs of intelligence. When it is awakened, it queries its new position and briefly searches for its old masters, and notes the vast difference in geography since its last awakening. It can also zoom in to an individual's face on the Earth and, although the picture is grainy, it is still impressive. It can change its orbit when directed to target all over the globe. This, as well as the Stalker minds found among Old-Tech (and Shrike) seems to prove that robots had, by the time of the Sixty Minute War, achieved sentience.
The Fever Crumb Series, although released after the Mortal Engines Quartet, takes place centuries or millennia before the events depicted in the Quartet. The main character is Fever Crumb, a London Engineer who is partially descended from the Scriven, a mutant race of humans. The series also introduced the character Shrike, revealing his origins before he became a Stalker.
The Fever Crumb series also visits many of the locations not depicted in the Mortal Engines Quartet.
A few of the people in the books are named after places in Devon, where Reeve lives, including Chudleigh, Tamerton Foliot and the River Plym. In the quartet, Miss Plym and Chudleigh Pomeroy are both in the Guild of Historians, and Tamarton Foliot is an "Alternative" historian. Both Shrike and Smew are named after birds, and Pennyroyal is named after a flower.
Friends of Phillip Reeve are also occasionally mentioned in the books; for instance 'Poskitt' is included as a god, clearly referring to Kjartan Poskitt, a friend and the author of books that Reeve has illustrated in the past.
Some Traction Cities bear present-day names, but some, such as Airhaven and Motorpolis, are invented. All Traction Cities consist of several 'tiers' fixed to a huge hull containing engine rooms, storage hangars, and a large 'gut' where captured towns are dismantled. At the sides are enormous tracks or wheels; and huge hydraulic 'jaws' at the bows to capture smaller towns. Various names are given below:
- Jenny Haniver – a dried-out skate or ray resembling a demon (this ship is later renamed the Arctic Roll)
- 13th Floor Elevator – from the band of similar name
- Invisible Worm – a reference to William Blake's poem, The Sick Rose
- Aerymouse – archaic name for a bat
- Idiot Wind – a Bob Dylan song on the album Blood on the Tracks
- My Shirona – from the hit single by The Knack
- Mokele Mbembe – a cryptozoological creature of the Congo Basin
- Garden Aeroplane Trap – a surrealist painting by Max Ernst
- Zainab – several women in Islamic history
- Group Captain Mandrake – One of the main characters in the film Dr. Strangelove
- Clear Air Turbulence – also the name of a 1976 album by Ian Gillan and a ship in Consider Phlebas
- Temporary Blip
- Plum Blossom Spring
- Die Leiden des Jungen Werther
- Shadow Aspect
- Protecting Veil
- Hungry Ghost
- Combat Wombat
In 2009, Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, expressed interest in directing the film adaptations. As it is early in production, not much is known of it. Currently WETA is said to be working on the designs for the first book. It is rumoured that they've been sitting on the rights for some time. There have been previous attempts to adapt Mortal Engines, but Philip Reeve declined the offers, as he was afraid that they would change the book too much. In October 2016, it was announced that Jackson will produce the film and second unit director Christian Rivers will direct. Production is to begin the first quarter of 2017 for a December 2018 release.
Philip Reeve has also mentioned the possibility of a comic set in the world of Mortal Engines. He said that he has been discussing it with David Wyatt and mentioned that a younger Anna Fang would be an interesting character to focus on. However, it is unknown whether it will be finished or not.
- Baker, Deirdre (4 August 2012). "More, What Came from the Stars, Summer of the Gypsy Moths, Mortal Engines, The Girl With Borrowed Wings: mini reviews". Toronto Star. Toronto, Ontario. Retrieved 9 August 2012.
- Reeve, Philip (27 May 2012). "Mortal Engines: New Look, New Series Title.". The Curious World of Philip Reeve. Retrieved 9 August 2012.
- "The Mortal Engines Quartet…". Philip-Reeve.com. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
- Jones, Rhys. "An Interview with Philip Reeve". thirstforFiction.com. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
- Winnings, Josh (23 December 2009). "Jackson to adapt Mortal Engines". TotalFilm.com. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
- Kroll, Justin (24 October 2016). "Peter Jackson and ‘Lord of the Rings’ Team Set Next Project With Universal and MRC". Variety.com. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
- Official website
- Orbital Trash – a short story written by Reeve and published in small press magazine RQC in 1996 shows several concepts and ideas which later resurfaced in the Quartet
- Urbivore – a short story written by Reeve in the 1990s, which – along with the above – became the basis for the Quartet
- Artwork by Julia Zhuravleva