Archive for the ‘Post-Apocalyptic’ Category

IMG_20200619_125120By James Herbert

The unthinkable has happened. World War Three has broken out and nuclear missiles have exploded over London. Millions are killed, and pilot Steve Culver might have been one of them, except he fortuitously crosses paths with man from the ministry Alex Dealey, who’s on his way to a government shelter and, along with fellow survivor Kate, they battle through the underground to some semblance of safety, but for the survivors there’s more to worry about than radioactive fallout. Humanity thought they’d vanquished the mutant black rats, but they were merely hiding. Now they sense humanity is vulnerable, and claw their way out of the dark to claim London as their domain!

Given I grew up in the shadow of the Cold War, and given my predilection as a teenager for both James Herbert novels and apocalyptic fiction, it’s perhaps no great surprise that this 1984 novel was a firm favourite from my very first read, and I’ve read it many times since (as you can no doubt tell from the photo) though not for years.

The final, and in my opinion best, Rats novel (though there is a 1993 graphic novel) this sees Herbert go all out by killing millions in the opening chapters, and his evocation of nuclear annihilation and a ruined London is superbly done, playing on his usual trick of providing potted biographies for characters, just enough for us to empathise with them before killing them off. There’ll be rat related deaths aplenty later, but early doors the main causes of death aren’t teeth, it’s heat and the shockwaves burning up bodies and demolishing buildings.

He shifts to a second act focusing on the emotional impact of survival. Those in the shelter may be safe, but they’re still traumatised. Suicide is prevalent, and so is the risk of mutiny. Some don’t see why Dealey should be in charge just because he held a position of minor authority before the world ended.

There’s a grim recon mission to the surface featuring a wince inducing encounter with a rabid dog, but soon the survivors are faced with a triple whammy of threats; insurrection, flooding and rats!

This is a high concept novel. Bringing back the rats after a dull second outing and partnering them up with nuclear war, a subject on everyone’s minds in the 1980s. Herbert is disparaging towards authority in this, and the fate that befalls the main government shelter suitably ironic, yet much like his hero, he can’t quite bring himself to choose a side. Culver’s a standard Herbert stand-in; a loner in jeans and a leather jacket, a reluctant hero. A nonconformist who has little time for Dealey, yet seems equally sniffy about the potential mutineers. Dealey is a two-dimensional civil servant, a man who’s fallen back on bureaucracy because that’s all he has left. Herbert suggests Kate’s a strong female character, but really she’s just a damsel in distress for Culver to rescue and fall in love with. It’s a shame Herbert dispenses with a far more interesting female character early on.

A product of its time, women don’t far well, and whilst nowhere near as bad as I’d expected, persons of colour aren’t portrayed too glowingly either, aside from Jackson, who Herbert feels the need to constantly remind us is black which seems to be his only defining character trait, but he isn’t alone here and many people in the vignettes are more fleshed out that some of the recurring characters!

From a great concept the book goes downhill in the final third There’s the fairly predictable apocalyptic trope of the outlaw gang, and by the time we get to the finale there are just too few characters left to make for a final bloodbath, and it has to be said, there’s only so many rat attacks you can read before they all blur into one, and several of the grim interludes Herbert peppers the book with are a trifle samey. That said some other (non-rat related) interludes are nicely done.

He also annoys me by having characters use automatic weapons that appear to carry a ludicrous number of bullets!

A product of it’s time, this is still a very enjoyable read and definitely one of Hebert’s better books. It’s a trifle long and some of the underground scenes, especially late on, drag, but still a damn fine example of 80s’ post-apocalyptic fiction, and still a heck of a concept.

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Directed by Tim Miller. Starring Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna.

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Daniella “Dani” Ramos (Reyes) is a young woman living in Mexico and working at a car assembly plant. She thinks of herself as an ordinary young woman, until a Rev-9 Terminator (Luna) travels back from the future to kill her. Luckily Dani is protected by Grace (Davis) another time traveller, this time human, sent back to protect her. Grace has been enhanced with technology, but she still struggles to fight off the Terminator, until Sarah Connor (Hamilton, duh) arrives to intervene.

Sarah has been living an aimless existence since a tragedy that befell her several decades before, but she has found meaning in destroying the Terminators Skynet despatched through time, receiving cryptic messages warning her when one is due to arrive.

Sarah and Grace form an uneasy alliance to protect Dani, but it may take more than the two of them to destroy the Rev-9, it may take the assistance of a T-800 (Arnie obviously) who Sarah has every reason to hate.

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It’s kinda scary to think we now have six Terminator films, especially considering T2 supposedly saved humanity from the Skynet dominated future, but then again if T2 didn’t really warrant a sequel, you could argue Terminator didn’t either, but a world without T2 doesn’t bear thinking about. It’s still hard to choose between them, in part because, much like Alien and Aliens, they’re vastly different films. What I think most everyone was sure about is that in terms of sequels it’s been a case of diminishing returns. T3 was a bland actioner partly redeemed by a heck of a twist at the end. Salvation was just terrible, committing the worst cinematic crime of being dull, and Genisys was an unholy mess, but at least it wasn’t boring.

The sheer potential of the franchise can’t be held back however, and has prompted another entry in the series. Cameron returning in a story and production capacity, and the hiring of Deadpool director Miller gave people hope that Dark Fate might be good.

I’ll be honest here, by ten minutes in I was seriously worried. The film’s opening is incredibly clunky, committing the cardinal sin of dropping us into the action rather than giving us time to get used to the characters. The Rev-9 is on Dani’s case within minutes, I appreciate it’s a more advanced model and all, but remember when Arnie had to go raid a gun shop and use the phone book to try and track Sarah Connor down?

But then Linda Hamilton turned up and things took an upward turn. The film settles down and things again shift in a positive direction. And then Arnie turns up and from here on it’s a roller coaster ride of a film, and an enjoyable one. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t in the same league as Terminator or T2, but it’s the third best film in the franchise by a country mile and that’s about the best we could have hoped for.

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The casting helps, and at the centre of it all is Hamilton. Much like Jamie Lee Curtis in the Halloween sequel of last year Hamilton returns to perhaps her greatest role, and she’s a hoot. Grouchy, world weary, damaged yet strong …this might be my favourite of her Sarah Connor performance, Terminator Sarah was a touch too simpering, T2 Sarah too fanatical. Hamilton has fun, and yet again demonstrates why it’s a crime she hasn’t had more success as an actor than she’s had.

I’ve yet to see Mackenzie Davis give a poor performance in anything, and she’s great as Grace, driven and stubborn and desperate to protect Dani at all costs and she has great dynamics with both Hamilton and Reyes and she always convinces as a battle hardened warrior.

Reyes does a good job as the initially innocent Dani, and never seems overawed by the talent surrounding her.

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Luna does a decent job as the all new Terminator, appearing threatening or friendly as his mission dictates. I’m still not entirely sure about the solid endoskeleton and liquid metal exoskeleton, and it seems like just a case of “What can we do different Terminator wise?” but it does make for some fun scenes, allowing a single Terminator to double team his opponents as required.

And then there’s Arnie.

imagesHis inclusion in this film is preposterous, but I don’t care because he’s great, he’ll never be the greatest actor in the world, but he has presence and comic timing many better actors would kill for. It’s hard to imagine the film without him and he gets many of the funniest lines, yet at the same time he never overshadows the female triumvirate at the heart of the film.

Plot wise the film undertakes some temporal contortions to contrive a new Terminator with a new target, but clearly a lot of work has gone into the story and for the most part it works. There’s one thing that happens early on that’s annoying—and I do hate the ‘kill a character off to make room for a new story’ trope, but it annoyed me less as I was swept up by the story. Kudos on the script front as well to the level of consistency, Grace’s enhancements take a toll on her body and she needs regular injections to counteract this, in a lesser film this would have been forgotten as the film progressed but not here.

The action scenes are frenetic and there’s obviously a lot of CGI. Maybe too many were showcased in the trailer, but this at least wasn’t the re-tread of T2 I was expecting it to be.

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Whether I genuinely enjoyed this in its own right, or merely because it was so refreshing to see a competent Terminator film again is something only repeat viewings will clarify, and calling it the third best Terminator film may be damning it with faint praise but it’s funny, action packed and features engaging characters, and maybe it’s just not possible to make something as good as we got in 1984 and 1992. It’s just a shame Dark Fate seems to have done poorly at the box office, so will we see another semi-reboot eventually? I hope not, either continue with this new timeline or, and here’s a radical idea, just accept the franchise is never going to hit the heights of 1992 again.

For the record my current rankings of the Terminator franchise go something like this…

  • Terminator/T2
  • The Sarah Connor Chronicles
  • Dark Fate
  • T3
  • Genisys
  • Salvation

Capture

Directed by Ruben Fleischer. Starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin.

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It’s ten years since the zombie outbreak, and ten years since a bunch of disparate survivors, Tallahassee (Harrelson) Columbus (Eisenberg) Wichita (Stone) and Little Rock (Breslin) came together as a messed up post-apocalyptic family. They’ve recently been holed up in the Whitehouse, but no longer a child, Little Rock is eager to meet other people and is tired of Tallahassee treating her like a kid. When Columbus proposes to Wichita, the sisters make their excuses and head back on the road, leaving Tallahassee and Columbus to decide, do they go on the road again themselves, and if they do, is it time to break up their partnership?

With the group divided, and a new breed of near indestructible super zombies on the rampage, life in Zombieland has never been so precarious!

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When Zombieland came out in 2009 it was a huge hit, and almost right away there was talk of a sequel. I don’t think anyone expected it would take ten years for a sequel to reach the screen, and given the success some of the cast have had in the intervening time (cough Emma Stone cough) I think the more time that passed the less likely a follow up seemed.

Yet here we are.

I enjoyed it, but I suspect it would have been a far better film if it’d arrived in 2011 rather than 2019.

The biggest flaw is that whilst ten years have passed, the characters (with one exception) haven’t changed. It’s like they’ve been preserved in amber. They dress the same, they act the same, they snipe at each other in exactly the same way…watching a film set in a zombie apocalypse requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but believing that people haven’t changed their look in ten years is pushing it. It’s like no one has grown or developed in any way, as an example Wichita and Columbus have been a couple for ten years, yet she chooses now to get cold feet and he jumps into bed with someone else almost immediately? It’s incredibly jarring.

Oddly the one character who has changed is Little Rock, if for no other reason than the fact that Breslin isn’t a child anymore, yet oddly she’s the one of the four least well served by the script, which doesn’t always seem to know how to use her, and so dumps her in a lazy romantic subplot that in the end goes nowhere.

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I suppose you can understand why they’ve kept the characters the same, and one of the films saving grace is the interplay between the characters, in particular Harrelson and Eisenberg, though Stone’s increasing frustration with the two men is a hoot as well. Eisenberg plays the geeky Columbus to a tee, but as before Harrelson seems to be having the most fun as Tallahassee.

This time he gets some romance with Rosario Dawson’s Nevada, who kicks some serious butt, and there’s amusement to be had from Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch as Albuquerque and Flagstaff, but the standout new character has to be Zoey Deutch as blonde bimbo Madison. Deutch’s comic timing and delivery is spot on and frankly she’s a hoot.

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While some set pieces fall a little flat, there’s still a lot of fun to be had—and please stay for the end credits, sadly the surprise was spoiled for me but trust me, it’s worth it—even if it does feel like a warmed over rehash of the first film. It doesn’t need to exist, and in truth it’s a trifle forgettable, but it’s enjoyable enough while you’re watching it.

Rule #74 Maybe don’t make Zombieland 3!

 

The Last

Posted: September 5, 2019 in Book reviews, Post-Apocalyptic
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by Hanna Jameson

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When World War 3 hits it takes everyone by surprise, not least the patrons of the remote L’Hotel Sixieme in Switzerland. As the bombs fall some leave, embarking on doomed attempts to try and get to a plane, to try and get home.

America historian Jon Keller decides to stay, despite the fact he has a wife and child home in America. Fearing they’re dead he decides to start a journal recounting the aftermath of the apocalypse. He is one of twenty or so survivors who remain at the hotel, a mix of staff and former guests, men, women and children from of varying nationalities.

With no news from the outside world, and with supplies finite, the group struggle to survive, but when the body of a small child is found in one of the rooftop water tanks, and it becomes apparent she was murdered just as the missiles began to fly, Jon begins an obsessive investigation to find out who killed her. Millions are dead but Jon’s desire for justice will see him risk his life to find her killer.

It has to be said, The Last has a killer hook, and the book design makes great use of it, from the stylised cover—reminiscent of the Grand Budapest Hotel I thought—to comparisons with Agatha Christie, but whilst enjoyable this does suffer from false advertising, and it also struggles in knowing what kind of book it wants to be.

Firstly, despite allusions to the contrary, this isn’t some post-apocalyptic ‘And Then There Were None’ with characters being bumped off every few chapters, and though technically a whodunnit really it functions better as a drama or thriller, and here’s it’s other flaw, Jameson’s concept is sky high, but she doesn’t seem quite sure where to take it, and after a while the search for a killer gives way to a struggle for survival, which is fine, anyone who knows me knows I love a good tale of post-apocalyptic survival, but I think if this had been better plotted it could have been something truly fantastic.

It seems churlish to complain because I liked it a lot. Jameson’s prose is good, and her narrator Jon Keller feels real, flawed and not always the nicest guy, and not always a reliable narrator either. Certainly, Jameson kept me turning pages and I was always eager to keep reading.

There are too many characters, and some get little more than a thumbnail sketch (in fact some get no screen time at all) and whilst some have interesting backstories, the profusion of characters was a little confusing at times (there’s a Nathan and Adam and a Rob but I had trouble telling them apart at times, and aside from Keller, the hotel concierge Dylan, and two women Tomi and Tania (those names really should have been better thought out) in many ways the hotel is one of the more notable characters; part Grand Budapest, part Overlook, and Jameson even tries to inject a supernatural element, though it’s oblique. Sometimes it feels there are a few too many ideas thrown at the wall here.

The final act is a bit of a let-down and veers away from what’s gone before, but I still really enjoyed it, would recommend it and will certainly consider reading Jameson again.

By Nick Clark Windo

s-l300In the near future, everyone is connected to the Feed, a near constant link to both the internet and everyone else’s thoughts and feelings. In this world Tom and Kate struggle to retain some sense of themselves, opting to go ‘slow’ on occasion by turning off the Feed. When a world-wide cataclysm hits however, everyone’s connection to the Feed is severed. In this new, harsh post-apocalyptic world Tom and Kate, plus their daughter Bea, struggle to survive, but even in a world of famine and disease, plagued by bandits, there is an even greater threat out there. Just why does everyone have to be watched as they sleep?

 If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know I love a good post-apocalyptic tale (hell I’ve written two post-apocalyptic novels, City of Caves and Darker Times) so this novel intrigued me when I spotted it in the book shop, and I just had to buy it.

It’s a curious read, and it would be harsh to say I didn’t enjoy it, and it certainly kept me hooked to the end, but by the same token I found it flickered between being really interesting, and incredibly mundane.

The central premise is fantastic, most of us today would struggle to survive without the trappings of technology, and Windo turns this up to 11 by envisaging a world even more reliant on the internet than ours, and then taking it away from them, and the notion of people having to learn things they never really knew, just accessed, is intriguing, but even more fascinating is the addition of a more insidious threat, and a curious invasion that was behind the collapse of civilisation. There’s also a killer twist at one point which certainly took me by surprise.

I think the trouble is that outside of the window dressing, Windo doesn’t quite know what story he wants to tell, and for too much of the page count what we’re left with is characters trudging from one location to another, camping out, feasting on berries, and talking, they do a lot of talking, which would be fine if it was always interesting, but too often the book’s just a bit turgid.

And whilst the setting is fantastic, this is a double-edged sword because it separates us from the characters. It’s like writing an opening chapter set in the Star Trek universe, then destroying the Federation, it’s hard to understand what people have lost when we can’t necessarily relate to it. Similarly it took me a while to realise the book is set in England (at least I’m pretty sure it’s England). I’m not sure whether muddying the waters as the location was a deliberate choice to appeal to as wide a market as possible, but again it serves only to distance the reader from the story. Similarly Tom, and especially Kate, seem little more than ciphers. The most interesting character, Sylene, who we meet later on is perhaps the most fully rounded person in the book.

Like I say, the premise and twist are worth the price of admission alone, and there’s a nice hint of something akin to Wool about the world, I just wish the story hadn’t been quite so bleak, and quite so meandering. You could have chopped 50/100 pages out and not really damaged the story.

Tentatively recommended.

8391123Edited by Mike Ashley

As regular readers of this blog may have worked out by now, I have a certain love of the post-apocalyptic genre. It’s not that I want the world to end, I just find the concept fascinating, so when I spotted this book, promising 24 tales of earth shattering cataclysm, well, how could I resist!

Ashley neatly splits the anthology into three sections, the first deals with the apocalypse itself, and its immediate aftermath, the second focuses on the medium term future, and the final, shortest section throws us thousands, even millions of years into the future, to a world beyond humanity.

I feel a little like a broken record here, but as I always say an anthology is something of a lucky dip, on the downside this means there will be stories you don’t like—and there were more than a few of those in here—but the flipside is there will always be some diamonds in the rough—and again there were plenty of those.

I won’t go through all 24 tales, but I’ll try and highlight the ones I enjoyed most, and mention some couple I really didn’t like at all.

The anthology begins with When We Went to See the End of the World by Robert Silverberg, it’s a fairly lightweight, amusing tale but when dealing with apocalypses it’s probably best to start small.

When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth by Cory Doctorow has a novel set of heroes who begin to rebuild society in the aftermath of a global bioweapon attack. Despite a certain level of nerdy wish fulfilment I enjoyed it.

The End of the World Show by David Barnett slips humour back into the equation, as the world faces an increasingly surreal end, and the last line’s just wonderful in context.

Fermi and Frost by Frederik Pohl is a grim, yet curiously hopeful portrayal of survival during nuclear, and is definitely one of the more realistic stories in the collection.

I’m a big fan of Alastair Reynolds, and his story, sleepover, is a humdinger, incredibly inventive it postulates a apocalypse like no other and he deftly keeps you guessing for some time as to what the nature of the cataclysm actually is. As with most great mysteries, you can argue the story falls apart once you know the secret, and there’s definitely an element of The Matrix about it, but still very enjoyable.

Now we move into the medium-term post-apocalyptic future.

I wasn’t keen on Moments of Inertia by William Barton. It’s tale of a rogue star went to some interesting places but took too damn long to get there and I couldn’t really empathise with any of the characters.

Pallbearer by Robert Reed was probably one of my favourite stories in the collection. Can’t say it was stunningly original, but I just loved the author’s voice as he describes a post pandemic world where evangelical Christians believe they’re the chosen survivors of God, but the truth might be very different. Really, I could have kept reading this story for the rest of the book.

And the Deep Blue Sea by Elizabeth Bear starts out like an old school Mad Max style story, with the heroine, a biker courier, racing across irradiated American to deliver a package, but it goes somewhere very unexpected. It ends rather abruptly but I’m willing to forgive the author.

A Pail of Air by Fritz Leiber is a story I’ve read before, many, many years ago in my teens. I’d found it really interesting back then, but sadly in hindsight it’s clunky and archaic. Bonus points for the nostalgia rush however.

Guardians of the Phoenix by Eric Brown is another somewhat old school Mad Max style tale of survivors struggling in a drought ridden world where the only water is buried deep underground. There’s some great imagery (ships becalmed in the middle of deserts) and a smidgen of hope at the end. Another highly recommended one.

Life in the Anthropocene by Paul Di Fillippo on the other hand might be the one story I really hated, full of longwinded names, made up gobbledygook technology and annoying post-humans. It isn’t that long, but I really struggled to get through it.

Terraforming Terra by Jack Williamson has a neat idea about successive generations of clones on the Moon watching Earth recover from an apocalypse so they can reclaim it, but I wasn’t keen. I couldn’t get my head around the characters, and the narrative is told in the first person by successive iterations of the same individual which makes no sense. It goes on way too long and ends with a Bradbury style twist that frankly Bradbury did better.

We’re into the distant future now, with tales that finish off the anthology by taking the (very) long view.

F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre’s World Without End is an utterly depressing, yet utterly engrossing tale of a young woman cursed with immorality who ends up the last human, doomed to wander the Earth as millennia pass. The choice of main character is interesting, and again the author’s voice very good. I really liked this one.

Hard Sci-fi legend Stephen Baxter has a wonderful grasp of deep time, and he demonstrates his skill here as The Children of Time provides snapshots of successive human offshoots that survive millions of years into the future. Again there’s a melancholic tone to the tale, but again it’s well enough written that I enjoyed it.

The final story, The Star Called Wormwood by Elizabeth Counihan, on the other hand, left me cold, and it’s a shame the book didn’t end with Baxter’s tale.

On the whole I enjoyed this anthology, though it maybe dragged on a little, and whilst a more general horror/sci-fi anthology can mix things up a little, here the relentless grimdark gets a tad wearing, even though Ashley tries his best to inject hope and humour where he can. In the end there’s only so much world ending even a fan of the genre can take!

By Joe Hill

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In the near future mankind is ravaged by a spore known technically as Draco Incendia Trychophyton but more colloquially as Dragonscale, or merely The Scale. Once infected victims display black and gold markings on their skin that look like beautiful tattoos but, sooner or later, the disease causes the victim to spontaneously combust, so as well as death by disease, large scale fires become a fact of life.

School nurse Harper has been infected. She and her husband, Jakob, had discussed what to do if they became infected, and had considered mutual suicide, the trouble is, since that discussion Harper has discovered she’s pregnant, and now she doesn’t want to die, instead she wants to try and bring her baby to term before the Dragonscale gets her, much to Jakob’s chagrin.

Luckily help is at hand from The Fireman, a mysterious stranger who leads Harper to a refuge where a group of the infected have discovered a way to control the Dragonscale. What initially appears to be a paradise might soon descend into something more akin to hell on earth, and Harper and her newfound allies will have to fight many battles, against friend as well as foe, if they’re to survive.

 

Do you watch The Walking Dead? It’s ok if you don’t, this isn’t a mammoth spoiler. Anyway, in the second season of The Walking Dead the survivors chance upon a small farm and stay there…and stay there…and stay there…and, well, not a great deal happens. The Fireman is a bit like season 2 of The Walking Dead.

Hill’s central conceit is a great one. The Dragonscale is a wonderful creation, and the first section of the book where Hill details the spread of the disease and the gradual disintegration of civilisation is wonderfully evocative.

The trouble begins when the Fireman takes Harper to Camp Wyndham (I see what you did there, Joe). Given the size of the book (close to 800 pages) I was expecting some kind of sprawling epic where Harper and the Fireman have to cross a barren wasteland to find safety, and whilst this does happen, eventually, you have to wait until almost the end before this odyssey begins. In the interim what you’re faced with is 300+ pages dedicated to the folk at Camp Wyndham. Suddenly a book about the end of the world turns into something smaller scale, with some of the group eager to implement a cult style leadership.

Now that’s fine, and it isn’t like small groups falling apart isn’t a staple of the post-apocalyptic genre. I mean, Joe’s dad has handled this kind of subject before, in the Stand or Under the Dome, or the novella The Mist.

You might think it unfair to compare a man who’s gone out of his way to escape his father’s shadow with that father, but given this book is so clearly influenced by King’s work, and given in his introduction Joe admits shamelessly stealing his dad’s ideas, I think it’s a fair thing to do (in fact it was only when I read other reviews after finishing the book that I realised just how many Stephen King Easter eggs there are in the book).

The Stand is a similarly doorstep sized hunk of a book, but in that King provides a large cast of characters, both good and bad, and tells the story from multiple viewpoints. By contrast 99.9% of the Fireman is told from Harper’s POV, which means Hill has to pull all kinds of literary contortions in order to keep her in the mix, or have stuff happen off camera. As a result none of the other characters really come alive because we rarely get inside their heads. In particular the Fireman is poorly served, and spends much of the novel off camera, sick or otherwise incapacitated. The reason for this is clear, having given him what are effectively superpowers, Hill has to keep finding ways to keep him out of the picture lest he resolve every problem by throwing some handy fireballs. It might not be so bad, but Harper never really comes alive, but then that’s hardly surprising given her defining character trait is that she’s a huge Mary Poppins fan, and that’s about it. By contrast the Fireman’s defining trait is that he’s British (though he never feels it to this Brit).

So what you’re left with the story of a group of survivors turning on themselves and turning to a crazy religious leader, which is what King did in The Mist, only he did it much better with two thirds of the page count.

Another issue is the Dragonscale itself, and whilst initially Hill keeps it fairly grounded, by the end of the book it’s gone from something that’s at least vaguely plausible, to something completely preposterous that imbues people with magical powers.

The book picks up in the final couple of hundred pages, although even here it lollygags, and more than once I found myself wishing Joe would just get a move on.

A great concept, a strong first act and an ok final act are let down by an overwrought, overlong and over-written middle section, paper thin characters, out of the blue betrayals worthy of a WWE wrester’s heel turn, and fantastical events that break many of the rules Hill laid out initially about the Scale.

I think a decent editor could have lopped half the book and still left something coherent, and probably better. As is this is a fire that burns white hot at first, but which soon fizzles out before sparking into life once more near the end just when you think the embers have finally  gone cold.

Darker Times

Posted: December 31, 2016 in Post-Apocalyptic, Published fiction

My new novel is called Darker Times is now available on Amazon UK, Amazon.com and so on and so forth.

A post-apocalyptic melodrama in three parts it’s a story that handles the end of the world in a very intimate fashion. No biker gangs or gun battles, just four people and some secrets trapped by utter darkness. It’s available for just £2.99/$3.71 so why not check it out, remember you don’t even need a Kindle to read it, just the free Kindle viewer app. Below are the cover and blurb.

 

41cjt3bjqelIt’s supposed to be a quiet holiday in the countryside. Grace Fox is looking forward to spending time with her husband, Jude, and she’s hoping romance will blossom between her brother, Martyn and her best friend, Holly.

Their world is thrown into chaos when an ordinary July day is plunged into darkness as a deep, impenetrable night suddenly descends across the globe.

Marooned in a remote cottage, the four watch helplessly as civilisation, swathed in permanent darkness, begins to collapse. As their supplies dwindle and they face external threats, all too soon the cohesion between the four begins to deteriorate as well. Nerves fray, animosities intensify, and there are some secrets even a world of darkness cannot hide.

clipboard01My new novel Darker Times arose out of an idea I had a decade ago, an idea which eventually merged with another idea to become something very different, yet something that, in essence, was still the same idea I came up with ten years ago.

Bemoaning all the ideas we come up with but never get around to using is something a lot of writers, myself included, talk about, I’ve even seen some consider getting rid of old notebooks of ideas as they imagine they’re never going to use them, but I think Darker Times shows why this is never a good idea. Even fragments of ideas ‘you’re never going to use’ might find a home within a totally new story, a character you’d envisaged for a space opera set in the 25th Century might, with a bit of tinkering, make for an interesting 18th Century pirate (or vice versa).

Darker Times went from being a haunted house story to a post-apocalyptic melodrama, and yet in so many ways it’s still the damn same story!

Let’s start at the very beginning. The year was 2006 and I was on holiday with friends in Egypt. Along with two others I’d plumped for a hike up Mount Sinai, where Moses supposedly collected his stone tablets from God, to witness the sunrise. It was an amazing, if exceptionally tiring, experience, but before I climbed down the mountain, before I saw the sunrise, before I even climbed up the mountain, I came up with an idea.

We were picked up by a coach late at night and advised to try and get some sleep on the drive out to the mountains (because there sure as heck wouldn’t be time for sleep later). I can’t recall if I actually slept or not, I probably dozed at least in the darkened coach, but what I did do was daydream, and that daydream quickly evolved into a story idea that, by the time we reached our destination, had become fully formed, complete with initial sketches of the main characters.

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me atop the mountain with a head full of ideas!

The original story, if I’d written it (I started chapter one), would have been called Ten Photos of Coffin House, and would be a contemporary ghost story set in a small cottage near the tiny village of Blodwel Nave. Four people would visit the cottage for a holiday, but by the end of their stay three would be dead or missing and one would be so severally traumatised that they wouldn’t be able to tell what had happened, and so the only evidence of what had occurred would be ten photos taken on a disposable camera that was found at the scene.

The idea of the book was that an academic (or possibly some pulpish writer of mysteries) would contrive to fill in the blanks based on the photos, and myths and legends relating to the cottage.

I’m not sure it was an idea that could ever really work. The photo conceit seemed like a good idea at the time but I can’t see how it could have worked, outside of getting models to pose for ten photos that could be used as chapter headings. Similarly I might not have been a good enough writer at the time to make it work because the whole point was going to be that maybe there was a supernatural element involved, or maybe it was just that one of the groups went doolally. Nuance isn’t one of my strengths.

But what the initial idea did give me was four characters, most of whom had secrets, and in some instances actively loathed one another, trapped in a confined space.

Like I say, I worked on chapter one and then tossed the idea to one side.

51wpt1jhu1l-_sx331_bo1204203200_Flash forward a couple of years and the sadly now defunct American indie publisher Pill Hill Press issued a submission call for post-apocalyptic stories to be published in an anthology inspired by the supposed Mayan prophesy that the world would end in 2012. Given I’ve always had a thing for post-apocalyptic stories (“you don’t say” groaned everyone who knows me) I decided to submit a story. I wanted to come up with something slightly different from the more usual nuclear war/zombie apocalypse/pandemic/asteroid strike/alien invasion kinda thing. In the end I can’t remember quite where the notion originated from, but I decided to go with a future world where, for some unspecified reason, it had got suddenly dark one day and stayed dark.

41hb7ggl6jl-_sx322_bo1204203200_The story that arose was Stranger Times, featuring a mysterious stranger named, er, Stranger, who encounters a community of survivors on the Californian shore. It’s always been a favourite story of mine and I did like the universe, even so it wasn’t something I expected to return to—although as with many stories there was a recurring fantasy that it would be noticed by someone big in publishing who’d commission me to write a whole slew of Stranger novels and pay me millions for the privilege. I’m still dreaming obviously— but then a few years ago another Indie publisher, Fox Spirit, issued a submissions call for their Girl at the End of the World anthologies, and I duly obliged, writing Savage Times, which can be found in Girl at the End of the World volume 2. Savage Times featured a teenage girl surviving in darkened Nottingham.

For another open submission I then wrote Darker Silence (originally titled Silent Times before I decided I’d give all works in this universe the Darker prefix). Darker Silence follows the adventures of a deaf young man in France, and is currently unpublished. This year I’ve also written Darker Sins, a story set in Vegas at the start of the darkness, it’s also unpublished at the moment but…I’m getting ahead of myself.

After writing Savage Times and Darker Silence I decided I really ought to write a Darker novel. I considered several ideas before deciding that maybe it would be good to focus on how a small group of people dealt with the sudden darkness and impending collapse of civilisation.

Now if only I had a cast of characters and a remote location I could use…

Slightly embarrassing to admit that the lightbulb above my head didn’t immediately flare into life, but oh when it did! Suddenly everything slotted together as smoothly as it it’d been planned all along. I had four characters I knew inside out, they had secrets and animosities that would make being stuck in a confined space bad enough, even before you landed an apocalypse on top of this. If anything the darkness worked better as an antagonist than potential ghosts would have.

Of course some other things changed. Coffin House would have been an old property (all the better for ghosties and ghoulies) whereas the cottage in Darker Times became a much newer, prefabricated construction. The eventual fates of each character changed as well, so don’t take the above comment about three of them dying/disappearing and one going nuts as any kind of spoiler, that isn’t how Darker Times ends!

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Inexplicable Dolly pic!

But in so many ways if you strip away the veneer of Darker Times, there’s still a whole lot of Ten Photos of Coffin House underneath. So, the moral is, hoard your ideas, you never can tell when you might end up stitching a few rags of ideas together to make something stylish, just like Dolly Parton and her coat of many colours.

Nod

Posted: November 2, 2016 in Book reviews, Post-Apocalyptic
Tags: ,

By Adrian Barnes

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One night, out of the blue, the majority of the population lose the ability to sleep. As the days without sleep pass people begin to undergo mental and physical breakdown that will see most dead within a few weeks, but long before then any semblance of civilisation will have been eroded as insanity becomes mankind’s default setting.

In Vancouver Paul is one of the few people left who can sleep. As his girlfriend Tanya becomes increasingly unhinged by permanent insomnia Paul sleeps soundly and dreams golden dreams. As the days pass Paul, a somewhat misanthropic etymologist, struggles to survive and documents the end of the world.

 

This book lured me in on two levels. Firstly as anyone who knows me will attest, I love a good post-apocalyptic story, but secondly as someone who at times has trouble sleeping, the notion of apocalypse by insomnia was especially intriguing.

And the first thing to do is to give Barnes props for originality. Sleep is something we all take for granted, but as anyone who’s ever experienced just a couple of night’s interrupted sleep in a row will tell you, the lack of sleep is not pleasant. In a world full of apocalyptic fiction it’s always nice to see something other than zombies/nuclear war/pandemics/alien invasion as the reason behind the fall of humanity.

The trouble is that Barnes’ apocalypse quickly comes to resemble all those others. The cause might be different but the symptoms are all the same. So we get roving bands of crazed psychos, people fighting over food, charismatic individuals creating their own cults, unscrupulous soldiers and scientists and…well you get the picture.  What sets Nod apart from other similar books is something that might be a breath of fresh air, or which you might find infuriating, because it’s a more literary take on the end of the world. It’s told in the first person from Paul’s perspective, and as he is an intelligent man prone to philosophising (plus an etymologist who knows all manner of old words) it might come across as pretentious and rambling, and I have to say I lean more towards this camp.

It might have helped if Paul was more sympathetic, but as already stated he’s something of a misanthrope. The notion of someone who doesn’t like people yearning for company at the end of the world could have been intriguing, but instead Paul just seems so dispassionate about the whole thing. Other characters don’t fare much better. We don’t get to know much about Tanya before she falls apart, so whilst her mental disintegration is quite horrific, it doesn’t quite hit home as much as it might have done if we knew the person she was better, as it is what we’re left with is something of a clichéd female character which is a shame. The only other major character is Charles, who isn’t remotely sympathetic, but is at least interesting, initially at least. As a vagrant already living outside of society, he adapts better than most to the new, sleepless world, even if pretty soon he’s just A.N. Other cult/gang leader.

Plot wise the book starts strong but gets weaker and weaker as it goes a long until it limps to a conclusion. Perhaps this was intentional to provide a mirror to the collapse of society, but if this was the case it doesn’t make for a great read. I don’t think a story has to be explained, but Nod takes vagueness to a whole new level, to the point where people don’t even seem to hypothesise about why the majority stopped sleeping, let alone why there are still Sleepers, why they have golden dreams, and who so many children continue to sleep but have become mute. Paul encounters a group he refers to as Cat Sleepers, people who feign sleep, pretending they’re ok. There’s vague allusions to them experimenting on the child sleepers, but this plot point is quickly jettisoned, and there’s a meander against time to prevent nuclear meltdown that makes most damp squibs seem exciting.

I wouldn’t say I hated it, and in fact it would feel kind of mean to say that given the novel is bookended by an essay from the author detailing his likely terminal brain cancer, but I can’t in good conscience say I loved it. It has the feel of a book written by someone eager to let you know how clever he is, which is of course quite annoying.  If you find the premise intriguing then by all means take a punt, just be prepared for the latter half of the novel not to live up to that premise, which is a shame as it really is a knockout premise, it’s just saddled with a mundane execution. It won’t exactly send you to sleep, but it won’t keep you awake at night with excitement either.