Monday 30 June 2014

The Eerie Ennui.

The Sleeping Dead is a new novella from Richard Farren Barber and is published by DarkFuse. The title - along with the striking cover image - give an immediate sense of what the story will be about (the cover in particular, having already been used for Ralph Robert Moore's amazing zombie novel As Dead As Me) but anyone fearing yet another run-out for that particular sub-genre will be reassured that this is something altogether different.
The story begins with Jackson Smith on his way to a job interview at a building called the Pinnacle. Calling a character Smith doesn't imply a lack of imagination on the part of the author, rather places them immediately as an everyman, a perfect choice of protagonist for this particular story as it allows the reader to experience the confusion and fear alongside him as the world he knows changes forever.
It's a slow build-up to the revelation of what is happening, beginning with Smith's bus journey to the interview with one of the passengers behaving strangely and then, once off the bus, his witnessing a suicide jump from a bridge. The scene builds on the sense of unease created on the bus journey and that unease intensifies exponentially during Smith's interview from hell (we've all had them, but never anything like this) and the events which follow.
To his horror -and ours - Smith finds himself in the midst of mass suicide, everyone (or so it seems) is somehow driven to kill themselves, sometimes in dramatic (and gory) fashion but, more often that not, simply lying down and giving up the ghost, becoming the Sleeping Dead of the title.
In his escape from the Pinnacle, Smith rescues Susan, an unwilling participant in a joint suicide, and the bulk of the story revolves around their journey through the streets of the city, allowing the author to create some truly chilling set-pieces, their journey across a bridge a scene that will linger long in your memory.
Whatever force it is that is driving people to kill themselves preys on Smith and Susan too and it's the references to the "voices in their heads" that raises the possibility that this is an allegorical tale about depression. Susan's first response to her rescue by Smith is anger, something that reflects another facet of this terrible condition. Allegory or not, The Sleeping Dead is an accomplished piece of writing which creates a truly chilling scenario that grips the reader from first to last. And as for the "last"? Pitch perfect as far as I'm concerned.
The wonderful sense of unease and paranoia created in Richard's earlier novella The Power of Nothing is expanded on and magnified here. It's a great piece of writing and I thoroughly recommend it.

Monday 9 June 2014

The Three.

The Three is a novel by Sarah Lotz that begins with a gripping, present tense account of a plane crash as experienced by one of the passengers, a dramatic – and extremely effective - opening to one of the most compelling novels I’ve ever read.
The crash (of Sun Air Flight 678) is one of four which all happen on the same day – Jan 12th 2012, henceforth known as “Black Thursday” – across four continents, the events of which (and those following) form the basis of the book within a book – Black Thursday, From Crash to Conspiracy by Elspeth Martins – which makes up the bulk of the novel.
Presented as a series of interviews and testimonies, the book gives an epistolary, multi-voiced account of the aftermath of the crashes and in particular the miraculous survival of three children (the “Three” of the title). It’s a clever technique and one that works brilliantly. There’s a large cast of characters involved and it’s credit to the author that each one of them has a distinctive voice and personality. Many of the interviews are prefaced by short introductions from Martins and it’s within these that hints of what’s to come – and often shocking revelations – are planted.
Whilst on one hand The Three works perfectly as an eerie, supernatural thriller there’s so much more to it than that. It’s a deeply political book, one that has much to say about society and the ease with which those in power – or desirous of power – can use, or rather exploit tragedy to their own ends, for their own personal gain. It’s about truth and the manipulation thereof. The target here is religious fundamentalism – the zealots latch onto the survival of the children, presenting them as heralds of an imminent apocalypse, choosing their own interpretations of events to fit the their theories – but it’s not too big a step to see this as an allegory of recent political events. It’s perhaps no coincidence that it’s the crashing of four planes which is used by those with vested interests as a launching pad for their own extreme agendas and it’s telling that within the book a major plot development involves an American soldier on foreign soil…

The Three is an amazing read, a perfect combination of style and substance. It’s a novel that can be enjoyed on many levels, a chilling supernatural thriller that you’ll still be thinking about long after you’ve finished reading it. Which you should do by buying it here.