Thursday, 9 September 2010

‘Noise’ – Darin Bradley (Spectra)

What would you do if you were ahead of the game and knew that society was about to collapse irretrievably? If there were zombies involved then I could give you an answer straight away but this time the undead don’t come into the picture at all; we’re just talking a ‘regular run of the mill’ collapse here. I guess my honest answer is that I don’t know. We can all say that the bottom line is all about survival but how would we go about achieving this? I’m going to be completely honest and say that I would just wing it; I don’t know how far that would get me but it’s all I’ve got right now.
Luckily for terminally ill prepared types such as myself, the speculative fiction is full of writers who are constantly thinking about these things are sharing their insights with us. Darin Bradley is one of these writers and has obviously thought about this a great deal if ‘Noise’ is anything to go by...

After the switch from analog to digital there are a lot of dead airwaves left over, just waiting to be used by anyone with the proper equipment and something to say. There are plenty of people with plenty to say and one of these groups is Salvage, broadcasting warnings of the collapse of civilisation and harsh lessons in how to avoid it.
Levi and Hiram are ahead of the game, they’ve been listening to Salvage for a while now and are ready to ride out the forthcoming apocalypse. When it comes down to it though, are they really ready for what they’re about to find on the streets...?

‘Noise’ is one of those books that effortlessly drags you in and keeps you reading until it’s all over. That was the case with me and I found that I didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. I had to keep reading, not only to find out how the apocalypse pans out but also the conclusion of everyone’s individual journeys within it.

‘Noise’ isn’t an easy though and for reasons that add value to (as well as others that detract from) the book as a whole. Bradley sets the collapse of civilisation running and then leaves it to his reader to catch up as best they can. The end result can be confusing, to say the least, as the viewpoint switches between what’s going internally for Hiram and what’s happening on the street with little or no warning. Having said that though, you get a real feel for Hiram’s character and what it means for him to do what he does. Getting any sense of the structure of ‘Noise’ can be difficult because of this approach and the book treads a very fine line between being a frustrating read (not to be revisited) and one that you’ll find yourself going back to in order to tease out more of the meaning.

It may not happen for a while but ‘Noise’ proved to be an intriguing enough read that I will revisit it at some point in the future. Society’s collapse is handled with enough atmosphere and energy to send the plot powering forward at one hell of a rate. Like I said, this pace may be too quick but it does an admirable job of hooking the reader right from the outset.

However, the ‘Collapse’ almost plays second fiddle to the dramas that unfold in it’s midst. At it’s heart. ‘Noise’ is primarily about the creation of a new society from the ashes of the old one (salvaging?) and people’s struggle to establish themselves, both in the aftermath of the Collapse and in the creation of something new. Explosions and gunfire are constant but secondary to the explosive nature of the human relationships that arise.

Everyone’s actions are governed by ‘The Book’, a work that details just exactly how you can survive the Collapse and prosper in the aftermath. Every detail is there and people’s lives literally depend on how closely they follow these rules. It made for compelling reading as I found myself wondering just how closely the rules would be followed and what would happen to those who transgressed. Bradley gives a great class in ‘Less is More’ by deadening the physical impact of such ‘final acts’ and concentrating on what it means for the group as a whole. However, I did find myself wondering if Bradley perhaps made it a little too easy for Hiram, Levi and the others by giving them a way of opting out of personal responsibility for the actions that they had to commit to survive. Changing your name is one thing but does it really change who you are? This approach works for the characters but I couldn’t help but wonder if it worked because Bradley wanted it to rather than it working in its own right... Having said that though, the ultimate act that Hiram has to commit, in the name of ‘The Book’, made for an ending that sat with me for a long time after I’d finished reading.

Ultimately, every character must choose between obedience to their group or being one person in a where individuals are picked off by the masses. The end result is perhaps what ‘Lord of the Flies’ would have been if Piggy and co had tried working together instead of arguing over a sea shell; a compelling exercise in the birth of society out of the ashes of disaster.
‘Noise’ is a tough nut to crack initially but its well worth the effort. In a year that is becoming more and more defined (to me anyway) by the emergence of quality apocalyptic fiction, ‘Noise’ sits proudly amongst the very best of it’s kind.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

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