Friday, 27 April 2012

‘Autumn: Purification’ – David Moody (Gollancz)

It’s been a while since I last delved into David Moody’s ‘Autumn’ series, long enough for ‘Purification’ to make it’s debut as a Gollancz hardback and then be released in paperback format. Like any good zombie though, I’m happy to take things real slow in the knowledge that I’ll get there in the end… :o)
The ‘Autumn’ series hasn’t been without it’s issues but, on the whole, has made for an engrossing and very ‘British’ take on the zombie apocalypse (with survivors being more about dull acceptance and getting on with it rather than mass hysterics). Have a click on the links to read my reviews of ‘Autumn’ and ‘Autumn: The City’ if you like. I think there’s one more book to come after ‘Autumn: Purification’ (a collection of short stories?) but my understanding was that this was the book that would round things off for characters that we’ve come to know very well over the course of the series. There is a sense of closure although not what you might think from an initial look at the back of the book…

The dead walk the face of the earth. Underneath the earth though, a small group of survivors huddle in an underground hangar, sheltering from the dead outside but prevented from going any deeper by armed soldiers scared of contamination.
The dead are massing outside though, drawn by the heat of the underground base. Vents are clogged up by dead bodies and the base is slowly starved of oxygen; the only option is to send soldiers outside to clear the vents if the occupants of the base are to survive. No-one realised just how many walking corpses were waiting outside though…

I normally give my own version of the blurb just to let people know what the book is about. This time round I’m including some blurb to let you know that there’s actually a lot more to ‘Purification’ than you might think. Anyone looking at the blurb would think that the book ends with a full scale battle (a la ‘Day of the Dead’) that leaves you gasping. Read ‘Purification’ though and you’ll see that this battle takes place very early on in the book; there is lot more for our cast to get through before the end. While there is closure (of a kind) it’s not what you’d expect and I think the blurb is a little misleading in that regard. You might want to bear that in mind when picking ‘Purification’ up…

I’d definitely recommend you pick it up though although having said that, the way in which the plot unfolds means that you really need to have read ‘Autumn’ and ‘Autumn: The City’ first. I guess you could read ‘Purification’ on its own but you would be missing out on a more in-depth examination of ‘zombie evolution’ that Moody has bought to the series. This is what has proved to be the highlight of the series for me; Moody has taken a well established trope and made it his own almost without the reader realising it. The dead have a real motivation for acting the way that they do and it’s a motivation that evokes some degree of sympathy from the reader given what Moody tells. Without giving too much away, I’d challenge any reader to put themselves in a similar position and not react in the same way.

This revelation also casts the actions of the survivors in an entirely new light, especially as certain characters begin to work out just what is happening. A notion of ethics has always been part of zombie fiction, with the whole ‘Would you kill a family member if they turned?’ kind of question popping up regularly. Moody’s treatment of his zombies adds a whole new level to this approach though with questions facing the survivors that can only be answered in the long term. The big question, which Moody cleverly leaves unanswered, is that if the zombies are evolving then what will they evolve into next…?

‘Autumn: Purification’ is another short novel in the series, weighing in at a ‘slightly underfed’ looking two hundred and seventy two pages. This is a kind of ‘trademark’ for Moody’s work, a writer who likes to keep things fairly simple and just tell it exactly how he sees it.
With ‘Purification’, I’m not sure that the approach works quite so well as it has in the past. Don’t get me wrong, keeping it short and sweet gives the reader a real flavour for just how bleak and deserted this new world is. If Moody is only showing us what he can see then there can’t be an awful lot left… I was unconvinced overall though and a large chunk of this is down to Moody’s decision to finally introduce a reason behind the disease outbreak that led to the dead returning to life in the first place. What we’re given is essentially conjecture (no-one knows if it is true or not) and this is completely at odds with Moody’s policy of just reporting the facts. This sequence judders while the rest of the book flows as normal. I was also left wondering just what the point of this information was; it doesn’t advance the plot in any way and comes across as if Moody forgot to include it in the first book and wanted to get it down before the very end.

The relative paucity of pages also left me wondering if Moody left himself with enough room to give us more insight into what is going on for our characters. While climactic scenes are treated with a greater degree of gusto and spectacle (you get an unnerving feel for what it’s like to be at the wrong end of a zombie swarm…) you don’t really know what it’s like for the characters in the midst of it all. The notable exception here is the treatment of the soldiers trapped inside their survival suits and slowly dying, that was nasty in all the right ways. Zombie fiction is all about the survivors and maybe if Moody had given himself a few more pages to work with then we really could have seen what it was like for them here.

The ending is sufficiently sombre but with an element of hope that is in keeping with what Moody has been saying over the course of the series; humanity can survive but it will take a hell of a lot of hard work...
I did have issues with ‘Autumn: Purification’ but none of them stopped me from finishing the book and I’m looking forward to seeing what ‘Autumn: Disintegration’ has to offer.

Eight out of Ten

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