Thursday, 4 November 2010

‘Autumn’ – David Moody (Gollancz)

It was about four years ago and I’d just finished reading Brian Keene’s ‘The Rising’ and ‘City of the Dead’. Having enjoyed these two books immensely, the only course of action left open to me was to go out straight away and find myself more zombie fiction to get stuck into (the results of that journey can be found here and there, on the blog). The one book that kept getting mentioned was David Moody’s ‘Autumn’, a book that everyone seemed to be saying was a ‘zombie classic’; you can imagine how pleased I was to see that you could actually download the whole book for free on the author’s own website...

Of course, this was way before I realised how difficult I find it reading large chunks of text on a computer screen. As much as I was enjoying the read (and I was) it was a bit too much of a strain for my poor old eyes. I was also reading it at work but that’s another story... :o)
I had to quit the read but was heartened to hear (a couple of years later) that the success of Moody’s ‘Hater’ meant that the ‘Autumn’ series would finally be published in a format that wasn’t going to give me a headache when I read it. I have to admit that I wondered quite what the point of publication was when the book was available for free download but David clarified a couple of things on that score (in an interview on this very blog) and I was good to go! It’s been a long time waiting for the hardback edition of ‘Autumn’ but, in the end, it was worth the wait.

In the space of twenty four hours over ninety nine percent of the population is killed by a virus of unknown origin. There are no symptoms and no warning, by the time you realise something is wrong you are already dying an agonising death.
Not everyone dies though and these survivors are left to find their way in a world that has suddenly and irrevocably changed; survival is the order of the day and it’s not going to be easy. This is even more the case when previously dead bodies get up and start walking...
The dead are harmless at first but, as time goes by, this begins to change. In a world where the living are vastly outnumbered by the walking dead, can our heroes build a new life for themselves? Can they even survive to try...?

After trying to work my way through what seemed like an excessive number of pages on the screen (can’t remember exactly how many but it was a lot!) I was surprised to find that ‘Autumn’ only numbers some two hundred and forty six pages in its hardback format. I guess I shouldn’t have been all that surprised. Both ‘Hater’ and ‘Dog Blood’ are works where the passion and energy in the prose are highlighted and emphasised by the relative shortness of each book. ‘Autumn’ doesn’t quite have the same level of energy (and for very good reason, zombies just don’t move as quickly as Haters...) but it isn’t far off and is none the less a compelling read for it.

All the best writers of zombie fiction know that there is only so much you can do with a rotting corpse that happens to be able to walk. What you have to focus on instead is keeping an air of mystery about the whole thing whilst looking at how your main characters react to it all. Moody has done this to great affect with ‘Hater’ and ‘Dog Blood’; now he shows us that he was already great at this approach when he first wrote ‘Autumn’.

The prologue and first three chapters of the book don’t waste any time; the second you start reading you’re tipped head first into a society collapsing under the weight of something inexplicable yet deadly. Moody leaves you in no doubt as to what this means for victims and witnesses alike as he drowns the opening pages in an unceasing wash of blood and terror. You don’t know why it’s happening, you don’t need to know. What is important is that it is happening on the page right now and it’s serious. These opening pages are what will ultimately define the characters in the chapters to come and Moody provides a solid platform for this development to kick on from. Something this intense cannot fail to have an affect on someone and Moody takes time for a real detailed look at just what this means. I would say that one character’s development felt a little shoehorned into what Moody obviously had in mind for him and this meant that things felt forced when they should have flowed more naturally. The other two main characters are handled well though and the ensuing group dynamic made me want to keep reading. I had a good idea of where it would end (and I was right) but the journey was still a lot of fun. I don’t know whether the sequel will focus on the same characters but I’ll definitely be around to find out.

You don’t get to know the origins of the virus so it stands to reason that you won’t get to find out an awful lot about the zombies either. What Moody does give us though is a gradual ‘evolution’ that not only fleshes out the zombie mythos in an interesting way but also changes the tempo in a way that keeps the plot fresh and moving briskly (people’s reactions change when the dead start doing things differently). If you ever wondered if the dead really would get straight up and start eating people then this may well be the book for you.

A beginning that grips you right away, an ending that has you eager for the sequel and a whole load of stuff in the middle that is more than worth the price of entry; all set against a beautifully disturbed landscape. ‘Autumn’ is a very English apocalypse reminiscent of ‘Survivors’ or ‘Day of the Triffids’ and required reading if you are a fan of zombies. Highly recommended.

Nine and Three Quarters out of Ten

2 comments:

yllektra (force-oblique) said...

Oh I think my brother has this book, but I dont know if he read it!
I think I might snatch it! :P

Esther said...

I liked both Survivors and Day of the Triffids some I'm going to give this a try.