Thursday, 17 February 2011

‘Autumn: The City’ – David Moody (Gollancz)

Doesn’t time just fly when you’ve got a pile of books that is steadily climbing up your bedroom wall...? It feels like I read David Moody’s ‘Autumn’ only last week but a quick look at the blog reveals that it was way back in November last year. Sometimes I feel like life is going just a little too fast for me to keep up with! Anyway...


In case you were wondering, I absolutely loved ‘Autumn’ with its very downbeat and low key depiction of a zombie apocalypse. Niall, on the other hand, was very disappointed with the opening instalment in Moody’s series. As always, I would say that the real truth of the matter probably lies somewhere in the middle of these two opinions. In ‘Autumn’s’ defence though, I’d say that it’s very much about setting the scene for events to come and, if the dead aren’t eating people right from the outset, then there won’t be an awful lot happening... at least to start with. Niall’s ‘short tempered’ characters were shell shocked by events (as far as I could see) so I could forgive them being a little snappy.

The long and short of it is that I’ll lay money on my having looked forward to the next instalment far more than Niall; I know that I jumped on my copy when it arrived. It wasn’t a perfect read but it didn’t let me down either...

In the wake of whatever it was that killed billions of people on one September day a small group of survivors hole up in the middle of the desolate remains of a city and try to make a life for themselves amongst the ruins. They are not alone though... Corpses that were originally lying in the streets have begun to get up and start walking around and their interactions with the survivors are growing steadily more violent. The survivors are outnumbered hundreds of thousands to one and it’s clear that their future must lie outside the city. How will they escape though and what kind of future awaits them even if they manage this? Perhaps the most important question though is where the convoy of armed soldiers has come from all of a sudden...

Moody’s zombies are slowly but surely evolving and becoming more aware of their surroundings; this comes with displays of near homicidal rage whenever they see one of the living. While this may not be good news for the characters trying to eke out an existence in this post apocalyptic landscape it’s definitely welcome news for readers who were looking to see things really kick on from the previous book. You can’t just walk along a street full of zombies now; finding cover is the order of the day now and if you’re spotted then you had better be ready to make a quick getaway! This new development makes for some exciting moments as people search for food etc while trying to avoid becoming lunch at the same time. It also pushes the plot inexorably forwards as our survivors swiftly realise that staying in one place will only lead to eventual disaster; for some as yet unknown reason every single zombie in the city is making its way towards their shelter... Something has to be done and it has to happen soon. Our cast of characters here include a couple of familiar faces (providing continuity from the previous book) along with a larger number of new players. Everyone is pushing in the same direction for the most part (namely to survive what has taken place) and this does mean that there isn’t a lot of variety in the cast. The one main exception to this felt more than a little contrived when set against this particularly bleak background; there are easier ways to commit suicide than go out in a haze of alcohol and Moody captures this far more effectively in a heartbreaking moment between mother and daughter...

‘Autumn: The City’ is very much a book where things start to happen although don’t come to this book expecting answers to the questions raised in the first book. What you get instead are the introduction of elements that will eventually come together to give you an answer, at least that’s the way I see it happening. I am intrigued enough to want to stick around for the long haul and the sombrely realised landscape (with its motley collection of survivors trying to get by) more than helps foster this resolution.

This bleak landscape is one of the most effective tools that Moody brings to the book (and the series as a whole I suspect) as it lends a dark tone to everything that takes place here. At the same time though, it also works against what Moody is trying to do and this can make for a frustrating read at times.

The bottom line is that there’s just too much landscape and not enough people left alive to play in it (I’m not counting the zombies here as they’re pretty much part of the scenery anyway). The impression I got here was that the wide open spaces are so vast that the activities of the survivors lose their impact against such a large backdrop and become less significant as a result. You could argue that this is actually the whole point of a zombie novel as it’s all about the fact that railing against a zombie uprising is ultimately pointless; if you don’t find yourself being eaten then the odds are that you will eventually join the ranks of the living dead. While I can see that here my main impression was that the stage was simply too big and I had trouble finding the players on it...

This wasn’t a big enough issue to stop me reading although I will be interested to see if this problem reoccurs in future works. ‘Autumn: The City’ is a book that starts to encounter problems as it moves the plot forward but the ultimate direction that things are moving in are more than enough to keep me reading for now.

Eight and Half out of Ten

4 comments:

Meera Flame said...

I dont know why you keep referring to survivors needing to avoid getting eaten? I am reading Autumn 4 and nowhere have I found any mention by the author of the bodies trying to eat anybody. Their behaviour and intentions gradually change throughout the series, becoming more more violent and ultimately very self protective. This is not a story involving zombies staggering around looking for brains to eat, so if that's what you're into I would look elsewhere! Autumn is a very believable portrayal of what it may actually be like if the majority of the population were struck down by a devastating virus/infection which left them appearing briefly dead but then reawakening into very unhuman creatures. It's actually a very frightening and plausible idea, which for me makes it much more readable than your brain eating zombies. The people remaining are ordinary and react as many of us would react to the events, some closed down completely, others trying desperately to survive, often fighting the urge to give up as the difficulties of their situation become worse and worse and they are left with no safe haven. The landscape is vast and desolate, as you point out but for me this is what pushes our group of survivors into the foreground, they are all that is left of our world. Everything else is dead. Autumn is a serious story, extremely believable with some very likeable and other not so likeable characters. The things they do and the ways they react to situations and to eachother are what I might expect from real people in such devastating conditions. I have found all the books thoroughly engrossing and would reccommend them to anyone who likes a good dark but realistic story.

Niall Alexander said...

Very disappointed would be the polite way of putting my feelings for the original Autumn.

You know we're as one with regards to a good zombie book, Graeme, you and I - but for myself, I just couldn't find anything in that there first volume of this series to love, yet there was so much that irked me or jarred me from what was already a very familiar narrative (with little in the way of originality about it that I could see) stocked with some truly dreary "characters," if you can call them that, that I spent my night with Autumn shaking my head, and wishing to God I'd delved an inch deeper into the TBR tower.

Anyway. You liked! And plenty other folks did, so who am I to judge? :)

Just a grumpy Scotsman.

Speaking of zombies, have you seen this thing yet?

http://scotspec.blogspot.com/2011/02/trailer-trash-isla-de-los-muertos.html

Graeme Flory said...

I've only read the first two books and, until your post, had no idea what the zombies might do next. I mistakenly assumed that zombies would do what zombies do best but apparently not... Thanks for letting me know :o)

Graeme Flory said...

Niall - Sorry I missed your comment there (poor moderation skills...) 'Autumn' worked for me as a part of something much larger but I suspect I may have felt similar to you if it was more of a self contained piece. There's not enough there for a single book but I don't think there was ever meant to be.

I am a raging (shambling?) zombie fan-boy though so I'll quite happily admit that the true measure of 'Autumn' does lie somewhere in between your opinion and mine...

Haven't checked out the link yet, Hope's asleep, but I will do :o)