In less than twenty-four hours a vicious and virulent viral epidemic destroys virtually all of the population. Billions are killed, within minutes. There are no symptoms and no warnings; within moments of infection each victim suffers a violent and agonising death.
At the end of ten minutes, only a handful of survivors remain. By the end of the first day those survivors wish they were dead.
By the end of the first week, as the dead get up and walk, they know they are in hell.
AUTUMN, the classic free underground novel finally bursts into the mainstream. It is cold, dark, relentless – and uncomfortably plausible, a NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD for the 21st Century. Amazon said: ‘The perfect zombie story, nothing written in the genre has grabbed me in the same way as AUTUMN, an equal to Romero’s Night of the Living Dead’.
I’m a sucker for a zombie story, so when Autumn arrived I knew it was one I would be reading. With a holiday imminent I decided to take it with me to read during the dark nights in a quiet forest location, hoping that it provide a fair few scares to keep me reading until daylight broke. Okay, I may be making that sound a little more chilling than it actually was, but diving into this sort of story deserves an environment to suit, and holidaying in Centre Parcs was the place to tackle it. What I found was a very chilling novel, but not quite the zombie story I was expecting…
Autumn starts the story with the widely used ‘event’ that suddenly kills 99% of the world’s population. There is no explanation other than the graphic and gory way that each person succumbs to this mystery illness, the end result being death. There are some people that aren’t affected by this outbreak and stand by without being able to do anything while all around them die. After the tragedy these survivors are left to do just that: survive. By joining with others they group together in an old building and do what they can to scavenge the essentials while all around them the dead are left where they died. After a few days like this the dead rise, slowly and without any direction, they stumble around the streets, posing little threat. However, this soon changes as time passes and they start to congregate where they hear or see survivors, and these survivors must decide what they need to do to stay alive.
We follow three main survivors during Autumn – Michael, Carl and Emma. Each of these are introduced early on and we see where they were when the population died, the immediate aftermath of it and how they deal with it all. They meet up with other survivors and we follow this thread for a while before a fall out between them all causes a separation, Michael, Carl and Emma going out alone and leaving the rest behind. From there on it’s a very bleak novel, reminiscent of the scenes in many zombie films, from George A Romero’s classics to 28 days later. These scenes show a deserted and very chilling country, the dead littering the streets and very little going on.
Autumn is one of those books that falls squarely into the ‘zombie’ category, but the Z word is never used. Instead the focus is on the survivors, how they deal with everything and how they get by day-by-day. It all contributes towards a story that is very cold, and the characters isolated. This is a good thing, it allows Moody to explore these characters and look at the very realistic situation that could arise from such an event, and handled extremely well.
The living dead are the aspect of the story that don’t really get that much attention. They’re there, shit has happened, and the survivors have to deal with it. Blunt, but true. Moody never goes into detail about what the illness actually was – a strong point and it makes the story more believable because of it. These guys aren’t experts, they have a lot to deal with and it makes perfect sense to leave it at that. As for the nature of the undead, well, that’s another thing. They don;t rise immediately after death, instead it takes a few days before it happens. They’re a threat in the sense that they’re there en masse, but they’re not the typical brain eating zombies we’ve seen in films. The wander aimlessly, only congregating when they hear or see survivors. Again, there is no explanation to anything, it just is.
Moody has written a very good story here, it’s bleak and chilling, character focused, yet there is more to it than just that. Despite all the good things about Autumn, it just didn’t deliver the enjoyment factor for me. It was good, yes, but not great. Regardless of this, I’ll be getting around to the sequels when they’re released next year to see how the journey continues from here.