Autumn was originally self published and given away by the author ten years ago, since then it has been read by hundreds of thousands of people and even turned into a film starring David Carradine and Dexter Fletcher. It's now published by those fantastic people over at Gollancz and I must say that it really is something a bit special.
The story itself is a classic apocalyptic zombie tale where a vicious and virulent viral pandemic virtually wipes out the worlds population within 24 little hours. There are no symptoms and no warnings with billions suddenly dropping dead within minutes; suffering a brief yet agonising and violent demise. After the first ten minutes only a few survivors remain, by the end of the first day those survivors wish they were dead, by the end of the week the dead get up and walk.
Autumn reminds me of Richard Matheson's classic novel I am Legend, it's got that certain quality about it that manages to convey a sense of reality amid the dark horror. Instead of going for a descriptive, bloody gore style (brains, Brains, BRAINS!) Moody paints a much more subtle, psychologically rich picture.
One of my favorite parts of the novel is this re-enforcement of reality - rather than the dead coming back and eating people the minute they die, it's days before the bodies start to twitch and slowly raise up to some form of (un)life. Even then they are simply animated husks that just wonder round and don't pay the slightest attention to those few survivors - at least at first anyway, a staggered approach where these undead slowly become more and more like the zombies we would expect. As a result the story for the most part focuses on those survivors themselves, how they do and don't cope and the different forms that grief takes.
This focus on the characters works very well, with an admittedly fairly sedate even pace which gradually builds towards the end with well written personalities and an entertaining survivalist storyline. It's also interesting to note that not once is the term "zombie" used, clearly these people don't watch or read any horror novels and it's probably the weak point of the book that these corpses start moving around in an animated fashion and no one thinks Sean of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, World War Z or the countless other zombie stories out there.
If they had twigged they would have also probably saved themselves a lot of trouble too. As a consequence there were a few areas in the book that make you feel like you are watching one of those mindless films where the protagonist decides to investigate that strange, scary noise alone with nothing more than a torch, in the pitch black. Thankfully these times were few and far between and for the most part the characters do act in a more sensible - albeit clueless - manner.
The lack of back story or investigation into why this plague has struck means that there is nothing to distract the reader or prevent the story from moving forward while also lending an air of mystery about the whole thing, right from the very first pages we are thrown into this horrific event and have no more idea of what's going on that the protagonists do.
If you are looking for a zombie story that manages to have a sense of power and realism without the over the top gore or high body count then this is the perfect book, an entertaining and rewarding read.
Written by Antony, 21 October 2011.