Filler content with the apocalypse

Reviews of two Tim Lebbon novellas that originally appeared in Black Static #43:-

TIM LEBBON: APOCALYPSE X 2

Tim Lebbon’s very first novella, the award winning White, presented readers with a detailed and strikingly original account of the end of the world as we know it, and it’s a theme the writer has returned to with a similar verve in his latest novellas.

STILL LIFE (Spectral Press hc/pb, 67pp, £21/£12.50) is set in a milieu where the world, or at least that part of it featured in the novella, has been conquered by some never named nemesis, beings of immense power. Jenni lives in a small village where order is maintained by The Finks, human collaborators with the invaders. She consoles herself with visions of husband Marc and memories of their life together, before he was killed by the invaders and consigned to the Road of Souls, past happiness playing counterpoint to the misery of her present existence. Against her better judgement and Marc’s warning that the time is not right, Jenni is persuaded to take part in an uprising against The Finks, a desperate do or die gamble with serious consequences for them all if it goes wrong (the invaders have in the past destroyed villages that revolt).

Lebbon has produced a strange and compelling story, beautifully written and with a prevailing mood of hope underlying the surface despair, a tale in which what is not said is almost as important as what is, with so much more suggested than is laid out on the page. The never seen enemy are something of a side issue. Jenni and others must deal with The Finks, humans who have betrayed their own species and given into the worst aspects of their own natures, though even here Lebbon allows some ambiguity, that they may act as cruelly as they do simply to prevent something far worse taking place. The title is a double entendre, celebrating both the static quality of life in this new world and also in the Road of Souls, but also noting that there is still life, that the human spirit can and will endure. At the end Jenni finds happiness of a kind, united once again with Marc, and even if this is an illusion it is a source of comfort. Perhaps that is all we can hope for in this life, and if you want to put a contemporary spin on it all, then substitute financial institutions for the ineffable enemy and our politicians for The Finks. This probably wasn’t something the author intended, but reviewers are always going off on one and foisting their own interpretation onto the poor old writer and I don’t see why I should be the exception.

SHIFTING OF VEILS (PS Publishing jhc/signed limited edition jhc, 85pp, £12/£25) is the third novella in Lebbon’s Apocalypse trilogy, following on from Naming of Parts and Changing of Faces. The story is set in what, for all practical purposes, presents as a post-zombie world, where the great majority of the few surviving humans live on in fortified strongholds. Our protagonist Jack abandons his place in one such community to take up with the Walker Cass and chase down a rumour that his father is still alive and looking for him. They wander through a blighted landscape, haunted by echoes of the past and with only their own attendant ghosts to protect them. Guided by a were-creature and the ghost of Jack’s mother, they move into a wraith infested city in search of closure.

With its narrative arc an odyssey through the ruins of the world and the central relationship between father and son, you could make a case for this story being an upbeat, happy clappy version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, or at least you could if such a thing wasn’t a contradiction in terms. Lebbon’s world is lusher though, with only the human race in decline, and thus providing lebensraum to alternative forms of life. The topography is very much an essential element of this book, a landscape populated by madmen and supernatural creatures, beings driven by desperation and hunger. It’s also a landscape infested by the past, one in which the veils are shifting as the title implies and different realities leak through, with the ghosts not realising what has happened to them. Lebbon excels in the creation of this alien milieu, putting an original spin on the spectral aspects. What makes the story special however is the characterisation, the skill with which he brings Jack to life, the archetypal son searching for his father, finding substitutes in Old Man and Cass, but always yearning for the genuine article. The moral of the story seems to be that the thing that makes life worth living, even in impossible circumstances, is our love for each other, the ties that bind blood to blood, kith to kin. Yes Thomas Wolfe, you can’t go home again, but for Jack in Shifting of Veils home is where his loved ones are. I wish I had read the two preceding volumes as I’m sure the work would have resonated much more.

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