Home > Books > The Fly-By-Nights by Brian Lumley

The Fly-By-Nights by Brian Lumley

Over the years, I’ve remained fairly consistent in my genre interests. In horror, I suppose one of the main focuses has been the Lovecraft Mythos and, for my sins, I’ve read more or less everything written that, both directly and indirectly, bears on the shared universe. This, of course, means I’ve read all the early Brian Lumley. When he was just starting off in the 1970s, there was a raw energy about his storytelling. He had a real knack for homing in on the essentials of the tale and ratcheting up the tension in arriving at a suitable conclusion. It never seemed to matter that he was not the greatest prose stylist in the world. You read him for the qualities of the ideas.

Unfortunately, he then became really successful and started to spread himself, churning out ever longer novels. This exposed the poverty of the prose. Overlooking the stodgy style is an acceptable price to pay when reading short stories or shorter novels. After all, few of the horror writers active in the 1950s and 1960s would claim to be anything other than efficient, using the words to get the job done. But I began to find Lumley indigestible and decided not to read the Necroscope series, waiting for the continuation of the Cthulu cycle. Indeed, after the last non-Lovecraftian book, The House of Doors in 1990, I’ve restricted myself to his collections. Now along comes The Fly-By-Nights, a 60,000 word short novel from Subterranean Press which gives me a chance to reassess him at slightly greater length.

Brian Lumley — in black and white and read all over the world

This adopts a post nuclear war setting. For about one-hundred-and-fifty years, a group has been surviving in deep caverns. There are two water sources, one for sustaining human life and the other for agriculture. They have both animals and crops. Science persists and, with cannibalised kit, the technicians manage to keep generators going for light, there are lead-lined trucks for moving outside and a general range of equipment for communications and measuring the radiation. This is not just the residual radiation from the bombs, but also increased solar radiation through further loss of the ozone layer. This effectively restricts movement outside to the night. Although the patched-up radiation suits can deal with the former, the combination of the two is too great. Over the years, scavenging teams have stripped the area of everything that can be recycled.

As the dynamic to start the story, we have contamination finally percolating through to the underground springs that have been supplying the cave. This makes it impossible to stay. Fortunately, there’s been radio contact with a colony surviving up north and so, with heavy hearts, they load everything they have into a convoy and set off. Because this is a Lumley story, we have vampires as the night-time predators. Individually, they are not much of a threat but, when they attack in numbers, there are significant human casualties. Ammunition is in short supply and, because it’s old, there are not infrequent misfires.

So this is a journey in hope of finding a new life. Think of the vehicles as like an ark cast out on the seas of night, sheltering from the sun in underground carparks and other refuges during the days. The colonists are a group assembled by numbers. There’s the experienced but ageing leader and a reliable oldster with a gimpy leg. There are the malcontents led by a bully who wants to bed the young woman. The oldster’s son likes the young woman. The scientists are tolerated because their work on radiation is the difference between life and death, but some feel they do not contribute enough to the colony. As plots go, you can all probably foresee the social dynamics and second-guess Lumley as to how it all plays out.

This is not to say that The Fly-By-Nights is a bad book. Quite the contrary. Whatever Lumley’s faults as a prose stylist, this is a good story. Even though it’s not the most original of plots, he manages to inject life and some excitement into proceedings as the vampires harass the convoy and get more organised for a major assault. Equally important, Subterranean Press has gone the extra mile to make this another handsome book. . . So if you like the idea of vampires terrorising the remnants of humanity after a nuclear holocaust, then this book is for you.

The limited edition artwork by Bob Eggleton

Fabulous jacket artwork and small interior line illustrations by Bob Eggleton.

This book was sent to me for review.

  1. Nick Moore
    May 3, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    It’s a shame you never read Lumley’s “Necroscope series”. You can’t really say now with any viable degree of certainty that he is still in fact “indigestible”, now can you? Lol
    Even beyond the Necroscope series is the Titus Crow series and a multitude of other singular based books. Give’em a read and see what you think. In the meantime, I’m glad to hear his latest book is a good one.

    Thank you for the review.

    • May 3, 2011 at 1:12 pm

      Actually, I read everything up to and including House of Doors except the Necroscope books, plus A Coven of Vampires and most of the collections that have followed, i.e. rather more than 20 books. He always has had good ideas for stories and The Fly-By-Nights is no exception. 🙂

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