Darkness Falling, Forever Twilight: Book 1 by Peter Crowther
The initial set-up of Darkness Falling, Forever Twilight: Book 1 (Angry Robot, 2011) by Peter Crowther is not unlike the Seahorse in the Sky by Edmund Cooper where a group of people who start off on an international flight suddenly wake up in coffins on an island. If you think this is as dramatic as you can get, Mr Crowther has a flash of light and then just three people on the plane. Fortunately, one of them can fly although the landing proves more challenging than expected. So, at a stroke, we are presented with a puzzle. Where did all the people go? As the multiple points of view unwind, it seems this is a worldwide phenomenon. No matter what they were doing nor where they were, all but a handful of people have been left surrounded by wreckage. Why wreckage? Because our world is constantly in motion. Planes fly, trains whizz along tracks, and vehicles of all shapes and sizes move across the landscape. If you remove the controlling minds, all you have left is momentum until the inevitable crash.
At this point, I want to remember another book. I suppose I should apologise but, much as Mr Crowther populates his text with all manner of literary and film references, so I need steady points of reference to keep me on track. In Blue Light by Walter Mosley we have a kind of fantasy/horror novel about the transformative effect of a blue light that emanates from outer space. Each person touched by the light gains a special power. They are, if you like, elevated to a higher state of being with interesting abilities. Mr Crowther has a different coloured light and the effect is somewhat more powerful in removing the majority of the world’s population. It’s rather as if Scotty had beamed everyone up except for the valiant crew that would go to infinity (and, if necessary, beyond). But in drawing from some interestingly diverse sources, we have ourselves a rather pleasing, if somewhat old-fashioned, Rod Serling type story in which our survivors must find each other and then band together against adversity.
What makes all this intriguing is that there’s also a physical effect on the world. Whereas we would expect the sun to keep on rising in the East and falling gracefully out of sight into the West, there may be evidence of more tinkering on a cosmic scale. Since gravity seems unaffected, the world probably continues turning on its axis, radio signals initially seem to carry music to nearby radios, but there’s something distinctly wrong about the more usual cycle of day and night. And then, of course, there’s the Dark itself. Instinct is never completely reliable in books like this, but there does seem to be something to feared. . . Not that there appears to be anything particularly supernatural out and about, albeit the world has just experienced something inexplicable in current scientific terms. Then there’s a second light. Ah, now that may be a game-changer.
As to our cast of characters, we have a diverse bunch. With the exception of a serial killer and a woman with multiple personality disorder, they seem a random selection of the great unwashed but, I suppose, there will later prove to be some common factor that caused them to be saved from this mass extinction event (my apologies, I should have mentioned that all life seems to have disappeared from the land and air). For now, the survivors are moving across the landscape, aware of others who may, when they feel the time is right, more actively pursue and destroy them. It’s not a situation in which it’s easy to hope, and the fact one of their number is a killer does add an edge to the proceedings.
Which leaves me with two quite different thoughts with which to end. Peter Crowther is a man much to be admired for all the good work he has done with PS Publishing, the multiple award-winning small press. He also has a good editorial eye and, in this and other works, writes well. Darkness Falling is a substantially expanded version of the two novellas already published under the Forever Twilight shingle. They appeared in 2002 and 2009 respectively. I will refrain from spoilers because the underlying idea is actually an ingenious inversion of an old trope and you should read this first book in the new trilogy without preconceptions to see if you can solve the puzzle. As a piece of writing, it’s also interesting to see how the initial ideas have evolved over the years. Peter Crowther, the author, specialises in something mildly tricky. As a Brit he writes stories set in the US using the American vernacular. He does it rather well. This expanded version focuses on the characters of the survivors with the occasional omniscient authorial contribution. The prose style is slightly dense but there are odd illuminations of wit to ease us along. I feel it has spread itself out a little too much, but the overall result is pleasing and it leaves us set up nicely to investigate exactly what’s going on in the remaining volumes.