Three by Jay Posey
The word “apocalypse” is rather interesting. In religious contexts, it’s taken to refer to a revelation, a transmission of understanding. Hence, in the New Testament, it’s the knowledge of the way in which good can finally triumph over evil and so produce what’s now called the End of Days. In secular terms, it’s become associated with any catastrophe that causes a more or less complete extinction of life on Earth. As a science fiction trope, post-apocalypse stories deal with the survivors doing their best to survive in a hostile or non-supportive environment. Frankly, the idea has been rather “done to death” by the arrival of zombies which, in various formats, have been trying to eat their way through humanity for the last fifty years or so — George A Romero has a lot to answer for.
Because the idea of the apocalypse has grown stale, the more creative have been striving to produce variations on the theme to maintain our interest. The traditional approach is to introduce your pack of people, then stage the disaster, and show how these brave few manage to survive. There are two strategies to improve interest. The first is to introduce some level of mystery as to what exactly went wrong or who was responsible. So we may start off before and see the disaster occur, only to be left to answer the whodunnit and why questions. Or we can begin in medias res and be left trying to work out exactly what form the disaster took. Obviously, the survivors know what happened and so have no need to talk about it. They are, however, surrounded by evidence of what went wrong and we are left to piece it together as the book proceeds. The other strategy is not to worry too much about the nature of the disaster but rather to focus on the characters of the survivors. If readers or viewers can empathise with the people, they can ride the adventure vicariously as it unwinds.
Three by Jay Posey (Angry Robot, 2013) Legends of the Duskwalker, is not quite breaking new ground by combining both strategies. There has been a disaster of some kind, but it’s not at all obvious what form it took. We meet Three who, against his better judgement, assumes the responsibility for protecting Cass and her son, Wren. Together they move across the remnants of a sophisticated urban environment where some of the technology still works. One of the more pleasing aspects of this journey is the lack of infodumps. There’s actually some very clever world-building on display here but you have to read the text to absorb it. This makes the prose rather more dense than usual. That said, it’s well worth the effort to read it. Indeed, the taciturn nature of the titular character Three makes analysis of the text the only way to work out what’s going on. If you’re not prepared to invest the effort, you should probably pass on this. But if you enjoy piecing the big picture together as this peripatetic narrative unwinds, this is one of the best examples of the phenomenon I’ve read during the last ten years.
We start off in one nameless urban environment and slowly work our way through the deserted landscape of empty buildings. From time to time, we lodge in safe houses or come to fortified areas that can be kept clear of the Weir — quite the most exciting variation on the zombie concept for years. Then it’s across the Strand — a positive wound on the surface of the Earth caused during the catastrophe, and into a different city run by a rather interesting Governor. Who everyone is and how they are related to everyone is fascinating. Assuming humans as a species are adaptive, it’s easy to see how we might move from modifying through genetic manipulation to the induced characteristics becoming inheritable. I will say no more but, as an analogy, think of the seminal film, Forbidden Planet directed by Fred Wilcox, but updated to match modern technology trends. Three is one of the best SF novels of the year so far.
The pleasingly atmospheric cover art is by Steven Meyer-Rassow.
For a review of the next in the series, see Morningside Fall.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.