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Morningside Fall by Jay Posey

August 28, 2014 2 comments

Morningside Fall by Jay Posey

Morningside Fall by Jay Posey (Angry Robot, 2014) Legends of the Duskwalker 2 follows on from Three with the young boy Wren now the Governor of Morningside. The title to the book is a spoiler in its own right because it announces that this citadel that’s stood against the Weir for a significant period of time is not going to do all that well as the pages turn. So this is a book that straddles a number of rather different genres. At its heart, this is a political thriller which examines how a self-contained group of people that has been in a stable situation should react when their autocratic leader is removed. The senior citizens who had been in a supporting role now find themselves as council members with a young boy nominally in charge. Unfortunately, one of this boy’s first instructions is to allow the people who had been living outside the city to take up residence. Worse, he has been awakening some of the Weir and expecting the city dwellers to accept these “people” as safe to live alongside them. The general rule is that people don’t respond well to change. Those who now have more obvious routes to power might be inclined to plot against the boy. Those on the streets might take it personally if outsiders start moving into accommodation next to them.

 

Secondly, this is a science fiction, post apocalypse novel. We still have absolutely no idea what precisely has gone wrong with this world but we seem to have a rump of humanity surviving in fortified cities (although, in the first book, we did meet one community surviving outside without walls) and under threat from the Weir. Now these are not simple zombie-like creatures. They retain some level of purpose and can also communicate with each other. Indeed, under certain circumstances, they are capable of co-ordinated action. There are also a small number of human mutants such as Wren who has a natural ability to interface with electronic systems and he can reawaken the human personality of a Weir. When awakened, he or she will retain the changed body and, depending on the length of time between turning and reawakening, it’s possible for the personality to return almost unchanged.

Jay Posey

Jay Posey

 

Thirdly, this is a hybrid military SF or Wild West weird. There’s a considerable amount of fighting between what’s left of the human armed forces and the Weir. The humans have some advanced weaponry, but they are relatively small in number. It’s therefore not unlike groups of white settlers, militia or US Cavalry going into the land occupied by large numbers of less well-armed Native Indians. Finally, this is a coming-of-age story as Wren and the young “friend” he has awakened adjust to circumstances around them and find themselves forced to take responsibility for what they are or may become.

 

The first novel in the series was very impressive because the main character was the titular Three who acted as the protector of, and guide for, Wren and his mother. This gave us a chase across the landscape as Three led the inexperienced boy to a place where there might be some safety. They were being pursued by a small group led by Wren’s older brother. Although not much of the world was explained, there was considerable tension in the chase and we did pick up clues about the Weir and some of the different ways in which human mutants could operate. Unfortunately, Three is killed at the end of the book which leaves Wren as the primary protagonist in this book. This is unfortunate because, frankly, he’s not that interesting most of the time. We’re waiting for him to grow into his mutant powers. So far, he’s just dabbling and lacks the self-confidence to really get things done. So although he can occasionally say relevant and quite powerful things in the political arena, he’s essentially dependent on his mother for political decision-making, and the cast of bodyguards to keep him alive. When things get too hot inside Morningside, they take off into the desert and this leads to some quite repetitive chase and fighting sequences. If the editorial staff had been prepared to cut down the length by at least ten percent, this would have been a better book. As it is, the book starts off not unpromisingly, but lacks an adult point of view to deal with the political situation. It’s only as we approach the end that there’s more emotional investment in the characters and we get into the conflict that will leave us ready for the next book in the series. This leads to the general conclusion that even though this improves towards the end, Morningside Falls is significantly less successful than the first in the series.

 

For a review of the first in the series, see Three.

 

Three by Jay Posey

Three-144dpi

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.

Jay Posey

Jay Posey

 

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.

 

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