In less than twenty-four hours a vicious and virulent disease destroys virtually all of the population. Billions are killed. Thousands die every second.
There are no symptoms and no warnings. Within moments of infection each victim suffers a violent and agonizing death. Only a handful of survivors remain. By the end of the first day those survivors wish they were dead.
Then the disease strikes again, and all hell breaks loose...
I'm oddly partial to a good zombie story, I am. Though I'll be the first to admit the literature of the undead isn't particularly known for profoundly conflicted characters or daring narrative strides - nor it is a genre of fiction often remarked upon for its quality, overall - nevertheless there's something about the thought of the whole world turning into monsters who'd die all over again to taste my brains that keeps me coming back.
But enough of the wordplay. Autumn, I'm afraid, is not a good zombie story. In point of fact, it's excruciating. Uninspired from first to last, paced like a leach with a limp, so deeply derivative as to feel a violation the longer it goes on, and worst of all its offences: Autumn is written with such insipid amateurishness as to give blessed flight to all the woebegone hope and dreams would-be authors clutch against their chests.
I haven't been so let down by a book since The Left Hand of God, last year. Going in, you see, there's every reason to believe in Autumn: a formerly self-published internet sensation dating back to the early noughties - remember those? - with a sell-through of more than half a million copies, a little-known film adaptation in its corner, and an ongoing successor series Guillermo del Toro dug enough to both blurb and buy the movie rights to. Never mind that it'll come to nothing, as so many such deals do; if one of this brave new millennia's most imaginative minds had taken a shine to David Moody, I assumed it was a safe bet I'd find something in Autumn to enjoy.
Not so much.
For one thing, there's the zompocalypse itself, a turgid affair seen from the perspective of four "characters" I couldn't for the life of me differentiate between. Inevitably, they all shack up together - first in a community centre, where they come to terms with the end of the world by being short-tempered, then in an isolated farmhouse, where the end of the world and the isolation of the aforementioned farmhouse makes them short-tempered. Then nothing happens for 150 pages.
Bear in mind this is a 250 page book.
I usually put together a capsule synopsis of sorts for my reviews, and I tried - honest to God I tried - to do likewise for Autumn. Alas, already I'm worried I've given away the vast majority of what this novel has to offer; in terms of narrative, character, conflict... that's the lot.
I don't mean to be mean. Though far from perfect, Moody's more recent efforts - a trilogy which begins with Hater - are a great swathe more entertaining than this calamitous misfire. And presumably Autumn goes places later; four sequelsare either already published or in the works, and heaven forfend this utter absence goes on any longer without something of note happening. That being said, you'd have to be quite the glutton for punishment to stick with this series long enough to find out.
If you must, read the blurb - it's better than the book anyway - but leave it at that. Better yet, read a ham sandwich.
by David Moody
UK Publication: October 2010, Gollancz US Publication: October 2010, St. Martin's Griffin