Journal of the Plague Year
Journal of the Plague Year is the latest anthology from Abaddon Books' Afterblight Chronicles series. To briefly recap, sometime in the early 21st century, the world goes to pot when a virus called the Cull strikes. It kills off billions of the population and only leaves alive those with a certain blood type.
Here this standalone collection looks at the plague from three different perspectives: life on the International Space Station as the Cull breaks out; a returning fugitive trying to take control of lawless Melbourne and the age old battle between science and religion in a monastery in Poland.
Malcolm Cross' 'Orbital Decay' is definitely the strongest of the three stories on offer. Evocative in its descriptions and haunting in its vision, it sees Russian and American astronauts living life in the sterile atmosphere of space as all hell breaks loose below them.
Well-executed, it's an engaging and fascinating read. The claustrophobic surroundings of the International Space Station are used to terrific effect as scientific curiosity and paranoia take over the station and its inhabitants.
Although you might be able to guess some of the beats, Cross ratchets up the tension and keeps things fresh with some visceral imagery and tense writing.
CB Harvey's 'Dead Kelly' tackles the story of Kelly McGuire, a fugitive on the run after a bullion heist that went wrong. McGuire returns to the lawless wasteland of Melbourne, along the way, he is determined to exact revenge on his former gangmates and discover his ultimate destiny.
Dead Kelly is certainly not one to read if you object to profanities in your prose. The story is littered with multiple instances of the 'f' and 'c' words, and the rough bloody violence only underpins this coarseness even further.
Unfortunately, Kelly's story is not all that engaging. His desire for revenge and the seemingly superhero powers that suddenly emerge as Kelly dodges tanks, gangs and explosions feel more like a boys action comic than an attempt at post-apocalyptic fiction. A few twists and turns along the way feel predictable, leaving Dead Kelly at its strongest when having the big boss man crushed wandering around ruined Melbourne.
Adrian Tchaikovsky's 'The Bloody Deluge' is the final story and is a curious mix of old and new. Jasna Gora, a remote monastery in Poland becomes the last stand for Dr. Emil Weber and his friend and old student Katy. Chased by the New Tectonic Order for believing in science over religion, the two are about to clash for possibly the final time.
Tchaikovsky's prose is crisp and thoughtful. Tchaikovsky doesn't make the old argument between science and faith as stale as it might be. Instead he constantly keeps the reader on their toes with shifting viewpoints and characters who are not all that they appear.
The climatic battle neatly inverts the premise of the novella as the inhabitants of Jasna Gora ready bows and arrows against the New Tectonic Order - armed with their tanks and technology.
One thing all three stories have in common is commentary the sanctity of life, it's a much more primal instinct that takes over. Considering in the post-Cull world there are so few left alive, you would perhaps assume every life is sacred. The skills and experience one person has over another might be crucial. But across all three stories, the authors choose to explore humanity's capacity to be cruel to their fellow man. It's an unsurprising twist, but one that has interesting implications whether it's the cool fingers of the Cold War creeping over the International Space Station, a grubby gang leader asserting his authority or the religious zeal employed by a group determined to make an example of just one man - humanity 's capacity for survival of the fittest is explored in each novella.
Journal of the Plague Year is an interesting, if not altogether cohesive take on post-apocalypse fiction. The disappointing 'Dead Kelly' is a severe weak point in the book. However, the asking price is probably worth it for 'Orbital Decay' alone.
Journal of the Plague Year is available now from Abaddon Books.