I recently bought myself a Pocket PC and I’ve been trying out various applications on it, one of which is that old niche interest: the ebook. The vague memory of a free zombie novel was the first to surface in my mind, so I hunted for David Moody’s site and downloaded Autumn. Turns out, it’s pretty good.
We begin with 99.99% of the population dying of some mysterious plague. Already we’re in different territory than George Romero. No zombies running amok, biting the population and creating yet more zombies; everyone but a handul of people dies.
People, industrious as they are, find a way to locate other people, and soon we have a small community of twenty-something, holing up in a community centre. Meanwhile, outdoors, the dead start to get up and walk. If this were a George Romero film, the zombies would be banging on the door trying to get in. But the zombies in Moody’s novel are simply mindless wanderers, with no inclination towards violence … yet.
It has been a long time since a horror novel made me feel anything, but there’s a particular scene in Autumn that gave me some genuine chills. Three of the survivors are making a home for themselves in an isolated country farmhouse. They’ve created a flimsy barrier around the property to keep the dead out. By the time they realise that the dead are learning to function better (and what they are learning is mainly aggression), it’s too late. The survivors have been lulled into a false sense of security, and they are now sitting ducks, surrounded by hundreds of zombies. There’s no telling if the inadequate barrier will hold back the onslaught.
Much is made of the idea that zombies are attracted by noise. It was quite chilling to consider that once you make the mistake of allowing yourself to be surrounded by the walking dead, it was no use simply switching off your noisy generator and hoping the zombies would disperse. The fact that the zombies themselves were moaning was enough to attract more zombies. Then those in turn would attract yet more: the snowball effect.
The story works so well because it is very personal. Moody gets into the characters lives and makes you care for them. There’s a lot of dialogue in Autumn. Occasionally, I got a little irritated by the constant need of the characters express their feelings. Things occasionally felt a bit repetitious, but mostly the dialogue worked to the story’s credit (except for all the pointless swearing). The only other irritation in the novel was the inclusion of one of those old “it was only a dream” chapters that you can see coming from a mile away. Thankfully, this affected only a minor sub-plot, not the whole novel.
Autumn is self-published, and with almost all self-published novels comes a certain lack of polish. I spotted a few typos, but for the most part the work was a smooth read. Moody makes a couple of grammatical mis-steps, but nothing to get in a twist over. In fact, the errors were consistent, revealing Moody to be a writer who cares a great deal about his work, but simply needs a little more growth.
Autumn is the first novel in a series. It is offered free for download at the author’s website in the hope that the reader will be motivated to continue the saga in paperback. The ending does leave you wanting more.