Survivors by Terry Nation

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A daunting vision of the apocalypse and a compelling journey of survival and struggle.

In a matter of a few weeks a virus has spread across the entire planet, killing off almost all of the human population. The remaining survivors are in a silent world with no electricity or society or infrastructure. They form together communities and try to outlast the chaos as the world begins to fall into disrepair; scavenging, evading raiders and gangs and even surviving each other’s own madness and paranoia and panic. But foodstuffs are running low in the towns, and winter is coming. Now, those who once lived in luxury and convenience must return to the fundamentals and learn to farm and hunt and fish and build. The human race must struggle to survive against the weather, nature, and the human race itself.

Survivors is a novelization of the cult 70’s post-apocalyptic TV series of the same name. Penned by Terry Nation. Terry Nation was an accomplished British Screen Writer who wrote for over thirty television series; his biggest contributions being to Survivors (38 episodes,) Blake’s 7 (52 episodes,) and most notably, Dr Who (70 episodes,) where he is the accredited inventor of Daleks. This book is a unique experience as most novelizations are contracted to genre-authors to interpret a script: Survivors is novelized by the scriptwriter, and as such, offers some fantastic insights into the intentions of the TV series that any other author could not have achieved.

Lauded as a visual story teller when it comes to screenplays, his narrative becomes somewhat over-written in places which can be limiting to the imagination. This is important as the theme of survival should be one every reader can personally relate to: the fear of being cold and hungry and vulnerable; and unless a detail is especially important to the plot, most should be left somewhat vague to allow the reader to imagine themselves in the place of the antagonists and be more intimately immersed in the story.

But aside from this minor knit-pick, and despite being a TV serial novelization, this book is an excellent read. It is imaginative and daunting, and in a genre of over-the-top apocalyptic scenarios, it is a refreshingly restrained vision of humanity and it’s struggle to survive. Most characters are relatable and are sympathetic, while secondary characters can sometimes be two-dimensional and clearly written as a TV plot device. Their plight is intriguing and, unlike a lot of apocalyptic stories, there is no symbolic savior in the guise of army or fortified township or the like – there is only the slow decay of the world: time moves on and buildings, roads and even social conventions and moral boundaries begin to fall apart.

A fantastic read, as it is a great precursor to the popularization of post-apocalyptic stories that are so common today. Though some argue the genre is pessimistic, it is actually one of the more optimistic settings for a story. We live in a world filled with untruths and trivialities – in the end days we become equalized. Every person is important because every action they take has real and clear consequences; everything one does is for the greater good of ones self and for mankind. This comes through clear in Terry Nation’s book: the old way of life is left behind and the new way must be learned, and though it is a road filled with struggles, ultimately it is a journey of hope and inspiration. An apocalyptic drama highly recommended to anyone who enjoyed Z for Zachariah, No Blade of Grass, Day of The Triffids.

POD by Stephen Wallenfels

POD stephen wallenfels promo copyWhen the Cataclysm arrives, Megs, a 12-year-old streetwise girl, is trapped in a hotel parking garage in Los Angeles; and 16-year-old Josh is stuck in a house in Prosser, Washington, with his increasingly obsessive-compulsive father. Food and water and time are running out. Will Megs survive long enough to find her mother? Will Josh and his father survive each other? These are the questions that must be answered when giant black spheres appear in the sky and start disintegrating any people that are unlucky enough to be outside at the time.

The book shares many elements in common with Stephen King’s Under The Dome where the main antagonists are other people and the alien/supernatural event is merely the backdrop behind the story. And, like Under The Dome, POD is focused around survivors trying to fend off starvation, dehydration and the savage nature of humanity.

The main flaws in this book are, despite adequate narrative, somewhat hollow characterization and a weak alien entity. The PODs only attack people whom are outside, but never once attack those hiding inside buildings. Perhaps Wallenfels could have covered this by having a character discuss the nature of aliens, suggesting that anything patient enough to travel across the universe can wait a few more weeks while the human race starves to death or tears itself apart, making for a much more efficient invasion to follow (as intergalactic travel would be very costly in terms of resources and fuel.) Unfortunately any suggestion of justification never comes up in the book, and instead of coming across as ominous and mysterious the PODs merely seem ineffective and underwhelming.

Also, having two points of view doesn’t offer us any new insights or opinions, instead just rehashing what we have read in previous chapters. Though the tone is good and the pacing adequate, Wallenfels missed an opportunity to have a third point of view from a military/political/scientific character to provide needed exposition and paint a more vivid image of just how hostile these aliens really are.

POD is Wallenfels debut novel and, despite it’s flaws and plot holes, is still an enjoyable read. It does make a nice change to have a character-driven alien apocalypse instead of the typical Hollywood guns and explosions treatment. The reality is, when the apocalypse occurs, the majority of people are going to just try and survive, not become warriors overnight. Humans are an adaptive survivalist species, we are primed to flee before we fight, and it makes for a decent and moody story to explore this element of an apocalypse.

Wallenfels has written a sequel titled MONOLITH, and hopefully, he has fine tuned his craft somewhat for this second installment so we can get some questions answered. I eagerly await getting my hands on a copy of this book so the characters and I can get some proper closure.

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