After the World Saga. 2
Black House Comics (2009)
Reviewed by Natasha Pearson* and Gillian Polack, July 2010
Gravesend is a post-apocalyptic zombie novella. It is the second of a new Australian pulp series published by Black House Comics. While the series calls itself a “saga”, this has to be tongue-in-cheek, as the novella is an unlikely form for a saga. Fischer’s novella definitely builds on the previous one, however (set in an Australian law firm) and its action begins after the zombie plague has taken hold and the last of the healthy humans are under siege.
The story is set in Kent in Gravesend (which is a pun that was inevitable the moment the subject of the novella was linked to the writing of Jason Fischer), and begins with the main character Tamsyn Webb on guard duty watching for zombies from a clocktower. It launches straight into the action with a mass zombie attack. Fischer then explains how the world has changed to become a place infested with the undead and how bleak the future looks for the villagers living in Kent. Things begin to get worse, as more people are killed by the zombies, but hope comes in the form of a transmission from America.
The next day a ferry of people come from Tilbury wanting sanctuary. The mayor of Kent refuses them, even knowing that they will die if not provided for. Tamsyn’s father Mal interferes and claims that the mayor is not fit to run the town. An election is called for, but the mayor is playing dirty. Then things get interesting…
The individual scenes flow well, however, Fischer’s narrative sequences aren’t connected as well as they could have been. Natasha found the first part of chapter four – during the council meeting – confusing and hard to understand until she had read it over. There are other places where things seem to jump from section to section and are hard to follow.
Gravesend has plenty of guts and gore, and vivid descriptions of the zombies and in the fighting scenes. Natasha found that the plot followed a post-apocalyptic plot line and held together comfortably. Gillian thought that the nature of narrative was more like John Wyndham’s cosy apocalypses than like a pure apocalyptic novel. We’re more interested in seeing what happens to Tamsyn than about the wider fate of humanity.
The twist at the end was not completely unexpected, but enjoyable all the same. Jason Fischer’s style is very descriptive, and he sets the scene well. The themes include survival, hope, death, education and redemption.
The story is about survival. Tamsyn and everyone else has to try to survive in a world where many have died, and when there is not much chance of a decent future. Despite everything they have to keep battling on, and hope that it will get better. The characters have to face the death of their comrades, and also the death and killing of the zombies who could be people they might’ve known before but now have to defeat to win the war. These themes and their exploration give Tamsyn a surprisingly substantial developmental arc, given that the book is only novella-length. The minor characters are not as complex or as interesting, unsurprisingly. Natasha and Gillian both found them rather two-dimension: zombie-kill, not real people. Something, after all, has to give when the whole piece is not novel-length.
Natasha enjoyed the main character Tamsyn Webb, a sassy young teenager doing her part in the war against the zombies. She found Tamsyn likeable because the teenager was not perfect but she always tried her hardest to complete her tasks. Tamsyn is clearly depicted and comes across as spontaneous and an extrovert, not afraid to voice her opinions. Her elevated levels of panic when things go wrong unfocus the fighting: watching a teenager panic is (it’s Gillian who admits this, although Natasha also found Tamsyn’s panics distracting) is a lot more entertaining than watching zombie war. Natasha thought that the parts with fighting could have been longer, considering it’s post-apocalyptic. Gillian tends to agree, mainly because it would have meant seeing more panicked teenager.
However, while Natasha did like Tamsyn, Natasha felt that there was another layer to the character that could have been developed. As a reader Natasha knows about her, how she behaves and how she thinks, but Natasha couldn’t see Tamsyn’s personal dreams in the narrative. Who was she before the apocalypse? Did she desire something more in life? Natasha thought that an important part of a character in a story about an apocalypse is the change from what they were like before and what disaster has forced them to become.
This was Natasha’s first zombie experience. She didn’t fall in love with zombie narratives. One of the problems was realism of the zombies. One doesn’t want to wake up one morning and find that the boy-next-door has that vacant gaze and those shambling footsteps. Gillian, on the other hand, felt that it was a good example of zombiedom. Both of them would have liked a little more detail on important details such as how long the undead stay up and walking and how the zombies ‘die’ when living beings deal with them aren’t explained. The lack of explanations of key factors make the zombie apocalypse less real and its world less worrying.
Natasha found the zombie fighting scenes to be horribly gory. She would advise reading them only if you have a strong stomach for blood and brains. Gillian, on the other hand, found them quite mild for a zombie apocalypse narrative (which is probably the reasons she let Natasha near the book). The obvious conclusion is that only people with strong stomachs for blood and brains should read zombie apocalypse narratives.
While Natasha did not particularly like the genre, she felt it would make great reading for male young adults. Gillian thinks this particular novella would also appeal to zombie fans and to those who like John Wyndham’s cosy apocalypses but think they would be improved with more grue.
*Natasha is a year ten student and this review was part of her work experience for 2010.