Clay Blakehills

After the World

Black House Comics (2009)

ISBN: 978-0-98060-065-0

Reviewed by Gillian Polack, August 2010

I’m reviewing the After the World series out of order, I’m afraid. I started with Jason Fischer’s Gravesend because I wanted my work experience student to read it (I made a fifteen year old read a zombie apocalypse story – my soul is probably doomed to strange perdition). I read Killable Hours first, however.

Killable Hours reminded me that zombie books are changing. Gravesend made me think about John Wyndham, with its set-up of a cosy apocalypse. Killable Hours does this even more than Gravesend, because it’s close to home and kills off all sorts of people we’ve wondered about. Just the thought of zombie lawyers makes several of my friends smile, as if this was destined. I still don’t quite get why it’s funny to ponder upon zombie lawyers and not upon zombie bricklayers, but it is, and Blakehills has taken advantage of this absurdity. It’s a serious zombie novella, but, like Gravesend, there’s a sense that it might be just a little tongue in cheek. This makes the whole thing (like Gravesend) just a cut above where it would otherwise be. The macabre humour underlying the spatter and gore means that it never takes itself quite as seriously as the surface suggests. In other words, it’s fun.

Belatedly, though, I ought to introduce the series. This is the first volume, so this is the appropriate place, even though my timing is less than ideal. It came out last year and is the first in an old-fashioned pulp series found with magazines, rather than with books. I want to walk into newsagents and make sure that Killable Hours is next to something very sober and sedate, because its cover shows a male in shirt and tie (askew) and a distressed female in a suit, both holding guns and with a window full of lawyer-zombies behind them. It’s a good start to the series and a good cover. And the world needs more pulp.

It bills itself as, “A new ongoing series, each issue a new story set in a world where the dead don’t take no for an answer,” and, “After the World: Life on Earth has Changed since the Dead Stopped Dying.”

It’s unashamed of its pulp nature. It doesn’t just claim to bring back pulp fiction, the focus is on action and gore in true pulp fashion. It’s not for readers who want subtly or plot. Neither is it for readers who are looking for high levels of originality and literary promise. It’s well written and it’s pure, pure pulp. Have I said ‘pulp’ often enough yet?

There is a bit of explanation of key characters at the beginning and then we’re straight into the early hours of the zombie apocalypse, in a law firm. The author is a lawyer (specialising, the back cover suggests “in corporate takeovers and zombie law.”) and knows his splatter. There’s a neat parallelling near the start of the cutthroat long hours and impossible nature of a lawyer’s early career and the organs spilling out of a lawyer-zombie. There are other parallels throughout, giving the gore a touch of satire, which makes it bearable for people who don’t love zombie pulp. To be honest, however, people who don’t love zombie pulp are not the audience for this book.

Some of the specific detail meant to localise the book bugged me (why, for instance, did the narrator consider nineteen young to begin a law degree when the setting was Melbourne, where undergraduate studies normally begin younger than that). These little niggles made me wonder if everything was going to be internationalised, or if the sense of place would creep up on me as I read further. A really good piece of horror writing often has a strong sense of place, because the idea is to destroy the familiar and the comfortable and if the universe is neither familiar nor comfortable than the book is often off the mark. This is as much true of zombie horror as any other. So I’m not being as petty as I keep suspecting I am, in wondering about the legal system Terry trained in and why he thought nineteen was young.

Overall, though, this is a lot of fun in a totally shlock gore-filled way. Check your tender literary sensitivities in at the door, and you’ll enjoy it. Read it before dinner (it’s only sixty pages) and make sure that rare steak is not on the menu that night.