The Silence | Author: Tim Lebbon | Publisher: Titan Books | Released: April 15, 2015
In Stephen King’s The Stand, the end of the world happens quickly. A superflu is accidentally released into civilization after an incident at a military laboratory. Within a short space of time, 99.4% of humanity lies dead. It’s that quick, it’s that simple. English author Tim Lebbon takes a similar but different approach to the apocalypse. Once more, mankind’s curiosity gets the better of him.
A team of research scientists investigate a new cave system in Moldova, and decide to televise their first ever expedition down below. What emerges makes the reader pine for the relative gore-free death of King’s ‘Captain Trips’. A new species makes itself known, and it is as hungry as hell. It will eat anything, and then lay its eggs in its prey. Nothing like a bit of species propagation after a good old nosh-up, right? The creatures, christened vesps, resemble small kittens with wings and razor sharp teeth. They are totally blind, relying solely on sound to find food. And there are millions of them, slowly making their way across Europe, eating everything in their path, despite the best efforts of governments and armies.
The only way to stay alive, the only chance any of Lebbon’s characters have, is to stay silent. Any amount of noise, no matter how slight, will attract the vesps, and death will be painful and bloody.
What I liked about The Silence was Lebbon’s decision to focus on one family. Huw and his wife, Kelly, are parents to Ally and Jude. Ally has been profoundly deaf since a car accident that claimed the lives of Huw’s parents. She communicates with her family using sign language, a talent they all share because of her. This ability comes to their advantage, as they quickly realize that talking to one another is not an option any more.
Once they understand that the crisis isn’t going away any time soon, they decide to make their way north, to Huw’s family home in Scotland, with Kelly’s mother, Lynne in tow. In a country that’s fast running out of food, gas, power, and – finally – order, it’s a journey that’s laced with peril. Not everyone will make it out alive.
Told, in alternate chapters, from the viewpoints of Huw and Ally, The Silence’s narrative provides an insight into how important family can be at a time of apocalyptic doom. What would you do to protect your family? Would you kill? Would you sacrifice your own safety and indeed your life if it was required? These questions are asked and answered.
Technology is important, too. Ally’s iPad provides the sole link to a decaying civilization that the family have. But when the power runs out, that’s it.
A poignant passage three quarters of the way through the book makes the point that when it comes down to it, mankind can be its own worst enemy:
“It’s as if the moment society started to break down, people lost their handle on right and wrong. Did they ever really have it? Dad tells me that he’s always scared of bad things happening to good people, but I’m starting to wonder if there were ever good people at all. The world’s getting bigger, the groups we live in are getting smaller, and we’re going back to the way things used to be. Back to the animal, Lynne said. Thousands of years ago we lived in villages. Tens of thousands of years ago, small nomadic bands.
Perhaps we’re all destined to face the future alone.”
Compared to King’s magnum opus, The Silence is a much shorter work, and it lacks, for better or worse, the “hand of God” to save the day. It’s up to mankind whether or not it wants to save itself.
There’s a lot going on in this book. I haven’t even gotten around to mentioning in any great detail the Reverend and his band of followers, The Hushed. If I have any criticism of Lebbon’s book, it’s that another few chapters delving into these antagonists wouldn’t have gone amiss. But those are small potatoes. I liked the book’s focus, its decision to not sugar-coat the catastrophe, and the way each chapter began with a snippet of an interview or Twitter feed, which let the reader know what was happening on a global scale. There is both hope and despair.
Plot: The pacing of each chapter was just right. I’ve already mentioned the little snippets at the beginning of each one. My attention never wavered. | Characters: I liked the family and I rooted for their survival from page one. When tragedy inevitably and necessarily struck, it hit me hard. | Setting: There’s nowhere bleaker than northern England in November, after a mass slaughter.
Tim Lebbon is a versatile and prolific writer, with works published in science fiction, horror, as well as the action thriller genre. He is an active sportsman and partakes regularly in the Ironman Challenge. His most recent work is The Hunt, which he has published under the name of T.J. Lebbon. His website can be found here.
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