Apocalypse Please

I’ve just finished reading The Silence by Tim Lebbon, a book I thoroughly recommend if you’re a horror fan. It’s set in a near-future (very near future – November 2016) Britain, which has been invaded by hordes of voracious flesh-eating bats. The title comes from the fact that the bats evolved in an isolated cave system to be pale and eyeless (having played far too much Pokémon Go over the last couple of weeks, I couldn’t help but visualise them as albino Zubats) and find food by sound. The only way to escape them is to be silent.

As the book progresses, the bats spread across the country, eating people as they go, and civilisation progressively crumbles. In some ways this is a familiar tale, not that dissimilar in structure to the many zombie apocalypse narratives out there, but Lebbon manages to find a fresh and disturbing take on it. His protagonist is a deaf girl whose ability to communicate silently with her family through sign language is at first an advantage – and then becomes dangerous when other survivors discover her and want to use her skills.

I found the book a gripping read. But, although I’m quite a fan of apocalyptic fiction, I find that recent events have made it seem less escapist than it once did. Perhaps, as real life becomes progressively more like a cross between Dr Strangelove and The Hunger Games, it will fall out of fashion.

Some people may wonder what the appeal of the apocalypse is anyway. If you’re going to read fantasy, wouldn’t you rather have something more pleasant? Well, here’s the thing. Modern life is very complex and can sometimes confusing, and most of us work in jobs where there’s little obvious impact to what we do. In the world of The Silence, however, life is simple, and the impact of your decisions is clear. If you make the wrong decision, you and your family get devoured by evil bats. If you make the right decision, you don’t. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that kind of clarity in your everyday life?

Conspiracy thrillers – and their real-life-to-a-certain-value-of-real counterpart, conspiracy theories – have a different, but broadly related appeal. While on the surface the idea that the world is being controlled from behind the scenes by a sinister cabal of lizard people might sound terrifying, it’s actually kind of comforting to imagine that somebody, somewhere, knows what they’re doing. That there actually is somebody in charge after all, guiding the horrifying, chaotic mess we call reality to their own ends, whatever those ends may be.

The purpose of fiction is, if nothing else, to help us escape from reality for a while. And I seem to have come to the conclusion that being eaten by Pokémon-gone-wrong or controlled by lizard people sounds more appealing than real life right now.

Have a great weekend everyone.

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