Review: Gravesend, by Jason Fischer (After the World, #2)


Black House Comics

(Review first published in ASIM 44)

I’m not particularly a fan of zombie fiction, but if it’s going to be done it may as well be done right, by an author who has the brains (all together now, braiiinnsss!) to pull it off. And Jason Fischer brings zombies to life in a way that few other writers could manage.

The ‘After The World’ series is a sequence of novellas, each written by a different author, and published by Aussie pulp-comic press Black House Comics. They centre, lest their lurid and gore-emblazoned covers leave you in any doubt, on the aftermath of the upcoming Zombie Apocalpse. Fischer’s story focusses on the embattled British port town of Gravesend where, as just about anywhere else in Europe, it seems that zombies are on the rise, and live humans are on the decline. But the live humans aren’t dead yet. (Well, obviously not. Otherwise they’d be zombies.)

Tamsyn Webb, teenager, lost her mum to a drunk driver a couple of years ago. More recently, she lost her society to the ravages of the zombie cataclysm, and what remains is a tattered, miserable existence behind the barricades, helping her father and the rest of Gravesend’s ragtag remnants defend their hard-held territory against the hordes of coffin-dodgers. Tamsyn’s existence is grim, unrelenting, and yet she still finds some reasons to hope, some purpose to continuing the fight. It helps, too, that she’s an expert markswoman, lethal with a compound bow, and handy with a hatchet.

Tamsyn’s strength of character is one of the novella’s strengths: in fact the characterisation, throughout, is marvellous, with at least a dozen of the townspeople emerging as fully three-dimensional, living, breathing characters during the course of the story. (Well, living and breathing at the start of the story, at any rate. You can’t have a zombie novella without cracking a few skulls, however…) Life behind the barricades is a welter of bravery and petty human bickering, as the desperation of their shared situation rubs factions against each other. Fischer’s portrayal of society’s shambling disintegration is disconcertingly plausible. Fischer strikes the right note, too, in zombie demographics, with undead toddlers, mouldering middle-agers, and rotting retirees united in their unthinking hatred for the living, their unquenchable hunger for human flesh. (But, of course, hunting humans isn’t necessarily a 24-hour-a-day activity, and one of the story’s grace notes is its portrayal of zombies unthinkingly going about duties that might once have occupied their bodies: mowing the lawn, tending the garden, mobbing the barricades…)

Gravesend revels in its pulpy viscerality, lavishes attention on the severing of limbs, the execution of the infected, the grisly task of arrow retrieval. The story is ropy with entrails, rife with putrefaction, gore-spattered. And great fun. It could probably have done with a few more maggots, but then, it is winter…

Gravesend. Read it. Buy it. And then make sure your home is defensible.


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