Sunday 27 December 2009

Forever Twilight, Vol. 1: Darkness Darkness, by Peter Crowther

“At a little after 3.15, the whole world had turned white, just for an instant, and then everything had gone back to normal.” But of course it didn’t. Everyone has gone, zapped out of existence in the middle of the night, and the four people left at KMRT are all that’s left. Till the light flashes again, the next night, and then things get really strange.

A review by me of this book is a bit redundant, given the glittering literary stars lined up on its first few pages to praise it! Ramsey Campbell says it’s “as intensely menacing and gruesome as any George Romero film”, while Tim Lebbon calls it “a masterpiece of suspense and dread”. Michael Marsall Smith, Paul McAuley, Stephen Baxter and Sarah Pinborough are among the others lavishing praise.

For me Ian Watson nails it when he says it “reminds me … of Stephen King’s novella ‘The Mist’”. This could easily be read as a very well done pastiche of Stephen King. The small group isolated at a radio station is reminiscent of The Fog, while the mysterious disappearance of the rest of the world and the tension between safe-in-here and dangerous-out-there reminded me of “The Mist”. Add a dash of 1950s sf cinema (think Invaders from Mars) and you have a tasty concoction.

At one point I began to wonder whether the book was set in the fifties (the CDs would say not) – a hysterical woman gets slapped across the face, not once but twice, by two different male characters (Johnny on p. 87 and Rick on p. 117). Not something you see in books so often nowadays. And the first occasion comes just after Johnny lets her open the door to danger – just because he doesn’t want to worry her.

The plot is the story’s main weakness. It relies upon the survivors spending the daytime (very sensibly) turning the station into a secure little fort, and then (unbelievably stupidly) going out for a walk in the pitch black night at 3.11 am, and coming a cropper. Why didn’t they wait till morning before investigating? Geoff said, “My view is that two of us walk down into town, while it’s dark. That way, maybe we can find out some more.” Johnny, “verbalizing everyone’s thoughts”, asked who should go. You’d have thought at least one person would be thinking, a four mile walk in the middle of the night during a worldwide catastrophe is a stupid, stupid idea!

But if the plot is flawed, the ideas, atmosphere and action are terrific. And it is as scary as the luminaries above say; it gave me nightmares for two consecutive nights. The sequence with the telephone is the most frightening thing I’ve read since the railway scenes in The Witnesses Are Gone, from the same publisher. The desperate struggle to survive at the end was thrilling, and left me eager to read the sequels from Subterranean Press.

I reviewed this from a pdf ARC, so I wouldn’t normally point out mistakes; there was one that could be confusing to readers if it makes it through to the final version, though. In one key passage I think the wrong brother’s name is given (p. 75, fourth para, Geoff for Rick), which had me puzzling for ages about what was going on.

Forever Twilight, Vol. 1: Darkness Darkness, by Peter Crowther, PS Publishing/Drugstore Indian, hb, 127pp

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