Thursday, March 13, 2008

Erebus – review

Author: Shaun Hutson

First Published: 1984

Contains spoilers

I have to admit that, before reading this, I had never read any of Hutson’s books. I had heard of him, of course, enough to recognise him when he had a cameo appearance in Forest of the Damned. Let us then begin with the writing style of this novel, which was very readable indeed. Hutson drew characters that we could believe in and the prose flowed well. The plot, however, did leave one major thought in my mind. We’ll get to that shortly.

The small English town of Wakely is having some problems. A countryside town that relies on the farming trade, something is happening with the animals. Some are growing at an unusual rate, some are born deformed and there are worrying violent and even cannibalistic tendencies becoming apparent.

American journalist Jo Ward, who is working in nearby Arkham, is contacted by a scientist at Vanderburg Chemicals. He needs to talk to her but, before they meet, he vanishes. Vic Tyler has just returned to town and taken over the family farm following the death of his father. He has noticed the strange growth and behaviour in his animals and wonders whether it is to do with a miracle feed created by Vanderburg Chemicals.

The feed uses a synthetic protein, which does not break down like a natural one and has allowed a new bacterial infection to take hold in the animals. The bacteria is in the food chain and has been passed on to humans. Those infected are showing the signs of an extreme form of porphyria. Essentially most of the town become vampires, teeth and nails grow, they become psychotic, light causes lesions on the skin and is quite deadly as the infection builds and they need blood. By the time Vic and Jo figure out what is going on the town has been sealed off, Vandeburg chemicals want them silenced and the infected want their blood.

The use of a bacterial infection obviously brought I Am Legend to mind. However I did mention one thought that the plot brought to mind. Wakely is a farming town and, whilst it might be the testing ground for this experimental feed, one imagines that it exported its meat product through the country, even internationally. Yet everything (until we hear at the end of further exports of the feed) seems confined to the town and thus the complicit Government is quite happy to seal the town off. A further plot aspect that seemed to get lost was the idea that the bacteria was sporing, the spores appearing upon the skin of the (dead) infected, and yet we hear nothing about perhaps a move to airborne infection.

Other than this, this was a rollicking little survival horror. Worth a read, even if it had overtones of other work (mainly I Am Legend and ‘Salem’s Lot, the later in the effects on a community, though it was not as in depth and minutiae orientated as King’s novel). There are some scenes that are a little gross out – the mutilation of genitalia for a feed springs to mind – so if overt gore puts you off, you have been warned. 6.5 out of 10.

Thanks to Ian, who spotted the omnibus edition in a clearance house bookseller and picked it up for me.

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