Just a brief addition to my catalogue of reprinted reviews. I had just 500 words for this book, but I’m not sure I’d have wanted to say much more. It reads like an exercise for a creative writing course, but it needed an awful lot more work before it should have been published. Yet it made the Clarke Award shortlist. Go figure! Anyway, this review was in Interzone 247 (July-August 2013).
Nod, the first novel from Adrian Barnes, is yet another zombie apocalypse. The zombies this time around are the sleep-deprived. One night, for no apparent reason, 90% of the earth’s population find themselves unable to sleep. We don’t know how news of this occurrence travels around the world, since we don’t see anything outside Vancouver, where the novel is set. And come the morning, we don’t see people stocking up on sleeping pills, as we might expect, but rather there is immediate panic. Instant television programmes tell us that after so many days without sleep people will go mad, and after so many more days they will die. And that is the story; this is what we see happen over the course of the novel.
Somebody makes the unsubstantiated claim that sleeplessness is caused by microwaves, and instantly, with an efficiency that is truly a wonder to behold, every government around the world cuts off every form of microwave. This doesn’t make much sense, but it does serve to isolate Vancouver, cutting it off from power, communications, food supplies, anything else that might hold a community together.
Our narrator, Paul, a writer of obscure books about etymology, is one of the few people still able to sleep; his wife, Tanya, is sleepless. Their various travels about the city, since no one can stay in one place during an apocalypse, allow us to witness routine examples of looting, brutality, mob violence. Children seem largely unaffected by sleeplessness and have managed to form a feral community in the city park, though they are all curiously rendered speechless; Paul and Tanya rescue one of them, Zoe, and treat her as their adopted child. Meanwhile a charismatic street person has used Paul’s work as the basis for a new religion of the sleepless. Paul is reluctantly recruited as his prophet, though he and his family are increasingly in danger as the madness grows. Even so, we wander away from this community several times, in order to encounter a group where the sleepless pretend to be sleepers, or to meet mad people whose hallucinations seem to take physical shape.
None of these communities are consistently presented. There is a suggestion that all the sleepers share the same golden dream, though Barnes does not explore what this might presage. There is little sense that any of the situations have been rigorously thought through, so inconsistencies run right through the book. Incongruities range from the structural (the novel, structured as a diary though supposedly written after the events, is littered with cliffhangers that are inappropriate for either narrative form), to the chronological (time frames are skewed, events that have happened once are referred to as regular occurrences, Paul talks of giving a speech three times but internal chronology does not allow for the second or third iteration).
Nod was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award; one can only wonder why.