Summer Solstice 2002
Nature of Balance By Tim Lebbon
To Sleep, Perchance to Dream (and go ker-splut)
By Lee Cushing
IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD as we know it, but no one is feelin' fine. Quite the contrary, whole cities have been reduced to a deluge of gore after one weird, chilling night. To sleep, perchance to dream (and go ker-splut), aye there's the rub. Anyone asleep during the night dreams of dropping from the sky and landing. Hard. The result is a nightmare morning that no army of Katie Courics could cheer up. Mangled, bleeding husbands stir half-awake only to find their wives squished like roadkill alongside of them. Society crumbles as 911 calls are met with busy signals.
Even nature itself begins to revolt. Grasses and trees turn sharp and prickly, jutting out at hostile angles to vex the survivors of this brave new world. Animals that once seemed docile supporting actors to a world with humans in the lead start to swagger and mock the survivors. And what survivors! Howling, naked gun-toting madmen.
Well, not all of the survivors. There is Blane, the druid-like forest dweller who has always held his fellow humans at arm's length. He now ironically finds himself leading their charge to find help and answers. There's also the bloodied, incredulous, relentless young woman named Peer and a band of others hoping to make it through another day awake, and alive. Yet the survival contingencies have changed, and a brutal Darwinian weeding-out intermittently picks off those too weary.
The survivors are countered, however, by Fay, the gruesome woman who revolutionized post-apocalyptic body piercing ('nuff said, I don't want to ruin the wince you'll make when you read it in the book). She is rot and ruin. Nature withers and dies in her wake. Who is she? Why is she so interested in stalking Blane and why has she recruited perpetual-loser Mary to sabotage him and Peer? All is answered in the end, but in a way you'd never imagine.
Given the familiar backdrop, it would be easy to dismiss The Nature of Balance as derivative of The Stand and a host of other novels in the apocalypse sub-genre. Yet Lebbon's work stands out. For example, while the book is apocalyptic, it isn't written on an epic scale. The handful of characters is traced over just a couple of days. For influences, look at Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness, not Stephen King.
Lebbon has finely crafted every delicately barbed sentence, paragraph, and chapter. Together, they wriggle and squirm in your guts, stabbing you with shock, revulsion, and awe. Such attention to detail is particularly welcome in an era when accomplished writers like King appear to be going through the motions of rehashing old themes.
I don't scare easily. But every once in a while, a book comes around that literally makes me flinch, gasp, and wince. Rarer still is a book that says something new, and says it in new ways. Even less common is a book that leads me into a gradually unfolding landscape of dread until I have no choice but to thoughtfully confront the feared abomination. The Nature of Balance is the rarest of all creatures, accomplishing all three.
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Summer Solstice 2002, Updated August 3, 2002
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