“Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy.
The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.
To where the monsters lived.” (source: Sci-Fi Now)
You could be forgiven for thinking that the apocalyptic zombie genre has been done to un-death.
And in the hands of lesser creative talents that’s most likely true.
But when you’re talking M. R. Carey, a British writer of comic books.screenplays and novels, who has shown an extraordinary ability to invest well worn scenarios with renewed freshness and vitality, there’s a lot of life left in tales of the shambling undead.
So much in fact that the author, who has already graced us with superlative storytelling in The Girl With All the Gifts and Fellside, has returned to the world he created in that first book to tell another extraordinary story, The Boy on the Bridge, about humanity dealing with the most unimaginable of horrors.
What is impressive about Carey’s vividly-engrossing writing, apart from its sheer poetic brilliance, is the way he finds extraordinary ways to illuminate small raw and yes even beautiful moments of humanity in a world where that has long ceased to be a viable commodity.
His central thesis seems to be that who we are as people may grow and change but that the innate humanity of our species endures, even if it takes a radically different form.
The bucks have all been passed and the arguments thrashed out until they don’t even bleed any more. Finally, after a hundred false starts, the Rosalind Franklin begins her northward journey – from Beacon on the south coast of England all the way to the wilds of the Scottish Highlands. There aren’t many who think she’ll make it that far, but they wave her off with bands and garlands all the same. They cheer the bare possibility.
Rosie is an awesome thing to behold, a land leviathan, but she’s not by any means the biggest thing that ever rolled. In the years before the Breakdown, the most luxurious motor homes, the class A diesel-pushers, were a good sixteen or seventeen metres long. Rosie is smaller than that: she has to be because her armour plating is extremely thick and there’s a limit to the weight her treads will carry. In order to accommodate a crew of twelve, certain luxuries have had to be sacrificed. There’s a single shower and a single latrine, with a rota that’s rigorously maintained. The only private space is in the bunks, which are tiered three-high like a Tokyo coffin hotel.
The going is slow, a pilgrimage through a world that turned its back on humankind the best part of a decade ago. Dr Fournier, in an inspirational speech, likens the crew to the wise men in the Bible who followed a star. Nobody else in the crew finds the analogy plausible or appealing. There are twelve of them, for one thing – more like the apostles than the wise men, if they were in the Jesus business in the first place, and they are not in any sense following a star. They’re following the trail blazed a year before by another team in an armoured vehicle exactly like their own – a trail planned out by a panel of fractious experts, through every terrain that mainland Britain has to offer. Fields and meadows, woodland and hills, the peat bogs of Norfolk and the Yorkshire moors.