First published in August of 2014, British author David Moody’s novella ‘Isolation’ was released as an ebook only publication that also included an additional four zombie apocalypse short stories, two of which were written specifically for this collection.

The collection was later republished and combined with the ‘The Cost Of Living’ (2014) collection to form the book ‘Last Of The Living’ (2014)

DLS Synopsis:
At the age of twenty, Keith still lived at home with his father.  Although it wasn’t exactly a cushy home life.  Far from it in fact.  Since his mother died he had been looking after his alcoholic father.   His working life wasn’t much better.  His performance in the data entry job had been getting increasingly worse, with the warnings mounting up almost by the day.  But he couldn’t seem to pull himself out of the spiralling negativity.  It seemed it was just his lot in life.

And then, whilst receiving a dressing-down from his boss, one which would mean the end of his employment there, his boss starts suffocating inexplicably.  Before he knows what’s happening, his boos is lying there dead and he’s panicking.  His instant thoughts are that people will think he’s responsible.  However, that fear soon goes when he finds the rest of his office are also now all dead.

Outside is the same.  Dead bodies litter the streets everywhere he looks.  He seems to be the only one who’s not succumbed to whatever it is that killed them all.  Keith has no idea what to do.  No idea where to go.  And so he just goes home.

But the next day things get even worse.  He wakes hearing the sound of movement downstairs.  Like everyone else Keith had seen, his booze-addled father had also succumbed to whatever virus it was that killed everyone off.  However, upon investigating he finds his father is now walking around.  Only he’s still dead.  And all of a sudden his father’s attacking him.

On the streets of Ashton Grove, the dead are also now up and moving around.  And they’re being drawn to the noise Keith’s making.  He has to get out of there and get somewhere safe.

His desperate plight leads him to a local supermarket where he finds he’s not alone.  There, in the relative security of the silent food aisles, he meets fifteen-year-old Anna.  A girl who has been surviving through this thing with a cocky-courage and a knack for evading trouble.

Together the two hole-up in an abandoned ex-park-keeper’s house set in the middle of a municipal park.  The isolated location seems perfect.  Right at the very heart of the park, at the central point where all the footpaths converge, the tiny bungalow is easily accessible yet hidden from prying eyes.

But isolation’s not always such a good thing.  And with the dead gradually converging around the park’s edges, Keith knows it’s time to finally take control of his life.  It’s time to fight back.  It’s time to become the man he always wanted to be…

DLS Review:
Originally written as a screenplay provisionally-titled ‘King Of The Zombies’, Moody later revised the story to suit the page rather than the screen.  The end result was this novella.  Another putrefying shot in the arm for bleak zombie apocalypse fiction.  A particular genre that Moody has become an undoubted master within.

As with all of Moody’s prior work, you can expect the principal focus of the tale to be more on the human response to the situation rather than just getting down and dirty with an all-action zombie-gore-fest.  Indeed, all of Moody’s signature elements are evident within the novella.  The hordes of the undead are purposefully pushed into the background somewhat compared to the emotional struggle exhibited between our two principal characters.  And we have possibly one of the most flawed of all characters that Moody’s brought into one of his apocalyptic settings.  This character, the cowardly and quite frankly cringe-worthy Keith, displays a gloriously melodramatic character arc that is amplified so perfectly by the exaggerated situation that they are facing.

The first chapter or two (each chapter signifies a new day) starts out like the tale would be perfectly at home within Moody’s ‘Autumn’ companion book ‘Autumn: The Human Condition’ (2005).  However, as Keith and Anna start to become better acquainted, the main focus in the tale begins to make itself known.  Moody incorporates an utterly unexpected and downright story-altering role reversal with his two principal characters.  At first Anna is the strong, cocky and hardened survivor, with Keith on the other hand simply withering away at the magnitude of the catastrophe that has almost brought about the complete annihilation of the human race.  However, Moody’s desire to focus upon the human response in the face of such strenuous peril sees a monumental shift in the very nature of the characters.  And this is the real beating heart of the tale.  Forget the hordes of the undead.  Forget the hiding, the running and the gore-soaked fighting.  Forget the end of the world.  Instead it’s all about how these two lone survivors mentally cope with this monumental change in the world.

However, the zombie-element is still there – in fact it’s the catalyst for these extreme personality changes.  As the tale progresses, the undead action keeps on cranking-up a notch, seemingly on a day-by-day basis.  And as you’d expect, what comes hand-in-hand with an increase in the volumes of the undead, is also a rise in violence and stomach-churning splatter.  Indeed, there’s similar gore-rich ultra-violent action in the latter portions of the novella to that of Moody’s novel ‘Autumn: Disintegration’ (2011) – with literal waves of stumbling zombies being hacked to bits in a one-man-war against their decaying ranks.

Ultimately, what ‘Isolation’ offers up is brutally intense peril that pushes the human psyche far beyond its limits and then lets the reader observe what happens next.  It’s ‘fight or flight’ taken to the most devastating extremes.  And amongst all of this is an absolute masterclass in devastatingly-dramatic character arcs, rising out from the dirt and grim of a rotting hell on earth.

Who We Used To Be
It was a Saturday morning like any other, with Simon Parker working away in his home office whilst his wife, Janice, went shopping.  One minute he had been staring at the computer screen, and then all of a sudden, Simon experienced a crushing pressure in his body followed by absolutely nothing.

At first he didn’t know what had happened.  He was laid flat on his back on his office floor unable to speak or move.  After willing every individual muscle and sinew to move independently, he managed to haul himself up.  And it was when he finally managed to stumble out of his office and saw his wife and son that the realisation of what had happened hit home.

However, common-sense prevented Simon and Janice from accepting they were all dead for a considerable length of time.  But when they looked outside and saw the shuffling dead wandering aimlessly around the cul-de-sac, they came to accept that death had indeed taken everyone, and for some unknown reason, their dead bodies had become reanimated.

Now it was time to adjust to this new turn in events.  By staying indoors where it was cool and dry, the rate of their decay would be dramatically slowed.  But sometimes prolonging the inevitable isn’t the best way to die…even if it is for a second time…

Originally written for John Joseph Adams’ ‘The Living Dead 2’ (2010) anthology, Moody’s short is one that adopts a decidedly different point-of-view from your average undead apocalypse story.  In ‘Autumn: The Human Condition’ (2005) Moody ran a series of short vignettes following the character of Amy Steadman whereby the reader was able to see through the eyes of this twenty-four-year-old department store manager as she gradually turned into one of the undead, and began her second life as one of the walking dead.  The concept behind ‘Who We Used To Be’ is very similar, however the delivery is worlds apart.  Instead of the gritty and near-clinical depiction of the reanimation processes that the first-person-perspective of Amy Steadman provided, Moody has adopted a far more light-hearted and almost tongue-in-cheek narrative which flirts with more of a black comedy approach to the whole affair.

Indeed, dialogue from the recently deceased Janice Parker, such as “Just because I’m dead, doesn’t mean I can’t look nice” is clearly there to draw a sly smirk from the reader.  Nevertheless, coming through this unashamedly comical veneer like a creeping blood stain blossoming up through the woodwork, is an ever-present air of repulsion.  Moody can write rotting visceral gore to perfection.  And interwoven with the story’s overall joviality are layers and layers of this stomach-churning gore.  You don’t know whether to laugh or be completely repulsed.  It’s a carefully balanced and delightfully amusing juxtaposition that works perfectly.

Furthermore, through Simon and Janice’s young son, Cameron Parker, the story is able to spin a last minute moral lesson that leaves the story on a poignant note that feels in harmony with so many of the messages that Moody so often weaves into his zombie apocalypse stories.  It all works so darn well.  Even if it is quite a surreal and strangely witty read.

The human race is walking a tightrope these days, and there’s a huge drop either side.  At first everyone called it the zombie apocalypse.  Luckily what actually transpired hadn’t come anywhere close to what could be described as an apocalypse.  As long as those that became infected could get a shot within four hours of being bitten, five hours tops, they would probably be okay.  And so far the government had managed to keep on top of the problem.  Outbreaks were relatively uncommon.  And when they did occur, specially equipped clean-up crews were brought in to deal with the problem.

Dale Harkness was one of these clean-up crew members.  He was the one who would grab the germ-carrier by the neck then destroy what’s left of the brain with a blast from a standard issue penetrating bolt gun.  However, it wasn’t just the rising of the recently dead that was causing problems for him.  He’d been doing a balancing act between his wife and the woman he’d been sleeping with.  The sex with Amber was good, but now it was getting too dangerous.  He wanted out of the affair, but Amber had other ideas.  Now everywhere Dale looked life was carefully balanced upon a precarious and slowly slackening tightrope…

Written especially for this collection, Moody’s short ‘Tightropes’ is one that deals with two precariously balanced situations – humanity on the verge of a zombie apocalypse alongside an affair on the verge of destroying a marriage.  It makes for a very cleverly structured mirroring concept.  And one that is perfectly suited to Moody, who is a veritable master of focusing on the human response within an apocalyptic backdrop.  The purposefully mirroring dilemmas suggest a deeper layer that carries the narrative along on a wave on worry, conflict, guilt and uncertainty.  It’s an emotional battlefield embedded within a larger-scale problem.  It’s a story that draws clever parallels between the undead infection and a dishonest party in a marriage.  If you don’t get shot of the problem quick, then it will take over you.  And its destruction will infect those that you’re close too.

It’s a clever and reasonably thought-provoking short tale with just enough social commentary injected in it to keep the momentum going.  There’s certainly a lot of textbook Moody in there, but nevertheless its overall atmosphere and the prose in general seems slightly removed from his normal work.  Perhaps it’s because there no protagonist that the reader feels they can really root for.  Ultimately, Dale Harkness’ situation is one of his own making, and so sympathy is hard to come by.  But because of its length this isn’t a problem.  And it wraps itself up with a delightfully well-executed twist to sets things straight once and for all.

For Chris Wilkins, the zombie apocalypse had (so far at least) pretty much been a walk in the proverbial park.  Locked away in his parents’ house (they were currently away on holiday), the young lad had already successfully secured the entire property using interior doors to barricade up the windows, all without attracting any unwanted attention from any nearby walking corpses.  Now, eight days later, he was still sitting tight in the knowledge that he had done a damn fine job of it all.  His parents would be proud, if or when they found out how well he had coped.  And it’s no doubt all thanks to the countless films on the undead that he had seen over the years.  Films that detailed the deadly pitfalls as well as providing handy hints on what to do in order to survive.  And it had worked!  He was alive, and by the looks of the empty street outside, not many others had.  But food supplies were beginning to run low.  So it was time to bite the bullet and leave the safety of the house to get some more foodstuffs from the nearby store.  But out there is where the all-too-real danger is.  And he’s about to learn that surviving the zombie apocalypse hasn’t really turned out to be everything it’s cracked up to be…

When ‘Muriel’ (2011) was first published in the ‘Zombies’ special issue of SFX Magazine, I must confess, that I just presumed the tale was going to be another ‘Autumn: The Human Condition’ (2005) style vignette that simply hadn’t been included in the original book or on Moody’s website.  But I was wrong!  First off, David Moody actually uses the ‘z’ word!  In fact, he quite literally embraces everything that is ‘zombie’ in the tale.  It’s one long homage to the films, the books and the entire subgenre as a whole.  Secondly, the writing style Moody has adopted for the short is very different than that of the ‘Autumn’ (2002) series.  There’s much more light-hearted comedy in there.  The zombie menace is of very little concern in the story.  However, what it is, is a damn good read!  The character of Chris Wilkins is one you can envision yourself being at the age of fifteen or so.  Moody plays with the idea of ‘every zombie fans dream’, and sets out on a mission to pretty much play the short out exactly like that from start to finish.  But then there’s the twist.  The reality check.  It hits him like a sledgehammer when he stumbles across his mother’s friend Muriel, and that’s when it all comes crashing down on poor old Chris Wilkins.  Pure ‘zombie fan’ genius, from an author who really does love the genre as much as the best of us!

Wish I Was Here
As she walked around the crumbling remains of the world she once knew, vague and fleeting memories of a time before everything died prod at her weakening mind.  Something makes her follow one road and not another.  Something draws her towards a wanting familiarity.  Seeing the place where she used to live helps the mist in her head disappear that much more.  Something inside the property draws her inside.  Something that stills lingers in her mind.  A memory that was once important…

Written to close the collection with, this ultra-short story is one that’s utterly soaked in a misty atmosphere of confusion and emptiness.  There’s almost no storyline behind the short tale, other than one unnamed and unknown woman’s reanimated wanderings pulling her to a particular place one last time by some lingering memory from her past.  It’s a cold and bleak story.  But one that oozes with a deep-routed longing.  And through these dwindling embers of a person, the reader is able to witness the final glimpses of humanity, before everything inevitably moves on.  What a poignant and well-suited ending to the collection and very possibly marking Moody’s final contribution to the zombie genre as a whole.

The ebook collection runs for a total of 197 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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