Friday, March 16, 2012

Review of Autumn: Human Condition by David Moody: Book 4 of the Autumn Series

When we last left Moody's survivors, they were finally safe on he island of Cormansey. Autumn Human Condition does not actually start where Autumn Purification left off, and instead seeks to wrap up some open threads. For the first time, we also get to see the Autumn world from the point of view of the zombies.  Though they are clearly not capable of rational thought, it's now confirmed that all that they really want to do is survive at all costs and for the pain to stop.  They are attracted to noise and light because it presents the possibility of hope, or a threat to their existence. 

In past books in the series, there was a sense of hopelessness, as each time a survivor became settled in a location, the zombies inevitably presented a threat.  For the first time in the series, we are not focused centrally on a hand full of characters and this time, there is no escape from the ruins of the world.  The survivors of the initial air borne virus largely die, rather than find a method of escape and as dark as this is, it feels real.  One question keeps being asked, if they somehow manage to escape from whatever situation they are currently in, why keep moving?  If running away and escaping today, means only having to run away and escape tomorrow, perhaps the whole effort is futile.  More than anything, Autumn Purification is a coming to terms with their situation story.  Each character in their own way must decide how much their life is worth, and how long they should continue to fight.

Penelope Street, is the first physically disabled character in the stories. She is trapped in a furniture store and because she can only move from the neck up, she sits in her chair waiting for death to find her.  She is absolutely helpless in the face of this disaster and will soon die from dehydration and hunger.  I understand why Moody chose this character, but at the same time, I would much have prefered that he had chosen a disabled character who was able to fend for themselves.  There are various forms of disability and it feels as though this example was chosen, to prove that the disabled are helpless without the aid of the temporariliy able bodied.

Annie Nelson, an elderly woman who we met in Autumn, escaped the Whitchurch Community center when it became over run by the zombies.  I thought that this was great, because far too often in dystopian fantasy, seniors are invisible, or framed as a drain on survivors. Annie Nelson returned home and found a way to live despite the fact that she was surrounded by zombies.  It will be interesting to see if in further novels, Annie will meet other survivors.

Barry Bushell is the first gender non conforming character in this story.  Bushell's exsistence had absolutely devolved after his girlfriend left him for his brother, and then he lost his job. It seemed like his life could not get worse, and then the virus struck.  For the first time, Barry realized that he did not have to conform to societal norms and began to dress in female clothing and wear make up.  He makes it clear that he is not a "tranvestite" (note: this is Moody's choice of words) or gay.  All is fine for Bushell, until surviors in a bus, crash into his hotel.  Immediately, soceital pressure starts to reassert itself.
'Honestly,' Wilcox laughed, not listening to a word Proctor had been saying, 'we wait all this time to find someone alive, and when we find them it turns out to be a fucking f@ggot!' (page 129)
I am never happy to see a slur employed; however, it is not realistic to expect that bigotry will suddenly disappear, simply because the world has come to an end.  Bushell however did not take the assault silently.
'Look,' he began, his voice surprisingly calm and assured, 'I'm not surprised you've got a problem with what I'm wearing. Fact is I like it and I'm not going to change. I don't know why, but dressing like this is helping me to come to terms with the fact that all my friends and family and probably everyone else I've ever known is dead.  I'm not gay and I' not a fucking faggot as you put it.  I'm just a normal bloke who's decided to try wearing dresses for a while okay?' (pg 129)
This scene would have been much better had Bushell not been the only one standing up for himself.  It is further problematic that while he decided to defend his right to dress as he chose, he didn't make a point of saying that the use of a gay slur is inappropriate.  This scene stands out in particular because there still has not been a single gay survivor.  It is not acceptable to not actively call out a slur, and still erase all of the people to whom the slur applies.

For all his bravdo, the arrival of other survivors means that Bushell returns to gender conformity.  The taunts reduce and one survivor makes a point of saying how much more comfortable he is relating to Bushell now that he is dressed in male assigned clothing.  It is only at the end, when the survivors leave in a bid to escape the zombies, that Bushell returns to his female clothing and dies happily.  I thought that this was a great commentary on how bigotry forces conformity.  Bushell wearing a dress was not harming anyone, and the world around them had clearly disappeared, and still yet, he was not free to be who he wanted to be.

There was a lot of death in this story but the two marginalized people who died was particularly troubling.  It took until book 4 for Moody to introduce a gender non conforming person and a physically disabled character, and the ease at which they were eliminated, speaks not of their vulnerability, but Moody's own privilege.  They were introduced as cautionary tales, rather than as people worth surviving. 

Autumn Purification was not as compelling as the last three books in the series, and this is probably because of the high death toll, as well as the constant shifting of the point of view.  There really was no one to rally around, or identify with for any length of time.  It was still a stark story and well written however.  For the first time in the series, it forces to the reader to ask themselves what would they do under the same circumstances.