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AFTERLIGHT
by Alex Scarrow
Orion, May 2010
465 pages
18.99 GBP
ISBN: 1409108155


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In 2010 the world is devastated when selective terrorist strikes halt the supply of oil. Society collapses with horrific rapidity and people converge in their thousands on the few 'safe zones' set up around the country. Soon, with too many people and too few remaining resources, even these start to slip into anarchy. At the O2 Arena, originally known as the Millennium Dome, middle-ranking civil servant, Alan Maxwell, is forced to take hard decisions.

In other parts of the country, groups of survivors fall prey to merciless 'scavengers' who are prepared to use any means possible to get what they want in a world where only survival now matters. Jenny Sutherland and her two children flee the wreckage of London and eventually establish a small colony on an interconnected series of abandoned gas rigs off the Norfolk coast, where they work hard to become self-sufficient. After 10 years they are finally even managing to generate a small amount of electricity.

When some of Jenny's people are ashore on a foraging trip they save a Frenchman, Valerie Latoc, from a group of men who were hunting him like an animal, and he is allowed to remain with the colony on probation. The outward expression of his religious beliefs brings him into conflict with Jenny's rules, and soon leads to problems. Then, in the aftermath of a tragedy on one of the rigs, the news he brought with him of lights in the sky over London tempts some younger members of the group to brave the dangers of the mainland in the search for a better life.

The book presents a bleak vision of a post-crisis world that has torn itself apart in the struggle for survival. Gangs of feral children roam central London, while others, hardly any older, have been armed with guns and elevated to the status of guards in the country's only remaining safe zone, but even that is living on borrowed time as precious resources dwindle. Scarrow clearly feels that the Government is guilty of insufficient planning and preparation for such a scenario, and is far too dependent on natural resources that are getting scarcer with every passing year. The book does contain some stock characters which weaken an otherwise strong narrative, but the lives and deaths of many others are vividly presented. It is a harsh, frightening, depressing and all too believable world, but not an unrealistic one. The story is well-paced and the interspersed flash-backs to the early days of the crisis complement the narrative rather than hinder it. Anyone who likes disaster novels is highly unlikely to be disappointed by this book.

Linda Wilson is a writer, and retired solicitor, with an interest in archaeology and cave art, who now divides her time between England and France.

Reviewed by Linda Wilson, July 2010

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