Journal of the Plague Year:
A Post-Apocalyptic Omnibus
Publisher: Abaddon Books
400 pages, paperback
Published: 12th August 2014
Orbital Decay, by Malcolm Ross
Dead Kelly, by C.B. Harvey
The Bloody Deluge, by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Though I’ve read plenty of shared-universe novels, they all have fallen into the media-tie-in category, but I’d been intrigued by titles in the Abaddon catalog and the apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic setting of this “Afterblight” series seemed like something I’d easily enjoy. And this omnibus collection ended up being basically what I expected, nothing flashy or awe-inspiring, but a fresh and varied series of genre stories that keeps the reader entertained.
Each of the three novellas in the omnibus has its positive qualities, but each also came with problems for me. As such, no single story stood out above the others: none exceptional, yet each ultimately satisfying and worth the read. What impresses me most about Journal of the Plague Year is how unique each of the three novellas is. All apocalyptic, each falls into a particular sub-genre.
Orbital Decay has an emphasis on science fiction, and in terms of plot and set-up I found this the most intriguing. The American and Russian crew aboard a space station in orbit of Earth watch in isolation from the rest of humanity as the disease known as “The Cull” begins to spread throughout the world. The physical and psychological stresses of space coupled with international and personal tensions between crew-members become exacerbated as the characters watch the Apocalypse unfold below them to friends and family and some struggle to figure out the disease’s cause and how safe they are on the station.
The strengths of Ross’ contribution to the omnibus center on the characterizations, their individual psychology and interactions. Unfortunately in terms of science fiction, serious errors occur when dealing with biology, with Ross apparently confusing critical differences between viruses and bacteria. The sections dealing with the nature of the disease took me right out of the story into sighs and groans. There are also a lot of technical details in the story, but I can’t really comment how believable or accurate these were.
Dead Kelly is best classified in crime, or horror, being a tale full of degenerate criminals struggling for control and pursuing personal vendettas in the power vacuum following civilization’s collapse. Kelly is the former leader of a group that fell apart when a big heist went sour. Having faked his death, Kelly has been hiding out in the Australian outback, but now returns to his old familiar haunts and colleagues in the new post-Cull world. This story has a lot of raw energy, with a protagonist who is both revolting and compelling depending on the particular passage being read. It is a brutal story of betrayal, justice, and revenge.
And as such it is a lot of fun. Readers that can’t stomach intense situations or unlikable protagonists won’t want anything to do with this. The overall tone of Harvey’s novella as a revenge tale is rather familiar, however. Most of the story proceeds in expected fashion and thereby comes across as too simplistic. But to Harvey’s credit, it does end in a particularly strong fashion that is unexpected, yet ends up feeling just right.
The Bloody Deluge was the deepest of the three novellas, about big ideas of faith versus reason, order versus chaos, freedom versus control, hope versus despair. Here, Tchaikovsky tackles the big issues of what could happen to society and individuals faced with a post-apocalyptic landscape. Set in Eastern Europe, it has a certain novelty of setting, which helps against the familiarity of tackling these sorts of issues in the post-apocalyptic genre. Though the themes are well-worn, Tchaikovsky still has important things to say and handles them in a far more balanced and nuanced manner than I first expected.
This final novella falls into a general adventure genre where a group of individuals on the run from one cult-like community/power ends up falling into the protection/influence of another. The story can be separated into three distinct parts: the chase, the rescue/protection, and an ultimate battle. I found the final portion vastly superior to the opening, which really seemed to drag. I’m glad I stuck with it to read completely, but it would’ve been improved shortened.
In the end this should be a straight-forward decision for anyone considering reading Journal of the Plague Year – it’s safe to judge on its marketing appearance. If apocalyptic sci-fi and adventure stories are a genre you generally enjoy then this is worth checking out. If you are looking for a particular kind of emphasis (sci-fi, horror, or adventure) then you may want to just read a particular novella here rather than them all.
Three Stars out of Five
Disclaimer: I received a free advanced electronic reading copy of this from Abaddon Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.