What a monster romp this is – in every respect. It’s described as a ‘horror’ story by some reviewers which is massively over-stating things… perhaps because the author is best known for his zombie-apocalypse World War Z story. But Devolution is a different type of cautionary tale, leaning more towards time-honoured sci-fi like The Day of The Triffids. So while there is a skin-crawling build-up to the stand-out action sequences – with creepy critters skulking in the deep dark forest – you don’t need to fret about gruesome gore or nasty slasher suspense.
The story is artfully presented as a post-event investigation into the weird disappearance of a small community after a nearby volcano severs the remote village’s insubstantial ties to the modern world. We get first-hand reports of what actually happened from Kate’s journal – she’s the newest arrival at this post-modernist eco-commune, attempting to mend her husband’s shattered self-confidence and centre herself away from the incessant demands of modern life.
The other inhabitants are a splendidly assembled mishmash of misfits. These self-obsessed narcissists and wealthy weirdos play at getting back to nature while their delicatessen food deliveries arrive by drone and ultra high-tech systems provide all the comforts of the 21st century. Rather wonderfully, once the volcano cuts off communication with civilisation then all those fragile egos fall apart in spectacular fashion. And that’s even before nature starts getting its own back in the shape of big-footed yeti beasts…
Kate herself undergoes the traditional character development from whinging ninny to kick-ass survivor, under the tutelage of an older woman, Mostar. Her life experiences in grim war zones give Mostar unpleasant insights into what occurs when the centre cannot hold. This time it’s not mere anarchy that’s loosed upon the world, but instead a mythical monster with quite remarkably large feet. Cue running, screaming and stone-age weaponry.
It’s all been done before and yes, this is all a teeny bit silly. But the writing rips along, the indolent, self-indulgent inadequates get their just desserts and there’s just enough science-stuff to make it feel faintly plausible (if you squint from a long distance). A diverting frolic which doesn’t take itself too seriously – but scores some palpable hits against contemporary social norms.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Devolution by Max Brooks is available at Amazon