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  • TITLE: The Silence
  • AUTHOR: Tim Lebbon
  • GENRE: ApocalypticScience Fiction
  • AWARDS: Nominated Br. Fantasy Award



We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil's bargain
And we've got to get ourselves
back to the garden

Joni Mitchell, "Woodstock", c.1969


This millennium's early batch of Apocalyptic Fiction appears to be slowing down. Included igniters like zombies, killer virus, or monomaniacal aliens seems to be finally getting weary. The Silence holds tight to the genre's agenda, but at least author Lebbon adds a unique adversary to the mix.

The Vesps.

They are like Africanized Bees on 'roids. Discovered in a deep and massive cave complex around where Europe and Asia meet, this "swarm of flying rats"(p.45) has been down there a long, long time. Five million years, in fact(1). Finally released from the prison of the Earth's crust, the vesps don't act so much as a hive of insects, but more like an invading army. They eat flesh. They multiply rapidly by leaving eggs in the waste of their victims. They're blind, so eco-locution guides their voracious appetites. They don't seem to have a purpose other than to eat and multiply. Millions, then millions more, take down a continent at a time. "Don't try to make sense of this. They're fucking MONSTERS!"(p.127).

So, of course, try to make sense of this, fellow reader.

Vesper means evening, more specifically targeting the Greek demi-god Hesperus. He was repped by the evening star/planet, Venus. And "evening" or "demise" is certainly what the Vesps do well. To pull this string further, the Hesperides were the nymphs of the sunset and responsible to Hera for a garden in the western end of the world. This garden produced the golden apple which, given by Troy to Venus for Helen, was responsible for the biggest and most infamous battle of the mythological world.

Vespers also means "evening prayer", but I wouldn't go trying that with these flying flesheaters.

There was also a Roman general named Vespasian who invaded and conquered the SW region of Britannia in AD 43. He ended up being an Emperor for 10 years and started the building of the Coliseum.

Then, duh, there's the vesper bat, the longest-living bat around.

So, what do they representif anything or anybodythese enemies of human civilization? Coming from the depths of the Earth falls right into the palm of ecological fingerwagging. Fracking, or just overall deniers that "the balance of nature had already been upset, perhaps cataclysmically. If and when the vesps died out, a very different world would grow out of what they left behind"(p.299).

But, in the end, who gives a shite about subliminal speculations or granting plausibility to this plot's main drivers? It's a damn good story, told well and professionally, and will keep the pages turning long into the oncoming, ah, vesper.

All the post-it note sticking points of an apocalypse are here: a tried migration to safety, humans turned inhumane, various attempts to return or enforce an ethical, religious, or political regime inappropriate to the changing situation, and the struggle to eliminate the threat. The Silence's impact is almost solely with a single family. The mother and fatherKelly and Huwhave a 10-yr old son named Jude and a high school aged daughter named Ally. There's also Kelly's mother Lynne who has cancer and Otis, a weimaraner who is not "a proper hearing dog"(p.17). The cardinal family tragedy is that both of Huw's parents were killed in a car wreck that also left their little girl Ally alive but with the complete loss of her hearing. The narrative structure emphasizes Ally with her 1st-person PofV vacillating within a 3rd-person telling. That Ally is deaf is important because sound draws the vesps. This is tragically emphasized when Otis' barking has to be stopped at all costs.

When the vesps begin Dunkirking their way into the British Isles, it is time for Ally's family to flee, but the build-up of this proliferation takes half the novel and is a fascinating account on how informationboth real and imaginativeinfluences awareness and its subsequent behavior. Each disseminating portal becomes as important as the message it spews, as veracity makes way for hysteria. And, there are snippets from popular media added as chapter lead-offs to track the global threat plus, mixed in, are also chilling personal chronicles of vesp encounters that don't quite end well. All combined, there's a sense of invisible presaging to danger and death, as if you're huddled in a closet somewhere, glued to a portable radio, incredulous that an ecumenical debacle is heading your way(2); that "events seemed too large and cruel, so indifferent to his own fears and concerns"(p.115).

Traveling away from populated areaslarge groups are dangerous because noise invites vesps to the dinner tablethey get "trapped in a line of thousands of vehicles with grumbling engines, blaring horns, crying children and screaming people"(p.160). Abandoning their cars they travel through a series of eighty-sixed houses, still fresh with food and supplies. It is a journey from over-indulged and over-populated to "smaller, and we're going back to the way things used to be. Back to the animal"(p.289). They are heading for Huw's parents' old home, but the destination is not important. Along the way, they witness humanity at its worst and best. One of the more debilitating encounters is with The Reverend who leads a small band he calls The Hushed. They have mutilated themselves accordingly by cutting out their tongues. The Reverend wants Ally's signing skills and the final confrontation leaves everyone with less.

But not broken.

The real accomplishment of The Silence is that it feels so true. In the wake of the vesps comes The Grey, that unplugging of lightening-speed communication, cutting-edge science, societal endeavors, and the expansion of mankind's influence. But even in such a vastly despairing world, there is a small groundswell of hope, then goals, then change. No sane person favors a population culling, but maybe we've gone too far around this "oasis in space"(3) with chainsaws; maybe modern communication technology has crashed into the Tower of Babel.

Maybe we need to just fookin' shut up. And look around, silently, for a change.


1) So what did they eat for 5 million years? "Their rapid spread and massive proliferation did not bode well for their survival as a species, because their expanding population would soon starve beneath a shrivelling food source"(p.299). Then, eventually, they have to eat themselves. Author Lebbon attempts a huge leap in the next paragraph when he says, "maybe down in that cavern there had been a balance..." Sorry dude, but that attempted save is a turd in your credibility pocket. Maybe that's why there's no definitive conclusion to their invasion.

2) Okay, I'll admit it. I raped this scene from Shyamalan's Signs from 2002.

3) Joni Mitchell, "Ethiopia", c.1985


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