Reviewed by Richard Saar
I quite often browse through the discount bin at book stores, not because I'm cheap, but because you can really uncover some hidden gems that you may have missed. There’s nothing wrong with the books in the 3 for $10 bin, they've just found their way there to make room for newer titles and for someone who reads as much as It do, it’s almost impossible to walk past them. So it was that I saw Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun, the book had a striking cover and it looked like a great premise. Sold!
This is Calhoun’s début novel and he’s captured the Zeitgeist by sitting the story squarely in the apocalyptic disaster genre of fiction, it is the hot genre right now. Cleverly though, Black Moon is not typical of the genre in that the fate that befalls humanity is not disease or zombies, its sleep.
We take for granted the ability to fall asleep and we all know that even the odd sleepless night can send you around the bend, but what if nobody can sleep… ever again?
That’s the heart of Black Moon, how a sleepless epidemic affects the world we know and we follow the not so slow decline of civilisation through the eyes of a number of characters.
The most prominent story line is that of Matt Biggs who is a sleeper, one of those lucky few who have kept the ability to go to sleep. With the city falling apart around him Biggs and his wife Carolyn, bunker down and prepare to ride out the coming apocalypse. Except that Carolyn is not a sleeper and Biggs tries everything he can to cure Carolyn, but after falling asleep he wakes to find Carolyn has gone, she’s left their safe loft apartment in the fog on insomnia. Biggs desperate to save his wife, and his marriage, has no choice but to go out into the city to find her.
We also follow Chase and Jordan, two young men and friends. Jordan, a drug store clerk, has noticed the insomnia coming and sets out to stockpile sleeping pills in order to survive and Chase who goes along but is really just chasing after his ex-girlfriend Felicia, who has dumped him for a job interstate.
Felicia in has fact left to work at a world renowned sleep clinic and we follow her story as the scientists at the clinic race to find a cure for before they all succumb to the ravages of sleeplessness. Each passing day without sleep they lose more and more of their facilities of thought and reason, if they don’t find a cure no one will survive.
Lastly we follow Lila, a young girl who’s also a sleeper and has been violently forced out of her home by her sleepless. You see sleeping is a very dangerous thing in the newly sleep deprived world, something that if discovered, will get you killed, even by your parents.
When Calhoun writes about the remarkably quick decline of society, the loss of humanity of the sleepless, the plight of those who can still sleep, the writing is assured, interesting and moves forward at a good pace. I really wanted much more of this.
However, when we delve into the hallucinations of the sleepless, or the dreams of the sleepers, the book really steps away from its strengths. I can understand where Calhoun was trying to take these elements, but for me they really dragged me out of the narratives of the characters and sometime were just downright confusing.
I have to admit I literally put the book down when I was reading the last chapter; I just didn't want to read on as the story moves into a very confusing place and I lost interest. I never put a book down at the end of it!
When I did pick the book up again a week or so later, I had to force myself to read through to the conclusion and ultimately it just wasn't that satisfying. From such promise and assured writing in the first three quarters, the ending was such a confusing and frustrating let down.
Perhaps it’s just me, I'm no fan of extended dream or hallucination sequences never have been, and I don’t like new concepts being introduced into the very last act. If these things don’t overly bother you, or if you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction looking for a different take Bad Moon might just be the book for you.
Source: Purchased from a real book store
IBR Rating: ★★★✩
Recommendation: A interesting blend of post-apocalyptic fiction and an esoteric examination of the human mind without sleep, but ultimately a disappointing ending leave sour after-taste on this fresh take on the genre.