"Among the Living" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Titan Books
Written by Tim Lebbon
2024, 283 pages, Fiction
Released on 6th February 2024
Since the late nineties, the prolific Tim Lebbon has authored an extensive range of genre fiction, comfortably easing between fantasy, science fiction and horror whilst experimenting with the full range of formats, including novellas and several short story collections. He has also written for several legendary franchises, including Alien (2014), Hellboy (2006/2009), Predator (2017), Firefly (2020) and novelisations of successful the films 30 Days of Night (2007) and The Cabin in the Woods (2012). Of Tim’s other notable fiction in 2006, Dusk was awarded the British Fantasy Society's prestigious August Derleth Fantasy Award for Best Novel.
I have always enjoyed the occasional wander into Tim Lebbon’s fiction, further tips include Echo City (2010), Coldbrook (2012), The Silence (2015) and Relics (2017), and have been impressed by the sheer imagination and variety of his plots. In recent years, Lebbon has been on a fine run of form, and his most recent works Eden (2020) and The Last Storm (2022) rank amongst his very best.
Both The Last Storm and Eden feature the theme of climate change, and this continues in Among the Living. However, in this latest work, the dust bowls and protected rainforests are abandoned in favour of a very-near future and unforgiving Arctic landscape, set on a remote island deep in the Arctic circle, where if a polar bear doesn’t finish you off, the weather most certainly will. The story is populated by the types of characters which would not be out of place in those other two most recent works. Stylistically, Among the Living follows the same type of horror, blended with science fiction and action, a blueprint which has contributed to Lebbon’s recent output being very solid and reliable page-turners.
As Among the Living is set slightly in the future, Global Warming has increased and Arctic areas which had been frozen for thousands of years are thawing and various groups of miners are desperate to discover whatever rare minerals might be hidden in the permafrost. The story revolves around two distinct groups of characters with clashing ideologies and end up in a stand-off on the remote island, without realising there is a much greater dangerous enemy than each other. This is an enjoyable and speedily paced horror thriller, which blends in an environmental message, a slice of science and is surely inspired by John Carpenter’s The Thing. I particularly enjoyed the threatening landscape of the island, with the possibilities of geysers, landfalls or sinkholes being a constant threat in a land slowly terraforming due to the Earth overheating.
Although none of the characters are especially likable, they are well drawn enough to appreciate the huge chasm between the groups. The first to discover the caves are exploratory miners, who then sell the trace elements they discover to the highest bidder, who later mine the area and after a few hours in the cave think the jackpot has been struck. The second group (who are hot on the tail of the first) are environmental activists who will go to any lengths to prevent fracking, mining and have a history of violence in achieving the objectives. The water is muddied by the fact that various members of the groups have history, relationships, and bad blood with each other.
In the early stages, the cave descriptions are outstanding, eerie, claustrophobic and unsettling, particularly after the discovery of tied up bodies which have been there for fifty thousand years. Initially you might expect a yeti or some other mythical creature to raise its shaggy head, instead something much more dangerous is unearthed, which is sentient, contagious, ancient, invisible and at which point Among the Living begins to heat up alongside the unpredictable geysers.
As the plot moves on there are some great action sequences, including a wild polar bear fight, the characters turning against each other and the gripping and insidious manner in how the virus spreads is one of the novel’s high points. As the body-count rises, I failed to lose any sleep over those who bit the dust, but had a lot of fun imagining the bigger picture with a virus which does not take any prisoners. A cool slice of horror, action, science and even speculative fiction, as you never know what might be waiting deep under the ice patiently waiting!
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