I recently found myself enthusiastically devouring a copy of Terry Nation’s post-apocalyptic Survivors. For those of you who don’t know Terry Nation, he’s the now-deceased British science fiction writer responsible for.. well.. most British Science Fiction. He’s the guy who invented the fucking Daleks, and near-single handedly penned Blake’s 7, the grandaddy of story-arc science fictions like Babylon 5, ExoSquad and even Red Dwarf, which inspired a generation, brought some of our major writing current teams together in shared interest, and firmly stuffed a stencil of Oleg Gan’s face in my “possible tattoos” folder.
If my fanboying isn’t obvious enough, let me state clearly that I was excited to get a hold of this book and wanted above all else to be sure I liked it.
The book falls down because it is one of those TV-to-novel adaptions that focuses on key episodes from its given series at the cost of other material, and which doesn’t make any bones about doing so. There are maybe a few interesting scenes or moments, but the genuinely interesting stuff is skipped over. For example an understanding of just how our post-apocalyptic gabble survived the winter is left out, yet we’re treated to agonisingly drawn out conversations about cups of tea and wood-chopping.
There’s limited petrol, patience and food in the dying world, yet there seems to be an over-abundance of brandy. They put it on their wounds, give it to their sick, toast their pregnancies with it, and might as well water their crops with it. Come the apocalypse, we’ll all be warmly wasted. Your son goes missing, your lover dies, and you might get shot in the face, but cheers! Pip pip!
The reason why this falls under the banner of Crap Looking Books is… well the crap looking cover. Staring out at my excited face are four actors of varying familiarity who supposedly starred in the 2008 remake of the 1970s original series on which this book is based. All of them have gone on to better more substantial things, and not all of them were even that prominent in the 2008 adaptation.
Now when it comes to television and scripts, Terry Nation is an extremely visual writer. It makes it easy to work as his Director of Photography, because you don’t have to imagine what he wants the audience to see. Unfortunately he seems unable to shake that in the novel format, and every landscape, person, car, gun and vegetable (and brandy!) is described in Tolkeinesque detail the moment they enter the scene.
Thanks to this I really did feel like I was playing “Guess Who?” with the faces of the cover-bound characters and the extensive descriptions offered, when really I wanted to play “spot the Terry Nation motifs and nuances, then bask in their awesomeness”.
My off-and-on dislike of actress Freema Agyeman, and the disapproving scowl of Julie Graham was fueling my reading, driving me to identify who they were in the book in order to get on with hating on them. I felt like I was constantly waiting for a clue or tell by which they’d reveal themselves, and invested myself far too heavily in each and every character as a result, many of whom turned out to be just passing through.
We can bandy about clichés on not judging books by their covers, but the simple truth is that covers and illustrations will always hold influence over our reading. By the end of the book I still didn’t really know who the people on the cover were, and in all seriousness/ridiculousness I felt this left the narrative unresolved for me. I knew it was a nonsense response and my own invented struggle, yet there it was.
If the cover featured an indistinct huddle of survivors clustered around a dwindling fire, or a post-apocalyptic team of farmers working the ground while a city burned on the horizon, then I may have found an enduring image that reinforced some of the more important tones of the text. Unfortunately all the cover offers is the lazy wrapping of one tie-in with the imagery of another. Disappointment and detachment abounds.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to stock up on end-of-the-world brandy.