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Noise
Darin Bradley
Spectra, 226 pages

Noise
Darin Bradley
Darin Bradley holds an M.A. in Literature and Literary Criticism and a Ph.D. in Literature and Theory. He has taught courses on writing and literature at the University of North Texas, Furman University, and East Tennessee State University. His short fiction, poetry, and critical nonfiction have appeared in a variety of journals, and he served as founding fiction editor of the experimental e-zine, Farrago's Wainscot. Noise is his first novel. He lives in Texas with his wife.

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A review by Jason Erik Lundberg

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There was a recent reality-based show on the Discovery Channel called The Colony; on this show, a small group of people were placed in the middle of a hypothetical post-apocalypse, and had to survive the elements, the stress and frustration that comes from mere subsistence, and attacks from roving gangs. After watching a few episodes, it became apparent that the colonists would veer wildly between two modes: Survival and Defense. They would either spend all their time on hunting and fishing and shoring up their makeshift abode, or (after a rival gang would steal their meagre medical and food stores, leaving the colonists with injuries and pepper-sprayed eyes) they would spend all their time creating weapons and scheduling patrols to guard against invasion. Never balance, just limping from one extreme to the other.

These colonists would have done well to read Darin Bradley's novel Noise.

Noise joins other notable society-wide apocalyptic fictions such as Stephen King's The Stand, José Saramago's Blindness, and Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower: apokalypsis in medias res. Rather than give us the aftermath of catastrophe, Bradley thrusts the reader face-first into its genesis and immediate consequences. The effect is like the collision with an undivertable freight train, as society as we know it very quickly degrades into cataclysmic collapse.

Narrated by Hiram (an assumed name, taken before his first violent act), the novel unrolls with frightening inevitability, cunningly revealed in a detached affectless tone that evokes the narrative of a trauma survivor or a military debriefing. Hiram and his best friend Levi (also not his real name), both self-avowed Dungeons & Dragons geeks, are followers of Salvage, a loose affiliation of analogue signal hackers who have claimed the airwaves after the countrywide switch to digital television, and it is through bits and pieces of Salvage broadcasts that they have assembled "The Book": a guide to surviving the coming economic meltdown.

The narrative chapters are interspersed with extracts from "The Book," which reveal the very practical ways in which one must survive in this New World Order. One notable way is in the assumption of a pseudonym, as a psychological buffer against the horrors that one must inflict in order to continue living. Darin Bradley's post-graduate expertise is in cognitive theory and perceptions of identity, and this idea in Noise of taking on a new selfhood in order to rationalize killing or injuring anyone not within one's trusted Group is a chilling one, and is also a perverse way to displace blame ("What you did was right."). Members of each Group are also required to renounce their families, in order to prevent the (natural) emotional response to search for and rescue them.

As a sociological experiment, Noise is far more frightening than The Colony, and more urgent. One can't help but become swept up in Hiram and Levi's single-minded pursuits: collect supplies, gather the Group, get out of the city, and establish a new society at their chosen haven, designated Amaranth. Hiram's disassociated voice gets in your head and under your skin, so very sensible even when describing the mowing down of a potential mob with a .50-caliber machine gun or the firebombing of a National Guard humvee. And it is this unique voice that is the book's strongest and most persuasive feature.

One only has to look around at current events to see the potential seeds of collapse, most tellingly in the manipulation of currency, itself a sociological construct; money only has value because we as citizens of the capitalism-driven world have decided that it does. But when that confidence is shaken, nations are crippled by their dependent economies. When formerly stable countries like Iceland and Greece essentially go broke, the ideas of stockpiling bottled water and canned food, undergoing survivalist training, and battling one's way toward safe haven at a remote and isolated location don't seem as crazy as they once might have.

Copyright © 2011 Jason Erik Lundberg

Jason Erik Lundberg is a writer of fantastical fiction, and an American expatriate living in Singapore. His work has appeared (or will soon) in over forty venues in five countries. He runs Two Cranes Press with Janet Chui. Visit his web site.


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