The Creeping Void
Eerie River Publishing
One of my most recent reviews here on The Scifi and Fantasy Reviewer was Tim Mendees’ novella Spiffing, a brilliant fusion of Lovecraftian cosmic horror and P.G. Wodehouse’s humorous social commentary. What initially appeared to be a slice of horror-comedy in which a cast of thoroughly unlikeable aristocratic cads, bounders and snobs were killed off in a variety of inventive and unpleasant ways, actually turned into an impressively vivid and imaginative work of quiet horror with a distinctly surprising ending. It marked out Mendees as an author to watch, and as such when he announced that his next work was about to be published, I immediately decided to take a look. I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic fiction, especially in the horror genre, and I was instantly hooked by Eerie River Publishing’s decision to create the AFTER series: eight novellas and novelettes by a variety of authors, each with their own unique take on the apocalypse and its aftermath. It sounded like an amazing idea, and the sort of thing that marks out a publisher as imaginative and forward-thinking in terms of capturing an audience. Tim Mendees has penned the fourth in the AFTER series, a novelette entitled The Creeping Void, and that distinctive voice and imagination I found in Spiffing was once again demonstrated in the back-cover blurb for the novelette. It conjured up a vision of a lonely and isolated post-apocalyptic society in the Scottish Highlands; one where survivors have reverted to the ancient Clan system, and technology is feared and outlawed as the cause of the end of the world. The story follows two clansmen, Tom and Willie, as the encounter a mysterious girl one day, and then come across a group of scientists involved with studying the cause of the apocalypse. Soon caught between mutually opposed forces, they are forced to take decisions that will profoundly affect their world. It all sounded delightfully grim and foreboding, and I couldn’t wait to get reading.
After a delightfully shocking and abruptly-curtailed in media res opening that sees the two clansmen about to be hung by the neck until dead, for various crimes against their Clan, Mendees takes us back a few hours to see just how the two unfortunate men wind up in this situation. Scavenging for the few bits of broken, pre-apocalyptic debris that the Void might have uncovered, and avoiding the acidic-rooted thistles that grow everywhere, Tom and Willie suddenly encounter two things: the mysterious young girl, and a terrifying, shapeless void Predator. The combination leads them with no choice but to flee into the forbidden depths of the Dreaming Wood nearby, an area fundamentally warped and twisted by proximity to the Void. After a brutal fight against the twisted, mutated denizens of the forested area, the two clansmen encounter another group of survivors, and rapidly become enmeshed in a desperate last stand against the Void and the forces behind its creation. Forced to fight both the twisted creatures created by the Void, and the xenophobic paranoia of their own Clan, the two men must decide whether they should make the ultimate sacrifice to try and save the last remnants of humanity.
This is another stellar piece of horror fiction from Mendees, with an eerie and deeply atmospheric feeling that meshes perfectly with the compelling and relentless narrative that moves the plot forward without any padding or useless sub-plots. The characters of Tom and Willie and surprisingly well-developed for a title with such a short word count, and you’re easily pulled into their hard-scrabble, desperate worldview where finding a random piece of pre-apocalyptic material in the ground can be the cause for celebration. Mendees weaves an original and deeply compelling vision of a post-apocalyptic Scottish Highlands, one in which the ever-present Void has scarred the very land itself and caused society to revert to tiny, xenophobic enclaves that scavenge for rudimentary pieces of pre-fall items that may have survived at least partially intact. This is a world in which a hubcap can be forged into a makeshift shield, and a car bumper a blade, but even these pathetic scraps are few and far between. It’s also a world consumed and perverted by the Void, where strange, twisted thistles with acidic roots whose spread cannot be contained range across the ground, and where the shapeless and lethal Void hides terrifying, invulnerable predators, enveloping more land with each passing day, forcing those few surviving humans into smaller and smaller spaces.
There are also some fascinating insights into the society that has formed here, with a paranoid and often hypocritical hatred of technology; whilst fear of pre-apocalypse technology is hardly a new trope in the sub-genre, Mendees uses it in some superb ways, making it feel fresh and engaging once more. There’s even some intriguing scraps of insight into the cause of the Void, cleverly tying together cutting-edge scientific theory and some Cosmic Horror elements. Lovecraftian elements like Shoggoths and ghouls lurk in the same areas as Mendees own Void predators, and there’s even a tense action sequence involving, of all things, a steam-powered Ford Transit van: which isn’t a sentence I ever thought I’d be writing. Mendees also has an eye for environmental elements that can make his story stand out further; strange, cryptic hashtag slogans are daubed onto abandoned buildings, hinting at something that happened as the world began to end. They’re a brilliant way of updating another tired genre trope, and once again demonstrate Mendees vivid imagination as a horror writer.
The Creeping Void is an incredibly effective piece of post-apocalyptic fiction by Tim Mendees – atmospheric, unsettling and often refreshingly original in its outlook and updating of stale genre tropes. Populated with unique characters, genuinely terrifying monsters, and an original setting rarely seen in other titles in the genre, it’s a lightning-quick and utterly memorable read. The world described in The Creeping Void is a desperate, hard-scrabble post-apocalyptic society, in line with classic genre fiction like The Day of the Triffids and The Road, or Dave Jeffery’s modern classic, The Quiet Apocalypse, and all the more enjoyable for it. Once again I’m struck by the fact – as with his Cosmic Horror novella Spiffing – that Mendes can develop a unique and engaging atmosphere in such a small wordcount; indeed, for a novelette of some 49 pages, Mendees packs in an incredible setting, well-developed characters, as well as some great action set-pieces. It’s yet another stunning achievement from Mendes, which makes me all the more excited to see his first full-length work, and also a great sign for Eerie River Publishing and their AFTER series which I intend to become far more familiar with in the future,.