Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Zombie apocalypse? Killer asteroid? Seismic annihilation? Forget that. Why stick to the old stuff when there are so many other ways the world can end?

In Black Moon, civilization collapses in slow-motion as everyone mysteriously loses the ability to fall asleep. Scientists struggle to figure out what's happening, but have you ever tried to write a paper after pulling three consecutive all-nighters? This is worse.

Days and weeks go by as one by one, everyone goes mad from lack of sleep. You have people walking around naked, babbling nonsense to walls, and oh right, wildly slaughtering anyone they see who still has the ability to fall asleep. 

See, everyone wants to go to sleep. I get cranky when I don't have my proper five hours (come on, who really gets to go the whole eight rounds nowadays?), and seeing someone snoozing along happily makes me simmer with envy. Now imagine weeks--months, even, of insomnia. The minute these apocalyptic insomniacs see a sleeper, it triggers some consuming form of violent rage and renders them into mindless, homicidal animals.

Fun stuff.

Black Moon is sad, shocking, and eerie in turns, but the violence (of which there is plenty) never feels like it's there for itself. It's not quite as creepy as the "Russian Sleep Experiment" creepypasta, but it forgoes the demonic horror aspect to explore what humanity looks like when stripped of everything but howling need. This won't be a book for everyone -- it feels more experimental than structured, and ends rather abruptly for my taste.

One of the most striking moments is when Lila, a sleeper, is discovered dozing under the car by her sleep-deprived parents. Upon seeing their daughter happily snoring away in her hiding place, they fly into a homicidal rage and try to rip her apart. Which is horrifying enough in itself, but when they've calmed down, nothing is quite as sickening as their tearful apologies. Ultimately these words mean nothing. The plague robs people not only of the necessary functions of sleep and cognitive thinking but also of everything softer that makes them human. Many things occur in this story of similarly gut-wrenching qualities, but nothing drives that point home as much as her story does. It's a shame that the story focuses more on the adult characters struggling with the past rather than her intriguing survival story, which looks toward the future.

Black Moon raises more questions than it answers. The cause of the epidemic is only speculated on but never answered, as is the reason why only a few people in the world can still sleep. I wanted to know if this was a worldwide phenomenon or if, as the tendency goes, it only happens in America. And I want to know what happens next -- people can only survive for so long without sleep without either stumbling into some fatal accident or succumbing to complete exhaustion so at some point all the insomniacs will die out. Will the remaining sleepers all eventually become insomniacs as well? Will society go on thanks to the sleep institute chip? That's another interesting story there -- if everyone in society shuts down for precisely eight hours, what if you were the only one left awake?

Kenneth Calhoun leaves all the tantalizing answers to these questions alone, focusing on driving home the horror of a world without sleep. I'm pretty sure I won't be picking this up again, but it was a fascinating, sleepless night of reading for me.

(Slept like a baby after reading it. No psychosomatic imitation for me!)


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