From the Parallel Worlds Magazine archives.

I think it’s fair to say that the pandemic has changed all our lives: it’s the biggest disruption in modern times and something that will leave a lasting scar long after it’s been vaccinated into submission. I’ve always been a big fan of apocalyptic fiction and read many tales of destruction, survival, zombie hordes — and, of course, viral outbreaks. Thankfully, as bad as it is, our current problems pale when compared to the likes of The Strain, The Strand, The Death of Grass or others. Even so, I must admit that I largely stopped reading these types of tales last year. Reading fiction is often an escape and it’s not easy to escape when you are reading about events similar to those going on right around you.

Since the outbreak, it looks like authors have largely taken one of two approaches: ignore the pandemic and write as usual (which helps, if like me you want an escape), or take the opportunity to write their own brand of apocalypse. You only have to glance at new book releases to see a vast swath of the latter, driven largely by independent authors.

With that many new stories breaking the surface it was hard to resist diving back in. I’ve been careful though; picking through the vast swath of mediocrity to grab something that resonates, something that isn’t too serious, something that also doesn’t spend too long on the anguish of it all. What I’ve found is a series of short novels known as The Spread, written by Iain Rob Wright — an established author who has been writing his own brand of horror for a number of years. With over twenty books under his belt, he’s becoming a popular figure in British horror.

The Spread: Book 1 (The Hill) starts in the sparse, mountainous Scottish Highlands, a harsh and wild environment. Nestled deep within this wilderness stands a cottage, behind which a hill looms. A group of friends hire this remote cottage for a weekend of stag-related shenanigans but soon finds there is something deadly waiting for them upon that hill — something spreading.

The author spends time building this group dynamic and letting the reader get to know each of these colourful mancunians.

The author spends time building this group dynamic and letting the reader get to know each of these colourful mancunians (local vernacular included), before unleashing all hell upon them. I enjoyed the banter between them and the time is well spent fleshing out these interesting characters. There is also a fascinating exploration of differences in social standing and class divide, with clashes between those who have become higher earners and those who still consider themselves solidly working class. I often get turned off by the use of local dialects in novels; if they don’t get it quite right it can come across as forced and you lose that sense of immersion. Thankfully this isn’t the case here. Having family from Manchester, I can say the author gets this pretty spot-on — even down to the Verve-against-Oasis argument.

After this introduction, the author builds the tension and horror aspects as things begin to spread (quite literally) out of control. The premise might not be entirely original; alien virus pandemics have been done many times. Carnivorous plant-like species were made famous back in 1951 with John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids while Harry Adam Knight wrote about alien fungus spreading across the country in 1985 with The Fungus, but the author does make it his own with some clever, modern interpretations of contagious alien life-forms, combining animal, fungus and virus-like features. 

The writing is confident, fast and fluid. Once things do go wrong, the pace picks up and the action takes centre stage with some well-written scenes that matter all the more for the time spent drawing the reader to the characters. I like the way the author deals with stress situations. He stays on the right side of that fine line between drawing out the tension and delivering the resulting shock. He doesn’t go overboard with graphic descriptions but doesn’t hold back from them either, following the writer’s golden rule of ‘show, don’t tell’. The author doesn’t take things too seriously — the right approach given current circumstances.

The Spread: Book 1 (The Hill) Makes you feel that little bit better about our current situation and is just what those who love apocalyptic fiction need: to enjoy the genre without feeling that they are part of the apocalypse.

Title: The Spread: Book 1 (The Hill)

Author: Iain Rob Wright

Formats: paperback, audiobook, ebook

ISBN: 979-8676836559

Pages: 158

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