After The World: Gravesend (2009)

Author Jason Fischer
Publisher Black House Comics
Length 62 pages
Genre Zombie
Blurb Life on earth has changed since the dead stopped dying.

Talk us through it

Tamsyn Webb lives with her father in the Kent township of Gravesend. Like most young ladies she attends school, tries to come to terms with the other sex, and probably wants a pony named moonbeam. What makes Tamsyn different is her ability with a competition compound bow, which is probably a good skill to have considering Gravesend is one of the last outposts of humanity left following a zombie apocalypse event.

When an expedition to London goes pear shaped, Tamsyn and her father lock horns with Gravesend Mayor Terry Jacobs and his thugs. Things are looking very grime inside the township but it's about to get a whole lot worse with a horde of zombies heading towards the township from the remnants of London.

Ready to check out what might be on the agenda at the local school?


"Makes no difference. This virus or whatever it is, it's worldwide" - Tamsyn

Welcome to the second in Blackhouse's zombie apocalypse series of novellas. This time round we travel from the Legal offices of Melbourne to the home counties of England, as the zombie invasion continues to gather momentum and humanity continues to see its horizons shrink in a sea of decayed flesh and shambling forms. Jason Fischer delivers a book set in a sort of Land of the Dead world, the apocalypse has gone down and the last of humanity are living in fortified communities with hostiles threatening to overrun them. Interestingly enough Fisher hints that the zombie plague flowed through to England via the channel tunnel, maybe a reference to the various viruses that seem to be flowing out of Asia at an increasing rate.

Continuing the apparent requirement to having a pun in the title of each novella Jason Fisher hits it like a Saturday night at the Tropicana lounge. Does the title translate to "Grave Send" or Graves End", both hit the dead meat square in the middle, while there's also a subtle flavour of a Hitchcock movie that proved inspiration to George A Romero the godfather of the modern zombie outing. Regardless of intention the novella title sounds like it should have been used previously for a zombie shuffle and it's to Mr Fischer's credit that he comes at us with something new yet obvious in hindsight.

Jason Fischer checks into the cemetary and unearths some undead delights that will hav the constant zombie reader wanting more.

Strangely, for an Australian writer, Jason Fischer has managed to put together a book that sounds very English in tone and style. Gravesend is the zombie novel that James Herbert would have written if he hadn't got sidetracked by rodent apocalypses. This isn't to say that Gravesend is dry and dusty with overtly Bronte sisters descriptions escaping boredom city and rampaging through every other page, Fischer writes in a clean and crisp style with the plot advancing at a reasonable clip. Thankfully the novella isn't a series of major scenes joined together by thread bare writing, everything flows steadily towards the sea and the siren call of the United States. Send us your survivors, keep the flesh eaters at home thank you very much. Very solid piece of prose comes to mind that should excite traditional novel readers and show the young folk currently emersed in the Twilight books how the English language should be used rather than abused.

Gravesend is firmly set in the Romero zombie universe, on a clear day you can see the mall and the missile silo. Zombies here shuffle along, attack the living like a Saffa forward pack on steroids, and aren't likely to make Vogue magazine's cover. Interestingly Fischer postulates that most zombies will stick close to home, Romero's idea that they are attracted to what was important to them in their former lives, while a minority will shamble down the highways and byways to a dubious future. Gravesend actually goes nowhere with the idea but it does provide some interest over the sort of mass zombie lurch we normally read or see. Yes Fischer is building on the traditional Romero mythos rather than simply writing another pointless saga set in the most famous of all undead landscapes.

Further analogies with Romero are obvious even from a cursory reading of the text. The zombies aren't the only thing you need to worry about, and to a certain extent become the least of Tamsyn, her friend Ali, and her father Mal's problems as the zombie hordes arrive from London. It could be argued, if we wanted to join the wine and cheese set, that the zombies are death incarnate rather than the simple monsters we initially perceive them to be. Problems with staying alive in a hostile environment are more likely to occur due to surviving soldiers in London, Mayor Terry Jacobs' inability to adapt and see the requirement to go forward rather than slowly decay in a non sustainable environment, and the gun happy troops of HMP Swaleside. Strangely the only hope being held out is a voice from the U.S, this should really be a trite plot development but Fischer makes it work.

There are a number of elements in Gravesend that either don't pan out quite as well as expected or that seem to have been forgotten as the last few words go down. Importance is given to Tamsyn returning to her former home, out in the zombie overrun village, but when she finally does so it's more of an anti climatic moment than having the almost transcendental power the reader may have expected. Equally the statute of Pocahontas looms but never has the impact you may or may not have thought it would do. Perhaps the only thing to take from the Native American Princess is a sort of literally device that will reflect in Tamsyn travelling in the opposite direction, perhaps to the same fate.

Naturally not everyone is going to get out of the book alive, hey zombies need to be feed, so don't expect the sort of book Disney might be prone to release at Christmas time. While gore is not an overriding factor, Fischer cuts away from some possible guts and all scenes, Gravesend isn't averse to visiting the nihilistic end of town. Some characters you would expect to survive the book aren't getting to the final page, though none of the darker characters among the living are going to be on the top of the world either.

Once again Jason Paulos provides the distinctive cover that encompasses major plot elements while retaining a distinctive look that captures both the look and atmosphere of Jason Fischer's narrative. I'm not going to complain if Paulos continues to provide the artwork in future instalments.

Overall I had a lot of fun reading the novella and it does have a revisit factor working in its favour. Like the previous release in the series Killable Hours, Gravesend stands out from the general pile of zombie literature that doesn't work in any shape or form. Nice to see the subgenre is getting some tending loving care finally.

Gravesend is currently available in selected news agencies and via the internet. Blackhouse has recently got their online store happening, which rocks, so you don't even need to really head into the great outdoors to have your copy happening. Check out Black House for all the details. I should also mention that Gravesend will only set you back $5 (AUD) and hey for readers overseas dial on in to the website, no one is missing out here.

ScaryMinds Rates this read as ...

Jason Fischer continues the good work established by the first novella in Blackhouse's zombie series.