Oh, my. Darin Bradley’s NOISE is the type of post-civilizational collapse novel that everyone should read at least once. Okay, maybe not everyone, because idiots do tend to get ideas, and I wouldn’t look forward to living in a post-Event (as Bradley terms it) world, where all our trappings of civilization such as electrical power, water and order are lost.
From the detritus, a new type of order forms, one that has been cobbled together piecemeal from a series of disconnected broadcasts over analog airwaves, and it comes to the fore to replace the old civilization, a survivalist’s wet dream, a mix of MAD MAX and the video game FALLOUT.
This is a violent world, where force and a commitment to it — to the belief that what one is doing is right, and that others (the Outsiders) are wrong — is the driving sentiment. Our heroes have prepared for the Event, for the beginning of the end.
They have studied the arcane codas of The Book, the collection of knowledge that has been acquired from these analog broadcasts. They have literally honed their swords, ready to commit violence in order to acquire goods. They have filed down their morals from whatever they once had to what they believe they need for the only goal: survival.
NOISE is the tale of how two young men decide to live their lives when the world collapses around them; how they have carved out a place somewhere in West Texas where they will weather the first storms of violence and murderous rampage; where they will survive; where they will rebuild. It is a tale of how they slowly acquire followers, fellow travelers who have been set adrift when the world goes haywire, fellow members of the Group who must also follow the teachings of The Book in order to survive.
For all of its grim violence and its scary representation of how fast normal modes of behavior slide into barbarianism as Hiram and Luke slaughter their way out of Texas and on the road to their supposed Shangri-La, there is a counter-tale, chapters of The Book itself.
The Book is a road map for how to create a civilization from scratch, how to rebuild what once was without all the prickly parts like taxes, ultimate power and autocracy. It preaches violence when necessary — and it is almost always necessary. It can — and is — misused by our heroes. It is also deeply cynical. Is it a hopeful text, one that could be a founding text of a new civilization, or is it a blueprint for fascism?
You can find out what the author thinks in a 14-page interview that is appended to the paperback version, and I urge you not to miss this. Bradley allows every reader to hold on to their own interpretation of Luke and Hiram’s actions, but he also gives us the background of what he was trying to accomplish with this tale, and offers up his own reflections on personality, place, and political and national identity.
This is a stunner of a novel, with a modernist almost poetical style, and a concept that blasts its way through the hoary old clichés. Even more remarkably, Bradley does all this in around 200 pages, an amazing exemplar of brevity in a world of bloated doorstops. It’s the best fiction book I’ve read this year. —Mark Rose