Solaris | 2018 (14 June) | 304p | Review copy | Buy the book
It’s almost a hundred years since the Sisters, a fragmentary asteroid, hit Earth. Much of the planet was overwhelmed. Those who survived the initial impacts, with their floods and fires, then had to endure the Long Autumn, a time of famine and starvation, brutality and cruelty. Finally, it’s drawing to an end. Earth is beginning to recover. But everything that was once taken for granted is gone. The past is now something to be scavenged.
At last the rains that have deluged southern England are beginning to dry. But most people haven’t been further than a day’s horse ride in their entire lives. Rumours, though, are moving between the communities of isolated farmers and small towns. Oxford, for example, is a no-go area, although nobody is really sure why. There’s a foreign fleet moored off the coast but nobody knows why it’s there, and there are boats moving silently through the flooded Somerset Levels. West and East are no longer connected by land. There is talk of a tyranny in Kent that is drawing people to it. Elsewhere, it’s the daily struggle for survival that consumes the mind.
Shelter by Dave Hutchinson, the author of the compelling near-future Europe novels, is the first of the shared universe Tales of the Aftermath series which will be continued by Adam Roberts later this year. Dave Hutchinson is such a fine writer. His prose is bleakly beautiful and his characters carry their doom within their souls. In Shelter, Dave Hutchinson continues what he does so well.
The setting of Berkshire and Oxfordshire during the apocalyptic aftermath is painted brilliantly. This is my neck of the woods and I loved to see it portrayed in such unusual style. It made me take another look at the world around me and imagine it all ravaged. This feels real. It’s frightening, alien and terrifyingly possible. This book frightened me.
The characters have so much to suffer through. Shelter isn’t an easy book to read, at least for me, largely because its people have had to compromise to survive to such an extent that possibilities of a future hope now seem destroyed. We meet quite a large group of characters scattered across this region. Time is needed to get to know them all as we move from one community to another and discover the harsh reality of each. At times we might feel liking for one or other of them and then that empathy is smashed on the rocks. There are moments here that shocked me, one in particular, so much so that I had to put the book down for a day or two.
While I admire so much the vision and prose of Shelter, and relish its Oxfordshire and Berkshire setting, I found the novel too grim for me. The behaviour of most of these people is so ugly. The Long Autumn has robbed them of their humanity. Perhaps there is hope now that the weather is settling and the past is beginning to be forgotten but for many salvation is an unimaginable dream. So while I appreciated elements of Shelter, not least its power and bleak beauty, I found it hard to read. But, if you enjoy a compelling apocalyptic tale and can cope with characters who appear to have no mercy left in them, then I think Shelter could be for you. Dave Hutchinson continues to be one of the most exciting and soulful writers of contemporary science fiction.