Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Red Queen: A review

Honey (H. M.) Brown’s Red Queen is set in a purposefully built survival retreat in the Australian bush.  It is has not been released in the United States, so you have to use E-Bay or Abe Books to find a copy.  The shipping cost is steep, but of the recent “for adults only” apocalypse-in-progress novels, it is one of the more fluid and enjoyable reads; if knife cutting tension, and anxiety can be said to be enjoyable.  When searching for it use both Honey and H.M. Brown as the early versions have Honey on the cover, but most of the rest have “H.M.”

Original Cover

The Red Queen is a character in Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland.  The Red Queen Hypothesis, first proposed by Leigh Van Valen in 1973 comes from her statement:  "in this place it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place."  Which is a way of saying, that in a continuous race (life) it is not how far you have come, but what your distance is relative to your opponents.  If you are running a race against an opponent named “Virus”, since the race is continuous it doesn’t matter that you have run 500 yards.  What matters is that she has run 499 yards, and is right behind you.  Whether the Red Queen Hypothesis works particularly well with viral infections (we generally loose those races everywhere and all the time) is debatable.  But the scientific-sounding blather allows for an efficient delivery of the back story.
Honey Brown’s debut novel, Red Queen, was published in 2009 to critical acclaim and won a 2009 Aurealis Award was short-listed for the Australian Shadows Award and won a Highly Commended from the FAW Awards.   Ms. Brown lives in High Country Victoria with her husband and two children,  where they run a small farm. She spent her childhood in Tasmania, growing-up in a convict built house in Campbell Town. In her late twenties she was involved in a devastating farm accident, and now lives with challenges of a spinal injury-she broke her back- being mostly confined to a wheelchair (source).  It was this accident that set her on the literary path.
There is an 80 second “quickie” interview with her.  Australians in the United States tend to tone down their accent for comprehension.  As she is being is interviewed by a fellow Australian, it is full on.
She was interviewed by The Book Nerd Club, and they asked her about the Red Queen Hypothesis:
It wasn’t until after I had written the story, and I can’t remember the exact catalyst for finding out about the Red Queen hypothesis, but I had already finished writing the story when I found out about it and it just fit so perfectly with the story that I went back and re-wrote the story to fit it in. I hadn’t actually named the virus, it was originally ambiguous, but once I found out about it I was amazed at how well it fit with the story and I had to go back and re-write the book to include it.
At the same interview she had the following comment:
[Thinking back to the time of writing the Red Queen] also reminds me of a time in my life, where I was, my children were very small. When one of my sons was about one and a half, I remember this one incident where I was writing the first sex scene, which is a really important, pivotal scene and I was holding my son’s head with one hand, keeping him away while typing with one hand thinking ‘oh I’ve just got to get this down right now’! I think people often think to write sex scenes you have to get into this really erotic sort of zone, but really it isn’t like that at all!
The novel starts in a remote cabin in the Australian Bush Country.  The cabin is a designed as an off-line survival cabin.  There is no road or trail to it.  It has electrical power through a water wheel, and no electrical lines run up to the cabin to give away its location.  It has (if I understood it correctly) a series of buried shipping containers that are used for storage.
There has been a devastating pandemic flu and the two brothers, Rohan, and Shannon (Pup)are quietly hiding out at the bunker. Rohan is a very hard nosed realist, who has a very doctrinaire, by-the-book, domineering personality.  He is bigger and stronger than his brother Shanon (Pup), and at times rather cruel.   They are very quickly joined by Denny, an athletically pretty young lady somewhere in her early thirties- an age that splits between the two brothers.
It becomes very tense very quickly.  There is a lot of sexual tension, and as noted above, sexuality.  Rohan is almost immediately suspicious of Denny, but at the same time, is not willing to drive her away.  Pup, the narrator, is far more sympathetic, but at the same time blindingly incompetent about matters of security and personal survival.  If Rohan has a tendency to drive people to extremes with his hardnosed approach, Pup is easily used.  Neither is able to show much consistent restraint with regard to Denny.

The novel is very dialogue driven, and very terse in it rat-a-tat-tat exchanges.  Given the author’s background, the rural setting is very well portrayed.  There is nothing supernatural about the dangers, and no hockey masked knife welding psychotics, but the continuous tension and menace very well explains it winning an award as a horror novel.
The novel is both an interesting read, and warning about leaving the human element out of your planning.

Honey Brown

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