Adam Baker owes me several nights of sleep. His debut novel Outpost kept me up late for a few days in a row, my eyes flickering eagerly across rows and rows of thought-fuelling, horror-laden text, rather than counting those proverbial slumber-sheep. Despite my need for at least seven hours a night of quality down-time, it just wasn’t happening as I couldn’t put this book down.
Regardless of genre, if I’m still reading till the wee hours then something special is going on. It’s also highly likely that any such book will likely stay engrained in my memory for a good time to come, which will be the case with this most excellent apocalyptic action-horror novel.
Despite its insomnia-inducing qualities, Outpost is a story that upon distilling its plot and constituent elements, one might proffer an argument covers no new ground, dealing as it does with a unique but nonetheless very zombie-like menace. To take such a stand though would be making a huge mistake, for this novel is, plain and simple, a cracker. That it’s a debut makes it shine that much more.
Not only is Outpost filled to bursting with a cast of interesting characters whose relationships within the group are investigated, analysed and studied, stretched and twisted to the extremes like Silly Putty (much like some of the individuals are themselves later in the book), but it’s a compulsive page-turner. I really did find it hard to stop reading, and really wanted to know what was going to happen next so very, very much.
The main focus of the story is on and around the Kasker Rampart oil platform, which is offline but remains home to a skeleton crew of around a dozen staff who keep the place ticking over. As they mostly idle away their time, the world around them is melting away as apocalyptic disaster unfolds. We see what the crew sees on the TVs (while they broadcast that is) – there are no heavy first or third-person accounts from the rest of the world. In that case, we the reader too feel the sense of dismal wonder at what is going on elsewhere, isolated on this ice sheet at the top of the globe.
Our first contact is with the Reverend Jane, a spiritual counsellor to the crew, or more pertinently those few who want her services. Overweight and harbouring secret suicidal urges she’s definitely not your stereo-typical Vicar of Dibley-type character. She is likeable certainly, but her path is a much darker one than her colleagues might guess, and her own personal struggles have clearly begun before those of a more morose nature begin to take hold. She’s continually a lynchpin to the other characters, and setting, and it’s around her the early part of the story is given a centre, albeit one that spins maniacally from its axis.
The story opens to introduce other characters as interesting, and we soon get a good idea of the rag-tag band assembled here. From steroid-laden, workout-obsessed misanthrope divers to hippie-type isolationists, ex-bank tellers to sociopathic scientists. The Kasker Rampart crew would certainly make for an interesting dinner party crowd – and technically, at later stages of this book, mention of such a thing certainly might not be so amiss.
Time is taken to introduce all of the crew and ensure they get adequate attention, and revealed is a socio-dynamic that at best is strained, and at worst is borderline maniacal and implosive – and that’s before even the first escalation of a situation into crisis. A hundred pages in and the landscape is near unrecognisable, brutalised in fact. But the quality of writing remains high, and the pull of the story more so.
Adam Baker sets up scene after scene with a sharpness likened to an iceberg tip viewed from the platform’s observatory. But even better is his realisation between plot elements and movement from one moment to another in seamless transition: all are well orchestrated and tension built close to perfection.
Here there is high drama, as a tightly-packed peer group and community fall slowly to pieces, playing to a back-story of global meltdown that ties in so well to a tale of Arctic horror. Despite what’s going on, and at times there’s a huge amount , Baker doesn’t lose control. This is key to the successful storytelling here; too many authors out there have great ideas, but so many fail to deliver them with such aplomb.
Merging action and horror elements, whilst subtly switching to investigate the psychological musings of a human in the throes of self-identify crisis due to, well, for want of a better word ‘undeath’, can’t be easy things to do. Nonetheless, these are the types of mechanisms and switches flicked on and off throughout the book to great effect, and with apparent relative ease on the author’s behalf it would seem too.
Baker’s book is fresh as it is frantic; it’s a genuinely compelling and ultimately page-turning delve into a what-if doomsday scenario comprising many extreme and horror-laden variables. I’ve heard rumour from trustworthy sources that there’s a prequel in the works, and I cannot wait to read it. I’m even willing to sacrifice a proper night’s sleep once or twice more if it promises to be as good.