In Black Moon, civilization has collapsed in the face of a worldwide insomnia epidemic. It follows a handful of people whose stories intersect here and there, most of whom are among the lucky few who can still sleep. I thought this sounded like an inventive new approach to the apocalypse, in the vein of the impending doom of The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters.
It took a few cases of the insomniacs attacking sleepers, though, before I realized what this book actually is. The first time it happened, I accepted it as the reaction of somebody who has completely lost self control, enraged with envy when she sees somebody who can still sleep when she can't. But then teenage sleeper Lila's insomniac parents test her: they pretend to sleep, and when she doesn't attack them, they know that she is still secretly sleeping. I can buy a worldwide insomnia epidemic destroying society, but it doesn't logically follow for me that the insomniacs, even unhinged, are guaranteed to attack people they see sleeping. I could accept that it happened sometimes, but if we were just talking about people who were beyond all self control, I would expect that although some might react with violence, some would be overwhelmed by despair and weep uncontrollably, some would be too catatonic for the sight to register, etc. That they all react the same way makes them seem less like humans dehumanized by duress than like creatures that are genuinely not human, or like people who are under some kind of external control. The realization that it's so guaranteed that an insomniac will attack a sleeping person that Lila's parents could use pretending to sleep as a test made me realize: this is a zombie novel.
Metaphorically, I mean. Nobody comes back from the dead. Insomnia isn't transmitted by biting. Nobody says the zed-word. But the utter mindlessness and predictability of the insomniacs after they hit the poor-syntax stage in effect makes the threat in this book approximately the same as that of a zombie story, except with less explicit gore and when the affected kill the unaffected, they don't eat their brains.
Maybe I find a mindless enemy too uninteresting, but the zombie stories that I like are the ones in which the threat comes from the unaffected humans. I like the ones where the apocalypse brings out the worst in people, like 28 Days Later or Zombie, Illinois. Or I like the ones in which sentient zombies narrate and are symbolic of various marginalized human groups, like Breathers or Zombie, Ohio. But in this insomnia epidemic, everything is strictly insomniac vs. sleeper. Most of the systems of civilization appear to have collapsed more or less by the time the book begins, although one character's storyline begins when the epidemic is just a rumor. If curfews were instituted or any civil liberties curtailed before everybody was just too delusional to keep the world running, we don't hear about it.
If I'm giving the impression that this is primarily a book about sleepers hiding from and fighting off attacks by insomniacs, I don't mean to. The main activity in all of the storylines is wandering, in search of refuge or loved ones while the men ponder their sexual and/or marital baggage.There are female point of view characters, but their thoughts seemed more focused on the basics of finding safety/finding loved ones, if possible. The men also search for and think about their loved ones, but those thoughts involve a lot more wallowing in uncertainty about their relationships or sexual prowess. I have read romance novels that spend less time discussing the state of somebody's penis. Erotic romance novels. If you are a fan of a certain kind of low key "literary" novel that is mostly about the protagonist worrying about his masculinity, then I have the apocalypse for you.
It is entirely possible that I'm just not the audience for this book. If I liked zombie stories in which the main threat was the zombies, or books that deal with male anxiety re: impotence/priapism/feeling distant from their wives, I'll allow that this book might be a wonderful new twist on my favorite thing. I also didn't care for The Road, which proves that my taste in the apocalypse might be far different from the public at large. I'd like to give this book to somebody who did like The Road to see if they like it more than I did. It certainly wasn't badly written, but going solely on my own opinion, this book is not nearly as original as the description made it appear.
Overall grade: C
Black Moon will be available March 4