Humans struggle to survive monstrous winter

Author Jasper Fforde says his world-building is a “thought experiment gone wild”.
Author Jasper Fforde says his world-building is a “thought experiment gone wild”.PHOTO: MARI FFORDE



By Jasper Fforde

Hodder & Stoughton/Paperback/405 pages/ $30.93/Books Kinokuniya

3.5 stars

Winter is coming and the odds are not in humanity's favour. If a cross between the monstrous winter of George R.R. Martin's A Song Of Ice And Fire series and dream-heist film Inception (2010) sounds appealing, then British author Jasper Fforde's standalone novel Early Riser is for you.

In it, humans spend the five months of winter in hibernation, but a lot can happen during the big sleep. One could fail to eat enough food beforehand and die or drug complications could cause one to wake up a zombie or a nightwalker. People are sanguine about their chances.

One per cent of the population choose to brave the myriad dangers of the cold season. Among them is Charlie Worthing, a novice Winter Consul experiencing his first winter.

The Consuls are charged with policing the winter, but Charlie soon learns that policing is a tall order when survival is barely on the cards. His predecessor, he is told, is in an asylum shouting at the walls. The one before that had her body returned sans head.

Stranded in Wales' treacherous Sector 12 and caught between a sinister pharmaceutical corporation and a terrifying chief consul who likes punching people in the eye, Charlie investigates a viral dream that is driving people insane.

Fforde is wildly innovative in his world-building, but not too calibrated in its delivery. His information comes in an avalanche, the onslaught of jargon such as Morphenox, Dormeopathy, Hibernational Narcosis and more makes one's head spin.

Still, his madcap dark humour helps to power through what can sometimes be a confusing read.

This is a world where nightwalkers play Tom Jones on the bazouki (a stringed Greek instrument), the brigands are English gentry who conduct vicious raids to collect stamps and an unseen terror called the Gronk preys on the unworthy, leaving behind their clothes neatly folded.

The novel builds to a thrilling climax that is worth staying up for.

If you like this, read: Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett (Random House, 2006, $16.48, Books Kinokuniya), in which teenage witch Tiffany Aching leaps into a dance and catches the eye of the personification of Winter. Unless she can deal with his affections, her people may not survive until spring.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2018, with the headline 'Humans struggle to survive monstrous winter'. Subscribe