Sunday, February 16, 2020

Book Review: 'Infractus' by Sarah L. Johnson

‘God is in the details, but get too hung up on them and the Devil walks off with the big picture.’

Canadian author Sarah L. Johnson lives in Calgary and writes short stories dealing with literary, sci-fi, fantasy, noir, horror and romance themes. Her works have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies including Room Magazine; Shock Totem; the Bram Stoker nominated Dark Visions 1 and Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 2. Her anthology of her own short stories - SUICIDE STITCH – was published in 2016. INFRACTUS is her debut novel. Sarah is also the 2018 Writer in Residence for the Calgary based Alexandra Writers' Centre Society

Few writers of apocalyptic fantasy thrillers with years of experience can match the standard of performance Sarah L. Johnson offers with her debut novel in the genre. Try to defend that statement with examples and the selection is overwhelming. Sarah creates characters so unique and yet palpably credible that placing them in the sci-fi atmosphere of her book makes us complete believers in the strange world situation into which she guides us. But try this ‘for instance’ – ‘A noise he didn’t know he could make clawed out of his chest and up his throat. Hot water dripped out of his eyes and he buckled to the floor. Sister Claudia gathered him in her arms, and for the first time in his life he didn’t fight her. “John, tell me what happened.” “Something’s... coming . . .” That was it. He had no words for the voice in his head promising terrible things he couldn’t remember. So, he sagged in her arms, pressed his face into the fleece of her robe, and cried.‘

Sarah has provided a plot summary that gives credence to the story that hides within the covers of this fine book – ‘Abandoned as a newborn, a nameless boy roams the streets of Vancouver like a mouse, living by few rules, under the wing of a charismatic grifter, while a voice in his head whispers very bad things in the night. When a terrorist attack destroys the global balance of power, society bleeds into anarchy. For the mouse to survive, his rules have to change. From the ashes of chaos, Panopticon rises, a shadow regime exercising control through surveillance, and the occasional act of erasure. The mouse – now a man – becomes an invisible assassin in their New World Order. It’s a dirty job, but for a nameless misanthrope with a terrible voice in his head, it’s just about perfect. At least, until he’s nearly decapitated by a strange woman with an even stranger proclamation of looming Armageddon. She offers him a choice: help her destroy Panopticon, or take a seat for the end of the world. The voice in his head has been biding its time, armed with a secret as old as time, as old as the world itself. It waits to speak an ancient name that will invite a reckoning. An edgy, subversive apocalypse tale that explores the depths of human existence and the heights of our collective fears.’

Bright, tense, involving, this INFRACTUS (‘broken’) is a stunning achievement and doubtless signals the arrival of an important new voice in the genre.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.