‘Oblivion Black’ by Darren Floyd reviewed

Darren Floyd’s third novel, a grisly sci-fi yarn of going bonkers in a bunker, is an immensely satisfying read.

Danny Keins has a problem. Several, in fact. And it’s not just the threat of middle-aged spread, women, and unmanageable hair.

He’s deep down in a nuclear bunker built by the eccentric enigma, Joseph Jennings. The good news – it’s been repurposed as The Sanctuary, an exclusive retreat for the wallet-heavy. The bad news? All the aircon and bathrobes won’t stop it becoming little more than a plush mausoleum if the eponymous monster has its vicious way…

And so sets the stall for Darren Floyd’s third novel and love letter to Stephen King, Oblivion Black, a grisly sci-fi yarn of going bonkers in a bunker. As meaty thrillers go, it’s an immensely satisfying read.

From inception to the catalogue of calamity that befalls it, Floyd’s Sanctuary is a wonderful creation: an impressively-detailed vast network of facilities and living space that flexes your imagination’s budget. (Think Center Parcs as reimagined by Ken Adams and you’re more or less there). The plot is less post-apocalypse than it is present apocalypse, detailing an eerily plausible global conflict that restricts the action to the claustrophobic confines of the bunker.

It essentially makes the book a supercharged ‘base-under-siege’ story, an adventure template familiar to Doctor Who fans. But Oblivion Black’s jumbled bag of chancers and shirkers makes for a distinctly lived-in feel that freshens up the format. With minimal fuss and maximum impact, Floyd’s economical prose has conjured up a solidly-realised world; rust on the ceiling and mistrust in the hearts. By the deftest of touches, he’s woven a roster of weary rich and cynical flaneurs whose actions are if not exactly relatable, then certainly understandable. The dialogue is frequently coarse and the humour dryer than a camel’s ballbag. Likeable lead Danny faces danger with an earthy realism and self-doubt that’s just on the right side of charm.

“Well, I’m sure as shit it’s not some mystic fucking creature spiriting them away.”

When The Sanctuary sours, it’s oddly heartening to see what we’d likely do given the same situation: drink, fuck, and procrastinate our way through until someone else sorts it all out. Hell, let’s face it, it’s basically Lockdown 4.0. Luckily, we’re saved endless chapters on listlessness and love-making, as the story takes grip. (You just know that the next few years publishers will be drowning in existential post-lockdown submissions of characters surviving their own company and/or Joe Wicks slashfic.)

As events escalate, the story’s brutality comes to the fore. Mercifully, we’re spared strong Easton-Ellis style viscera. Floyd never dwells on the violence, often pulling focus at the crucial moment, but there’s enough nastiness to keep the threat all too very real to our anti-heroes.

That said, with a high body count comes an array of one-chapter characters. Consequently, the book’s revolving door of murder victims can be a little dizzying: who’s being offed can occasionally become more memory game than pulsing read.

However, the action in the third act comes at such a thick and thunderous pace, it scarcely matters. The final chapters simply belt along in a pure literary distillation of cinematic pulp. Eschewing the earlier introspection, the taut fight for survival levels up to a climactic, chaotic climax, in which you never really know who’s going to come out alive. It’s bloody, boisterous stuff.

Oblivion Black is a balls-out Boy’s Adventure your Dad would have killed to read in the 1970s. And like your Mum, it goes down very easily on a Sunday afternoon. Get yourself to The Sanctuary at the nearest available opportunity. Highly recommended.

❉ ‘Oblivion Black’ by Darren Floyd. Published by Stratopshere Books, 2020. Available to buy from Amazon in paperback and Kindle edition. Paperback RRP £6.99. ISBN: 978-1-8381611-0-1. Website.

❉ Sometime writer for hire/Nerd for life Miles Hamer hosts Not the Special Edition, sci-fi and cult podcast for people that aren’t dead. Superpowers available on request.

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