In THEM OR US by David Moody, the final book in the HATER trilogy, the war between the Haters and the Unchanged is almost over. As the Unchanged near extinction after a nuclear exchange, the Haters begin to turn on each other. This review includes some reflections on the complete trilogy, already a classic in the genre, and may include spoilers or hints of spoilers, so read at your risk.
HATER tells the story of an office worker crushed by a mind-numbing civil service job, nagging wife and children, judgmental father in law–a life filled with debt and demands and worry. Then people mysteriously go berserk for no apparent reason and begin killing everyone around them. The media dubs these people Haters. Soon, so many fall for the Hate that the government is forced to take drastic action to exterminate the menace.
In HATER, our sympathies are jarred as we enter the mind of a Hater, and begin to root for them as the Unchanged choose a Final Solution–wholesale extermination. After seeing Haters brutally murder people for so long in the book, this switch is done so skillfully, the twist itself so surprising and strangely cathartic for the reader, that Moody has permanently earned himself status as a master of the genre. The final vision is one of civil war, a military firing missiles at itself, a horde of Haters descending on a town and slaughtering the Other in their beds, and, in a strange moment of catharsis, we actually cheer them on. The ending EXPLODES.
Moody’s second book in the trilogy is DOG BLOOD. Sequels are tough, especially for a novel like HATER, which packed so much punch, but he aced it. It’s got all the elements of an exciting apocalyptic horror novel while adding Moody’s trademark ability to make you care about the very real, flesh-and-blood people in his story. While the experience of reading the book would probably be richer if you read HATER first, it’s not necessary, and I would suggest this as an opportunity (to read another great book), not a detractor. The story is incredibly sad as we realize that the Hate has made the concept of family obsolete; the Hater children are all feral monsters, and an Unchanged mother hugs her little girl and tells her she loves her even as her girl kills her. The story ends with a massive bang–a mushroom cloud over a major city, the ultimate symbol of the Hate, and we’re not even sure who dropped it. In the rubble of what was once England, both sides have reached a point where they are willing to kill themselves if only they kill the enemy as well.
I did have a criticism of DOG BLOOD, however. In this book, the story is as personal as HATER, focusing on a Hater father trying to find his Hater daughter among the Unchanged, but my sympathies ended up being torn. The Haters are so brutal and murderous in this book I found them hard to sympathize with; in HATER, Moody masterfully made you sympathize with them nonetheless because the Hate makes them believe they are not the Haters, but everybody else; in other words, the Haters are terrified of the Unchanged, and try to kill them out of self defense–the Hate being based on fear, not real hate. This important element was missing in the second book, and in my view it was a missed opportunity–for the Haters to say THEY are the Unchanged and the true Haters are actually everybody else–for both sides of the human race to believe the other is the Hater, not them.
In THEM OR US, the spectacular finish to the trilogy, Danny McCoyne finds himself at the center of a pivotal confrontation between the urge to hate and the need to try to rebuild. Much of the conflict is internal among the surviving Haters, reviving the reader’s sympathy. The world is dying and the Haters are still fighting, this time each other in a final contest of survival over meager food and water supplies. Danny McCoyne, scarred and tired, is stuck squarely in this contest, and we care about what happens to him.
THEM OR US is classic David Moody, whose nightmarish apocalyptic visions are always dark and violent, but offer a ray of hope. In Moody’s stories, the people we come to care about are often brutalized, and yet the human race itself has a chance to go on. But which side of the human race? That is the essential question in THEM OR US. The Haters may be better equipped to fight, but not necessarily survive. Their obsession with the Hate, and fighting, may disqualify them from the right to continue to the human race.
Check out THEM OR US, Moody’s final vision of the apocalypse, when it is finally released on November 8. Click here to preorder on Amazon.