When a writer builds a strange new world for us, it’s up to critics to mark off the lats and longs of their imagination -- he’s reminiscent of X, she’s working in the tradition of Y, and so on back to Aeschylus. Tim Lebbon’s mesmerizing novel, The Nature of Balance, demands such critical map-making.
Did you love George Romero’s Dead epics, but were always faintly disappointed because they didn’t quite deliver when it came to character and plot resolution? Balance is very much in the tradition of Romero’s extreme visceral and psychological horror, and likewise deals with a large, disparate dramatis personae suddenly thrown together to deal with world that has been nightmarishly altered. Lebbon, however, has more dramaturgical wherewithal than Romero – he answers most of the questions posed by his plot and completes the arcs of his characters.
Do you like stories about what happens when things fall apart? Balance is a worthy addition to the collapse-of-civilization genre and compares favorably to the work of Wyndham (Day of the Triffids), Christopher (No Blade of Grass) and Niven & Pournelle (Lucifer’s Hammer). However, in this case the chaos is doubly ratcheted up since Lebbon does not overrun our global village with a menace as prosaic as alien spores, famine, or a meteor – his inciting crisis is much more disturbingly bizarre than any of these run-of-the-mill apocalypses.
It is as important to delineate what points of the literary world are remote from a newly risen island of imagination as it is to chart the neighboring shores. There are several genre trends, which thankfully, this writer has chosen not to emulate.
Unlike Stephen King and his imitators, Lebbon’s primary influence is not Tales From The Crypt or any of the other tawdry titles produced by E.C. comics during the 1950s whose cheesy pulp style has come to dominate the American horror genre. Nor does Lebbon pander to prurient interests of adolescents like Hollywood’s John Carpenter and Wes Craven. Balance, aside from being a rip-roaring roller coaster ride of a scare, is a well-crafted literary work that could go toe-to-toe with anything that Joyce Carol Oates or any other late twentieth-century heavy-hitter has turned out. This is a book you can actually own up to enjoying in your college lit class without fearing ridicule.
Chris Lebbon is the most exciting voice I’ve read in the horror genre since Poppy Z. Brite and Bentley Little appeared on the scene in the middle 1980s. If you like curling up with a good book, then you’ve got to buy The Nature of Balance. I know that I’ll have a lot of reading to do in the next few months – because I’ve got to get a hold of every title this man has written.