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Review: Outpost by Adam Baker

outpost adam baker Review: Outpost by Adam Baker

I once worked with someone who decried all horror fiction as inherently conservative, as in his mind its effectively the literary equivalent of a judgement day, in which all sinners and naughty souls are punished for their wrongs. Its not a perspective that Id considered, but Im not sure that its one that Id agree with. In my mind, horror fiction is all about that astonishing human desire to survive against all odds. Its testament to our ability to change and pivot with impressive haste, our ability to overcome whatevers throw at us. But perhaps what sets apocalyptic fiction apart from your standard monsters and ghoulies is that its inhabitants are fighting for the unknown. Once the challenges thrown at them have been conquered, what then? These individuals scarcely know whether theres anything left to live for, or whether what follows will be in any way better than what has come before it.

This is one of the central notions of Adam Bakers recent release Outpost, an apocalyptic novel that melds elements of The X Files, 28 Days Later, and Aliens. An oil rig in the Arctic Circle, Kaskar Rampart is a place where people go to escape. Its employees are the disenfranchised, the hopeless, the lost. Some of them have sought employment on this unlikely vessel to seek solace from those misguided actions that continue to haunt them, while others are onboard almost as a form of self-flagellation: protagonist Jane, the ships obese, self-loathing, fatalist minister is perhaps the key illustration of this. Its a mark of how utterly without hope this vessel is that its sole chaplain has less interest in matters of the soul than she does in a packet of M&Ms.

The very setting of the novel itself is one thats utterly chilling. Those dark Arctic days, where the sun scarcely manages a nod above the horizon; those huge expanses of ice and nothingness; those frigid conditions that prevent its staff from living a life that has any sort of normalcy. Its almost a purgatorial existence: the days seem to merge together, and the idea of getting away is an impossible one. And thus the crew exhibits a chronic sense of malaise. Its that sort of disengagement that affects your typical ascetic: these individuals are so removed from daily life that their very humanity becomes increasingly fragile. And its this that is examined throughout the first third or so of the book.

But change is, of course, precipitative, as the reticent souls on board Rampart are soon to find out. A mysterious illness has begun to sweep the world, wiping out whole cities, and perhaps entire nations. The crew of the Rampart, living as they do on a plane thats almost in another world entirely, learns through a series of freakish snippets about this terrifying illness, and what it might mean. Curiously, the idea that the world that they tried so hard to escape might be destroyed is an essential catalyst, and the crew of the Rampart is galvanised into action. Few have loved ones to return to, so its not that: its the notion that humanity itself is under threat that moves them to do something. Jane comes into herself here, transforming from a doughy self-doubter into a kick-arse Ripley (although admittedly this characterisation could have done with a bit more subtle underpinning), and she finds herself at the helm of her woeful crew. But when they find themselves faced by the consequences of this deadly virus, their efforts to return to civilisation soon turn into a dogged, pragmatic need to survive. Now that theyre, Dante-esque, descending through the various layers of hell, with no stars in sight, Purgatory seems a whole lot more pleasant.

Bakers evocation of the illness is an intriguing one: it recalls the deadly spread of the bubonic plague, an unknown against which people could fight with only their existing knowledge and resources. The crew of the Rampart is in the same position, and try though they might, the disease continues to encroach. The ending, is of course, inexorable, and is telegraphed from page one: that final fight against that creeping illness, which is one that leads to questions about the nature and the value of our humanity (and of course, given the requirements of publishing these days, leaves things open for a sequel)

Outpost has its strengths, but it suffers under the weight of itself at times. Perhaps the worst of it is the fact that the plot is so very inexorable. While Baker manages to send things veritably tearing along, its almost as though one is circling the edges of a narrative whirlpool: youre being dragged along, and there are few surprises at the end. There are also a few plot elements that evoke a resounding huh in the reader, with the inexplicable appearance of a messiah-like figure one thats particularly head-scratching. Bakers efforts to get into the mind of the disease by allowing us to become privy of the point of view of an infected character are also questionable, as this device seems too neat and opportune to be in any way believable. The characterisation is also broadly drawn, and while Baker works to differentiate his characters, its hard to get a sense of them as real people. Lovers of beautiful prose may also struggle with this one, as its. staccato. all. the. way.

In all, its a solid enough read, and the sheer horror of the setting is enough to earn it a nod from me. But in the context of the current glut of zombie fiction, it doesnt offer much thats especially novel, which is a disappointment.


Rating: star Review: Outpost by Adam Bakerstar Review: Outpost by Adam Bakerstar Review: Outpost by Adam Bakerblankstar Review: Outpost by Adam Bakerblankstar Review: Outpost by Adam Baker (good)

With thanks to Hachette Australia for the review copy.

Purchase Outpost from Amazon | Book Depository UK | Book Depository USA

This book appears on our list of zombie fiction.


  1. The recent zombie craze in fiction completely escapes me I must admit and it sounds like this isnt one to change my mind thanks for sharing your review

  2. Stephanie /

    I really liked parts of this, but I think it just needed something a little more. I loved the setting, thoughutterly creepy!

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