In a post-apocalyptic future, mankind has fled underground to escape the earth’s toxic surface, lethal sunshine, and equally as deadly bloodsuckers known as “fly-by-nights.” The citizens of the Southern Refuge have cobbled together a decent living in the 150 years since the bombs. It’s not an easy life, raising crops, livestock and children with no sunshine or fresh air, and limited amounts of fresh water. Scavengers are necessary and respected, braving the surface to bring back valuable materials and to kill the vile fly-by-nights. But when it’s discovered that the refuge’s water supply has been tainted with radiation, the group is forced to flee this relative haven, driven to the surface in hopes of finding another refuge and others like them.
And so a rag-tag convoy heads north, traveling by night to avoid the sun and ever alert for their vampiric enemies. Everyone’s hopes are raised when their radios make contact with surface-dwelling humans, The Kindred, only 100 miles away. But will the convoy make it before their decrepit vehicles fall apart, resources run out, or, worse, there’s an ambush of fly-by-nights?
Within this overarching storyline, the focus is on a young scavenger, Garth, who faces the wrath of his team leader Ned when the object of their mutual affection, Layla, chooses Garth over the older man. How far will Ned’s desire for possession and revenge drive him? To the grave and beyond? Perhaps….
At the core of The Fly-By-Nights is a decent horror action story. Unfortunately, the taut horror of facing down ethereal, mutated vampires is dulled, all but buried under the weight of some unbelievably turgid prose and dialog. Lumley is no stranger to stylized writing, which he has put to effective use in Lovecraft pastiches and his own Necroscope series. Here, though, it’s simply too much to wade through. This straightforward tale needs clean, crisp prose to move things along. As it is, it’s nigh near impossible to get caught up in the story, or to care for any of the characters because one is too busy fighting the stilted text.
This certainly isn’t helped by an almost complete lack of characterization. Garth and Ned are rough caricatures, black and white, good and bad, with no shades of grey. And Layla has so little presence as to be a non-entity, an object to be desired, but not a fully-realized woman. The supporting characters fare little better. In fact, it’s the fly-by-nights who are more fleshed out, so to speak. They’re suitably creepy and unpleasant.
More’s the pity that this is the case, because Lumley is an excellent horror writer capable of much better. But not this time, alas.
Subterranean Press, 2011