Book Reviews

Survivors * Terry Nation

From the series of Post-Apocalyptic novels comes Survivors, a book – for the first time – written on British soil and not in the USA. Before embarking on the Doctor Who trip, Terry Nations wrote a series of sci-fi novels – one of them being survivors which was later made into a TV series for BBC.

Faced with a deadly virus which spreads quickly and at an exponential rate infects all the world (much like the Swine Flu was predicted to do), humanity needs to fend by itself.

SURV-4The book shows the life of a group of survivors who are immune to the disease or got sick and recovered – gaining immunity. They lose their loved ones, see the hospitals overpopulated, see all their neighbors die, see how it all slowly ends within a few weeks after the infection started.

They get on the road, moving pointlessly from zone to zone, not knowing what to do and living on the spoils of foraging from the dead.

We see the life of Abby, who lost her son in the confusion and is still looking for him. We see Greg who lost his fiance and sees this outbreak as a method of getting his own life on the road, making his own decisions again – even if these decisions include leaving a spoiled brat to tend to her injured boyfriend and that ends in disaster.
Jenny – that’s her name – walks off on her injured friend and leaves him to die a horrible death. She joins Greg further down the road.

Slowly, the individuals come across one another and also meet with an interesting character with political views. Since The Stand, this is the first book I have seen where chaos and death are good grounds of growing a new political state, a force where the few rule the even fewer left and they start with building an army, getting a tank, and then declaring any nearby farms inside their new state asking for a percentage of the crops as “protection fee”.
They basically veil their theft under the pretense of feeding their army and killing everyone that opposes them under martial law.

survivors-1Our little community goes back to the roots – doing seasonal agriculture and since none of them have been farmers before, they get into all sorts of trouble with the marshland, the weeds, the hybrid seedlings who only yield one crop.

They have long, hungry winters and longer work-filled summers. When they do get to enjoy themselves, they go out and get some whiskey. Coffee becomes a rarity and tea is only drank once a day – which, for a Brit, is a miracle!

They spend close to four years on the farm, beind raided in the winters by either “The National Unity Front” who claims their crops as tax due or by passer-byes. They set up a moat and start trading with nearby communities. When word comes that the National Unity Front have grown too strong and are starting to recruit for the military – men as young as 14 and that refusal comes with a desertor’s label that will make their entire community give up their yearly crops… our group knows it’s time to move on.

survivors10They do a group meeting and decide to pack up everything they can carry in a trailer and use a car and multiple bikes to go to Dover. Their plan is sound – the car can drive 10 miles and then wait for the bikers to catch up, in the mean time building fires and rest stops. This way their advance is slow but economical on petrol, which is a rarity.

When they reach Dover, they found out that other people had the same idea and they set up a toll and a crossing fee. Afraid of what the fee might be, they decide to take their chances and find their own boat. They get lucky and they find a private boat on a rich estate further down the shoreline. When the sea is calm and clear, they take the boat up, leave two of the men behind with their goods and Abby drives the rest across the channel.
The two men get ambushed by some young ones and Abby comes in time to see that one of the attackers was her missing son – just as he was being shot down.

The book ends with the survivors on the other shore waiting for another day or so and then when nobody comes, they decide to move on into France. Because they will survive.

Score: 5/5

Favourite Parts: Even though it’s written succintly (in under 250 pages), it shows the evolution of an infectious disease aftermath quite correctly. I was surprised by how good the insight into modern human behaviour was. It’s true – we are all used to using things, but do we know how they’re made? Do we know how to make the glass we drink from? How about matches? When they run out, will we be able to survive?

Bad parts What Jenny did – was quite inhuman, morally wrong. She never seems to get punished for it throughout the book. And she gets together with Greg and has a baby… Maybe she has changed but the fact that she left a man to die of hunger in the woods is not to be dismissed.


About the author

4763f0256f018a0946d0c3019699143927ff17b8Terry Nation was a Welsh novelist and screenwriter, best known for his science fiction creations which included the Daleks in Doctor Who, and the series Blake’s 7 and Survivors.

He was born on 8 August 1930 in Llandaff, near Cardiff. His father Gilbert, known as Bert, variously worked as a furniture upholsterer, salesman, chicken farmer and stocks speculator, and had a passion for drawing. His mother Susan was a housewife who gave her son a sense of purpose and drive.
The young Terry Nation had a passion for reading, although at school he was frequently seen as a daydreamer with little academic flair. Upon leaving education he immersed himself in writing and appeared on local stage productions.
Nation also began writing comedy prose and sketches, inspired by the wartime broadcasts from America. At the age of 22 he moved from Wales to London to try and become a stand-up comedian, but his attempts at stage delivery were largely unsuccessful.

Despite this burgeoning success, Nation didn’t find working in comedy easy, although he quickly gained a reputation as an experimental and versatile writer. He worked with comedy stars of the day including Frankie Howerd, Terry Scott, Ted Ray and Harry Worth, and helped write more than 200 radio programmes before moving into television.
Nation’s professional breakthrough came in the early 1960s when he was commissioned to write for Tony Hancock, initially for his television series and later for his stage show. He was the chief scriptwriter on Hancock’s 1963 tour, but over time found his scripts were being used less frequently and the pair fell out.

As a science fiction writer
After being fired by Hancock, Terry Nation contacted science fiction writer David Whitaker, whom had previously been turned down by Nation to contribute to a new BBC science fiction series called Doctor Who.

Nation changed his mind and wrote the show’s second ever serial, which ran from 21 December 1963 to 1 February 1964. More importantly, it introduced The Daleks, the extraterrestrial mutant race from the planet Skaro, which were created by Nation and designed by Raymond Cusick.

The Daleks were partly inspired by watching the Georgian State dance troupe on television. “In order to make it non-human what you have to do is take the legs off,” he later explained. “That’s the only way you can make it not look like a person dressed up. I had seen the Georgian state dancers, where the girls do this wonderful routine. They wore floor-brushing skirts and took very tiny steps and appeared to glide, really glide across the floor. That’s the movement I wanted for the Daleks.”

With financial stability Terry Nation invested his savings in a country home, Lynstead Park. In the 1970s he wrote his first novel, Survivors, about the aftermath of a plague which destroyed 99% of mankind. The book was dedicated to his wife Kate, and became a commercial success.

Survivors and Blake’s 7
Between 1975 and 1977 a television adaptation of Survivors was shown by the BBC. After the first of the three series, however, Nation found his vision of the show conflicting with that of producer Terence Dudley, and had no further involvement.
Survivors was remade by the BBC in 2008, in a six-episode series based on Nation’s original book.
Terry Nation’s next project was a children’s story named after his daughter. Rebecca’s World: Journey To The Forbidden Planet, published in 1975, focused on the protagonist’s travels to another planet to save it from ghosts, and became a best-seller in the UK.
His next work for the BBC, Blake’s 7, brought him yet more success. The show was about a group of criminals on the run from the totalitarian Terran Federation which ruled much of the galaxy. Blake’s 7 ran for four series between 1978 and 1981, and was highly acclaimed for its dark tone and moral ambiguity.
Nation wrote the first series of Blake’s 7, but had less involvement later on; he made no contribution to the final series, although he unsuccessfully attempted to gain funding for a fifth season in the 1980s.
In 1980 Nation and his family moved to Los Angeles, where he worked on a range of programme ideas. In the following years he worked for Columbia, 20th Century Fox and MGM. He wrote a number of pilot scripts which failed to reach the screen, although he contributed to the television series MacGyver, A Masterpiece Of Murder and A Fine Romance.
In his later years Terry Nation suffered from ill health, and on 9 March 1997 he died from emphysema in the Pacific Palisades district of Los Angeles. Prior to his death he had been working with actor Paul Darrow on another attempted revival of Blake’s 7.

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