Blackout – Michael Pryor

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Cover blurb

How do you survive the end of the world? When an intense electromagnetic pulse strikes, the world grinds to a halt. No power, no light, no transport, governments break down, the cities fall silent. Four teenagers try to cope in this dangerous and harsh world, searching for ways to create a better one. But first they must survive the chaos that comes with the collapse – misery, disease, violence. And in the midst of the suffering rises a new danger: the New Order, a movement that threatens to take the flickering flame of civilisation and snuff it out completely. There are no longer any rules. Everything we take for granted is gone. Who will keep the flame alive?

Michael Pryor says
Blackout looks at how ordinary people cope in extraordinary situations. It’s an End of the World as We Know It scenario, and it follows some ordinary teenagers as they try to survive in a world which has collapsed around them. Why? Without giving away too much, everything electrical has suddenly stopped working. No TVs, no telephones, no computers, no electric lights. The modern world depends so much on these sorts of things – without them, the collapse is sudden and catastrophic. In this world, Holly, Alex, Tony and Paulie struggle to keep their lives together, faced with an uncertain future.
It seems to me that there are two ways to go with this sort of novel. One is to take the overview, trying to show how the whole world is affected by such a calamity, having a huge cast of characters and moving backwards and forwards through them. I’ve seen this done and done well. The other approach is the one I chose.

I wanted to focus on the human dimension a bit more, getting close to the frustrations, fears and trials of a few individuals, getting to know them better and seeing how they are changed by their experiences.

In planning this novel, I knew I was going down a well established path. The End of the World novel has fascinated writers for a long time. We’ve had the world pulverised by giant asteroids, blown up by nuclear holocausts, overrun by giant ants and the population has been decimated by plagues, famines, madness, thirst…

Blackout begins
How many people died in the first few weeks? Millions? Billions? I have no idea, and I don’t think anyone else has either. But I do know that I missed the start of the end of the world.

When I opened my eyes, I was looking up at the stars. Nothing seemed to be as important as lying there and staring at the night sky. I was happy for a while, not thinking about Mum and Dad or my brother Alex, or about my well and truly ex-boyfriend Dale. All of that seemed far, far away.

My thoughts were fuzzy, not connected very well, and my head hurt. I spent somw time trying to work out why, then I heard a groan. It took me a few seconds, but that groan made my brain kick in. I took a sharp breath as, one after the other, memories hit me like slaps in the face.

Alex and I packing for the start of the holidays.
Mum and Dad waving as we left.

Driving towards the coast, just wanting to get to the beach house.

The light in the sky.

The light.

The car lurching, coughing, swerving.
The truck stopped right in the middle of the road, too close to avoid.

Clipping the truck, then skidding through the safety barrier.

Tumbling over and over and over.

Alex. Alex!

As I sat up the whole world seemed to wobble and I had to close my eyes. When I opened them things seemed steady enough, so I looked around for Alex.
The first thing I noticed was that I was on the ground, next to the car. The door was open, but I couldn’t remember how I’d got out. The second thing was that the car wasn’t looking good, even in the darkness.

It was Alex’s car and he’d spent a lot of money on it, even if it was mostly my work under the bonnet that got it running. The whole front end of the car had crumpled where it had slammed into a big gum tree. The windscreen was cracked in a pattern that looked like a giant spider web.

The third thing was the smell of burning, and that started the alarm bells ringing in the back of my head. Or maybe that was only the sick headache that was gnawing at my skull.

I was gradually becoming more and more alert as the fog lifted from my brain. I got to my knees. I swayed a bit, but managed not to fall over. “Alex!” I shuffled painfully to the open door. “Alex!”

He was there, in the driver’s seat. The air bag had gone off and he looked as though he was just sleeping, head resting on a giant pillow. I scrambled over the passenger’s seat towards him. Even though I couldn’t tell if Alex was breathing or not, I found myself staring at his glasses. They were twisted and hanging on the cigarette lighter and I knew he’d be disappointed about that because he’d only got them last week. He really fancied himself in them, even though he tried to play it cool. The wire frames and his dark curly hair made him look intelligent and interesting, which is probably just like he planned.

Really slowly, I reached out and touched his cheek.
It was warm. I could feel his breath. He was alive.