Spares is the debut novella from Alec Mcquay and I guess you would call it a post-apocalyptic story (the publishers certainly do), but the apocalypse in question - the Virus War, as McQuay calls it - is different from the usual fare. The whole of humankind, as far as we are told, has been infected by a virus that causes them not to die. Whilst this sounds like a blessing, it doesn't stop them from getting injured. As result, there is a caste system in which the Untouched (being those who have not suffered a debilitating injury) preside over the Lurchers (people who have had numerous body parts replaced over the years), literally driving them underground.
It is a wonderfully realised scenario and, in a scant 74 pages, McQuay presents us with a world in which even a destroyed brain is not sufficient to dispatch someone into the hereafter and the social impact this has had on the new underclass. The plot is a simple one and it rockets along at a fair old pace, but it is not the story that entranced me in the reading of Spares - rather, it is that McQuay has managed to create a believable and structured history of a world gone bad, together with the physical effects of the virus and how this has resulted in two-tier class system. The underground market described early in the book is a thing of grotesque beauty - it reads like a slum or a shanty town, and McQuay adds brilliant nuances to the scene through his first-person narration that it becomes a living, breathing thing.
Only one of the main characters has his back story fleshed out in any detail (well - technically two, but the big twist hinges on that particular revelation, so we shall speak no more of it here), but you get the feeling that his tale is but one of many similar stories in a world where death is, at worst, an inconvenience.
Spares has a very British feel to it, which is refreshing at a time where so many homegrown writers attempt to follow an American template when it comes to storytelling. Bits of British slang are slipped into the dialogue, but not in such a way that would be obtrusive to someone who was not a native reader. McQuay's writing is sparse, putting down just enough on paper to keep things moving. The net result is that Spares feels as much like a data transfer as it does a story, with more information being imparted than you might credit, given the slimness of the book.
There is a downside to its brevity, which is simply that it is over too soon. After the initial bout of scene-setting, the main plot is almost brutally simplistic. It serves as an excellent introduction to the post-Virus War world and, whilst it would be churlish of me to say that Spares left me feeling unsatisfied, I most certainly wanted to read more.
Here's hoping that Alec McQuay chooses to release more novellas and novels in this setting.