STARRED REVIEW
March 10, 2014

A waking nightmare

By Kenneth Calhoun
Review by
As a literary thought experiment, Kenneth Calhoun’s Black Moon has an exceedingly elegant trigger for the end of it all. No aliens, mutating viruses or celestial cataclysms are needed. All it takes is the removal of one basic yet profound capacity every single human has: the ability to sleep.
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As a literary thought experiment, Kenneth Calhoun’s Black Moon has an exceedingly elegant trigger for the end of it all. No aliens, mutating viruses or celestial cataclysms are needed. All it takes is the removal of one basic yet profound capacity every single human has: the ability to sleep. It turns out prolonged insomnia is an insidious, horrific fate for anyone. Calhoun’s narrative focuses on four protagonists, each caught in a separate pocket of the rapidly disintegrating society. (The four only briefly intersect.) Biggs and Lila still have the ability to sleep. While Biggs tries to find his missing wife, Lila, a teenager, lacks any such mission, instead floating amongst the hordes of increasingly erratic, dangerous insomniacs. Chase is not so fortunate, and as Black Moon progresses, his altered perceptions provide readers a potent window through which to view the blossoming horrors of the sleepless mind. Finally, Felicia, an intern cloistered at a sleep studies institute, represents the closest we come to a solution narrative, as scientists strive to circumvent the enveloping plague.

It turns out prolonged insomnia is an insidious, horrific fate for anyone.

In many ways, the tone and story progression of Black Moon mirrors that of the traditional zombie narrative. (Have zombie stories now been around long enough to use the word “traditional”?) With each passing moment, the protagonists are more isolated, their straits more dire—a moment’s inattention can prove fatal. Yet, befitting its subject, Black Moon may be the most dreamlike apocalypse ever presented. Even as Calhoun recounts the struggles of a few to survive a truly horrific fate for the human race, he spends most of his time in the memories and reflections of his protagonists. The result is a thought-provoking meditation on the importance of human interaction and our reliance on the sleep-fed, rational mind.

At a time in pop culture when the zombie trope remains ascendant, Calhoun’s story seems less a calculated attempt to cash in on a fad than a concurrently generated work, with its own unique themes and authorial preoccupations, that just happens to be a nice addition to the genre. And frankly, if wouldn’t matter if it were a calculated trend-hopper. Either way, Black Moon flows through and over all those shambling, decaying genre expectations. Its themes may well haunt your dreams long after the book is laid down, but count yourself lucky—you can still dream.

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Black Moon

Black Moon

By Kenneth Calhoun
Hogarth
ISBN 9780804137140

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