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The Day Before / John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow

Bad Moon Books / October 2009
Reviewed by: Joan Turner

John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow are the dynamic duo of horror fiction, and their post-apocalyptic novella The Day Before just may be their best effort yet. Los Angeles has been hit by a nuclear bomb, with North America reduced to radiation-filled ash and survivors reduced to desperate starving cannibals. Now, six months later, an unscrupulous Hollywood director is making a movie about it. Suburb writing, characterization, dark humor and suspense make The Day Before a wild, crazy and thoroughly enjoyable ride into destruction.

The day after the President is assassinated, someone pushes the button blasting Los Angeles and turning civilization into a blazing inferno. Peter Kornberg, a film director working on a new script, is staying in a cabin in the hills on Catalina Island. He escapes the explosion, and the winds keep the heaviest fallout away. Still, the island is not spared. A crew of renegade U.S. Navy seamen disembarks on the shore, and proceeds to burn, loot, steal the women and cannibalize the men. Kornberg records the atrocities on camera. 

“I should bury them,” he thinks of the bones of the massacred. “I should erect a shrine, a monument, and compose a noble epitaph. They didn’t fall like the Spartans, and nobody would go to heaven following in their footsteps. If they had anything worth passing on to the future, it was their good fucking luck. But once, they made movies and sang songs and wrote books and they tried to keep the torch lit.”

Kornberg, who appears to be the last survivor on the island, expects to die there. However, Julian Harvey, the equally unscrupulous Hollywood producer who took from him a script he had written and sold to Dreamworks, arrives onboard a submarine with a ragtag film crew he has managed to assemble and offers Kornberg the opportunity to direct a movie about the nuclear attack.

Kornberg hates the man for taking his script and the resulting dissolution of his marriage. He vows never to work with Harvey again. But, as Harvey tells him:

“The world has fallen down, true. All the big cities are gone. All our friends and family, all the people and places we loved have been erased. The ones who lived through it are fighting against a perfectly natural despair. Even if they can feed themselves and find shelter and clean water, they won’t be any better than animals if they stop believing in the big lie that civilization carried on for the last thousand years.

They need a new mythology. If they’re going to beat the despair that’s eating them up, they need to see somebody take responsibility for what they did, and repent of it, and try to make the world a better place…”

Cast as lead is Charlie Beecher, a washed-up soap opera actor and alcoholic who resembles power hungry Ellison Boyle, the former Secretary of Defense who was sworn in as Vice President on the morning after the President was murdered and the day of the nuclear attack.

Kornberg reluctantly gives in and agrees to direct the film and they set off for Long Beach to begin filming. When they arrive, survivors rush down to attack them with homemade weapons, but Harvey’s crew opens fire. They are expected to be shooting blanks but some of the bullets are real, and casualties occur on both sides before the natives withdraw.   

Through all the turmoil, Harvey commands them to keep filming, allowing nothing to stand in the way of his movie. A few minutes later, two Chinook helicopters and an Apache gunship arrive, their crews also in Harvey’s employ. He has the crew, the equipment, and the work force to see his movie through at all costs. 

As the filming continues and the story comes together, some of the actors grow to believe in the project, and their faith in the value of the work they will leave behind carries them all the way to Ground Zero, the radiation dense crater of Los Angeles. 

In his Acknowledgments, John Skipp calls The Day Before a “painfully comical love song of hope and doom” and it is that. The story is beautifully written and at times deeply moving. Throughout the satire, violence, horror and tragedy – or perhaps because of it – the cautionary message stands out crystal clear:

“…it didn’t matter how it happened, anymore than it mattered all the times it almost happened. The men in power had fallen down on the job, and now there were no more countries, because some assholes believed lies some other assholes told them, that they could do it and survive, that they could win. And the world had let them make such awful weapons and whip them around on the global stage.…”

No matter what else you read this year, this is one blockbuster story you should not miss. 

Purchase The Day Before by John Shipp and Cody Goodfellow.

Posted on Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 02:21PM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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