Devolution by Max Brooks



Growing up in Western Canada, Bigfoot stories are always about and as a child, you were happy you had the Rockies between Calgary and ‘them’. And then came Harry and the Hendersons to make everything ok. Max Brooks’ latest journey into the things of our nightmares, Devolution, is not Harry. In any way.

Greenloop is the eco-town of our dreams. An almost self-sufficient town nestled in the Washington State Rockies in the shadow of Mount Rainer, it is nearly perfect. The residents are people we know, politically aware, well off and wanting to be ‘closer to nature’, but still only 90 minutes from Seattle. Groceries are but a drone flight away. When your house breaks, it calls a repairman for you, you don’t have to lift a finger. It is the dream of the Elon Musk-esqe Tony Durrant. And he lives just next door! This is the town into which Kate Holland and her husband Dan arrive. Kate is keeping a diary at the bequest of her therapist and through the pages of the torn, worn notebook we see Greenloop in the days before Mount Rainer returns to life.

Once the volcano bursts back into life, the residents of Greenloop are cut off. Ash falls from the skies, drones are grounded, the roads are cut and the rescuers have no idea that Greenloop is even there. Things start falling apart before the pack of Bigfoot, following the deer fleeing the volcano, arrive and find dinner on tap. Kate’s hikes into the hills start taking on a new aspect, she sees remains of animals torn to pieces, sucked clean and she starts to smell something. When a mountain lion races through the town and then falls victim to something in the dark, Kate and the townsfolk of Greenloop find that even agreeing on a threat is something we cannot do anymore.

Max Brooks’ World War Z was a stunning achievement. Looking at the coming Zombie War through the eyes of those who survived, Brooks crafted a terrifying novel of people looking back, not only to the terrifying war from which the world was just recovering from but to what they had lost. The novel coveys that sense of loss beautifully. Devolution is a different beast altogether. Here Brooks is looking at who we are as a society and, with his wonderful ear for comedy, satirises us, those who dream of our own Greenloops.

The townsfolk are the people we know, we see on Twitter and Instagram, they are the ones we (secretly, kind of) want to be or shout about online. As things start to go wrong, their reactions are real, ranging from denial to disbelief. When the creatures start rummaging through the compost bins, those feelings switch to overdrive. Switching between Kate’s pages and interviews with her brother who is searching for her, and whose house in Greenloop Kate and Dan were living, and the Park Ranger who was involved in the rescue efforts, we see the wider picture of societal collapse in the light of the natural disaster. All the while, the creatures become bolder.

Giving his Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) the behaviours of jungle primates, Brooks’ creatures are terrifyingly real. The way the pack probe, attack, eat and celebrate their kill, makes these things of nightmares feel utterly realistic. The way the town initially treat these animals with the same initial cognitive dissidence we have created for ourselves when it comes to animals is all too familiar. In the end, it is a survivor of the Balkans who energises Kate and Dan to action but is it too late?

It needs to be said going in, I’m a huge Max Brooks fan and have devoured everything he has published so far. His last novel about a guy trapped within Minecraft was fantastic fun. Devolution follows his methodology of placing ordinary people in an impossible situation and seeing who gets out alive. Devolution is very funny, very scary and very precedent. For all our worries, concerns and opinions we forget that in the woods, there is always something worse.

Devolution by Max Brooks is published by Del Ray and is out now.

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