ESP-Spotlight: Pallid Light

Collaborators Christine Purcell and Stewart Sternberg sat down to share impressions of William Jones’ Pallid Light.

Strange things are happening in Temperance, Illinois. Randall Clay, an ex-convict relocated from Chicago, is alone in his apartment when the power shuts down. Outside the sky glows an odd bluish-green as heavy rain and lightning saturate the sky. His friend Cada stops by, frightened by the torrential downpour. When Rand investigates the sound of breaking glass, he discovers two teenage punks breaking and entering. But something is not right. They look haunted. And they are devouring his roommate.

Stewart: I think we’re heading into a new phase in survival fiction. If a book wants to shock now or surprise, or give the reader more, it has to add something new to the presence of the  zombie  menace. Stephen King did it in Cell, and William Jones does it in Pallid Light. Whatever is happening to the citizens of Temperance in Jones’ novel is a mystery, and it draws the reader in as engaging clues are rolled out. It’s not a typical zombie story, and that’s good because the twists keep readers guessing and engaged. It’s smart writing. And while the ending is satisfying from a dramatic perspective, it also serves as setting the plate for what might come next.
Christine: I agree. The mystery element in Jones’ novel adds another layer of depth to this survival fiction story.  I think today’s readers want writers to think outside the traditional box.
Stewart: Interesting point. You know we should also talk about the characters. Let’s look at Rand. The main protagonist isn’t a sweetheart. This is a bad-ass who has done some rather horrible things in his life. Do you think Jones has been able to make such a bastard a likable character?
Christine: I definitely think Rand is likeable, if not in the ways many readers have come to expect. For me, his refusal to accept his “noble” actions as a way of seeking redemption and categorizing any good deed he performs as an inevitable part of his criminal persona is a both a charming and tragic character trait. Also, his street wisdom and use of jailhouse philosophy help make his character relatable. For example, I really found the following metaphor clever: “everything is going down the drain in time. Right now, we’re all just swirling around the edge…All we can do is enjoy the ride.”
Stewart: I want to address some elements of survival horror — one trope in this type of fiction is that the survivors are on the road, coping with horror after horror. Another trope follows survivors hunkering down and fighting off a siege, whether it be raiders in the guise of motorcycle mutants, or hordes of hungry zombies. What is interesting about Pallid Light is that is combines both tropes, and maybe offers up a third, the idea that in the face of such horror one finds the true depth of an individual’s humanity.
Christine: That’s a great observation. I think, as a whole, well-written genre incorporates not only a gripping plot, but also delves deeply into character. It seems that the test of one’s ability to hold on to humanity is becoming a popular theme not only in survival fiction but also in books such as The Road and graphic novels like The Walking Dead.  I’ll borrow a quote from that title, I think it’s a thematic summary of many current survival horror stories: “In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.”
It seems that with the way survival fiction has endured over the decades, it’s more relevant now than ever. The love affair fans have with books like Pallid Light won’t end any time soon.

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