THEM OR US is the concluding volume in David Moody’s unrelentingly grim but stunningly brilliant Haters trilogy. The complete narrative, which began with HATER and continued with DOG BLOOD, covers a year in which a sudden madness takes hold of Great Britain and, for all that is known, the entire world. A portion of the population is randomly infected (possessed? given over?) with a berserker mentality, where each member who is infected, known as a Hater, is compelled to attack and murder any member of what becomes known as the Unchanged. There are more of the Unchanged than Haters when things start off. But as happens when you have a small group of aggressors who take hostile action against a group of non-aggressors, those odds soon change by attrition.
"THEM OR US is loaded with graphic...violence, and does not flinch away from descriptions of what occurs when food supplies dwindle to nothing."
The narrative is told through the eyes of Danny McCoyne, a lower-level civil servant who, as events begin, is just scraping by at his job, barely supporting his wife and their three children. Danny becomes one of the Haters during the course of HATER, with disastrous results for himself and his family. In DOG BLOOD, things truly have gone to hell, with civilization having collapsed, the Unchanged dead or on the run, and Danny in search of his daughter, who has become a Hater herself. Which now brings us to THEM OR US, the grimmest of the lot with a title that says it all.
One year after the beginning of the fall, Danny is in Lowestoft, a former resort town on the East Coast that is under the uneasy command of a thug named Hinchcliffe. An attempt by the Unchanged to stop the threat of the Haters with atomic weapons has ended in disaster, with the Unchanged all but eradicated from the earth except for a few random enclaves hiding in terror in the ruins of the former civilization. Hinchcliffe rules his city-state with a combination of brute force and cunning, doling out what little food there is to the most violent of the Haters in return for their support, while the remainder of the Haters are left to battle amongst themselves for the scraps.
Against all odds, Danny is accorded an odd place of honor in Hinchcliffe’s circle, due to a rare talent he possesses: he is able to turn off the hate for extended periods, so that he can move among the rare colony of the Unchanged as one of them, and then betray them to Hinchcliffe and the Haters. Such an ability makes Danny a prized commodity, yet he is plagued by doubt about what he is doing. He eventually finds himself in the middle of three conflicting camps and, when informed about a startling and disturbing change in his condition, decides to leave the madness of the decaying civilization to its own assured destruction. Circumstances, however, do not permit him to do this, and he quickly finds that he is confronted with the ultimate choice: give humanity one last fragile hope at continuity, or let it descend into the abyss of hell.
THEM OR US is loaded with graphic, though not necessarily gratuitous, violence, and does not flinch away from descriptions of what occurs when food supplies dwindle to nothing and sewage disposal goes the way of the dodo. I made the mistake of reading the book during lunch at one point, and I don’t recommend the experience. As with its predecessors, though, it paints a terrifying picture, in great part because the fraying of civilization described in its pages can be seen in our world. The spontaneous rioting that has taken place in major US cities in recent months is not at all different from what occurs in the early stages of HATER, and Moody paints a plausible and frightening picture of what the end game might be. Forewarned is forearmed. And stock up on those canned goods, too.