Catastrophe fiction, so popular in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, has in recent decades kind of, sort of, given way to post-apocalyptic fiction—what happens after rather than during the catastrophe. Perhaps because all the obvious ideas have been taken—drought, floods, carnivorous plants eating people blinded by an alien meteorite shower—it’s a bit strange these days to see a book that reverts to so simple a premise. But such is the case with Adrian Barnes’ 2012 Nod. Like Ballard, however, Barnes (thankfully) focuses his book on something more human than the details of cataclysm.
Paul is a poor, introverted writer of quirky books about etymology who lives with his bread-winning girlfriend Tanya in Vancouver. A golden dream visiting him one night as he sleeps, he wakes to discover that Tanya hadn’t slept a wink. Arriving home from work that evening, Tanya reports that nobody else she knows slept the previous night either, that Paul is somehow part of a 1% of the population able to get a night’s rest. A novelty at first, the situation worsens, however. Night after night, only the tiniest fraction of humanity are able to sleep. The insomnia getting so bad, the government makes the drastic decision to shut down all telecommunications in an effort to remove potential interference. But nothing helps. Cut off from the net and phones, society dissolves, leaving Paul to navigate a city of sleep-deprived madness, and survive.