aka Dr Raven Sable
And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.
— Revelation 6:5-6, King James edition
Of the four Horsepeople, Famine seems the most aware of what he is, in the sense of meta-awareness. The first time he appears, he’s “doing drinks in a restaurant […] on the top of 666 Fifth Avenue, New York. […] Of course, it was just another street number. If you started counting, you’d be bound to get to it eventually. But you had to smile” (62). And when a fashion model who looks like “a skeleton in a Dior dress” comes up to him and asks him to sign the diet book he’s written, he inscribes it with one of the self-referential Revelation verses quoted above and tells her, “You remind me of an old, old friend” — Death, one of the other Horsepeople (63).
Famine — who goes by the name of Dr. Raven Sable, at least during canon: if he’s had other names, they’re not mentioned — looks like a “pleasant, thrusting, successful businessman” (338). He’s thin, of course. He has black hair, a short black beard, and he dresses all in black. He has “dark grey eyes” (63). The International Express delivery-man finds him from the description of a “tall gent with a beard, nice suit.”
He carries out his function in a variety of ways: nouvelle cuisine (the sort that consists of “a string bean, a pea, and a sliver of chicken breast, aesthetically arranged on a square china plate,” invented “the last time he’d been in Paris,” (62)); diet fads (“D-Plan Dieting: Slim Yourself Beautiful, the book was called; The Diet Book of the Century!” (63)); and new foods (“indistinguishable from any other [food] except for […] the nutritional content, which was roughly equivalent to that of a Sony Walkman. It didn’t matter how much you ate, you lost weight. […] And hair. And skin tone. And, if you ate enough of it long enough, vital signs” (151)). He deals with the big picture, selling to the Federal government (328) and heading up his own corporation. He’s also involved in the more traditional sorts of starvation, but that wins only a casual mention of “children starving in Africa” (154).
Famine comes off as the most human of the four Horsepeople, perhaps because he has the most interaction with humans (War also deals with them, but those meetings tend to be short-lived by nature). When he first appears, he’s doing drinks with his accountant Frannie after having dinner with her. He knows her well enough to have bought her a laptop computer “as a personal present,” (64) which implies a certain amount of familiarity. She never appears again. And just before the International Express delivery-man finds him in the Burger Lord, Famine is talking on the phone to his marketing head, who says, “You give great leadership, guy. Works for me every time” (151). He’s the one who hails R.P. Tyler to ask for directions to the Lower Tadfield air force base (318), and he’s the one who talks their way past the guard at the gate of the base (328). (Ironically, he slips while doing so: he threatens the soldier that if he gives them away, “you’ll find yourself busted so low you’ll have to say ‘sir’ to an imp.” This is the only evidence, besides Famine’s earlier internal meta-commentary, that the Horsepeople are aligned to one of the sides — namely Hell — in the coming conflict.) He takes pleasure in his job: “Sable grinned, the honest, open grin that goes with job satisfaction, perfect and pure. He was just killing time until the main event, but he was killing it in such exquisite ways. Time, and sometimes people” (64).
Once the Horsepeople have entered the airbase and begun their work, however, that humanity falls away. “It was as if, instead of ill-fitting suits, they now had ill-fitting bodies. Famine looked as though he had been tuned slightly off-station, so that the hitherto dominant signal […] was beginning to be drowned out by the ancient, horrible static of his basic personality” (338). He is the second Horseperson to be taken down, the least directly: “Wensleydale raised his head and looked Famine in the sunken eye. He held up something that, with a bit of imagination, could be considered to be a pair of scales made of more string and twigs. Then he whirled it around his head. […] Famine stuck out a protective arm. […] There was another flash, and then the jingle of a pair of silver scales bouncing on the ground” (343).
He has gone “where they belong […] where they have always been. Back in the minds of man” (344). There is no indication as to whether he can return in human form.
Edition referenced in this article: UK Corgi paperback (1991)
Written by Thia