The Passage by Justin Cronin - the $5 million novel

Discussion in 'Fantasy / Horror' started by Werthead, Apr 19, 2010.

  1. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    The year is 2017. The USA is still embroiled in foreign military adventures, New Orleans has turned into a toxic wasteland and Blu-Ray has only just manged to become the dominant entertainment storage medium. A six-year-old girl, Amy Belafonte, is abandoned at a convent by her struggling mother. One of the nuns, Lacey, a former refugee from a war in Africa, realises that something is amiss with Amy, and that she is more than she first appears.

    The United States government agrees. In the mountains of Colorado they have established Project Noah, an attempt to develop immortality ("So all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years,") using twelve death row inmates as guinea pigs. The final stage of the experiment requires the use of a young child, so the directors send FBI Agent Wolgast to collect Amy. But the experiment has gone catastrophically wrong, and whilst the first twelve experimental subjects have indeed become immortal, they have also become something else, something that cannot be contained.

    Ninety years later, a teenage girl arrives out of the blue at one of the last bastions of civilised humanity in the world, a fortified town in California. Her arrival triggers a dangerous cross-country journey back to the source of the infection, and a series of revelations about the true nature of the threat they face, and how to combat it.

    The Passage is still months away from publication, but is already a major success story. The publishing rights for the book and its two sequels were sold for $3.5 million, whilst the film rights were purchased by Ridley Scott's company for a cool $1.5 million for the first book by itself. Based on the book, this is understandable: I have rarely read a book that screams "Blockbuster hit!" as loudly as The Passage. Unusually, however, the book combines its mass commercial appeal with an impressive intelligence and a much stronger writing style than might be expected from a big horror novel (the Stephen King cover quote helps as well). The fact that the 'main' publishers rather than their SF&F imprints are publishing the book is also a sign that they are taking this book very seriously.

    The Passage is an evocative novel that borrows and combines styles from other sources to terrific effect. The first third of the novel, in which the virus is released and civilisation falls, is reminiscent of the brilliant opening half of Stephen King's The Stand (although, unlike The Stand, Cronin doesn't badly fumble the ending). We then move ninety years further on to a world of crumbling freeways, unstable overpasses and weed-choked ruins which is much more in the vein of Cormac McCarthy's The Road (albeit nowhere near as sparse). We then get some thrilling battle scenes between humans and 'virals' set in a shopping mall and the surrounding countryside which is much more in the vein of the Fallout computer games (and possibly Dawn of the Dead), whilst the idea of humanity cowering behind walls from the threat beyond recalls Carrie Ryan's recent novel The Forest of Hands and Teeth and its sequel. Yet the book never feels derivative, more playing with the tropes of the post-apocalyptic horror genre in interesting and original ways.

    The novel has its own rhythm and cadence, based around rich descriptions of the environment and strong characterisation. The structure of the novel is also successful, with the first third forming an effective prologue to the remaining post-apocalyptic sequence. Initially this move appeared unwise, with Cronin abandoning the well-described situation and memorable characters of the opening of the book to start over from scratch, but the new situation and characters are just as effective, if not moreso (especially Alicia, a devastatingly effective viral hunter, and our main protagonist Peter). This does represent a shift in the pacing, with the first 250 pages rocketing by like a page-turning thriller, whilst the next sequence is more relaxed, but this is necessary to establish the new characters and situation. Then, once the journey into the unknown begins, the pacing and tension ratchet up again. In this latter sequence Cronin gives us a series of episodic adventures, such as the travellers stopping at another settlement built around a ruined prison where nothing is as it seems and a terror-filled journey across Las Vegas, which would make memorable horror novels by themselves, but here are merely smaller parts of a much greater whole.

    The novel is but the first part of a trilogy, so whilst the book has definitive end-point and a series of compelling revelations about the setting and the world, there is also something of a cliffhanger ending which we will have to wait some time to see resolved (given it took the author over three years to write this first book, I assume the second is still a while off), which is just about the only negative thing about the book I can think of. Otherwise this is a page-turning, compulsive read.

    The Passage (*****) is a superbly-written, well-paced and convincingly-characterised novel where the situation and characters remain in the imagination long after it is finished. This could be the start of something major indeed. The novel will be published on 8 June 2010 in the USA and on 24 June in the UK.
     
  2. suciul

    suciul Read interesting books

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    I still believe the second part of the novel was way overlong and not only in pages but in lots of details that are introduced to be discarded soon, while some of the stuff there seemed unconvincing. I also did not care that much for any of the post-apocalyptic born characters especially the main hero who seemed a little dumb or maybe too earnest imho. The novel picks up in the last part true and I liked the ending well enough to be interested in the sequel but I am not sure I will be up for another 750 pages of the same; if the game expands overseas to encompass the whole world and the character list grows and we get serious geopolitical stuff goings, maybe...


    the book spends a lot of pages to discuss the structure of the sanctuary and the local politics in mind-numbing detail, only to effectively destroy it soon so all that passed before is essentially moot
     
  3. Bastard

    Bastard Jack Bauer

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    I was about to start a thread on this so thanks for saving me the trouble. I don't want to read the reviews just in case I get spoiled, but I have a question. How much action is there in this book?
     
  4. murf99

    murf99 Registered User

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    Nice review. Heard about this book awhile back. Sounds really interesting. I'll definitely be picking this one up in June.
     
  5. Rulkez

    Rulkez Registered User

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    Good to hear , this is one of my top 5 to read books this year, good to it's looking like an excellent novel.
     
  6. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    Quite a lot. There's a fair number of longeurs and journey sequences, but usually some kind of mayhem or battle sequence isn't too far away. The highlight probably being

    A massive running battle between several hundred virals and a bunch of humans defending a train, complete with outriders on Hummers.

    There's also a big running battle through a Las Vegas hotel and numerous skirmishes between small groups of humans and virals here and there.
     
  7. Bastard

    Bastard Jack Bauer

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    OK, you've just sold the book to me (even though I already had it on pre-order).
     
  8. kcf

    kcf Nobody in Particular

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    I finished this one up last night - in short, it lives up to the buzz pretty well. It's a good book.

    A few excerpts from the review:

     
  9. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    I'm going to have to wait on this one, I think. No one wants to give out spoilers right now, so there's very little plot info, and I haven't heard anything very compelling about the book yet. Would you say that it is Hyperion with vampire zombies?
     
  10. Hobbit

    Hobbit Administrator Staff Member

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    Not really Sf-nal enough to be Hyperion. Probably more like a cross between The Stand and The Andromeda Strain.

    Mark
     
  11. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    If you mean the Hyperion comparison because of a structural thing, like The Canterbury Tales, than no, not really.

    It's more I Am Legend meets The Stand by way of The Road.
     
  12. Rob B

    Rob B \m/ BEER \m/ Staff Member

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    I'm about halfway through it and think this is a very apt description.
     
  13. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    No, I meant more the father-daughter thing and style, but never mind. We'll see. I'm not putting it up higher on the list yet.
     
  14. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    The father-daughter thing is being sold as a major part of the novel, and frankly it isn't:

    It's a small subplot lasting for the last few pages of the 'prologue' part of the novel before the time-jump. It's referred to a little later, but that's it.
     
  15. Andols

    Andols I like stories

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    I'll have to order it now. thats about as good a review as i can fathom.
     
  16. AuntiePam

    AuntiePam Cranky old broad

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    I had it on pre-order but canceled it after reading some comments on another board. The person commenting complained at overuse of some terms, in particular the word "Flyers" used as an exclamation. It might seem silly to let this dissuade me from trying the book, but that's just the kind of thing that annoys me too.

    If I live long enough, I might give it a try when the trilogy is complete. I've resolved not to buy any more series books until they're all finished. Except for Abercrombie, of course. :)
     
  17. MattNY

    MattNY Registered User

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    After reading this thread, I have put it on my list, but it may be the series is completed by the time I finally get to start it. It does sound interesting though.
     
  18. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    Well, see that's the problem. And the media coverage is all about his antecedents and how much he got paid. Getting them to talk about the virals and the universe is difficult. But of course, I can go read an excerpt, etc., so eventually, I'll look into it. But there's been nothing so far to get me very juiced about the story. And early reviews have to be so careful, so it makes sense for me to wait.
     
  19. kcf

    kcf Nobody in Particular

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    I disagree on Wert's interpretation on the father-daughter relationship. The entire novel deals with the relationships of people, whether parent-child, sibling-sibling, lover-lover, husband-wife, etc. In that respect, it's a very literary novel.

    What specific questions have you got?
     
  20. Raule

    Raule Registered User

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    I'm waiting... I'm a wait-and-see kinda gal and have never been much into reading the new releases as soon as they come out (unless it's a favorite author). This is especially true if it's only book one of a series, and book one is a huge doorstopper.