Fuck It, I Quit

by Arthur B

Justin Cronin's The Passage rivals Dan Brown when it comes to incompetent, racist, conspiracist trash.
Justin Cronin's The Passage came out with no small fanfare a while back. A 1000-page brick presented as an important literary event, the book was offered to the public with a creepy picture of a little girl on the cover, a slew of quotes from reviewers on the back, and precious little in way of a blurb to explain what the hell it's meant to be about.

Spoiler time: it's a post-apocalyptic horror/conspiracy thriller/science fantasy quest saga with vampires and a 300 page prologue.

According to the DVD extras at the back of my edition (yes, there are reading group questions) Cronin got the idea for the book from his daughter, who when asked what sort of story she wanted to read said she'd like something about a young girl who saves the world, and that the bad guys should be vampires. Plunging feet-first into genre fiction, Cronin seems to have gotten altogether carried away with himself, producing a novel which cobbles together the worst aspects of many different authors writing in numerous genres, but most of all comes across as a really awful Stephen King yarn. The multiple viewpoints, the brick-sized tome, the excess wordage, the bordering-on-creepy idealisation of childhood and children, and a horrifyingly embarrassing attitude towards black people - it's all there.

The first 300 or so pages of the book are set in a not-too-distant future. Although published in 2010, I suspect the bulk of the book (or at least the opening sections) were written during the Bush administration, since the situation presented is reminiscent of the worst of that particular era turned up to 11 - Homeland Security checkpoints and are everywhere, surveillance is ubiquitous, New Orleans got taken out by a second hurricane and ended up being turned into an enormous federally-controlled industrial zone, American troops are bogged down in warzones all over the world and scary people from the Middle East occasionally carry out horrifying terror attacks on US soil (there's references to Iranian gunmen massacring hundreds of people at a shopping mall, for instance). In other words, it's the sort of thing which would have been timely had it come out a few years earlier but doesn't really chime with many Americans' concerns now - and make no mistake about it, this is a book written almost exclusively for an American audience and steeped in a US-centric worldview.

Anyhow, because the government is operated by a vast malignant bureaucracy of supervillains, it's decided to fund Project NOAH, an extremely dubious attempt to exploit a virus that military bioweapons researchers have uncovered in a particular swarm of South American vampire bats. This virus is transmissible to human beings and makes them immortal; it also gives them potent psychic powers, toughens their flesh so that they have only a single weak spot located directly above their heart and the rest of their body is bulletproof, and gives them an unquenchable thirst for blood. The Man wants to use the virus to create unstoppable super-soldiers on the one hand, and if possible they'd like to derive a strain of the virus which confers immortality and psychic powers without all that vampire nonsense to boot. So, they're giving the virus to Death Row inmates specially selected for testing and spirited away to the secret Project NOAH base in Colorado.

FBI agents Wolgast and Doyle are the two chumps sent to convince the inmates to sign over their identity and human rights in return for a little more life. (Well, actually, since the vampire virus makes you immortal, an indefinite and potentially infinite amount of additional life, so provided you don't think being a nigh-indestructible killing machine with mind control powers is a bad thing it's actually a pretty sweet deal.) The duo begin to have qualms about their job, however, when the powers that be order them to bring in a cute, innocent 6 year old girl called Amy, who's been dumped at a convent by her mother. (Like all good government conspiracies, Project NOAH can monitor police reports nationwide in order to find potential candidates for virus infection.) See, the science boys reckon that the they've got the virus to a point where it won't have those nasty vampire side effects, but they also think it might have better chances of success if it were given to a small child because they're young and still growing so their bodies can acclimatise better to the changes and also it's a neat allegory for innocence.

Anyway, Wolgast and Doyle are sad pandas because they don't like the idea of handing the kid over, so after snatching her from the nuns and thinking real hard about it they try to hand themselves in to the interstate manhunt that's coming after them. This does not work, because whilst Project NOAH does not have the clout to give Wolgast and Doyle a good official reason to take custody of the kid (despite being able to discover Amy's existence and arrange for Wolgast and Doyle to pass through all the Homeland Security checkpoints they need to traverse to get to her), Project NOAH can send assassins in black helicopters out to murder entire small town sheriff's departments in order to extract Amy, Wolgast and Doyle like it ain't no thing.

So, Amy is incarcerated at NOAH, given the virus, and does not turn into a vampire. The other vampires use their mind control powers to get the castrated pedophiles who sweep their cells (yes, I know, I'll be addressing them later) to let them go, which of course has the inevitably chaotic results. With the intervention of Doyle, a magic nun and the head vampire scientist (as in scientist who makes science vampires, not scientist who is a vampire) Amy and Wolgast are able to escape. They hide in a hut in the woods. The vampires sweep the countryside Dawn of the Dead style, the government sets off nukes to try and get rid of them, Wolgast apparently dies of radiation sickness but might have been gotten by the vamps, Amy is left on her own.

That's the first 300 pages. The timeline then jumps ahead 90 years or so in order to start off an entirely new story with an entirely new set of protagonists, these charming individuals being adventurers from the First Colony, one of the few holdout enclaves of humans in North America resisting the roving vampires who have overrun most of the continent. They keep the vampires out with big lamps (maintained by the tech-priests who have retained the scientific knowledge everyone else makes a point of absolutely neglecting) and kick-ass fighters, including the terrifyingly capable Amanda who's widely tipped to become head vampire-killer in the near future and stuff.

I didn't get terribly deep into this part of the novel because the overwhelming tidal wave of fail and cliche in the earlier segment had already taken its toll. It was something of a shock (and not in a good way) to realise that all the crap I'd slogged through to get to this point was merely the prologue for a completely different story, with a whole new set of protagonists - granted, Amy could probably be counted on to show up later and be quite central, but still. Moreover, I realised that the completely different story was showing every sign of being just as cliched and fail-y, so I gave up at this point and looked up the plot summary on wikipedia. Apparently the adventurers go forth from the Colony on a foraging mission, encounter Amy (obviously), and end up on a quest to hunt down and kill the original vampires from Project NOAH, who've each set themselves up as kings of their own little vampire kingdoms. Apparently if you kill the lead vampire all the ones whose infections trace back to them die too, because the vampire virus works like a pseudoscientific virus when it's convenient for Cronin that it work that way, and then acts like a magical curse when he wants it to act like a magical curse. So, yeah, we're rocking fantasy quest motifs so hard that Lord of the Rings is on the recommended reading list in the DVD extras section.

I found writing this article enormously difficult, because this book fails in so many ways it's hard to work out where to begin. I decided to kick off by writing the above enormously overlong explanation of the plot, because I wanted to establish three points. Firstly, that this book has an awful lot of backstory - 300 pages of it. Secondly, this book expects you to read all the backstory at the beginning, before Cronin actually starts telling the story he wants to tell. Thirdly, the story Cronin actually wants to tell is centred around a bunch of characters who mostly weren't even around for the backstory, leaving Cronin with the unenviable task of essentially writing the beginning of a whole new novel smack in the middle of the book.

To get counterfactual for a moment, one might suggest that the first three hundred pages of the book could quite happily have been sold as a separate volume telling the story of the fall, leaving the quest of the Colonists to be told in a sequel. This would hardly be satisfying, however; the opening 300 pages sets up a whole swathe of plot threads and resolves almost none of them, and is so exclusively devoted to setting up the action of the next 600 pages that to publish them separately would be kind of a rip-off. Equally, telling the backstory through flashbacks and dramatic revelations during the main tale rather than dumping it on the reader all at once would be the typical fantasy/SF author thing to do, but it would make the book a bit less accessible to people not accustomed to reading stories about parties of adventurers questing in a land rendered unrecognisable by nuclear tomfoolery and vampire armies.

Furthermore, being upfront about the fact that it's a post-apocalyptic science fantasy-horror mishmash would make the book look not-literary, and Cronin's an English professor so we can't have that. The book is being widely lauded for its literary approach to its subject matter, which apparently is new and revolutionary and has never been done before except... wait... actually it really is an awful lot like Stephen King's usual schtick, as used in The Stand. You know, the thing he does where he introduces a large cast of viewpoint characters and we get to learn about their lives and memories and regrets and hopes and dreams and we imagine we're reading a proper novel as opposed to a sleazy page-turner.

Another trait Cronin's writing shares with King's is that his treatment of black characters is kind of dodgy. Well, no, let me rephrase that. King could be accused of relying on the whole Magical Negro archetype a little more than is healthy. Cronin's treatment of race is a fucking disaster.

There are two black characters who play a major role in the prologue. The first is Anthony Carter, one of the Death Row inmates who becomes a vampire. Only Anthony is evidently meant to be special; it is flagrantly obvious that he's going to be the angsty vampire who is tormented by his uncontrollable lust for killing, and that he's the only innocent Death Row inmate in the project. So, obviously we need to have a large chunk of the text take place from his point of view so we can get deep down inside his mind, learn what makes him tick, discover the tragic circumstances of his wrongful conviction.

Oh, those circumstances.

In summary: Carter is homeless. Carter encounters a wealthy white woman who feels sorry for him and is evidently in some sort of crisis in which she desperately wants to help someone. She decides to help Carter by hiring him to be her gardener and do odd jobs for her neighbours in return for cash in hand. Occasionally she brings him some iced tea, for which he is immensely grateful, for Carter is a simple and gentle soul who is grateful for being permitted to mow the law and drink iced tea in return for money. One day, Carter encounters a tiny frog in the garden and decides to show it to his employer's small daughter, not realising that his employer is present and overhearing the exchange. He offers to show the frog using these words, and I want to quote them exactly because the phrasing is important:
C'mere, I've got something to show you. Just a little baby of a thing, Miss Haley. A little baby thing like you.
Mummy gets all upset at this, jumping to the conclusion that Carter intends to show Miss Haley not a frog, not a toad, not a newt - no, not any variety of amphibian at all - but his Little Anthony, as it were (and by Little Anthony I mean HIS TURGID COCK). So, she gets all angry and flings herself at Carter, they both fall in the pool, and only Carter emerges alive. It's really scary for him, though, because everyone knows black people can't swim Carter can't swim! Then people get mad because Carter's patron is dead and the jury convict him and he goes to Death Row.

Now, I am sure Cronin imagined he was writing some sort of anti-racist narrative here. I mean, not only do you have a jury convicting a black man of first-degree murder when he's innocent, but from Carter's viewpoint you can see that he is completely and unambiguously innocent, so the miscarriage of justice involved cannot be more obvious. And the only reason the trouble kicked off was because that confused white lady (who isn't exactly treated in a particularly three-dimensional or unstereotypical way herself) made an unfair assumption about Carter! Surely this is a touching story about the evils of prejudice?

Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn't. You know what it's also a story about, though? It's a story about a black man who, in his reminiscences, realises that the happiest and most fulfilling time of his life was when he was tending to the garden of a wealthy white family - that, despite the fact that these circumstances ended up leading him to Death Row, they are the memories he will treasure and honour the most. Who's that I hear piping up from the depths of history? Why, it's the antebellum South, congratulating Cronin on a wonderful adaptation to the modern day of the themes and tropes of anti-Tom literature! Did I mention the use of the "black people can't swim" stereotype? Good, because I really want to fucking rub that one in. The portrayal of Anthony literally couldn't be more racist unless Mrs Haley were feeding him fried chicken and watermelon along with his iced tea.

The other significant black character is Sister Lacey, a magical nun from Sierra Leone who was raped in the civil war there but doesn't always remember it, and has a mystical and wonderful connection to all natural things and hears the voice of god in the rustling of the grass. She's the nun who Amy is dropped off with at the convent, and her special gift tells her that Amy is super-important - to the point where she flees the convent in order to trek to Colorado and catch up with Amy when Wolgast and Doyle take her. This is lucky for her, because it means she's out when the Project NOAH death squad show up in order to murder all the nuns to cover their tracks (because, of course, murdering a bunch of people is the best way to keep a low profile and not draw public attention or disapproval). Not much to say here beyond the fact that Cronin is an English professor at an American university so he really fucking ought to know about the whole Magical Negro thing and understand why it might be a bad idea to have this black nun who sacrifices everything in order to protect and help a little white girl with her magic powers in his novel. (Bonus points for painting Sierra Leone entirely in terms of rape, war, and carefree villagers talking to God in the grass.) Well, I suppose it's possible that over the course of his career Cronin has never studied or shown any professional interest in depictions of race in American literature, but it's kind of a major topic for him to be completely ignorant of (you'd think he'd have at least had a lecture or two about it as an undergrad), and he cleaves to tried and tested stereotypes too consistently for him to be completely ignorant of what he's doing.

Or maybe he's just incompetent. That's a genuine possibility. For instance, Cronin's depiction of how secret US government projects work resembles what would happen if Matthew Reilly were commissioned by psychotic militia conspiracy theorists to write anti-government propaganda. So, the evil science vampire conspiracy has this deep underground facility where they keep these death row inmates that they've given the vampire virus to, because of course the one group of people you would absolutely want to confer immortality and raging bloodlust on is a bunch of dudes who've already murdered people, and at least a subset of whom are supposed to be psychotic maniacs who are more than happy to kill again. The cells need sweeping regularly to remove vampire poop and bits of mutilated bunny (they feed the vampires bunnies because they're that evil), but obviously actual lab technicians and military personnel are too valuable to risk in this capacity. So they employ a bunch of "sweeps" to sweep the rooms. Who, they think, would be the perfect people to use for this purpose? They need folk who won't be missed, who won't ask too many questions, and whose impulses are dulled or chemically controlled which should, the Project hopes, limit the vampires' ability to telepathically control the sweeps. (Spoiler: it doesn't.) Now, who would fit the bill?

As it turns out, the people who fit the bill are chemically castrated sex offenders.

Yep, in this dystopian era male sex offenders become chemical eunuchs and find employment in government conspiracies, and some of the 300 pages of prologue are devoted to telling the story of Grey, a pedophile who gets hypnotised into helping the vampires in return for promises of super vampire powers which will be real useful for hunting small boys.

I have absolutely no fucking idea what Cronin was trying to achieve here. Let's take a good hard look at Project NOAH. We're talking about a super-secret government conspiracy with the power to exterminate sheriff's departments and convents in order to maintain their secrecy. We're talking about a conspiracy which aims to create a race of atomic supermen immortal vampires which will conquer the world!!! Now, maybe I'm just being kind of a snob here, but that sort of conspiracy? It's kind of dumb, isn't it?

Nothing wrong with that, of course, it's just that as plot elements conspiracies to create science vampires to conquer the world are kind of more suited to cheesy lowbrow entertainment than Serious Business literary stuff. And you know what's really disconcerting and unpleasant to experience in the middle of my lowbrow fluff? Well, all sorts of things, but the one I'm thinking of is "detailed descriptions of a pedophile stalking young children in preparation for raping them". I mean, I know Stephen King includes some seriously nasty, squicky topics in his novels - whether or not he handles them at all well is a discussion for another day - but usually he doesn't directly juxtapose them with the goofiest and most ridiculous aspects of the novel in question, and when he does (as with the underage gang bang in a sewer to escape Lovecraftian horrors in It) people rightly take the piss out of him for it.

More or less everything about the government conspiracy reeks of badly thought-out sensationalism. Take, for example, the example of Richards, the conspiracy's hatchet man. He's the one who cheerfully strolls into the sheriff's office and calmly kills three people in order to spring Wolgast, Doyle and Amy. He's also the one who occasionally thinks about how once the project closes he's going to have to kill all the sweeps, all the technical staff, and I seemed to pick up an implication he was also going to have to terminate the low-level guards as well. This is a plot point which is, once again, introduced for sensationalism and to establish that Project NOAH and Richards are evil, not because it makes a blind bit of sense. Murdering skilled technicians and scientists with the knowhow to handle your new superweapon is a moronic thing to do - think about it, if the Manhattan Project supervisors had iced Oppenheimer and the rest after the Trinity test was successful, who'd build the bombs for Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Who'd make new and better bombs, and maintain the nuclear reactors? Murdering the sweeps makes somewhat more sense if you are black-hearted monster who doesn't intend to pay them the back wages they're owed, but the presence of the sweeps in the first place makes little to no sense. These planned killings, and the killings Richards actually does, seem to exist only to make Richards look like a bad guy - and you know, he really is a nasty dude, but since he gets ripped to shreds by vampires it's not like he's going to be particularly important for the rest of the series so wasting page count on him seems pointless.

In addition to being deliriously over the top, to the point where it resembles a conspiracy theorist's fevered imaginings of what the Manhattan Project might have looked at if it were administrated by Satan, Cronin's portrayal of the conspiracy is woefully inconsistent, particularly when it comes to deciding what the Project can and cannot do - which considering that a lot of the action in the first 300 pages revolves around the Project's corrosive hijacking of the national security and law enforcement structure of the United States for its own sinister purposes seems to be a bit of an oversight. As I mentioned, for some reason the Project can't create some perfectly good reason why it's OK for the two FBI agents to take Amy away and the cops and social services had better stop asking questions about it; Cronin is aware that such things as "witness protection" exist, he uses the term in the book, but apparently it won't wash because before dropping Amy off at the convent her mother went and shot the son of a judge in the head when he tried to attack and rape her, and her mother gets herself arrested and so Amy's no longer some nobody who can just disappear.

OK, fair enough. Except... it's established both before and after this that the Project is more than happy to behave as though it is above the law, and quash far more important investigations than chasing up the death of a judge's son. After all, Richards flies into a small town, murders the sheriff and a couple of deputies, and flies off with Amy, Wolgast and Doyle in tow, blowing up their car during the escape attempt and (it is implied) killing a whole bunch more law enforcement in the explosion. The entire convent Sister Lacey comes from is murdered in their sleep by government assassins to cover up Amy's presence there. Call me crazy, but it seems to me unusual that NOAH has the power to murder scores of people and nix investigations into the brutal deaths of nuns and cops and sheriffs, but can't squash a manhunt for some FBI agents and a child.

It gets worse. Back at the start of the novel, when Wolgast and Doyle visit Carter to convince him to sign up for Project NOAH, they stroll up to the Texas prison he's incarcerated in and the warden tells them to fuck off and won't let them see Carter. They go away and phone their boss, who pulls some strings. The next day they show up and the warden grumpily allows them to see Carter because the Governor of Texas just called him and directly ordered him to, and further instructed him to not tell anyone about what happened on pain of death. But, again, apparently faking up Witness Protection details for Amy and nixing the pursuit of the agents by local cops is beyond the capabilities of Wolgast and Doyle's boss, a man who with one phone call can bring a state governor to heel.

Now, I don't seriously expect Cronin to provide full details of where exactly Project NOAH falls in the US government's chain of command and the exact mechanism by which it gives orders to state governors and murders people with impunity; that's more worldbuilding than is really necessary for a literary science fantasy/horror novel really cries out for (though that said Cronin is hardly averse to worldbuilding - the start of the First Colony segment starts with extensive extracts from the Colony's constitution). But at the same time, his treatment of Project NOAH is almost designed as a direct attack on reader suspension of disbelief, simply because it is so incredibly transparent that its powers are completely plot-driven. If it is important to the story that the conspiracy can make something happen, it can make it happen. If it is not important to the story that the conspiracy can make something happen, it can't do it. There is no other way to rationalise the capabilities and weaknesses of Project NOAH as presented, putting Cronin's mastery of the conspiracy thriller format on a par with bottom-of-the-barrel hacks like Dan Brown or Matt Reilly.

Another commonality Cronin has with Matt Reilly is the prominence of a little girl in the narrative, namely Amy. Now, to be fair having a little girl who saves the world from vampires was the challenge Cronin's daughter set him, so I wouldn't dream of criticising him for her mere presence, and she is a reasonably well-observed character. What gives me the creeps is the way Cronin handles Wolgast's interactions with her. Wolgast, you see, used to have a daughter, only she had a heart defect and died and Wolgast's wife left him and he is sad. Now Amy is there and he is happy because he is reminded of his daughter! But also he is sad because he has to give Amy to NOAH. But then they escape so they can go live on a mountain as father and daughter! Yay!

Now, I'm not saying there is anything untoward in a sexual manner going on in the characters' relationship. Really, seriously, not even slightly, don't even go there. However, what did regularly disturb me was the way Wolgast compulsively thought of Amy as a surrogate daughter. Now, on the one hand there's decent character-based reasons why he might do that - bereavement will do a number on you like that - but when I read it I couldn't shake the feeling that things were crossing the line somehow, where Wolgast was going from finding consolation and a new purpose in being a surrogate dad for Amy and into the territory of actually using Amy to provide consolation and a purpose, rather than consolation and a purpose arising as a by-product of his decision to take care of Amy. In fact, more or less everyone who interacts with Amy for any extended period of time ends up believing that she has a special purpose in life. Her mother Jeanette believes she has a special purpose but can't really enunciate what it is. Sister Lacey is convinced that Amy is going to be some variety of saviour. Project NOAH sees Amy as the culmination of their plans. Wolgast sees Amy as a replacement daughter, only better cause she won't conveniently age or die.

This could of course be entirely deliberate. But the problem is that the novel seemed to condone Amy being treated as a means to an end in three-quarters of those cases; Project NOAH is clearly bad, but Wolgast, Lacey and Jeanette's interactions with Amy are presented in a way which I believe we are supposed to sympathise with. Maybe this is one of my more irrational and weak arguments against this book, but I couldn't do that; as far as I'm concerned there's something deeply, deeply creepy about the idea that children exist for the appreciation or salvation of adults, or indeed for any other purpose other than growing up to become well-rounded individuals capable of living their lives in the way they elect to. But Amy has a massive dose of messiahdom from birth, so I suppose that's inescapable.

By the way, one of the ways Cronin chooses to indicate that Amy is the Chosen One - before she gets to Project NOAH, at a point when she couldn't have got the magic virus which makes her psychic? She and Sister Lacey go to the zoo and it turns out that Amy can talk to the animals. Like the snake bit in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, only Amy is better than Harry because she can talk to polar bears and all other animals besides.

Yeeeeeeeah. (This isn't the only supernatural thing that happens which makes it clear that there's shit going on beyond the vampires - I would not be surprised if in the last book it turns out Jesus has been helping the good guys behind the scenes - but it's certainly the silliest example.)

So this sort of leads me to the main structural and stylistic problem with what Cronin is doing, which is that he's trying to write a literary post-apocalyptic science fantasy/horror/conspiracy thriller novel but does not appear to have an understanding of the various genres he's trying to appropriate beyond the mainstream blockbuster manifestations of them. There's little to suggest he's read any literary post-apocalyptic fiction (such as Cormac MacCarthy's The Road), or any literary SF like J.G. Ballard or Samuel Delaney, or any literary fantasy like Ursula LeGuin or Gene Wolfe, or any literary horror like Ramsey Campbell or Thomas Ligotti, or any literary conspiracy thrillers like Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum or Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, or any literary mishmash stuff like Christopher Priest or Margaret Atwood. The most highbrow work the novel resembles is Stephen King's more highfalutin books - and it resembles King so closely that I was completely unsurprised to see King's recommendation gracing the back cover.

Now, in principle, there's no reason why a good literary novel couldn't be produced by taking the toolset of trashier forms of a genre and reclaiming them - that's more or less precisely what Wolfe, Delaney and LeGuin do, after all. But Cronin is absolutely the wrong person to do it, because he consistently fails to do anything clever or interesting or different or even competent with the conventions and trappings of the genres he dabbles in - he throws stuff in almost at random to create a shambling Frankenstein's monster of a genre mashup and it just doesn't satisfy on any level. It's quite telling that Cronin's writing career consists of a few literary novels and then this enormous brick-sized first installment of a trilogy of genre novels; so far as I can tell, there's no point in between those where he tried writing fantasy or horror or SF in order to gain a mastery of those forms, and whilst it's not strictly speaking mandatory to serve that sort of apprenticeship before you can produce literary genre fiction of value, it's certainly something that proved helpful. As it is, I don't know whether Cronin is trying to be clever and failing - deliberately going for the most daft and lowbrow manifestations of the genres in question in order to make some kind of point - or whether he just had such a low opinion of the traditions he was dabbling in he just didn't bother to research them especially deeply.

And at the end of the day, this is why I stopped reading the novel: it was plain that a fantasy quest narrative was coming up, lo and behold once I checked Wikipedia it was, and I had little desire to read a 900 page novel and two upcoming sequels in order to get to the final confrontation with Subject Zero (the original science vampire) in New York City which is obviously going to happen. I've read plenty of third-rate fantasy authors botch such stories, there is no good reason for me to read this particular third-rate fantasy author do it simply because he's also considered to be a highbrow master of literary genre fiction. He isn't. He really, honestly isn't. I defy anyone with even a modicum of taste in SF, fantasy, or horror to attempt to read the nearly 1000 pages of shit Cronin has pebble-dashed the porcelean bowl of the market with without saying "Fuck it, I quit" at least once.

I couldn't. And I can't keep going with the horror genre any more if its most lauded and praised products are of this standard these days. As far as I'm concerned, I wouldn't shed a tear if the dark fantasy sections take over the horror niche in bookshops and horror is consigned to a small shelf of reprinted classics and the latest releases from the few decent authors still operating in the genre (so Ramsey Campbell, Thomas Ligotti, and... welp, that's it). First A Dark Matter, then Horns, and now this shit. It's time for me to man up and admit that urban fantasy, dark romance, or whatever else you want to call White Wolf-esque modern-day monsters-amongst-us fiction has beaten out traditional horror, and at this point I can't say traditional horror didn't deserve to lose. The genre is dead. Dead. It's done. Go home. There's no fixing it. Horror is over, urban fantasy is in, and I for one welcome our new vampire overlords.

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Comments (go to latest)
http://gx1080.livejournal.com/ at 04:59 on 2011-10-24
Fuck, 1000 pages? For THAT plot? Come on, even techical manuals get divided on tomes.

Opinions on the man aside, following blindly Stephen King's trail reveal a huge creative void on the genre.

Dunno about Urban Fantasy being the new "it" thing. Twilight and it's copycats may work, but White Wolf itself couldn't make money on that market. If you are right, the future is probably books with vampires and magic that read like Harry Potter. But I'm a guy of science fiction and detective stories, so what do I know :P
Arthur B at 15:33 on 2011-10-24
Fuck, 1000 pages? For THAT plot? Come on, even techical manuals get divided on tomes.

And believe me, you feel every single page.

I am convinced the only reason this gets such good press is that only people who uncritically love the thing are capable of finishing it. Good thing I have no qualms about panning stuff I couldn't read to completion.
Frank at 22:50 on 2011-10-24
I hate NPR (National Public Radio) sometimes. It's my fault, really. I was suckered into reading this shit book due a Weekend Edition a couple of summers ago. All Things Considered did the same for Guillermo del Toro's The Strain which I stopped reading after 70 pages (but if someone here can vouch for it, I'll give it another go.)

The Passage deserves to be burned. That you could write a review (which I haven't read... mostly because I don't want to re-experience my hate and disappointment) astounds me. Some books are fun to hate. This one I needed to purge from memory. I have not yet fully succeeded.

FUCK what a suck book.
Kellicat at 00:13 on 2011-10-25
A three-hundred page prologue? That almost makes Robert Jordan look concise.
Arthur B at 00:50 on 2011-10-25
To be fair and above-board, I should stress that the first 300 pages are not specified as being a prologue.

Except that, functionally speaking, it's really hard to see them as being anything other than a prologue.
valse de la lune at 20:50 on 2011-10-25
I kept mistaking this book for Let the Right One In. Covers very similar in style and, obviously, subject.

(yes, there are reading group questions)


It's a story about a black man who, in his reminiscences, realises that the happiest and most fulfilling time of his life was when he was tending to the garden of a wealthy white family - that, despite the fact that these circumstances ended up leading him to Death Row, they are the memories he will treasure and honour the most.

Dan H at 22:32 on 2011-10-25

This is totally off topic but OMFG how doyou do that adorable little smiley?
Arthur B at 22:46 on 2011-10-25
I dunno how to type it with words (hopefully valse can teach us the trick!) but when I have to generate fancy smilies I just cheat and use Wikipedia.

Oh look, they've got me hitting page 317 of this book:
(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻
http://alula-auburn.livejournal.com/ at 23:15 on 2011-10-25
That sounds amazing in its awfulness.

But I'm sadly not at all surprised that a professor at an American university would be unfamiliar with the "Magical Negro" trope. (As an aside, I don't know what, if any coverage, the novel/movie The Help might have gotten round your parts, but the number of "high brow" critics who were just blown away that some people found the story of a spunky white college kid empowering herself off the backs of saintly and/or sassy black women NOT to be a loving tribute to the black nannies the author had as a child or a stirring message of solidarity. Particularly the woman whose life story she may have ripped off--there was a jaw-dropping article in Salon along the lines of why any woman wouldn't be grateful to be depicted as the noble, long-suffering, Abileen.) But it's very easy for me to believe a professor could be oblivious to that concept.

I'm actually a bit tense at the moment because I'm in a class on Beckett--which would make anyone tense--and the professor tossed up the kooky idea that some disabled people find Beckett's obsession with missing body parts and blindness to be kind of offensive, and I got jumped on in class for what I thought was the fairly mild observation that considering how much of Beckett is "Destroying the medium," rejection of form, et cetera ad nauseum, his insistence that blindness makes people prophetic is a very old fashioned, romanticizing impulse.

But yeah. Especially outside of people who specifically work in contemporary literature or new media, I'm still finding a lot of resistance to issues I thought the internet had settled (lol), or the idea that whatever-text-in-question is exceptional, the author isn't talking about REAL black people, or blind people, or whatever. I think they need to spend more time on TV tropes. For real, in my notes for tomorrow's class I put that I should ask if people know the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, because I keep running into things I think have gone mainstream and finding out no, not so much.
Arthur B at 23:19 on 2011-10-25
I think they need to spend more time on TV tropes.

Hey now, I don't think anyone needs to spend more time on TV Tropes. A little is too much and a lot is never enough...
Dan H at 23:21 on 2011-10-25
As an aside, I don't know what, if any coverage, the novel/movie The Help might have gotten round your parts, but the number of "high brow" critics who were just blown away that some people found the story of a spunky white college kid empowering herself off the backs of saintly and/or sassy black women NOT to be a loving tribute to the black nannies the author had as a child or a stirring message of solidarity

Aah! I was looking at an ad for that in our local artsy cinema recently, and I had this vague, nagging "is this failtastic, I've got a feeling I've heard this thing was failtastic" sensation.

Reading the summary did make it sound a lot like the story was "white girl exposes hypocrisy of other white people (also there are black people in it)".
Fin at 02:14 on 2011-10-26
I dunno how to type it with words (hopefully valse can teach us the trick!) but when I have to generate fancy smilies I just cheat and use Wikipedia.

Yeah, I generally just copypasta too. I'm far too lazy to figure out how to do it with my keyboard. (╯°□°)╯︵ spɹɐoqʎǝʞ

I'm rather partial to this one: ಥ⌣ಥ
valse de la lune at 07:27 on 2011-10-26
I also go the lazy route and copy-paste. If you want to do it with keys it's apparently ALT + 3232, but when I try that I just get á instead. ಠ_ಠ
http://architeuthis.livejournal.com/ at 14:01 on 2011-10-27
ALT+3232 only produces that character in Word 2003-and-later for Windows. Anywhere else, your best bet is to cheat and use Wikipedia, or use the HTML entity, which is &#3232.

Comments relevant to the article? Why would anyone want me to make those? (I think this is my first comment on Ferretbrain, in fact. Um, hello.)
Arthur B at 14:05 on 2011-10-27

Don't worry about tangential relevancy. Being able to ಠ_ಠ at The Passage is always relevant because that and furious rage are the only emotions it's capable of evoking. Even the girl on the cover is doing it!

Let's all ಠ_ಠ at it as hard as we can.
Frank at 15:50 on 2011-10-27
Arthur B at 16:17 on 2011-10-27
An emoticon walks into a bar...
ಠ_ಠ "Ow."

The barman says "why the long face?"
Melissa G. at 19:35 on 2011-10-27
The reddit face!!! ಠ_ಠ

I've been browsing www.reddit.com and that face shows up there all the time, and I've been wondering how to make it! Ferretbrain is so educational.
Alasdair Czyrnyj at 22:22 on 2011-10-27
Oh man, not only is it overstuffed and stupid, but it managed to make you lose faith in horror as an enjoyable genre too. That's just horrible all around.

I was vaguely curious about this book, but I didn't bother because a) it's a thousand friggin' pages, c'mon, b) I have some...issues with the way most writers use post-apocalyptic settings, and c) I'm finding I prefer when monsters are details in horror stories rather than the subject. Once you start oohing and ahhing over the monster and its biology/culture/whatever, you're just writing straight sci-fi.

Overall, this review has convinced me that I should track down a copy of Brian Stableford's The Empire of Fear, just to see if he did it right.
http://alula-auburn.livejournal.com/ at 20:37 on 2011-12-20
I actually checked this out of the library for a project I was working on about mainstreaming of certain genre texts (that is, why sometimes, some texts suddenly get elevated, as it were, and more specifically, the (stupid) assumptions mainstream reviewers often make in the process. Weirdly, it was shelved in the law library (because it's a CRIME?) but I found it too annoying to deal with enough to write about. And ended up getting way rantier than I inteded about the horrible ending of Lev Grossman's second Magicians book instead. :eyeroll: I still have a lot of FEELINGS about that.

But I also realized that I actually had read Justin Cronin's 'literary' novel (or one of them) and found it to be pretty bland at best, and a not-all-that great imitation of a certain. . .Iowa. . .voice and type of story. (And I went to Iowa, too, so I have at least a little right to side-eye him on that.)
http://alula_auburn.livejournal.com/ at 22:07 on 2013-06-21
I wouldn't dream of asking Arthur to subject himself to the next book, which sounds like it doubled-down on rape!fail to go with its race!fail. And possibly makes the story of Anthony Carter even worse/more cringe-worthy?

from someone who sort of liked it, even?

Amy felt it, felt it all. She felt and saw and knew. The woman’s arms around him, pulling him down and down. The taste of pool water, like demon’s breath. The soft thunk as they reached the bottom, their bodies entwined like lovers’. How Carter had loved her. That was what Amy felt most keenly: his love. The man’s life had stopped right there, at the bottom of the pool, his mind forever trapped in a loop of sorrow. Oh please, let me, thought Anthony Carter. I’ll die if you want me to, I would die for you if you asked, let me be the one to die instead. And then the bubbles rising as the woman took the first breath, her lungs filling with the awful water, the deep spasm of death moving through her; and then the letting go. His was the sadness at the center of the world.

Apparently, this is one of the BEST passages.
Arthur B at 23:22 on 2013-06-21
I wouldn't dream of asking Arthur to subject himself to the next book, which sounds like it doubled-down on rape!fail to go with its race!fail.

Hey, to be fair there could be plenty of rape!fail in the chunk of The Passage I didn't read.

And possibly makes the story of Anthony Carter even worse/more cringe-worthy?

Not possible.

Oh please, let me, thought Anthony Carter. I’ll die if you want me to, I would die for you if you asked, let me be the one to die instead. And then the bubbles rising as the woman took the first breath, her lungs filling with the awful water, the deep spasm of death moving through her; and then the letting go. His was the sadness at the center of the world.

I stand corrected.
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