The next Blockbuster
Just more Vampire fluff?
Justin Cronin has done what we writers dream about: getting paid an obscene amount of money for a story that will eventually be made into a movie while becoming a household name in the process. According to his publicist, he’s already started writing the next book in the series of three, so the money will just keep rolling in. Good for him. Lucky bastard.
Too much sharing!
My biggest problem in reviewing this book lies in how to tell you what I think about it without giving away too much. When I tackled this daunting textbook-size beast, I hadn’t read any reviews. Not one. Much of my reaction to the storyline related to the changes in the narrative, style and landscape which erupted with little or no warning as I read. This was important and I don’t want to rob my readers of those surprises by sacrificing them on the altar of my ego. After reading the book, I went to sites and articles to see how others approached it. Once again, I’m appalled by reviewer’s indelicate and thoughtless handling of details and easter eggs. Readers enjoy finding these for themselves. If it pleases you, skip the other reviews and I’ll try to handle this without butchering your future enjoyment.
What’s the story?
This very expansive story has many components but basically boils down to a few things: secret government hanky-panky involving a virus, 12 death row criminals, a nun with a gift, a little girl destined to change the world and the FBI agent who takes her into his heart….at least the first part of the book is like that. A third or more into the book and everything changes, from the time period, to the landscape and even Cronin’s approach to telling the story. We find a post apocalyptic world with a walled-in village of people who have learned to survive in the midst of the “virals.” It is in this pod of survivors that we find the new main characters and storyline, which take over from here to the end of the book.
Did Cronin rip off other stories?
In The Passage, Cronin gathers swatches of various horror, fantasy and sci-fi ideas and like a master tailor, stitches them together with literary craft. This is not just a patchwork of other people’s work but rather a new cloth woven from used pieces. It’s difficult in this day and age to write a totally fresh story. We have comics, pulp and novels. Cable TV, and now the internet has a lot of self-published stories and video shows. Even video games come replete with complex story lines. Legions of movies come out every year. They all compete for our attention. A writer’s brain could melt trying not to visualize something they’ve seen before when crafting a new story. This book does admittedly conjure images from other recent popular and literary works. The Passage reads more like a zombie story than a classic vampire tale. For awhile anyway. Some comparisons could definitely be made to I Am Legend, the Living Dead series, and even Zombieland. I saw the new Resident Evil: Aftermath release and noticed big similarities in the visuals. Having said that, it really is a vampire story and specific parts of the plot define it as such.
Is being a derivative story a bad thing?
Only if the book lacks originality of its own and simply rips off better written stories. This is certainly not the case here. Cronin got some serious skills, Dog. Listen, everything is derivative these days. Everything. There’s nothing new under the sun, remember? The goal is to keep the reader deeply engrossed and invested in the characters. The core of any great story lies in concepts and relationships. The tools used to bring that don’t matter much.
OMG… Vampires again?!?
Ok, ok…it is vampires again. I know…and I wondered if Cronin isn’t squeezing the final vampire ooze from the billion-dollar entertainment tube. He says he started writing this in 2005, before the craze. We keep thinking this vampire run has come to its end and then somebody else brings a new twist, and well, we pay the money and read and/or watch it. Until the public shows utter boredom with this topic, vampires will probably continue to sell. There’s something inherently interesting about the vampire lore that has developed. Most recent vampire-related storylines never completely stray from the vampire basics. The Passage uses some of the original lore and even references Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The biggest difference is that Cronin uses the “secret government lab” bit to mark the creation of these vampires while using just about any other word but vampire to refer to them. Are they actually “undead” or just live people afflicted with a virus who can be redeemed? We end up asking ourselves about the definition of vampires. Does a connection with an ancient creature from Transylvania define them? Is it the pale human form with fangs, clean 2-hole blood-drinking, the seductive ability to enthrall women or sleeping in a coffin during the day that defines them? If that’s our criteria, then, no, Cronin’s creatures are not vampires. However, if you allow a more liberal definition that includes longevity, incredible strength, preying upon humans and animals for food, mental or psychic abilities, and light sensitivity, then they are vampires. (Cronin presents them in his story as the real type of creatures that the ancient lore is based on.) But wait. If we use that definition, then the baddies in I Am Legend are 85% vampire and only 15% zombie. My point is that storytellers continue to build on each others’ works until lines blur around our definitions and ideas about horror fiction. This is good for the genre, freedom for writers and great for consumers. I’m really bored with the same old vampire tale…honest…but present it with a new spin or twist that’s got a beat to it and I just might dance again.
How good is the writing?
The PASSAGE is full of elements from multiple genres. Like I said, it’s long; 794 pages. Reading this book is a committment. The good news is that once you get acclimated to Cronin’s world, you happily read on, eager for the next stolen moment to dig out your bookmark and continue. The characters are wonderful and I want to see them again. Cronin’s language and writing is easily digested, though its density and complex storyline require going back to reread a few places.
If you haven’t read the original manuscript for Dracula, you’ll miss the nod Cronin gives to Stoker’s narrative style. The classic Dracula tale is conveyed via collection of fictional letters and articles, taken in sum as the story. Cronin uses this more sparingly, but effectively.
I initially questioned Cronin’s self-editing process. By the end of the book, some isolated scenes and details left me wondering why they were included at all. Other apparently extraneous sections did become important factors in the very end, so perhaps the remaining unused details will be explained in later books. Regardless, Cronin did answer every question he made me ask in this first book and I was totally satisfied, though Cronin still managed to slip in a cliff-hanger at the end, anticipating the next book.
Books two and three titled The Twelve and The City of Mirrors with The Twelve due out summer of 2012.
Why is Hollywood rabid over it and who’ll bring it to the big screen?
I can easily see studios salivating over The Passage, rubbing hands together hoping for sweaty fistfuls of our movie dollars. This book has amazing visuals. The storyline takes us to the American midwest, dark government facilities, deep jungles, vast barren landscapes and ruined cities. How about cross-bow wielding, blade-slinging colonists, hand to hand combat and lots of military weapons going up against spiraling, flying exoskeletal creatures who spatter blood and invade your dreams? The Passage is also replete with tender moments, believable relationships, ensemble casting and humor. Yeah… line up for the popcorn.
Cronin got a sweet book deal with Ballantine books for $3.75 million for the trilogy, of which The Passage is the first installment. Ridley Scott’s production company coughed up $1.75 million for the movie rights. Wikipedia says that Mr. Cronin first asked for a deal that included all three books’ movie rights for $3 million. Apparently they went with the single movie option and Ridley Scott will direct. I would’ve hoped for a JJ Abrams-type director but Mr Scott has a pretty impressive resume. For scary sci-fi, you can’t do much better than Alien and Blade Runner. They were ground breaking movies that introduced concepts we now take for granted in modern movie making. Scott gave us human-passable androids and the scariest killer alien to date. Like a gritty smoke-filled detective novel, Blade Runner served up a homogenized culture where east and west are almost indistinguishable and a dirty future city lacking hope and appeal. Alien set the tone for an average human woman turned bad-ass, finally fighting back against a scary death-dealing creature. Today’s moviegoers might get bored with BR’s B grade script writing or Alien’s limited locations, but ya gotta respect the originals. Let’s look at the epic stories Scott’s tackled: Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, and Robin Hood. Black Hawk Down had great military and action sequences. There are more, but we can see Scott has a lot to offer. I wonder if he’ll use Russel Crowe in yet another of his flicks. I can’t think of a role for him in TP except maybe as Agent Wolgast. They did contract the same screenwriter Scott used from Gladiator. So far the story is in good hands.
My final impressions:
I don’t think you need to be a vampire groupie or sci-fi lover to enjoy this epic story. Time will probably hail The Passage as a literary classic and most of America will have read it or seen the movie incarnation. I just hope the movie does the story justice. Poor Stephen King has had storylines raped by screen productions. I can’t stand the movie version of Michael Crichton’s Timeline because the mediocre film barely retains any of the incredible story. If Cronin can make sure this gets handled properly, his epic book has the makings of a historical movie event. Just in case they do screw it up, be sure to read the book first so you aren’t totally ripped off.
Book fuhst. Movie aftah. (Thank you Mr. Miyagi.)
Read it for yourself:
Published by Ballantine books, you can get your hands on a copy pretty easily. Go to the book’s official website to see all the vendors that sell the hardback, ebook and audio CD versions. http://enterthepassage.com/buy/
To give you an idea of what this book is going for, it lists for $27 but I found it on Amazon.com for as little as $11.95 new and $10.92 used. (Remember, they tack on $3.99 for shipping.) The book came out in June and Justin Cronin finished touring. Prices usually go down after that. I paid around $19 for it a few months ago at Barnes and Noble so it might be less there now.
Ask the author:
Justin’s “people” at Random House/Ballantine told me he would not have time between touring and ComicCon to do an interview with me by my deadline. (Deadline? what deadline? Oh, never mind.) They wanted to take part in my review and offered up his publishers’ Q & A questions. That was fine by me. I used what they sent me for the Ask the Author page, electing to incorporate it into my regular format. A few of their questions weren’t on my list, but I liked the info the answer gave. I did have other questions I wanted to ask, but that can wait until his next book, when hopefully I’ll talk to him directly.
Click here https://wolfebets.wordpress.com/ask-the-authors/ to catch the Q & A session with Justin Cronin about The PASSAGE.
Future Book Reviews:
- I’m going to take a break from reviewing to work on my novel. Please stay tuned for info on the next reviews. What do you want me to review next?
Until next time, feed the need.
Book review by Betsy Wolfe
- In the movie version of The Passage, Ridley Scott moved to being the producer while Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) has signed on to direct.
- My novel, previous working title of”the Projectionsts” is due to be released this summer. The title is now PSION, to be marketed as psychological science fiction. The story contains aspects of horror and drama as well as sci-fi, but without robots or spaceships. It takes place in modern-day Chicagoland. The book’s website launches soon: www.psionbook.com as will my author website: www.BEWolfe.com. Stay tuned.
- I’m currently working on the reading/review of the sequel to The Passage: The Twelve, of course, by Justin Cronin. I’d have finished that review a long time ago if I wasn’t already scrambling to get my own final manuscript to my publisher.