The Passage by Justin Cronin

This novel has a huge promotional engine behind it, and movies are planned for the series.  The web site is here if you’d like to take a look.

For my part, I guess I expected more.  From the tremendous amount of hype, I gathered this book would be the greatest thing since sliced bread.  It wasn’t for me.  I did enjoy reading it, I guess.  It was a fast-moving story and a relatively easy read (at 800+ pages (that’s nook ® pages) it’d better be).  But I was relatively disappointed overall.  I guess I found it to resemble too much a cobbled together post-apocalyptical effort, much of which I’d “seen before” in other works.  (Stephen King’s The Stand, and parts of the Dark Tower come to mind, as does the movie “The Road Warrior”).  I even had some flashbacks to The Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boule, or rather Beneath the Planet of the Apes, where the characters discover the post-nuclear vaporized remnants of New York City.

***Spoiler Alert*** Stop reading now if you plan to read the book yourself and don’t want to learn of any plot details.

So, what’s new about this book that would make me recommend it?  Well, in this novel (the first of a promised trilogy) the ‘apocalypse’ is wrought by escaped vampire-like creatures who began as a government life-extension experiment.  In this case, the army has infected twelve subjects with a virus discovered on a scientific expedition in South America (which the reader only has a tantalizing brief glimpse of near the beginning of the book) which turns them into, well, a kind of vampire (called “virals“ in the novel).  Oh and the twelve “volunteers” for this?  They’re death row inmates who supposedly have nothing to lose so decide to participate rather than be executed.  In other words, the cream of the crop…

Something goes wrong (surprise!) and they escape their confinement in Colorado, wreaking havoc across North America, while the rest of the world considers quarantining the U.S. and leaving it to its own demise.  California secedes from the union and creates its own republic, since the virus hasn’t spread there yet (as does Texas, we later find out).  Details are few on what happens in the world immediately after the escape of the twelve, however.

Also present at the installation where the twelve were being kept was a little girl, Amy, who has some vague ‘special powers’ like the virals, but remains basically human and “good,” however.  A kind-hearted government agent, who has recently suffered the loss of his own young daughter bonds with Amy and flees the installation and ‘hides out’ in the American Northwest to avoid the Armageddon as long as possible.  The first section of the book ends rather abruptly when the man dies, and Amy wanders south to California.

Here the book suddenly, disorientingly jumps ahead about 90 years, where a settlement of humans endures in a walled city, brightly illuminated at night to ward off the “virals.”  The reader is drowned in a tidal wave of new characters, all introduced within a relatively short span of pages.  A whole “new society” has developed in this colony to cope with the unique situation civilization finds itself in.  Technology is largely forgotten, except for a few citizens who keep the power plant and batteries running.  Time is running out for them, though, as the batteries are beginning to fail and no one there now knows how to fix them, and they cannot be replaced.

The girl (ninety years later, she’s still a young girl) Amy one day wanders up to the city and is taken in.  (She’s a “Walker” as they refer to those who somehow have survived outside the protective walls of the settlement).  A few of the residents sense her special power, and the “doctor,” Sara, finds that Amy has an implanted chip in the back of her neck, which one of the technologically savy citizens analyzes and finds it includes data of readings on her physiological condition taken at regular intervals, which allow him to ‘do the math’ and find out how old she must be.

A few intrepid members of the walled settlement (some of the few who know the batteries will eventually fail and thus “the clock is ticking” on the settlement as to how soon it will be until the virals overrun them) decide to try to take Amy back to Colorado, as a message within the chip has instructed.

The rest of book deals with their trek across Nevada, Utah, & Colorado and the challenges they encounter (somehow gas and vehicles are still available – maybe even more plentiful than in the Mad Max movies).

Mel Gibson (before we knew he was such an angry man…) “and friend” in the Road Warrior.

They eventually find the sender of the message (who we first met early in the book), but “all hell breaks loose” when one of the original twelve virals and the thousands he has infected (this process works like the traditional vampire conversion one as far as I could tell) track them down.

Too many details to relate briefly, but the climax of the encounter with “Babcock” and his minions reminded me a little of the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes.  In that story, astronaut Brent spends basically the entire time trying to find Taylor (Charlton Heston in the movie) and when he finds him what happens?  Well the whole world gets blown up.

James Franciscus and Charlton Heston from Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

That doesn’t exactly happen here, but the encounter was similarly disappointing to me.  Well I’ll leave it for you to read if you’d like…  I don’t know if I’ll read the follow ups or not.  I would guess that they would make good ‘blockbuster movie’ material, though.