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review 2018-08-05 17:42
The Passage: Vampocalypse Now, or at Least 2008-ish
The Passage - Justin Cronin

It's twenty minutes into the future, and an aggrieved FBI agent is rounding up subjects that no one will miss. Twelve of them are death row inmates: the thirteenth is an abandoned six-year-old, Amy Bellafonte. They are to be injected with a serum from a Bolivian bat virus to create (all together now) super-soldiers. The "virals" get vampire-y, the vampires cause mayhem, and after breaking free they overrun the United States and possibly the world. But that's only about a third of the story.

 

Once this several-hundred-page build-up is out of the way, we cut to ninety years later. In a stockade in California called the Colony, the descendants of a few survivors rely on lights to repel the virals, and the rechargeable batteries that power those lights are wearing out. Incredibly, a "walker" shows up for the first time in decades. After a fracas getting her inside the walls, the community blames the members of the Watch whose decision led to a few deaths. Before mob justice can be completely executed, a small group of companions flee the Colony, determined to find out what has happened to the rest of the world and to solve the mystery of the walker – who is none other than Amy. Not only has she survived countless viral attacks, she's barely aged in all this time.

 

The plot that ensues is hard not to compare to "The Stand," primarily because it's a story about a diverse array of scrappy blue-collar heroes who confront evil by walking across post-apocalyptic America. The characters aren't exactly the same, but the feel is vintage Stephen King. Psychic powers, unethical government experiments, maternal black women, stashes of weapons that even the odds with terrifying monsters, Biblical overtones and the infrequent nuclear blast – all these elements are King oeuvre.

 

Of course, my question when reviewing is less "has it been done before?" but "is it being done well now?" And yeah, it's not bad. The build-up to the outbreak keeps the pages turning, and the backstories of the pre-outbreak characters build some sympathy. Post-apocalypse, the dramatic moments when someone is taken by virals but *isn't* instant vamp chow make sense most of the time and lead to characterization moments. And though there are sequels, there is a reasonable amount of closure at the end of the first book. Considering it's a hefty 879 pages in paperback, I'd be angry if there weren't.

 

There are weaknesses, of course. The post-apocalyptic characters are a little more interchangeable than the well-drawn ones of the beginning. When a human encampment seems too good to be true, the twist is predictable (though the exact particulars still make for a good scene). The apocalypse feels straight out of small-town America's 2005 anti-terror/disaster preparation fantasy rather than harsh reality, or at least the impassable highways full of abandoned vehicles and degraded fuel of "The Stand." It's hard not to think of Mad Max or its South Park parody when the people of the Colony refer to "The Time Before" and use other uninspired slang. And there's a minor deus ex machina for a few characters near the end, called out in dialogue but left unanswered in this volume. (At least it wasn't the literal Hand of God setting off a nuke in Las Vegas.)

 

All that said, "The Passage" still feels like a genuine epic, one of those novels that starts out like a horror show and morphs into a battle of good versus evil. And if Stephen King were the only person who could write such a story, the world would be a drearier place. It was obviously written during the height of the War on Terror, but there's one notable quotation that still rings true:

"All this time, we were hoping the Army would come to our rescue," says Alicia, "and it turns out the army is us."

3.5 out of 5

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review 2018-05-28 11:20
“Terminal Alliance – Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse #1” by Jim C Hines – highly recommended.
Terminal Alliance (Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse) - Jim C. Hines

I'd never read Jim Hines before but I was in a mood for something light, so I picked this up expecting some kind of zany, "Guardians of the Galaxy" witty space romp.

 

What I got was a five star SF read. This is a funny, fast-paced, witty and original novel that also has a clever and quite serious plot.

 

The story takes place in a universe where most humans have been turned feral by a zombie plague from which 10,000 or so have been rescued by an alien race who now use them as a military force. The post-plague humans are hard to kill, aggressive and loyal. For the aliens, it's a great deal.

 

The janitors of the title humans who keep the warship clean and plumbing functioning, albeit that their leader, nicknamed mops, is occasionally consulted by the humans in battle command because she has good strategic insights and keeps a cool head.

 

When the warship gets caught in a trap that kills the alien officers and turns most of the humans feral again, it's left to Mops and her crew to find out what happened and save the universe, or at least humanity.

 

The pace is fast. The humour is irresistible. Yet this is not a shallow book. The universe-building is robust and complex. The characters, including the alien characters, are believable and engaging. The plot stands up against more mainstream SF and contains a big, skillfully revealed, secret.  Best of all, Mops turns out to be a giant amongst humans: a natural leader, a shrewd tactician, an insatiable reader (Jane Austin's and Mary Shelley's works have survived the holocaust), quietly brave and always witty.

 

What more could I want?

 

The book works as a standalone novel but sets up the sequel, "Terminal Uprising" beautifully. It comes out in February 2019 and I'd have already pre-ordered it except Amazon want to gouge me for a you-cannot-be-serious $18.42 for the privilege. I figure time is on my side.

 

Amazon pricing policy to one side, I highly recommend this book to anyone with who loves SF and has a sense of humour.

 

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text 2018-05-04 00:54
Highlights: 23%
Terminal Alliance (Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse) - Jim C. Hines

From alien race (resembling sentient squid) viewpoint of first contact:

The human in question was filthy, but that was no surprise. Living on the surface, exposed to all that dirt and solar radiation, it was a wonder the species had survived at all.

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text 2018-05-03 14:55
Highlights: 87%.
Terminal Alliance (Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse) - Jim C. Hines

“I nominate Wolf,” Kumar said without missing a beat.

 

“Huh?” said Wolf. “Sorry, I was reading Frankenstein. Am I supposed to be rooting for the monster?”

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text 2018-05-03 14:34
Reading progress update: I've read 35%. - this is more than good fun, it's startlingly original
Terminal Alliance (Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse) - Jim C. Hines

I picked this up expecting some kind of zany, "Guardians of the Universe" witty space romp.

 

What I got is a funny, fast-paced, witty and orginal. It also has a clever and quite serious plot.

 

I'm hooked.

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