Sunday, August 08, 2010

Apocalypses? Apocali?

Well now I don't know which post to write.  I'm still reading the passage, and I've thought of and started about four different posts about this book.  I've been reading it almost exclusively for almost three weeks and I'm only halfway through.  I was thinking of waiting and just doing a review when I finished, but then I talked to a friend who did not love it as much as I did, and now I want to talk about my middle-of-the-book impressions, to compare them to my thoughts when I'm done.

So let's do a bulleted list summarizing the posts that I almost wrote at various points.  This has the advantage of presenting the best part of my ideas without letting my inability to deal with details bog us down.

1) The saga of my library adventures.  This book is hard to get hold of, and it's taking me forever to read.  I have stalked the Speed Read volumes at a dozen different libraries; I paid $1.75 for two weeks with it and then got lucky on two more.  I had to turn up at opening time at the library where I was offered a job and had the offer retracted when I told them I was pregnant.  (I know, sounds illegal, right?)  I had to return about eight books that I'm dying to read because THERE'S NO TIME if I'm ever going to finish it.

Why is it taking so long?  I think it's because I usually read books to get somewhere.  I want to get to the end, find out what happens.  With this book, in a way that is rarely true for me, I don't begrudge it the time it's taking to unfold.  It really feels like watching events unfold through the lens of history.  You follow different characters through what they're doing at the same time during an eventful and pivotal period of what will be history.  There's character development, but I feel like the characters are very much actors in the story, and the meaning and importance of what is happening is about the events, and what they mean for society, not for the people involved, necessarily.

I guess it feels like history to me.  I'm thinking maybe The Devil in the White City, where the stories are unfolding from the points of view of all the characters.  You're learning about the characters, and it's an important part of the story, but not more important than the place or time they inhabit, their society and its rules, their movements as they unfold in relation to each other, both short term and long term.  It's storytelling where the teller has already worked out the meaning and is deliberately constructing that meaning for you, not, like most fiction, where the meaning is unfolding before you, with the narrator's experience hidden from you and the illusion of surprise.

Post 2)  An in-depth analysis of the nature of a vampire apocalypse (The Passage), as distinct from a zombie apocalypse (The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Cell), a world-ending natural disaster (Life As We Knew It), or your standard nuclear war end of the world scenario (A Gift Upon the Shore).  Not about books depicting these apocali, mind you--the actual apocalypses themselves.

See, I'm not usually a vampire person, so the vampire apocalypse is something I haven't considered before.  I have ample end-of-the-world preparedness plans, but none of them involved an enemy like this one.  And of course, there's no guarantee that when the vampires REALLY come, they'll be good climbers or high jumpers--of course the type of walls you'll need to keep them out will depend on exactly what kind of undead are after you.  But for all the planning I've done, I've never thought about an agile, intelligent enemy being after you in the long term.  Sure, zombies will lean on your fences and try to reach through, but all you need are sturdy fences--they're never going to think their way through them, or even have much physical might to bring to bear.  But vampires--well, depending on how they operate, they'll be able to trick you, trap you, disarm you, climb your fence.

"What do you mean they cut the power?  They're animals!"  Where's Ripley when you need her?

3) Vampires and childhood.  [Caution: minor spoilers ahead.]  The book makes ample reference to its title as referring to a time of transition, and one of the ways that comes in is in the idea of childhood.  A lot of it is really standard, but the question of how you'd treat children in a world like this is pretty interesting.  Like the idea that someone who does horrible things to adults for a living would balk at a kid.

Or the question of how to protect children from a terrifying world.  They keep all their children isolated in a building where they can't see and aren't allowed to be told of the reality of the world--monsters, struggling to survive.  Then, on their eighth birthday, they're told the truth, let out, and apprenticed to a trade, to begin life as an adult.  The idea that there is some worth in childhood being a separate time of innocence is bizarre to me, but I can see how parents could fall into this.  The idea that children can be protected, that it's better to have a time when you aren't afraid--it seems wrong.  It seems like a recipe for misery when the world changes for you.  If you know the truth from birth, it seems like it would be easier to find the happiness available in reality, rather than believing in a happiness that doesn't exist.

And then there's Amy, of course, who's a child but not really a child, and possibly not even human.  I don't know what's going to happen with her--she's clearly the key to the story, but in what way, I can't tell.

Truly, though, the childhood element of this book has had me thinking a lot about being a parent and wanting to protect my child.  I've had occasional dreams recently of trying to protect my son from something--hiding him from bad guys who are coming, or running away from something while carrying him--that I just can't protect him from.  They're the most upsetting dreams I think I've ever had.  My sensitivity to certain kinds of Kids In Danger fiction has skyrocketed lately, and somehow it's related to the Vampire Apocalypse.

Now, there's a lot going on in this post, and it's not very coherent.  But I'm 450 pages into a 750 page book that I'm loving, and I had a big discussion last night about whether it's like the best of Stephen King or the worst of Stephen King, which led to an argument about which King books are the best or the worst (Brenda and I just don't agree on anything but fantasy, I think).  But I don't know where the book is going from here, and she does, so I wanted to lodge my opinions before they got away from me.  So here they are: my opinions halfway through The Passage.  Let's see where the rest of it takes us.

(Added Monday: also makes a fabulous lumbar support device at my desk.  750 very useful pages!)

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