Sunday, October 28, 2012

Fear the dark

I am about 550 pages into my re-read of The Passage and I've noticed some things in the book that relate to the real world (as opposed to a fictional one where banks of lights are used to keep away virals - the name given to infected humans who have turned into sort of superhuman vampiric monsters - and where power outages result in death).

My wife is a police officer and in certain neighborhoods, the police deploy mobile banks of light towers at night.  These panels of high-intensity lights are put in high crime areas and theoretically prevent street crime at night.  Or scare off the bad guys.  (Given the number of robberies in broad daylight, I'm not so sure how well this theory of lights offering protection hold up.)  And a patrol car always has to park under the panel of lights while they are on.  My sweetie has to do this on occasion and we make jokes about the lights and the virals.  But still, in Washington, DC, in neighborhoods not too far from the White House or the Capitol, some streets are so dangerous, lights have to be deployed for fear of attack by marauders.  (I suppose this is an attempt at a high-tech solution but it feels so primitive.)  (And given the epidemic levels of HIV infection in this city - worst in the nation - the viral parallel and the risk of infection is also too close for comfort in another way.)

Hurricane Sandy is about to hit the Washington, DC area.  Or most of the East Coast, including us.  And most media coverage of the storm concerns the prospect of flooding and power outages.  We had an ultra-violent thunderstorm this summer that left much of the Washington area without power for up to a week afterwards and people are nervous about losing power again.  For the most part, nothing bad happened when the power was out.  There were many inconveniences and people were miserable but no one really died.  But the level of hysteria in media coverage of events might lead one to think that there was or could have been loss of life.  Not the case, unlike when a colony only defended by a wall and banks of lights against virals loses power and the lights go out.

The other bit of real world news from my re-reading of The Passage concerns Newsweek magazine.  As you may have heard, Newsweek announced the death of its print edition last week.  On page 583 of my paperback copy of The Passage, Peter Jaxon finds an ancient copy of Newsweek in an abandoned firestation in the California desert, one hundred years or so into the future.  The issue he finds has a photo of a viral on the cover with the headline "Believe It."  When I read The Passage the first time in the summer of 2010, Newsweek was alive.  But by the time of this reread in the fall of 2012, it is about to stop printing (it will live on as a digital edition) and now it won't ever be possible to create a fictional world where somebody will find an old paper copy of Newsweek in the ruins somewhere.

Monday, October 15, 2012


Justin Cronin's follow up to The Passage is about to be published.  I read The Passage when it came out in the summer of 2010 and thought it would be fun to re-read it before starting The Twelve.  And so far, I am enjoying the re-read much more than I'd imagined I would.  It is a big, big book with a lot of different characters and stories packed into it and now that I know them all I can relax and enjoy everything more.  And the book retains most of its scariness.

I'm also reading David Quammen's new book Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic.  Popular Science magazine just ran a nice excerpt.  It is the perfect nonfiction companion to The Passage as Spillover is about how diseases in animals crossover to infect and spread among humans and that some truly horrible epidemics are probably going to occur.  Which is sort of what happens at the start of The Passage - researchers being attacked by bats in the Bolivan jungle.  And then the virus spreads and pretty soon civilization collapses.  The viruses in Spillover mainly limit themselves to killing their hosts and so far it appears none have the potential to turn us into virals.  (As far as we know.)

I am deep into my project of putting many of my books into storage (so far, 63 boxes) and because I've been thinking about diseases and epidemics from The Passage and Spillover, I noticed that I have a ton of books on infectious disease: Malaria, smallpox, tuberculosis, Ebola, SARS, influenza, AIDS, anthrax, bubonic plague, BSE and more.  Even textbooks on malaria.  I've packed most of them up for storage but now that I think about it, it must have looked strange to anyone who saw them all.  And it reminds me of a funny story Nick Hornby wrote about in Vanity Fair about when he first saw his brother-in-law-to-be's London apartment - it was crammed full of books on Nazi Germany.  So many books that it looked suspicious and he was worried for his sister.  Turns out the Robert Harris was about to have a massive success with Fatherland.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In Search of Lost Time

I love to read interviews with writers.  One of the standard questions asked concerns what books the writer read as a child.  The answers always fascinate me because for the life of me, I have little to no memory of what I read as a child.  I read all the time.  There were always books in the house.  I had easy access to the public library.  Every time the family went shopping I got to go to a bookstore.  I read during meals.  Even now I still hear stories about how much I read as a child.  But what was it I was reading?  Mystery and science fiction, mostly, I think.  But who or what?  This is both puzzling and embarrassing because I am the kind of person who should have good answers to this sort of question.

There are a few books I vaguely remember and I found one of them at a used bookstore today.

City of Darkness by Ben Bova.  It was published in 1976 and I am fairly certain I read a hardcover library copy. (Why can I recall those details?)  I remembered this story about a teenager visiting New York City during the short time each year when it is open to the public - most of the year it is sealed off from the rest of the country.  When closed, marauding gangs control the place and life is brutal for those trapped inside.  In the book, the kid is visiting on the last day of the season but he gets robbed of his money and ID and is trapped in the city when it closes.  And then he runs around and stuff happens as he tries to get out (I don't recall much more than that). 

I think I read this book before the movie Escape from New York came out in 1981.  Or maybe around the same time.  They are made of similar stuff and I know I enjoyed them both. 

Flash forward 30 years and I am reading the comic DMZ by Brian Wood - which is also kind of similar but perhaps the one I have enjoyed the most.

I bought my new copy for a dollar.  I hope it knocks loose other memories of what I read back then.  Something about a dune buggy.  The one about a kid who gets to be escape Earth and help colonize a new planet, some book where they smoke cigarettes called Merciful Seraphims, the one about the juvenile delinquent who gets caught with a gun because the floor of the smart building he is in can detect a change in his weight.  Real classics, I know.  But they are some of the only fragments I have of what I read when I was young.