The Nameless Horror


I finished reading Justin Cronin’s ‘The Passage’ last night, something I’d been encouraged to do by my agent (read it, that is, not finish with it) on the basis that, “The first third’s great, the rest’s crap*. But you could totally write something like this!”

(* He’s not a fan, to put it mildly, of anything SF-ish, so I’d expect him to say that regardless; the first third is the buildup to the apocalypse, the second two thirds are a hundred years later, after it’s happened.)

Reviews suggested it gets very woolly in the mid-section and that Cronin - who’s a fine writer - has a tendency to give everyone two pages of backstory, even if they’re going to be killed straight after it’s been explained. It does - I skim-read quite a bit of the stuff after the group leaves The Colony - and he certainly does. There’s a lot of coincidence and/or unexplained psychic behaviour towards the end (one survivor being hunted by her now-viral former husband despite the fact that he was turned something like 1,500 kilometres and several months away, for instance; I know they’re always supposed to “return home”, but that’s just silly), the Haven section is ropy as fuck, and Babcock’s nothing like as menacing and interesting a bad guy as his buildup during the Patient Zero early phase suggested. The finale, in fact, is a bit limp.

That said, the early stuff is very good, characterisation’s strong even if it’s over the top (a couple of iffy Stand-esque “wise old psychic women” aside) and the monsters - ignoring some idiotic garlic mention later on - are good and menacing without being too overtly vampirish. They’re certainly more ‘Darkseeker’ (the terribly CGIed vampirish types in the flawed but oh-so-much-better-with-its-rejected-ending ‘I Am Legend’ movie) than ‘Dracula’. Except with that stupid garlic reference. (Nicknaming “crossbows” as “crosses”, I could take. “Garlic. They love it.” not so much.) I’m not much of a fan of The Village-esque post-apoc societies, but aside from that personal gripe, the post-apocalypse itself is nicely described and evoked. And I do like a post-apocalypse, you know.

Worth reading, but a bit of a slog at times. I don’t know that I’ll bother with the other two forthcoming books in the eventual trilogy, but who knows.

Received wisdom has it - and I’d agree - that it’s best for the children of split parents to have as equal and even a relationship and time with both (all things being healthy and good, of course). The official stance echoes this, as far as I’m aware; there’s certainly an impression given by public officials that fathers, in particular, should take as active a part as possible in their child’s day to day life. ‘Deadbeat Dads’, ‘Absentee Fathers’ and the like are phrases in the common lexicon. There’s pressure to get it as right as you can, as a dad. Probably also as a mum, but aside from screaming headlines from the Daily Mail, perhaps less so; I don’t know of the female equivalents of those terms.

I’m in the happy position that myself and Aidan’s mother split amicably and get on fine, and that writing for a living means being able to have Aidan a perfect 50% of the time. Which isn’t always easy to juggle with work, but you sacrifice evenings here and there to catch up. It’s all good. Aidan was born after 2002, and both our names are on his birth certificate; both of us have legal responsibility for him. We have, in effect, hit the bullseye with regards to providing Aidan with a stable, equal parenting environment, and he’s happy as a clam. We’re even each perfectly friendly with the other’s husband/girlfriend (whose respective families turned out to be former work-mates and friends). And how do the various bureaucratic and official systems reward this?

A child has only one address for most educational and official purposes. One ‘primary carer’ for child benefit (a system which I’m aware was established to stop alcoholic fathers pissing away half a share of the childcare money, but still) (and while, like other parents in similar situations I know, we decided who’d claim it on the basis of relative need, you still feel bad, like you’re being denied the credit for being an equal carer by the very system that encourages it). Even Aidan’s nursery - which is all good and nice - only send letters to one address, his mum’s, despite giving them both in the solitary ‘address’ section on the form. The same with the doctor. If his mum’s away on holiday for a couple of weeks - which happens (especially with relatives in France and a husband based partly in Germany) - and something Aidan-related comes in the post, I don’t know about it. The same if something arrives but she forgets to tell me or I forget to ask (both of us, only human, and massively scatter-brained). All for the sake of an “other address” box on a form. The council say that if you put two addresses on school applications (which Aidan’s currently going through), they’ll choose which is the one - the only one - that counts, without saying how they’ll arrive at this decision. I’ve never had to deal with the CSA, family courts or anything else, but I’d guess it’s no different; this isn’t a new phenomenon.

Effectively, the system says, rightly, “This is how you should be doing it, if you possibly at all can.” And then, if you manage what for most people isn’t possible - working hours and such being what they are - but a noble aim nonetheless, it then gives you no credit or support. Like someone putting you in a race and saying, “Here - see if you can beat this championship sprinter. It’ll be awesome if you can!” And then turning their back and, when you rush up to them, sweating and panting, to announce your proud, improbable victory, replies, “What race? Why should I give a shit? Piss off, I’m busy.”

Once Aidan starts whatever school he goes to (using, for what it’s worth, my address as the basis for his application; having decided between ourselves), I’ll be aiming to make sure they send any post to both of us. Hopefully they’ll do it, but they’re not under any obligation to. Nor is anyone else. Which seems wrong, to say the least. And somewhat demoralising if you’re not a shit parent. It’s like being the appendix of the child-raising intestine. If anyone notices you’re there it’s only because you’re a pain.