Thursday, 24 July 2014

Blake Crouch: The Wayward Pines Trilogy

I can’t make my mind up about Wayward Pines, but it doesn’t really matter because Fox TV made up their mind and it’s all going to be a mini series one of these days. Which is a pretty ballsy move by Fox TV, because the three main books (there are a tonne of extra stories you can download off the internet) swerve all over the place the way that TV generally doesn’t. I’m not sure how that’s going to fit in with the usual TV model of set up an unchanging situation and just keep nursing it along until the residuals kick in.

Above all, it’s a very rapid plot. Everything happens in a month or less. There are flashbacks over much bigger chunks of time, but the main action runs very fast. At the beginning of the first book, our protagonist wakes up in a small town that he can’t find a way to get out of, and by the end of the third book he’s torn the whole place down around and killed all the bad guys and half the bystanders. In book one, he gets to find out what’s really going on in the too-good-to-be-true town; in book two, he’s co-opted by the bad guys to be sheriff and help to run the terrible conspiracy behind the whole enterprise but instead tears the whole thing wide open; and in the final book he completely fails to come up with a brilliant idea to save everyone from the chaos he’s unleashed. And that’s the whole thing; Fox TV’s bought themselves a cousin of the problem that Under the Dome hasn’t been able to solve.

All three books are just one high-concept idea; billionaire lunatic decides that the world is going to hell, so he comes up with a scheme to put a small town in suspended animation and wake them up when the world’s hopefully more to his liking. Our hero wakes up in the middle of this, since billionaire lunatic is definitely not running an all-volunteer operation; instead he’s faking car accidents, slamming people into suspended animation and waking them up centuries later in a painstaking recreation of a small Mid-West town as though it’s the day after the car crash. The whole first book is about our hero figuring this out, and Crouch does a pretty good job of keeping it confusing and creepy for most of the book. It’s not easy keeping a big reveal like that on the down low, no matter how many distractions he throws into the mix, and I was impressed by the way it was carried off; and also by the way Crouch made me feel the hero’s concussion - there’s a queasiness all the way through his scenes which gives them an extra bite.

In a sense, the first book is almost like a pilot for an indefinite series; the situation’s been set up, the basics have been explained, and now our hero can be the wacky sheriff of the wacky post apocalyptic town. It would be A Town Called Eureka, but grim, and surrounded by mutant cannibals, and run by psychos. No, wait, that sounds terrible. Crouch seems to have thought the same thing, because the status quo falls apart with impressive and bloody speed in the other two books, until there’s nowhere left to run for anyone. 

My hat’s off to Crouch to realising that there was only one way to go and no point in dragging it out, but the other two books don’t rise to the same levels of creepy angst the first one pulls off. We know what’s going on now, and without a central mystery, the essential weakness of the set-up starts to bite. Has it struck you yet that I haven’t used any character names? I finished reading the third book about three days ago, and I’ve forgotten what the hero’s name was. I can remember some of the villain names, and I can actually remember all the important character points which clutter up the hero’s personal life; I just can’t remember his name. He’s going to be played by some chiselled dark haired alpha male looking actor, and he had the kind of name a chiselled alpha male would have in a cop show, but what was it? I could look it up, but that would be missing the point.

That’s not my real gripe; I forget people’s names all the time. My real gripe is that the mad science doesn’t make any sense. Even if you buy the idea that people can be put into suspended animation for two thousand years, you still have to buy the idea that on the one hand, food supplies, petrol and I don’t know what all else can somehow last in storage for the same length of time without going off, while on the other hand buying into the idea that the entire population of human beings can die off and somehow evolve into vicious carnivorous taloned naked Morlocks prowling a depopulated North America in literal billions. In the real world, it took something like 6000 years for Tibetans to evolve slightly more efficient lungs; there has been literally no noticeable change in human morphology in the last 20,000 years. 

Still, fun while it lasted and the opening book has some punch to it.

20 comments:

REY said...

I read all three books, and I was fascinated by the sheer possibility of it all. I know there are some illogical aspects to the book, particularly that the human species could possibly resort to mutant creatures in just 2,000 years. Still, I continued to read, fascinated by the concept of perpetuating the entire human race through suspension. I want to read more, after our hero comes out of suspension 70,000 years later in Wayward Pines.

Mark Oakley said...

Well, here we are about a half year after your blog post, on the eve of the Fox pilot airing. I hunted around to find out what the heck it was I just witnessed.

So, thank-you for explaining and for spoiling Wayward Pines, (No, really. If I hadn't wanted to know I'd not have looked.)

My question, not for you, but more for the world at large is this:

Why didn't they just tell our intrepid main character, (whose name I too have also forgotten), up front what was going on?

Secrets are stupid in most contexts. In the context of stories, they are usually lazy tricks for dragging things out. And in these scenarios, they nearly always lead to people getting bloodied and having to suffer through mountains of needless torment.

Of course, Wayward Pines would be something else entirely were its characters open and honest and supportive of each other. -But it would probably still be fun, (in a Star Trek, Next Generation kind of way), and best of all, not filled with a stack of characters I want to smack.

If I ever wake up a few thousand years in the future, I sure hope it's not among a bunch of secretive, sullen, anti-social weirdos.

Fat Gino said...

I agree with the last post. Thanks for the spoiler. I was starting to wonder if M. Night had paid to have the first 3 pages of google all shut down the Wayward Pines story. This in and of itself was creeping me out.

I have enjoyed the first two episodes a lot. Matt Dillon is doing a great job keeping the show watchable. But I have the same question as the first guy ... if this is all just to save the folks, why not simply tell everybody whats up on the other side of the wall instead of killing anyone who freaks out?

Ah well. I guess they can't all be classics.

Jason Harpster said...

Thanks for the spoiler watched the first two episodes just now out of boredom. Nice to know what the twist is because frankly I had no intention of reading the books or watching the rest.

Even without reading the books, even without knowing anything at all about the story, even coming into wayward pines blind I knew "where" it was headed three seconds in.

Produced by : M. Night Shamalamadingdong............sigh.

Only producer in Hollywood with one plot line and one plot device that hasn't been laughed into bankruptcy.

I'd love to say wayward pines is good but the core of the story is playing a "show about nothing" meta game with the audience. I am not a fan of jerking people around with empty "reality tv" episodes and that is all this can be. A show where 99.9999999999999% of everything you see is complete red herring bull and the big reveal in the final seconds is the first and only time you get the honest plot.

Lost got called in the pilot and the producers swore for the rest of the show that wasn't it.

At least in M. Night territory you know it's a procedural show with zero content, and the last ten minutes throws the last hour of your life watching one of his movies, the last six months devoted to his show, right out the window.

Joel Diplan said...

Finally!! I was looking dor the big reveal

JENNIFER STJOHN said...

I too have been hunting for the ANSWER. I hate all this dame secrecy in a story. What the HELL.

If you create a town - place people in suspended animation for 1500 years and then wake them up and pretend like its tomorrow and give them no answers, and make them feel like a prisoner. I too would burn the dame town down!!!!
It is human nature to rebel to fight, we are animals. Case in point the creatures outside the wall.

Does it not make more sense to keep what few humans remain alive on earth?
Killing them because you have failed to tell them the truth is just plain STUPID!!!!

I think you wake up the suspended animated and tell them the truth. Hey buddy, you really don't want to leave WayWard Pines because it is 1500 years in the future. That wall is keeping scary mutant humans out so they don't eat you alive literlly. We try not to talk about the past here, because lets face it all of humanity is dead, so there is no point. We could really use a tall handsome Alpha Male like you to keep things safe and help us repopulated the human race.
I am no expert, but my guess is that any sane person would stay in WayWard after that and be very loyal.
Knowing men, that Alpha male would have a beer, then pick up a riffle protect the town, and start making babies.

My original theory:
My guess was that somehow this was a government experiment on mind control, and they were using hypnosis or brain surgery to alter perception of time. I thought perhaps they were experimenting on the kids creating a new advanced genration, and the mutant creates beyond the wall were failed attempts at enhanced genetic alterations.

Re: Mutant Humans:
Let us suppose, humans mutate, or a virus gets out, and it spurs human mutation, evolving mankind forward to adapt to our polluted planet. I can go with that idea. The author should explain better why humans evolved drastically in 1500 years. Not having a reason, and just blaming it on smog so to speak dose not cut it.

Joe said...

If you're going to put people in suspended animation..for a day, a year, a millenium....you darn sure better have a well thought out orientation, or re-orientation program for when they thaw out!

Clearly the advanced meta-human morlocky type entities forgot to consult HR on this project. You know, humany-type, semi-compassionate person sitting there smiling as you wake saying..."I know you're confused, we'll answer all your questions in a little bit. Just know that you're safe and I'm here to help you. Here's some juice...and your pants."

That seems far more effective than Nurse Ratchet and Dr. Frankenstein standing over you saying "this will all be over soon...for better or worse.You had such a nasty fall and banged your noggin; but we are gonna patch you up so you can go back to your fake life we just invented for you and that you're likely to resist unless we scare the heck outta you by killing your new best friends and neighbors in a bloody town square festival ritual. It's lots of fun, everyone will be there..you're wife, son, girlfriend...oops, awkward! She may be like, hey, I don't know you, and never knew you, and stop making like you know me cause it's getting all kinds of reckoning-bloody here and I need to get home and bake cupcakes. If that happens, just know it's her not you. So rest up, and we'll take the restraints off in the morning, and talk. Nice to meet you and welcome!

See the difference? I mean, if we've evolved into a more advanced civilization, or become more enlightened beings, heck, even if we've become freakish cannibalistic mutants...if they're smart, compassionate, or humane enough to go through alllllll the trouble to preserve a quaint terrestrial based human culture...or even if they're sadistic enough to create a human habitrail or fish tank to keep their human food fresh...you want the humans to mill about generally, staying vibrant, affable, and tender. You certainly don't want to agitate them, living in a constant state of confusion, panic, and fear. Do you realize how knotted and tough meat gets when adrenaline keeps kicking in, tensing the poor dears up? I don't know about you, but I like my Human Parmagiana tender, juicy, not all AHHHHHHHH, get me out of here!!!! Ick. And you definitely don't want all those sedatives and preservatives, blech.

See how just a little Human Resources light touch would go a long way?

Welcome to Wayward Pines, the year is 3028, you've just awoken from Suspended Animation after a thousand year sleep. Everyone you ever knew is probably gone to a better place by now (heaven or my belly, not sure which) but you'll make lots of new and interesting friends. Here's your orientation packet, today's newspaper is right there on the nightstand. And if it's any consolation, the Chicago Cubs never won the World Series, so we didn't save any of them. For what it's worth, here's your cell phone, wallet, key ring, clothes, and gun -- we don't really use any those any more...well, except the clothes...but Wayward Pines is a clothing optional community, but we prefer everyone keep their clothes on, but heck, to each their own. Umm..just fyi, your Verizon Friends and Family Plan expired about 800 years ago...as did your friends, and family, and Verizon, and phone service in general. The phone makes a great paperweight though..cept we don't use paper. We don't use money..so don't really need your wallet; No cars to go with your keys; No bullets for your gun...which brings us back to the whole paperweight thing. So welcome!

Much more effective.

Which is why this television show will be cancelled before too long, because, who is going to buy into a super-sophisticated, complex, high-concept, highly advanced, machiavellian, futuristic, super-society...that's run by highly advanced conspiratorial cabal that doesn't even have a Human Resources Department?!?! Or retirement packages?!?

I know, right?!

m_evans said...

As I read the first novel, I had several of the same questions most of you had. And by the end of the first books, the answers didn't make much more sense. Pilcher, the insane billionaire behind the Wayward Pines setup tells Ethan (the main protagonist) why he doesn't tell the citizens of Wayward Pines the truth of what's going on.

The number one reason is that he likes to control everything. That's his actual first answer to the question.

His Number two reason is that when they brought the first group of citizens out of suspended animation, they did in fact explain to them what was really going on. Considering the reality of the Earth they were now living in, half the group committed suicide, and the remaining citizens didn't procreate (it's not clear if they physically couldn't or if they chose not to).

Pilcher considered this a waste of both people and resources, so based on the reactions of the first group, he decides to keep remaining groups in the dark.

Steelers36 said...

What I don't get (have not read the books) is how the controllers running the entire operation were picked or exist 2000 years down the line. If you put people in suspension for that long a time, you are talking about many, many, many generations of humans to oversee the project and so forth. It doesn't make sense that it would all stay intact for that much time. And if we are in some weird altered (as we know life now) future, just where are those controllers?

The doctor man was seen once outside the town at CIA office with Matt Damon's handler, so how could that work if we have a time gap.

Outside of that, it does seem weird not to tell the folks what is going on. Only one or two seem to know.

ma rcthe dogfacedboy said...

yarg, David Lynch where were you when thinking of how to reinvent this stupid creation? M. Night? what? dag.

ma rcthe dogfacedboy said...

we might as well go back to making movies about any type of 'giant creature' attacking mankind.

therealguyfaux said...

The Village, spelled sideways.

Only the creatures in WP are actual creatures and NOT the town elders playing dress-up, and instead of Back To The Pioneer Days, it's Days of Future Present. OK, it's a George Washington's Ax, but you can see that M. Night Sham-Wow has come along with yet another variation on the theme.

And WP is a pretty bad one, as it turns out.

Glog Man said...

I also noticed the doctor outside the Secret Service office talking to Ethan's boss about the experiment. So doesn't that mean the year 4028 is a lie???

Alexis Brunstein said...

I have read the books and I don´t agree at all that they are all over the place. Not even book 1. And about Ethan Burke. What is the problem? if you really have read the books, you cannot possible forget his name, because it comes all the time again and again.
So maybe you havn´t really read the books? Conversations in between Ethan and David Pilcher are more than enough to remember his name. David Pilcher always refers to the sherif as Ethan.
This is SCI FI and as in any Sci Fi, everything is possible, not need for logical explanations. The TV show by the way is doing a very good job. The only thing missing so far is a better description of the abbies. I don´t know why they are not doing that, but it may come later.

jOne de KRuZ said...

I think the author of the novel tries to make us see how life is like in totalitarian states (e.g. North Korea) where the people are subjugated to insane ideals about society should be. But to do this in the context of an incredible and speculative sci-fi story doesn't seem to quite cut it. IMO.

Diane Tingen said...

Glog Man has a good point. I have wondered about that, too. I clearly remember Ethan's FBI supervisor saying something along the lines of can't stop it now, it's already in process when talking about Ethan's disappearance. Is that explained later on? I haven't read the books, but based on the TV episodes, I still keep thinking that the whole thing is a government experiment gone wrong.

Angus said...

As I have not read the books, only seen the TV-series I am left with one question; why the 2000 years of animated suspension? Can anyone please explain this?

Max said...

Angus, the books make uber-villain's logic a bit clearer. Pretty much it boiled down to "World is going to hell in a handbasket. The smart move is to sleep through the worst of the noise and wake up when the dust clears, poised to claim the newly depopulated world." That this turns out to be self-evidently NOT a smart move in hindsight throws a sharply ironic light on the exit strategy for the third book.

babette fasolino said...

The books are great, and amazon kindle worlds has many more that tie in with the story: https://amzn.com/B01E4A033A

Unknown said...

Me too