When I started reading The Ferryman, the latest novel by Justin Cronin, I had a sense that I pretty much knew what I was in for. I was wrong.
To use a rollercoaster metaphor (because I think cliches should be played with, not dispensed), sometimes a book offers a clear day and you can see all of the ascents and dives, twists and turns, before that first ratcheting climb even begins. Sometimes the fog rolls in off the bay and you can’t see a damned thing, so you just hold on as you’re taken up and then dropped into a gray void. The Ferryman is a bit like riding a rollercoaster inside of a mirror maze. You think you see what’s coming, but what you actually see is a reflection of yourself, eyes and mouth agape, an embarrassing squeal ringing off your tongue.
Rollercoaster aside, The Ferryman isn’t a thriller. It’s not a plot-driven story seeking to play with your expectations for the next twist. Don’t get me wrong. This book will thrill you. Even when you’re reading it and you think, maybe this is a thriller, that’s the mirror again. It’s almost as if Cronin is begging you to ask yourself why you’re trying to pin this book down at all, and it challenges you conceptually in the most extreme ends of the creative spectrum. So, let’s shed the labels. It’s a story about intimate, life-affirming love shared between partners, family, or friends. It’s a story about cosmic philosophies regarding our species and its fundamental state of being. And it’s a story about everything in between.
The Ferryman is a book of wonder, mystery, heartache, and existence. It’s a beautiful book, and it’s a terrifying book. It’s a book that will immerse you in calm waters, and it’s a book that will exhilarate you with violent storm surges.
If nothing else, The Ferryman is a book with a concept that, if you’d told me everything about it—spoiled it utterly—I would have said a book like that can’t work. And yet it does, and that fact, above every nit-picky reservation or petty grievance a reader might have, elevates The Ferryman to something like a literary magic trick.
At the end of 2018, I re-read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. After 15 years (and this time picking it up because I wanted to, not because I needed to for a class), I found it extraordinarily powerful and prescient. I then wrote this review but never posted it. Oops. I figured I’d post it now with some edits because these thoughts weren’t doing anyone any good sitting on my hard drive.
Predator is one of my favorite films (and Arnie’s best, IMO). With Prey releasing this year, it’s getting roped in with the “woke-ism” (or whatever) conversation as forcing feminism. However, one of the reasons why Predator is exceptional is because it’s a feminist film.
Yup, Arnold Schwarzenegger, during the height of the American action film, made a feminist film.
Bringing to an end this long drought of new stories in print and plentiful rejections, I have two new shorts out this summer. One is the previously mentioned “I Am Emergent,” a story about two computer scientists, their life’s work in artificial intelligence, and the lengths to which we’re willing to go to save someone we love. This one is out now in the anthology WHAT REMAINS from Inked In Gray Publishing, which you can find here.
The most recent one is a story I’m particularly fond of. “The Only Memorial You Can Ever Have” appears in vol. VIII of Deracine Magazine. It is one that I set out to challenge myself with in every conceivable way. From perspective to tense to narrative voice to narrative distance to character perception and beyond, virtually everything in this story is something I’ve never even attempted before. And after everything, I think it works, and it moves me powerfully. I hope you check it out and agree.
Of note, I think, is that I don’t think “The Only Memorial You Can Ever Have” would have come out of me if not for the MFA program I’m currently in. We often talk about the value of MFA programs, and I think, in those conversations, they’re viewed as whether they’re necessary or whether they produce writers of greater caliber. After two years in one, I think that’s the wrong way to look at MFA programs.
The value of my MFA program, to me, is in this story. It provided me the environment to experiment and take risks. It offered the support structure that held me up when I took those wobbling steps. If I hadn’t pursued an MFA, I’m confident this story wouldn’t exist, because I wouldn’t have pushed myself in ways I needed to push myself for this one to come out.
That isn’t to say I think MFA programs make better writers, that they’re always good, or that they’re even necessary. It’s just to say this is a story that came out of my MFA program that I’m proud of and demonstrates how my writing has grown, broadened, and evolved.
Thanks to both Inked in Gray and Deracine. I hope you check them out.
I’ll probably keep this much shorter than most reviews. Andy Weir’s follow-up to his mandatory-reading sci-fi novel The Martian is just okay. And you know what? That’s okay. It would be unrealistic to expect any human being to replicate the utter brilliance of a novel like The Martian. Its shadow is long, and its influence is broad. Not even Barry Bonds hit a home run every time he came to the plate, and he was on drugs.
There are many arguments to make for Artemis, and if we didn’t already know what Weir was capable of with The Martian, Artemis would be a standout novel in its own right. The world-building is utterly fascinating. The science is authentic but never exhausting. And Artemis still contains Weir’s nerdy, amazingly fun wit, not to mention the atmospheric charm that we’re reading something written by a guy who legitimately loves the playground he’s playing on.
Where Artemis falters is, perhaps, in something Weir took for granted with The Martian. The premise of The Martian is so immediately gut-wrenching: Astronaut Mark Watney is caught in a storm during an emergency evacuation, and his team, thinking he is dead, leaves him behind. But Mark is not dead. He is alive, and he must survive until his rescue.
In many ways, The Martian is an inferior story. It’s clearly a premise intended for Weir to play with survival scenarios on Mars. Those are fascinating in their own right, but they are not a narrative.
I saw The Last Jedi a couple weeks ago, and like most of you, I hrmph’d out of the movie theater, feeling an immediate need to reflect upon what I’d just seen. For those first 24 hours, I experienced strong emotional waffling as seemingly warring factions in my brain attempted to win out. I expected this tension would continue to evolve, but it didn’t really. I think both of my minds are right.
I’ve decided The Last Jedi is a really good Star Wars film in its own right, but in context of the series and its surrounding culture, it’s mediocre and even harmful.
This is less a review and more a reaction. That said, I spoil the hell out of the film because I found it really unsatisfying to discuss my points in general terms, which leads me to my first point [final spoiler warning].
This thing has been a long time coming. Through many rewrites and revisions, the throes of misfortune that is the publishing industry, and the existential crises, the one constant has been that this story was mine, and it lived only in my head. And now it doesn’t. Now, it’s ours, and I hope you consider venturing into the wilds of Lumen with me.
It’s far from perfect, but I’m proud of it and think it’s something special. I hope you do, too.
Last week, I revealed the cover for my upcoming sophomore novel, The Pillars of Dawn, and I mentioned more details would be forthcoming. The first question I usually get about this one is if it’s a sequel to my novel Carrier. No, it isn’t. Stellan and Daelen are going to stay on ice for now, and I understand if I’m the only one who thinks that joke is funny.
Other than publishing a few short stories, I’ve been quiet for a long time about what I’ve been working on, and the reasons are three-fold: 1). I’m a slow worker, 2). it was difficult to find a home for this novel, and 3). this story is a beast.
I’d rather not talk about 1 or 2, but I’m eager to talk about 3.
There’s really no other way to put it. The Pillars of Dawn is a fat child. All told, it comes in at about 160,000 words, which is enough for two average-length novels (or, technically, three short novels). Not only is it big, but it’s complex, following six main characters as they struggle to keep their home safe and unravel the mysteries of the unknown lands beyond their colony on an alien world.
The Pillars of Dawn is set on a colonial planet named “Lumen,” and it takes place far in the future after humanity has conquered the stars and begun colonizing worlds in systems beyond Sol.
Last night, I watched Passengers, the film starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence whose characters wake up far too early on a colonial spaceship that’s en route to a new planet. I think it’s a film that certainly has its flaws but is ultimately worth a viewing for any fan of character-driven science-fiction. It’s a film that, given a fair shake, deserves attention for some solid storytelling and acting. But critics panned it.
With such an interesting premise and two of Hollywood’s biggest stars, you might think it was a solid bet. So what happened?
It’s conjecture, and a film’s failure and success is contingent on innumerable factors, but I think Passengers is another film where the critics got it wrong. What’s more, the film sufficiently and specifically addresses the most substantial problems in the second half, which makes me wonder if the critics who panned it checked out after a major development in the first half in which a character does something utterly, morally repugnant, something that is a huge risk in the realm of storytelling, something good stories have to do to be memorable and effective.
I spoil the hell out of the film below, so if you haven’t seen it and plan to, you may want to wait to read this until you do. But before you go, the bottom line is Passengers is a wonderful film, and you should watch it. If you’re interested, don’t be like me and let the critics dissuade you.