Books

‘The Twelve’ Is Part Two of a Trilogy Wherein Monstrous Creatures Feast

Carolyn Kellogg
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Justin Cronin explores a viral-human hybrid in a number of intriguing variations. He also raises the prospect of how predators as successful as the virals might find a way to nurture an ecosystem that could sustain them.


The Twelve (Passage Trilogy Series #2)

Publisher: Random House
Length: 592 pages
Author: Justin Cronin
Price: $28.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2012-10
Amazon

No one expected Justin Cronin to sink his teeth into a post-apocalyptic vampire novel. He was an award-winning author of quiet literary fiction when he drafted a story so compelling and frightening that he landed a $3.75-million, three-book deal.

The trilogy began in 2010 with The Passage a 784-page runaway bestseller, one of the few books that could boast of billboards on Sunset Boulevard. The Twelve is second in the series, but even the most devoted fans may notice a bit of a sophomore slump.

In Cronin’s futuristic dystopia, America has been decimated by voracious vampires known as virals. They were born of a scientific experiment using a jungle virus to try to create eternal life — a variation on the hubris-of-man theme that goes back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

After the dozen infected monsters break free, they begin chomping away, creating a massive army of virals able to generate more of their own kind. The hordes are absolutely terrifying: They move impossibly fast, are hard to kill, rip human prey into pieces and then feast on the gore with double rows of metal-sharp teeth. The armed forces — which had a hand in their development — are no match for them; in a month, the virals wipe out civilization.

Much of The Passage takes place about 100 years later; those left behind at a remote temporary refugee station managed to create a sustainable community. Their descendants have only a rough sense of the world that came before. A group of young people — led by the book’s central protagonist, Peter, a good guy who grows into the role of classically conflicted leader — undertakes a dangerous quest to fight the virals.

The end of The Passage suggests that the sequel might continue that quest; it’s here, but it’s a long time coming. In fact, about 200 pages of The Twelve pass before Peter reappears. The narrative suffers from his absence, as well as from the lack of mission. The book’s title implies that the 12 original vampires — all human test subjects plucked from Death Row (clearly a bad idea) — will be hunted down. Readers bringing that expectation to this book will be disappointed.

Instead, we return to the early days of the infection, as the virals attack. In one community, a developmentally disabled school bus driver, not entirely comprehending the outside threat, takes his bus on the road. Along the way he picks up a group of likable survivors: a boy and his 17-year-old sister, a feisty elderly woman, a snotty 20-something, a soothing older man and a self-appointed sniper, Kittridge.

When the vampire apocalypse begins, Kittridge proves he is brave and lucky: “On the first night, windless and lit by a waning quarter moon, Kittridge had shot seven: five on the avenue, one on the opposite roof, and one more through the window of a bank at street level. It was the last one that made him famous. The creature, or vampire, or whatever it was — the official term was ‘Infected Person’ — had looked straight into the lens just before Kittridge put one through the sweet spot. Uploaded to YouTube, the image had traveled around the globe within hours; by morning all the major networks had picked it up.” Weeks later, there are no networks, no YouTube — but Kittridge is still standing.

Less heroic is Horace Guilder, part of a different group of survivors that provides a window into another part of the story.

Guilder is a high-level government functionary, and through his eyes we see how the government reacts as the crisis unfolds. He’s unpleasant, a self-interested weasel who spends a lot of time mooning over a prostitute who doesn’t love him enough. He has the power to engineer his own escape, but he’s not as much fun to follow as the ordinary people on the school bus who are just trying to survive.

There are obvious hazards to creating a three-book series. If the first book is successful, it will create a fascinating world that people want to revisit. The last volume has the built-in tension of the dramatic conclusion. What to do in the second? Cronin fills in some of the past and advances the story a little — he provides a couple of climactic battles he’s so good at — but never quite finds a center for this book.

The Passage created an addictive world, but in The Twelve, it’s already familiar. What starts to show through, in the slower parts, are weak characterizations. The main figures carried over from the first book, including fierce Alicia, mysterious Amy and tinkerer Michael, are still robust, but others are too often clichés — nuns are stern but secretly kind, for example. Soldiers are always honorable, oilmen are nothing but tough, children all adorable.

Clichés can be a shorthand way of building story, and on other levels, the book also seems undercooked. There are many lines of dialogue that sound as if they’re lifted from somewhere else — a man cries, “Bring me that girl!” In places the prose feels tired, hackneyed: “The day broke fresh and clear. Alicia slipped on her glasses and stretched, the pleasureable energy of a night’s rest flowing though her limbs.”

One original element that comes alive in The Twelve is an idea hinted at in the first volume: that between virals and victims there might be a kind of viral-human hybrid. Cronin explores that in The Twelve in a number of intriguing variations. He also raises the prospect of how predators as successful as the virals might find a way to nurture an ecosystem that could sustain them.

Cronin’s trilogy joins a recent spate of literary post-apocalyptic thrillers, including Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) and Colson Whitehead’s thoughtful zombie novel, Zone One (2011). But the contents of Cronin’s books owe less to highbrow literary aspiration than to pop-culture phenomena: The series hews closely to Stephen King’s The Stand, in which a few plucky survivors make their way across a devastated landscape. As in the television reboot of Battlestar Gallactica, a limited number of monsters are bent on destroying the human race — and one heroine is growing unsure of the side to which she belongs.

The rampaging virals of the series are far from the classic vision of the gentleman vampire, or the idea that vampires are sexy beasts as portrayed in Twilight and dozens of other books and films. Instead, they are a lot like the zombies of The Walking Dead: rampaging, soulless killing machines.

The Twelve is at its best when it’s frightening and disgusting, when there are hardships and risks, and when there is bloody hand-to-claw combat. That doesn’t account for quite enough of the novel, however, which simply isn’t as propulsive or well-wrought as its predecessor.

5

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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