The trilogy exemplifies Anthropocene masochism. When humanity has irreversibly changed the nature of the environment, the environment bites back – literally, in this case. Humanity’s ubiquity conjures fantasies of its own extinction. What survives of us is not, despite the book’s sentimentality, love; but bureaucracy. Throughout the trilogy the central concerns are planning, management, pragmatism and resource allocation
The Passage focused on the response to the cataclysm and the strict government of the survivors (for example, children are not allowed to know about the disaster until a certain age). The Twelve was less concerned with the serial killer vampires – most of whom were never even fleshed out – than with the totalitarian regime in Iowa that collaborated with them. The City of Mirrors is more thrilling when dealing with the relationship between the black market and the official economy than the boo-hooing of the principal villain. Even the vampires have to deal with a diminishing food supply and the results of their over-plundering. The monster in the first book tried factory farming humans; the Iowan quislings were very keen on biofuels in the second book; and now Zero himself embarks on a proactive rewilding strategy. In the earlier books, the walled townships could be seen as a prophetic parody of Donald Trump’s isolationism. The third book has everyone except the Americans dead, and they are thus charged with making humanity great again. Zero has a great affection for the poetry of TS Eliotand Hamlet; the doughty pioneers think Moby-Dick is too difficult, wondering if it is even written in English. The future is delightfully philistine.
Equally problematic are the sexual politics. A majority of the leading female characters are victims of rape: Cronin does not emphasise the “bravery” of the male characters by making them survivors of sexual violence. In two cases, I struggled to see the necessity of the scene at all. It’s not as if a world infested by psychotic vampires isn’t horrible enough already. “The Twelve” were mostly murderers and rapists: it doesn’t say much for Zero that not being a rapist is held up as evidence of his moral superiority.
Certain parts of the story are left infuriatingly unresolved. Why did Amy, before she was experimented on in book one, have precognitive powers? What was all that stuff about Lovecraftian statues in South America where the virus originated? But then, some of the story arcs are so flagrantly left open, it leaves room for the trilogy to be more than three books. What started as something daring has become frighteningly conservative.