Passage

These weekly columns will be quite short for the next eight weeks as I'm in school taking six units of accelerated classes – the equivalent of twelve units, working full time and trying to stay sane. We should return to normal at the end of May.

There are a few books that are so creepy they still scare me years after I read them. The Shining by Stephen King scared me half to death when I was a teenager and Kelley Armstrong gave me a heart attack with Haunted. This past week Connie Willis joined their ranks with her novel Passage.

There's nothing overtly scary about this novel. No monsters, no bloodlust inflamed killers armed with knives, not even a shark. But it still managed to give me a creeping sense of foreboding and doom that I haven't quite shaken.

Joanna Lander is a harried, and often hungry, doctor researching near death experiences at a gigantic, mazelike city hospital suffering from too little money and too many addicts to a new drug called rogue. She's also pestered by one Maurice Mandrake, a flashy, showman who has written more than one book about the standard NDE experience; the tunnel, the white light, the life review, etc. He is under the wing of the biggest donor to the hospital so has access to those who recently coded and contaminates their narratives. Joanna has to race him to the patients so she can get their experiences before they are tainted.

Dr. Richard Wright is another researcher who has discovered an interesting combination of drugs that can simulate an NDE. He wants to team up with Joanna and explore exactly what's occurring using a new type of brain scan and Joanna's ability to get a clean story from the subject. Unfortunately Joanna disqualifies most of Richard's volunteers and another quits, leaving them in the lurch. Joanna convinces Richard to put her under and begins a series of discoveries, each more surprising than the last.

I was pretty sure I knew where the story was going at one point but I was wrong. Passage is a fascinating journey, a scientific look at what's often viewed as a supernatural experience. Connie is a fabulous author and Passages is a terrific, terrifying read.

You can read an excerpt here: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780553580518&view....

Bonus Treat:
Kate Beaton posted some hilarious comics that are a mash up of her work and text from Japanese students. She explains it all, along with a plea for donations, in a paragraph before the comics. http://beatonna.livejournal.com/145965.html Poor, poor Aquaman. How did he get such a terrible reputation?