That Was Awesome! Writers on Writing

It Wasn’t Aliens, and They Weren’t Dead All Along: The Big Reveal in Blake Crouch’s Pines

A planeload of people crash-land on a seemingly deserted island where strange and unexplainable things happen.

A town wakes to find a mysterious dome has descended to trap them.

I love these sorts of stories, where the characters don’t understand what’s happening, and things grow stranger, and as I read I keep asking myself what the hell is going on. More often than not, though, I’m disappointed when the mysterious circumstances are finally explained.

So often the explanation falls into one of a few predictable categories:

  • Aliens did it.
  • The characters have been whisked back in time, or forward, or into a parallel universe.
  • They’re all dead, and this is the afterlife, or purgatory.

You get the idea. It’s easier to come up with weird, mysterious situations than it is to explain them. That’s why I was blown away by Blake Crouch’s novel, Pines. In Pines, Secret Service agent Ethan Burke regains consciousness after a car accident in the small town of Wayward Pines. Burke has come to investigate the disappearance of two fellow agents, but finds himself trapped in Wayward Pines, unable to make a phone call, surrounded by the town’s strange, secretive, sometimes violent citizens. All roads out of town lead right back in.

As the story progresses, things get even stranger. Burke discovers his wife living in the town, only she’s a decade older than when he last saw her a few days earlier. Monstrous, highly intelligent creatures stalk the wilderness.

As I drew ever-closer to the Big Reveal, I braced myself for disappointment. Had they been abducted by aliens? Maybe Burke had stumbled into a parallel universe? Were they all dead? (Please, oh please, don’t tell me they’re all dead…)

When I reached the reveal it was…none of the above. It was cool, and fresh, and it worked. It explained all of the mysterious circumstances without cheating or hand-waving. And I didn’t see it coming.

I’ve played around with a few ideas for mysterious circumstances novels, but I always get stuck at the Big Reveal. It’s hard to come up with something new and different. All roads seem to lead right back to one of those old standbys. Blake Crouch came up with something different, and I find that simply awesome.

Will McIntosh is an author whose debut novel Soft Apocalypse was a finalist for both a Locus award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. He is a frequent contributor to Asimov’s, where his story “Bridesicle” won the 2010 Reader’s Award, as well as the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. Love Minus Eighty (based on “Bridesicle”) was named best Science Fiction novel of 2013 by the American Library Association. His lastest novel, Defenders (available now from Orbit), has been optioned by Warner Brothers for a feature film. Follow him on Twitter @WillMcIntoshSF.


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