Author: Stephen King
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Clay Riddell has finally gotten his big break, signing a ridiculously good deal for his comic Dark Wanderer as well as a sequel. But his euphoria doesn’t get a chance to last for long as the world around him seems to go mad in a matter of minutes. People lose all appearance of reason, attacking each other, biting, running cars into buildings and people. In the following days, as Clay manages to make contact with a few normal people, it becomes apparent that this madness is linked to using a cell phone . . . and these days, who doesn’t use one? Distraught and desperate, Clay and his new companions, Tom and Alice, begin making their way across country in an attempt to reach Clay’s estranged wife and son–while doing their best to avoid run-ins with those who have come to be known as “phoners”. Especially as the phoners’ behavior becomes increasingly concerning and odd.
Stephen King is an amazing author, and while Cell is probably not my favorite of his books, it is certainly both an exciting and a thought-provoking read. It actually reminds me a great deal of Patterson’s Zoo, only better in every aspect. The idea of someone hacking the cell phone system is both chilling and just possible enough to get under the reader’s skin, however improbable the reprogramming of millions of people’s brains using such a signal is. I admired that King limited the story, kept it to a select group of individuals, kept the reader from knowing everything that’s going on, and never revealed the actual source of the problem. It made Clay and his companions’ experience seem much more present and real, more emotionally gripping. And this is certainly an emotionally loaded story, full of adrenaline and horror and sorrow and worry, but also of affection and laughter and joy, surprisingly enough. I enjoyed the characters and found that each brought something indispensable to the story. On a much more detailed note, I loved the allusions to Clay’s comic and his attention to signage and fonts (which is carried through by using different fonts in the text at key moments); I just found that this added a nice extra touch of character development. For those interested in a chilling cyberpunk zombie story that’s a bit open-ended, I think Cell is a great choice, one I would certainly recommend.
Author: Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5
WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE
If you know something’s going to happen, are you morally bound to do something about it? Johnny Smith never imagined considering that sort of moral conundrum the night he took his girl Sarah to the fair. They were just having a good time . . . until a tragic accident later that night left Johnny in a coma. Nearly five years later, he awakens to find his world irrevocably altered: his girl married, his youth vanished, his health crippled. And the strangest changes to his mind. Johnny Smith finds that memories related to locations are a “dead zone” in his brain, something he can’t bring into focus. But as if to compensate for this loss, he also finds that he sometimes gets what can only be termed “psychic flashes” when he touches things–memories of pasts that he never knew, awareness of present events that are deeply-kept secrets, and worst of all, knowledge of future events and the corresponding responsibility of that knowledge.
The Dead Zone was a fascinating read from a psychological and moral standpoint; it’s more introspective than some of King’s writing (although I am regularly impressed by the way his books tend more towards the psychological and less towards the thriller–a very positive thing in my thinking). Johnny Smith’s character was a good choice in that he’s a “good guy” from a religious heritage, and although not religious himself, he has strong moral feelings about life–but he’s also conflicted in a lot of ways. That makes for some very interesting psychological development. Plus, he’s the sort of guy who just wants a normal life; he’s totally not interested in the whole “psychic” gig. King’s exploration of the effects of brain damage and the resultant flashes on Smith’s daily thought processes in interesting also. Additionally, I think he did a good job progressing the plot through foreshadowing and hints without there ever being a great deal of “action” per se until the very end. In spite of that, I never found the story boring–okay, I consumed the entire 400+ pages within a couple days. Without giving away details, I thought the ending was more Carrie-esque, while still fitting the rest of the story; I guess you could say it was the inevitable conclusion of Smith’s condition. In any case, for adult readers who enjoy a good psychological thriller, I would highly recommend The Dead Zone.
NOTE: I forgot to add this above, but I found his treatment of the 1970’s U.S. to be quite interesting as well, especially his treatment of the political environment of the time.
Author: Stephen King
In our world of comforts and conveniences, cars and refrigerators full of food, it’s easy to forget that there’s a big, scary world out there . . . and most of us are little equipped to deal with any of it. Nine-year-old Trisha McFarland gets a very real reminder that the world is terrifying–and full of things we don’t fully understand–when she wanders off the path during a hiking trip, trying to get avoid the argument her mother and brother are clamorously having further up the trail. What began as a quick detour rapidly deteriorates into desperate lostness–which continues for days as Trisha keeps walking, surviving on the snacks she brought for the hike and, later, on whatever she can scrounge up. Sometimes, she feels like giving up, but the example set by her hero Tom Gordon somehow keeps her looking up and pressing on. . . . But how long can she last?
I have heard a lot about Stephen King’s writing, but other than the odd short story, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is the first of his writing that I’ve read. It was totally different from what I was expecting–in a very good way. When I hear the name “Stephen King,” I think horror, mostly, not a psychologically intense look at wilderness survival from the point of view of a nine year old. I’ve never read anything that could remotely compare, to be honest. The psychological study is fascinating: Trisha’s own personality (way more mature that I was at nine, but definitely credible), her family situation, her obsession with the Red Sox, and how all these factors played in to her experience being lost in the woods for days on end. Moreover, it was strange but neat how King wove in this creepy “god of the lost” being who may have been real and may have been a figment of Trisha’s fever- and hunger-demented mind–either way, definitely creepy in the extreme. The pacing of the story was slower than I expected from “horror” writer as well; I actually put the book down several times, but kept coming back to it and enjoying it each time. It’s just slow enough that I wasn’t going to stay up late to finish (except for the last couple chapters–I did stay up late for those). I would say that if you have some patience and are looking for something a bit different from anything else and a good psychological study, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon would be a good choice.
Editor/Illustrator: Chris Van Allsburg
My rating: 5 of 5
The basic premise behind this fantastic collection of short stories is nearly as odd as the stories themselves. Supposedly, a person calling himself Harris Burdick came to editor Peter Wenders sometime around 25 years ago, dropping off a collection of 14 drawings with titles and one-line descriptions. This Burdick then left, promising to bring the accompanying stories the next day, only to never return. In The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, a group of incredible authors take these illustrations and create the stories that might have accompanied them.
Whatever the truth about Harris Burdick and his illustrations may be, this is an excellent collection of stories from a brilliant group of writers. In keeping with the concepts of the illustrations there is an eerie, Twilight Zone sort of feel to the stories. Mostly, they’re about fairly ordinary people to whom some extraordinary events occur. There is a spine-tingling quality to these stories that is simply delicious. Anyone who likes the unusual, or who simply likes short stories, should check out this creative collection.
Featured Authors: Sherman Alexie, M. T. Anderson, Kate DiCamillo, Cory Doctorow, Jules Feiffer, Stephen King, Tabitha King, Lois Lowry, Gregory Maguire, Walter Dean Myers, Linda Sue Park, Louis Sachar, Jon Scieszka, Chris Van Allsburg, & Lemony Snicket