Thursday, August 27, 2015

Johnny Worthen, CELESTE: THE UNSEEN, BOOK 2--Greater Growth, Greater Complexity, Deeper Satisfaction

Celeste: The Unseen, Book 2
Johnny Worthen
Jollyfish Press, 2015
Trade paperback, 376 pp., $14.99; eBook, $8.99

Reviewed by Michael R. Collings

In Johnny Worthen’s excellent sequel to Eleanor: The Unseen, Book 1, Eleanor Anders must face the difficult, painful, at times torturous task of growing up. In this she does not differ from other sixteen-year-old girls, except, of course, for the small detail that Eleanor is not a sixteen-year-old girl. She is something entirely different.
Celeste: The Unseen, Book 2 continues Eleanor’s struggles to find her identity in the small Wyoming town of Jamesford following her mother’s death and the calamities that followed. To do this, she must expand herself, include more people into her life on more levels—and with greater peril—than ever before. As she does so, she must also reveal fragments of her history and her nature, sometimes willingly and sometimes by force.
Above all, however, she must remember and remain true to the mantra that has guided her life since before Eleanor began: she must not be seen.
This single task presents greater and greater challenges as Eleanor’s life changes around her. Old enemies suddenly become friendlier…and, ultimately, friends. David Venn’s role in her life grows more complex than ever, until he represents everything Eleanor passionately wants yet knows that she cannot have. The dynamics of her relationship with her foster-family alter fundamentally when David’s father returns from the military and appoints himself her protector, against her clear wishes. In spite of her need for isolation and anonymity, Eleanor finds herself proclaimed a long-lost daughter by some; Satan incarnate, by a rabidly radical religious cult; a saint or an angel, by those who have witnessed even a fraction of her abilities; a lab experiment to be controlled and examined, by the overbearing forces of science insane with its own power; and a hero to the entire town.
All entirely against her will.
As did Eleanor, Celeste revolves around several key themes: adolescence and its inherent traps and pitfalls; adolescents’ need to develop independence and individuality in the face of pressures toward uniformity and socialization; the powers—and the dangers—of bigotry and various -isms, whether in the service of religion, society, science, or any other abstraction; the consequences of history and heritage and the ways they form, deform, twist, and inevitably shape personality and actions. Embedded within all of these, and explained for the first time, are the reasons for Eleanor’s frantic need to remain unseen…and the revelation tells as much about the world in which she lives as it does about who and what she is.       
In Celeste, Eleanor Anders must grow in unexpected ways. In writing Celeste, Worthen demonstrates that he too has grown, as an author, as a master and manipulator (a good word in this context, by the way) of his narrative, as an observer of humanity in all of its states. The novel is more complex than Eleanor, incorporating as it must more problems for Eleanor and those around her. He handles the increased difficulty well; my only quibble with the story comes in the second half, where several dialogues seem to move more slowly or continue longer than they might.
But this minor point aside, throughout the novel, Worthen stimulates readers’ interest, starting with a crisis in Eleanor’s life; moving from that crisis and its resolution to its shattering consequences; placing Eleanor in progressively more dangerous situations that cogently lead from one to the other; and noting always that her increasing power and awareness are themselves among her greatest enemies. At the end, he provides a satisfying conclusion to that which has gone before and an intriguing introduction to the next segment in the story: David.
  

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

William Meikle, CARNACKI: THE WATCHER AT THE GATE AND OTHER STORIES--A New Excursion Back in Time


Carnacki: The Watcher at the Gate and Other Stories
William Meikle
Ghost House (Dark Renaissance Books), 2015
Trade paperback, 228 pp., $18.95

William Meikle can create time machines of the best possible sort. In many stories such a device forms the core of the plot, sometimes to the detriment of characterization and action. Meikle reverses that conceit: his stories become time machines, allowing readers to renew contact with other times, other places, and other—often favorite—characters.        
I first encountered Meikle’s work in a collection I found at the World Horror Con in 2012: Sherlock Holmes: Revenant (for my review, see http://michaelrcollings.blogspot.com/2012/04/sherlock-holmes-revisited-usual.html). I was a bit wary at first, since Holmes pastiches are fairly common and often disappointing. Meikle’s stories were not. He handled a difficult task skillfully and appropriately. Two years later, I had the pleasure of reviewing a second of his collections, Professor Challenger: The Kew Growths and Other Stories (http://michaelrcollings.blogspot.com/2014/03/william-meikle-professor-challenger-kew.html) with similar results—interest, excitement, and admiration.
In Carnacki, he provides his inimitable time machine to the times, the settings, and the universe of William Hope Hodgson’s sleuth of the supernatural, Thomas Carnacki. In the grand Victorian tradition of storytelling, these twelve tales open vistas onto the unknown and the unknowable through the mechanism of framed narratives. In each a friend—the otherwise unnamed Dodgson—relates the ostensible story in first-person, then allows readers to enter the true story, either by reproducing letters from Carnacki or by recounting an after-dinner tale with Carnacki as host/raconteur. The stories range from hinting at the supernatural, to confrontations both physical and deadly, to unraveling mysteries so deep and so convoluted that the entities involved can never be understood…at least in the context of that story. The tone throughout is dignified and decorous, as befits the third-hand transmission: experientially through Carnacki, reportorially through Dodgson, and finally vicariously as the reader takes in each level. Language is precise, semi-formal, controlled—an intriguing counterpoint to the wildly uncontrollable nature incidents that drive even Carnacki to the point of desperation.
Meikle’s ‘monsters’ are themselves of much interest. The “manifestations of the Outer Darkness” he conjures echo in some ways Lovecraft’s Old Ones while lacking the frequent sense of over-familiarity that surrounds Cthulhu and his minions. Meikle’s are hostile, hate-filled, unwelcoming, often surging from hidden depths to reclaim what once was theirs—including, in “Treason and Plot,” much of London—or penetrating barriers to touch people and places. Some are particularly nasty, the result of ‘modern’ scientific intrusion into the outer world, as in “The Watcher at the Gate” and “The Grey Ships”; in “The Black Swan,” on the other hand, the supernatural entity is merely lost and wants to return home.
Add to these Carnacki’s new-fangled electrical paraphernalia for detecting, restricting, and defeating the paranormal; his wax-cylinder phonograph, his multi-valved portable pentangle, and his mysterious box of defenses. Plus his often referenced but rarely seen Sigsand MS. And along the way introduce Hodgson’s fictional Captain Gault and history’s Winston Churchill—intelligent, single-minded, ruthless in his defense of his country, and ultimately, well, not all that likeable. And the results are intriguing, compelling, and authentic-soounding stories told as if from a century ago. The essence of an effective time machine.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Stephen King, DIFFERENT SEASONS--A Retro-review



Around 1995, George Beahm asked me to write short commentaries on each of Stephen King’s books to date. The result was a series of introductions, in chronological order of publication, which formed a portion of Beahm’s subsequent The Stephen King Companion. That excellent compilation of things-King is being revised and reissued; and, with George’s kind permission, I will reprint my original essays (lightly edited for correctness and style) at Collings Notes.
The essays are roughly twenty years old and are in some senses dated, but the underlying suggestions and approaches to King’s works remain viable. I hope you enjoy the essays.


Different Seasons (1982)

King’s second collection of short fiction, Different Seasons, appeared on the hardcover-bestsellers lists during its first week of publication and remained there without interruption for 34 weeks, until the end of March, 1983. Then after a five-month hiatus, the book re-appeared, this time on the paperback lists, where it remained for an additional ten weeks. This kind of response to short fiction was not typical, but then the stories that comprise Different Seasons are not typical, either.
In the author’s “Afterword,” King notes that each of the four tales followed immediately upon his completing a novel: “The Body” came after ‘Salem’s Lot, “Apt Pupil” after The Shining, “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” after The Dead Zone, and “The Breathing Method” after Firestarter. It is, he notes, as if he “finished the big job with just enough gas left in the tank to blow off one good-sized novella.” More intriguing, perhaps, is the sense that each of these stories continues in some way a major theme developed in the companion novel.
The oldest story, “The Body,” is a meditation on death told through the eyes of a boy on the verge of growing up, a boy similar to Mark Petrie in that he has figuratively lost his family—or rather, that because of the death of his older brother, his parents have closed themselves off to him so completely that they might as well be as dead as the Petries. Isolated, an outsider, a younger boy often preyed upon by a cadre of older, vicious boys, and approaching his first confrontation with death, Gordon Lachance suggests Mark Petrie in a world without vampires but in which death can be as sudden and as treacherous and as life-altering. 
“Apt Pupil” is as appropriate as a companion piece to The Shining. In both stories, innocence is corrupted by pervasive evil. Jack Torrance’s alcoholism is as destructive as Todd Bowden’s obsession with the “gooshy” parts of Kurt Dussander's Nazi past, and both aberrations lead the characters to insanity and murder, either potential or actual. Similarly, “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” and The Dead Zone deal with an innocent trapped within circumstances beyond his control yet still able to preserve the essence of that innocence and even a fairly strong element of hope. Johnny Smith and Andy Dufresne have been dealt a raw deal by life, fate, God…whoever or whatever controls human experience. Both have lost an important part of their lives yet are determined to make whatever remains as valuable as possible. Both seem physically and emotionally fragile to outsiders, but that external fragility disguises an admirable resilience and inner strength. As with the other pairings, the novel incorporates the supernatural to some degree while the novella is more strictly realistic. In both instances, however, the emphasis is on survival and hope.
“The Breathing Method” is not as closely connected to Firestarter. In a sense, King has in fact reversed the relationship, so that while Firestarter is marginally tied to scientific experimentation and logical cause-effect patterning, “The Breathing Method” is a traditional “winter’s tale,” a fire-side story of single-minded determination (an internal connection among the four stories of Different Seasons, by the way) that results in a fracturing of what one assumes to be natural law. In its closing paragraphs, in fact, “The Breathing Method” expands until it comments elliptically, and with more than a touch of horror, on the nature of fiction and storytelling itself.
These connectives between novella and preceding novel are not so intricate as to reduce the stories to little more than glosses on the major works. In fact, the stories in Different Seasons are among King’s most powerful mid-length works. Lacking the depth and breadth of the novels, they nevertheless allow King more scope than the short stories. As a result, he is able to concentrate his attention on remarkable characters in equally remarkable settings, and, through the conscious use of the yearly cycle year as metaphor, arrange the four tales in an increasingly dark and threatening sequence of moral change.
In spite of its horrific setting—Shawshank Prison, with its concrete walls and cruel, sometimes stupid wardens and guards, and its bands of “Sisters” whose lives are devoted to viciousness, rape, and violence—“Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” paradoxically comes across not as an exercise in gritty realism but almost as an attempt in idealism. As seen through the eyes of a hardened inmate (and three of the four stories in Different Seasons have a first-person narrator, a rarity in King’s fiction), Andy Dufresne brings light to the darkness, a strong gentleness that opposes the stone walls surrounding him. His ultimate escape becomes not only a justified consequence of his patient endurance of a judicial injustice, but also a tribute to the indomitable human spirit.
The second section, Summer of Corruption, emphasizes the collection’s thematic links as “Apt Pupil” moves from that idealism and strength to a story about systematic corruption. Todd Bowden (whose first name is, appropriately enough, cognate to the German Tod, meaning “death”) begins as a typical thirteen-year-old; his story ends when a very different Todd Bowden, now a high-school senior and a murderer, aims his .30-.30 toward a Southern California freeway and begins firing. In between, he has been altered by his relationship with Dussander, one-time commandant of a Nazi death camp; but in turn, he has also contributed to Dussander's further moral degradation. By the final pages, it is not clear who has most corrupted whom.
Of the four stories, the most resonant is “The Body,” perhaps because it is more familiar to recent readers through Rob Reiner’s superlative film adaptation, Stand By Me. Again told without any substantive recourse to supernatural horror, “The Body” is a semi-autobiographical story of a young would-be author finding in himself and his experiences the stuff of true storytelling. Gordon Lachance is in many ways a Stephen King alter-ego, not the least in the fact that “The Body” includes two of Lachance’s stories—both published earlier by King under his own name. “Stud City” appeared in UMO’s Ubris in the Fall of 1969, and a fuller version of “The Revenge of Lardass Hogan” in The Maine Review for July, 1975. In each case, Lachance critiques the stories-within-the story, giving King an opportunity to comment on strengths and weaknesses in his own early fiction while at the same time writing a story about the education of a storyteller. Restrained, symbolic, even apocalyptic in the etymological sense of “uncovering that which is hidden,” “The Body” is a remarkable achievement. With only minimal plotting, it nevertheless provides riveting portraits of boys on the verge of becoming men, of children confronting adult realities, and of the necessary transition from innocence into experience.
“The Breathing Method” is a first-person story-within-a-story, a framed narrative on the order of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Set in an oddly disquieting men’s club, where the traditional Christmas fare is a story with elements of the supernatural, “The Breathing Method” is both a story about the narrator’s own acquiescence to encroaching age and the inevitability of death, and a story told by one of the club’s members about youth and a desperate attempt to forestall that inevitability. Moving back and forth from first-person narrative to recounted tales, “The Breathing Method” also suggests the complexity of the storyteller’s art. The club meets in an old brownstone at 249B East Thirty-Fifth Street in New York. But like the story itself, the building seems to contain far more than its exterior suggests. Throughout the tale, David Adley intuits rooms beyond rooms, some of them perhaps containing things best not seen directly. He discovers that the butler, Stevens, is as odd as the building itself, and that in the end, “there are always more tales.”
As a collection, Different Seasons seems remarkably coherent, its stories independent but related sufficiently to make it seem less a random gathering of stories than something approaching the intensity of a novel. The success of Different Season made possible a second such collection, Four Past Midnight (1990), similarly composed of four novellas written following the completion of major novels, all organized according to the time-related theme indicated in the title.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Jeff Strand, WOLF HUNT 2--Once More into the Fracas....

Wolf Hunt 2
Jeff Strand
Dark Regions Press, 2014
Trade paperback, 211pp., $15.95

George Orton and Lou Flynn are having another bad day with werewolves.
Their first encounter with the creatures—detailed in Wolf Hunt (2011, 2014)consisted of taking a contract to transport one on the orders of a shady but powerful underworld boss. It wasn’t entirely their fault that Ivan Spinner broke loose and led them on a bloody, not-so-merry chase through the woods. In their defense, neither George nor Lou, like any rational thugs, actually believed werewolves existed until the man locked in the cage in the back of their van reached out with an extremely long, extremely hirsute arm. Eventually, after a number of hair-raising escapes and escapades, they killed him. And took off for foreign parts to lay low. (For a review, see http://michaelrcollings.blogspot.com/2014/01/jeff-strand-wolf-hunt-hunts-thing-to.html)
Quick cut to some months later: a one-room hut in Costa Rica, where George and Lou are sweltering, sipping margaritas, and watching a telenovela. They are attacked by Mr. Dewey’s men. They kill Mr. Dewey’s men.
Another quick cut, this time to Northern Ontario: George and Lou are wrapped in blankets to avoid freezing to death and arguing about the efficacies of various tortures. They are attacked by Mr. Dewey’s men and Mr. Dewey. They do not kill M. Dewey or his men. This time, they are captured.
And thus (in seven pages of mayhem and witticisms) Wolf Hunt 2 begins. George and Lou are taken to winter-bound Minnesota…in a cage in the back of a van. This time their assignment is not merely to transport a werewolf but to kidnap one—a fourteen-year-old school girl named Ally. Like Ivan, she looks nothing like a werewolf. Like Ivan would have, had he had a chance, she protests at being kidnapped. Protests vehemently.
And transforms, heading for the nearby woods.
Against all of their better instincts, wishes, and judgments (and though they are professional thugs, they are not stupid thugs) George and Lou must capture Ally before she tears anyone apart, and, at the same time, avoid harming her. Low-lifes they may be, and occasional finger-breakers and knee-shatterers, but they are determined not to injure a girl, even though in her werewolf state she is eminently capable of damaging them.
What neither George, Lou, nor Ally know is that a number of others are invested in capturing Ally. On a sliding scale of Goodness, George and Lou are, it must be admitted, well over the median line onto the side of Bad. But they do have standards and try to maintain to them. Ally’s position is ambivalent—as a human she is an innocent and therefore good; as a werewolf….
Mr. Dewey is venal and self-serving; he wants a brain transplant from a possibly immortal (or at least self-healing) creature and will go to any expense to get one. His colleague, an old man named Reith, craves revenge against any and all werewolves. Their hired minions will do anything for money. None of the men have any visible scruples. As a result, their positions on the scale lie well beyond George’s and Lou’s: they are Depraved
None of these, however, are aware that Ally has an extended family…of sorts: her father, Shane; his girlfriend, Robyn; and his best friend, for reasons best explained by the text called Crabs. They are all werewolves. In their human forms they are (with the signal exception of Crabs) mild-mannered office workers. When they transform, they are rapacious, single-minded, gluttonous, sex-obsessed, bloody-minded murder-machines with few principles and no consciences. And they want Ally back. No matter who has to die.
Actually, the more people that have to die, the better the trio will like it. On the sliding scale, they are pure Evil (pronounced in the villain-accepted way, E-vil).
And then there is Eugene—but readers deserve to discover him for themselves.

As in his other comic-horror novels Strand establishes his plots early and then masterfully moves characters through incident after incident, each more outrageous than the last. In Wolf Hunt, there was a werewolf in a cage in a van; in Wolf Hunt 2, a werewolf, several humans, and one indeterminate, all in the same cage at the same time. One scene includes a life-or-death version of “urban surfing” from the film Teen Wolf; another describes, in great, gruesome, and gory detail, one of the most ingenious and ridiculous ways yet of killing a werewolf—all that is needed is an aluminum baseball bat; a score or so bits of silver goth jewelry, the sharper the better; super-glue; and a children’s slide.
There is blood-letting aplenty, some purposefully repulsive, some necessary. The bad guys lose in appropriate ways; but the good guys (relatively speaking) are not immune to harm. By the end, rough justice has been served, Ally is safe (perhaps), and the stage—as noted in “About the Author”—may or may not be set for Wolf Hunt 3, Wolf Hunt 4, Wolf Hunt 5, Wolf Hunt 6, or Wolf Hunt: All-Vampire Edition.
Any of which would be welcome.

  


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Michael Phillip Cash, POKERGEIST--For a Few Hours of Good Fun


Pokergeist
Michael Phillip Cash
Trade paperback, 240pp., 2015


Clutch Henderson has one ambition in life: to win the golden bracelet at the International Series of Poker in Las Vegas and thereby prove to himself that he is the best player in the world and show his long-dead grandfather that he is not a loser. At seventy, he has come close several times but never quite made it. Finally, though, he has a chance to win against an unknown, a neophyte aptly named Adam “The Ant” Antonowski. It all comes down to a single play.
He loses (Don’t worry; this is not a spoiler. It happens in the “Prologue.”).
Unfortunately for him—and for a hapless, uniquely bad poker enthusiast but genuinely all-around good guy named Telly Martin—Clutch Henderson has one ambition in death: to win the golden bracelet at the International Series of Poker in Las Vegas, and thereby prove to himself that he is the best player in the world and show his long-dead grandfather that he is not a loser.
All he has to do is convince an unwilling Telly to go along with the scheme at the next International Poker Series. Telly might love poker, but he has his doubts about cheating to win. And there is the small additional problem (common to the companions of unhappy ghosts throughout literature) of being the only person who can see or hear Clutch. A poker player who constantly talks to himself—and talks nonsense at that—is not likely to have an easy time at the tables.
Telly’s life is further complicated by an intricate set of relationships that shift throughout the course of Pokergeist. His fiancée loves him but doesn’t know whether she can trust him. Her boss is a steroid-pumped sexist determined to break the two up. Telly’s parents are typically over-bearing suburbanites who have set impossibly high standards for their middle child and find the thought of him working as a professional poker player abhorrent. Even a fare Telly picks up during a stint as a cab driver seems intent on making poor nice-guy Telly more confused.
And then there are Clutch’s still-living associations. His wife—an “ex” in all but the legal sense—is suing his common-law wife of ten years over the dregs of his estate. His seventeen-year-old daughter is caught between childhood and womanhood and between her grasping mother and the woman who loved her father…who now might or might not love another man.

Throw in the requisite loan shark, who is going to get his money from wife or mistress, whichever ends up with it, and a dozen other denizens of the less-than-glamorous realities of Las Vegas high life, and what results is a quick, quirky, at times slapstick comedy of ghostly hauntings, human greed (there is a good reason why Clutch is called “Clutch”), aspiring love, easy-come-easy-go abandon, a suitably modern morality play that climaxes in another face-to-face confrontation at the poker table. And in the classical sense, this comedy brings the disparate narrative threads together in a raucous—if not outrageous—moment that, indeed, demonstrates that “All’s Well That Ends Well.”      

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Richard Thomas, ed., EXIGENCIES--Forays into Darkness...and Beyond

Exigencies
Richard Thomas, ed.
Darkhouse Press, 2015
Trade paperback, 320 pp., $15.95

Horror can serve a number of contradictory functions. It can destroy, and it can build. It can condemn, and it can commend. It can terrify, and it can heal.
For me as reader, some of the most effective horror narratives are ultimately redemptive. They show characters being torn down to their basics—their core beliefs, their understanding of themselves and of humanity—and by that process passing through evil at least relatively unscathed and moving into an increase of awareness. I can still remember the moment when I discovered how my first horror novel, The House Beyond the Hill, would have to end…with a moment of reconciliation and joy. Otherwise, everything the characters, living and dead, had suffered would have been useless.
At the same time, however, I can appreciate horror that opens vistas of darkness, because that, too, is part of being human. Fictionally, at least, some knowledge is too terrible, costs the questioners too much, and ultimately annihilates too much of their humanity; and their tales can only end in pessimism. Pet Sematary, with its horrific one-word conclusion, is one such.
The twenty-two stories Richard Thomas has included in Exigencies definitely fit into the latter group. They fully embrace the idea of neo-noir, in all of its connotations. As Chuck Wendig comments in his “Foreword,”

We write the darkness onto the page because it’s clarifying. Detoxifying. The bleak, black stories we write—like the stories found in the pages ahead—are an act of us writer-types sucking out the snake poison and spitting it onto a window for the world to see.

The bleakness begins immediately, with Letitia Trent’s perfectly named “Wilderness”—which takes place in a modern airport and records its transformation into a moral wasteland, where innocent acts take on ominous meanings, where insecurity becomes terror, and where one woman’s inability to talk about her “monthly friend” leads to the unspeakable.
Joshua Blair’s “Monster Season” begins innocently enough, or so it seems, with an older brother tattooing a Superman “S” on his younger brother’s arm. That simple act, however, resonates darkly throughout the story of a town in the grip of Monster Season, and the nihilism required to rid society of its human monsters.
In Jason Metz’s “Single Lens Reflection,” a killer-by-assignment experiences what it is like being on both sides of a camera lens. In Nathan M. Beauchamp’s “The Mother,” an unnamed, nearly inarticulate creature confronts the loss of everything that makes sense in the world around it.
And so it goes, with stories by Heather Foster, Usman T. Malik, Barbara Duffy, Marytza K. Rubio, and others leading farther and farther in to darkness, death, and ultimate nothingness.
Individually, the entries fascinate and engage, at the same time purposely repelling with their starkness and bluntness. But that, in the end, is as it should be. These stories remind us of what extremes horror can explore, and that ultimately the exploration may be sufficient warrant in itself.


Friday, August 7, 2015

D.J. Butler, CRECHELING--A Promising Opening to a Complex World

Crecheling (The Buza System Book I)
D.J. Butler
WordFire Press, 2015

D.J. Butler is something of a modern polyhistor: linguist capable of reading a number of languages and commenting on them; scholar of ancient scriptures, the cultures surrounding them, and their relevance for contemporary readers; rock musician and latter-day strolling troubadour well-known and -beloved at multiple SF/F/Horror cons; and storyteller in a variety genres including horror (Rock Band Fights Evil series), YA (Crecheling), and steampunk (City of the Saints). He is a voracious reader, a sterling critic, and probably the only person in this or any universe who could get away with referring to a modern, 6,500-line Miltonic epic, written in the highest of high styles, as “ballsy”…and get away with it.
He is also a friend.
Which makes writing this a pleasure.
I have read a number of his books, from Plain and Precious Things and subsequent studies in the Book of Mormon (reviewed: http://michaelrcollings.blogspot.com/2012/03/d.html), to the wildly eccentric Hellhound on My Trail (reviewed: http://michaelrcollings.blogspot.com/2012/04/dj-butler-hellhound-on-my-trail-rock.html), to the four parts of City of the Saints, a vivid re-imagining of late-nineteenth-century Western America. Each has delighted me with its depth of understanding, its wit, and its narrative skill.
In Crecheling, Butler creates the first scenes of what promises to be an extended exercise in cross-generic fiction. It skillfully blends a solid basis of science-fictional dystopian extrapolation with sufficient touches of steampunk to heighten effects but not take over. It is action-adventure, with its characters moving across landscapes occupied by little more than rough, illiterate settlers and ruthless outlaws… and as a result fighting for their lives against enemies known and unanticipated. It has a nicely balanced sense of romance as four characters move in and out of what they hope might become permanent relationships, and, in one case, into murderous (literally) jealous hatred. It is consistently dark, with a landscape that relentlessly threatens death, archaic weapons that have been re-conceived as far more horrifying than their originals, and several scenes of blood-letting that are jarring, visceral, and deeply discomforting. It is YA in that its main characters are young, just entering into full awareness of what their world expects of them—and the consequences of failure; yet it appeals to adults in its sophistication of thought and its highly significant theme.    
The Beza System is what its citizens believe to be the last and only survival in a post-Cataclysmic world. It is a closed system, its infants removed from mothers to be raised in a government-sponsored and -controlled Creches and formally inducted into the society as they come of age. Dyan and her Creche-mates have been trained in skills needed by the System and are to receive their Callings, their selection to fill one of the niches that makes the Buza System function. But before they are fully accepted as adults there is one test each must pass…and therein lies the horror. 
Butler handles all of the elements smoothly. He thrusts readers into an alien-like world that gradually reveals itself as our own, transformed beyond recognition. For me one of the pleasures in reading Crecheling was ‘deciphering’ the names—especially place names—that pulled the story back into our world: such reference as the “Camel’s Back,” a ridge named for a “pre-Cataclysm animal”; and “Buza,” the “Jawtooth” mountains, and the “Snaik” River, which correspond to present-day Boise, the Sawtooth Range, and the Snake River (lest anyone decide that I am happily symbol-hunting, the area surrounding Buza is called “Treasure Valley,” the local nickname for that part of south-western Idaho). Gradually, however, the game becomes far more meaningful and far grimmer as similarly revised names suggest the possibilities of settlements—and the reality of past destruction—in such places as Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake City, and, finally, Washington D.C.
What truly makes the book worth reading, however it is primary theme.  Beneath all of the appurtenances of fiction is a single concern, one as valid for readers as it is for Dyan and her fellows. Midway through the novel, a Magister speaks to Dyan about something the girl has just witnessed. In answer to a pointed—and frightening—question, the Magister simply says, “That isn’t your concern, my child.” Dyan responds, as might be expected, with, “What is my concern?”
The answer: “Your concern is to consider the consequences, and choose.”
The world of the Buza System seems designed to be lock-step, disciplined (with public hangings to enforce the rules), in many ways militaristic. At every turn, it seems as if Dyan has no choice in what happens to her or what she does. But the story continually demonstrates that control is an illusion, that she does have a choice…in everything. If she is willing to accept the consequences. And those consequences “are all the things that happen between the moment of choice and the moment of death.”
Crecheling is an exciting, somber, exuberant, measured coming-of-age story on multiple levels, not the least being incorporating readers as well as characters into its meaning. And it is a perfect opening to more stories…and more.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Stephen King, CREEPSHOW--a Retro-review



Around 1995, George Beahm asked me to write short commentaries on each of Stephen King’s books to date. The result was a series of introductions, in chronological order of publication, which formed a portion of Beahm’s subsequent The Stephen King Companion. That excellent compilation of things-King is being revised and reissued; and, with George’s kind permission, I will reprint my original essays (lightly edited for correctness and style) at Collings Notes.
The essays are roughly twenty years old and are in some senses dated, but the underlying suggestions and approaches to King’s works remain viable. I hope you enjoy the essays.



Creepshow (1982)

In retrospect, 1982’s Creepshow seems little more than a jeu d’esprit, a game of wit in reproducing a long-dead sub-genre of horror. Certainly it is the only comic-book format collection King [had yet] published, and in his choice of stories and treatments, he is clearly attempting to recapture the feel of the 1950’s EC comic books—specifically, the level of horror that he refers to in Danse Macabre as the “gross-out.” Each of the five stories in Creepshow might ultimately reach the higher level, what King refers to as a “dance—a moving, rhythmic search. And what it’s looking for is the place where you, the viewer or the reader, live at your most primitive levels.” But even if they do not attain to that refinement, they nevertheless concretely define the essence of contemporary horror.
As illustrated by Berni Wrightson, King’s tales of terror take on the period sense of the EC comics—stark outlines that emphasize rather than mute the visceral effects of horror…and that simultaneously assert the fundamental moralism of such stories. In the world of EC comics and of Creepshow, good and evil are distinctly different, and evil merits its just and immediate rewards. In the first tale, “Father’s Day,” the revenant Nathan Grantham takes an appropriate revenge on the woman who killed him. Every element of the tale, from setting to characterization to final overstated and unsubtle irony, contributes to the comic-book effect King is trying for.
“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” and “The Crate” are the only reprints in the collection, the first appearing as “Weeds” in Cavalier (May 1976) and Nugget (April 1979), and the second initially published in Gallery (July 1979).  “Jordy Verrill” is most memorable for King’s performance in the title role for the film version of Creepshow, and in both versions owes much to the atmospheric tale of the unnamable thing from outer space perfected by H. P. Lovecraft in The Colour out of Space and other tales. “The Crate” is equally archetypal in its story of a horror hidden away for decades that, when released, begins its pre-ordained task of consuming human flesh. While there are touches of the Tasmanian devil in King’s descriptions and Wrightson’s illustrations for the monster, “The Crate” actually focuses more on fear of the unknown—an eminently justifiable fear.
Revenge without any supernatural paraphernalia is the initial theme of “Something to Tide You Over,” which hinges on the punning title as a clue to how to deal with an adulterous wife and her lover. But when the two victims return, the story turns a wicked 180° and becomes a classic permutation on the “biter bit” motif. More bluntly, “They’re Creeping Up on You” incorporates one of King’s top-ten horrors—fear of insects—and orchestrates an even more neatly realized story of revenge, this time on an ecological level.
Interesting, predictable, and fun, Creepshow simply does not attempt the seriousness of the novels produced within the next few years: The Talisman, It, and others. High seriousness, high art, even the elevated states of horror (as opposed to the “gross-out”) are not its goals. Instead, King attempts to re-create a long-lost tone, a well-remembered atmosphere, and revive it through his own words and Wrightson’s meticulous artwork.
As a film, Creepshow did well enough to inspire and justify a second (and ultimately more) anthology-film, appropriately entitled Creepshow II—with one episode based on “The Raft,” one of King’s most frightening short stories, and two original episodes written for the film. It inspired no comic-book version, however—a form King has not yet returned to this extensively.

In retrospect, 1982’s Creepshow seems little more than a jeu d’esprit, a game of wit in reproducing a long-dead sub-genre of horror. Certainly it is the only comic-book format collection King [had yet] published, and in his choice of stories and treatments, he is clearly attempting to recapture the feel of the 1950’s EC comic books—specifically, the level of horror that he refers to in Danse Macabre as the “gross-out.” Each of the five stories in Creepshow might ultimately reach the higher level, what King refers to as a “dance—a moving, rhythmic search. And what it’s looking for is the place where you, the viewer or the reader, live at your most primitive levels.” But even if they do not attain to that refinement, they nevertheless concretely define the essence of contemporary horror.
As illustrated by Berni Wrightson, King’s tales of terror take on the period sense of the EC comics—stark outlines that emphasize rather than mute the visceral effects of horror…and that simultaneously assert the fundamental moralism of such stories. In the world of EC comics and of Creepshow, good and evil are distinctly different, and evil merits its just and immediate rewards. In the first tale, “Father’s Day,” the revenant Nathan Grantham takes an appropriate revenge on the woman who killed him. Every element of the tale, from setting to characterization to final overstated and unsubtle irony, contributes to the comic-book effect King is trying for.
“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” and “The Crate” are the only reprints in the collection, the first appearing as “Weeds” in Cavalier (May 1976) and Nugget (April 1979), and the second initially published in Gallery (July 1979).  “Jordy Verrill” is most memorable for King’s performance in the title role for the film version of Creepshow, and in both versions owes much to the atmospheric tale of the unnamable thing from outer space perfected by H. P. Lovecraft in The Colour out of Space and other tales. “The Crate” is equally archetypal in its story of a horror hidden away for decades that, when released, begins its pre-ordained task of consuming human flesh. While there are touches of the Tasmanian devil in King’s descriptions and Wrightson’s illustrations for the monster, “The Crate” actually focuses more on fear of the unknown—an eminently justifiable fear.
Revenge without any supernatural paraphernalia is the initial theme of “Something to Tide You Over,” which hinges on the punning title as a clue to how to deal with an adulterous wife and her lover. But when the two victims return, the story turns a wicked 180° and becomes a classic permutation on the “biter bit” motif. More bluntly, “They’re Creeping Up on You” incorporates one of King’s top-ten horrors—fear of insects—and orchestrates an even more neatly realized story of revenge, this time on an ecological level.
Interesting, predictable, and fun, Creepshow simply does not attempt the seriousness of the novels produced within the next few years: The Talisman, It, and others. High seriousness, high art, even the elevated states of horror (as opposed to the “gross-out”) are not its goals. Instead, King attempts to re-create a long-lost tone, a well-remembered atmosphere, and revive it through his own words and Wrightson’s meticulous artwork.
As a film, Creepshow did well enough to inspire and justify a second (and ultimately more) anthology-film, appropriately entitled Creepshow II—with one episode based on “The Raft,” one of King’s most frightening short stories, and two original episodes written for the film. It inspired no comic-book version, however—a form King has not yet returned to this extensively.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

F. Paul Wilson’s THE KEEP—One Approach to Understanding


[Reading The Keep when it first came out (I still treasure my hardcover first edition) was one of the reasons I began to take horror/dark fantasy seriously and to write about it from an academic direction. I have since re-read the novel many times, watched the film version--and wished again and again that it were better--and wondered what it was that so captured my attention nearly 35 years ago. I recently re-read the novel again, this time on Kindle, and was impressed anew with its ability to surprise, even when I knew what was coming; its ability to maintain suspense through language and dialogue; and its ability to seem fresh after three-plus decades. The following essay attempts to examine one reason I find the novel compelling.]  

We live in a world in which words and their meanings are increasingly vulnerable. Whether through the carelessness, ignorance, or willful intent of speakers and writers, words are shifting meanings, perhaps more rapidly than ever before. Within a few years, for example, literal has completed a complex transformation and now means both literal (i.e., ‘true to fact, not figurative or metaphorical’) and its diametrical opposite, figurative (‘metaphorical and not literal). Privilege has been reversed, so that what once identified ‘opportunities or benefits available exclusively to a few’ now denotes ‘opportunities or benefits available exclusively to the majority.’ Equality has become touchstone term that often is forced to link essentially and inherently unequal persons, institutions, or ideas. Recently, the venerable term melting pot has been re-defined as a racist code-phrase.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with words changing meanings. It has been an organic attribute of languages since…well, since languages began. English in particular has welcomed shifts in meanings to reflect shifts in society and culture, resulting in an enormous number of simple-seeming words with multiple meanings—polysemous words. A word as basic as set has, according to the Oxford English Dictionary¸ over 450 possible meanings, making the possibilities for misunderstanding even this unassuming Anglo-Saxon carry-over ever present.
Given these characteristic of English in contemporary society, it requires care and alertness on the part of speakers and writers to ensure that listeners and readers understand precisely what crucial words mean. For that reason—and because I find great pleasure in exploring words, their histories, and their permutations over time—I frequently begin essays by talking about what key words mean before discussing them.

The key word for this essay is occult—and a key issue is whether, how, and to what degrees, occultism might influence horror. On the surface, there would seem to be little difficulty with the word—most readers immediately recognize it as referring to alchemy, astrology, and magic, especially as such ‘sciences’ relate to understanding and controlling the natural and the supernatural. This has been the primary meaning of the word since the mid-seventeenth-century, when such studies began separating from what we now understand as science and, really for the first time, became almost universally condemned by rationalists. As the need arose for a fairly neutral word to apply to those branches of human knowledge that did not fit into the burgeoning scientific era, the word that fit best was occult.
But occult in English goes further back by a century or so, and its meanings during that hundred-year span are as interesting as its more recent one, particularly in relation to a book I would like to examine, a classic of modern horror that is essentially (‘by its very nature’) and fundamentally (‘acting as a foundation’) occult: F. Paul Wilson’s extraordinary 1981 novel of fear and terror, The Keep.

Upon first reading The Keep, there seems to be little overt occultism in the novel, the story of the systematic but inexplicable destruction of German soldiers occupying a mysterious castle in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania—formerly Transylvania—in 1941. One by one, initially at least, they die hideously at the hands of an unseen assailant, causing the original officer in charge to send for reinforcements because, as he puts it, “something is killing my men.” Not someone. Something.
The sole reference to magic occurs as a negative. When Professor Cuza suggests to the German commandant that one of his incantations the previous night had forestalled further killings, Captain Woermann realizes that “He would have laughed at this conversation last Monday. It smacked of a belief in spells and black magic.” The subject of magic is raised as a means of denying it, particularly since readers know that Cuza had uttered no incantations at all; he had been talking with the vampiric Molesar.
Yet suggestion of magic of a deeper, more contemporary sort, have already entered the novel. When the Cuzas first enter their chamber in the Keep, Magda picks up a book from the table: The Book of Eibon. By itself, that title might mean little to most readers, but when she reads the titles of others, the implications become clearer. The stack includes Ludwig Prinn’s De Vermis Mysteriis, the Comte d’Erlette’s Cultes de Goules, the Pnakotic Manuscripts, The Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan, and von Juntz’s Unaussprechlichen Kulten. Later, one more is added to the hoard: the Al Azif by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, more frequently known by its alternate title, The Necronomicon.
One and all, Lovecraftian titles…or at least titles associated with Lovecraft’s dark visions of cosmic Great Old Ones by subsequent contributors to the Cthulhu mythos.
The ancient tomes are definitively books of the occult, containing secret means of contacting—of invoking—vast, unknowable, and inimical powers in the misguided belief that such powers might be controlled. Merely reading their titles is sufficient to invoke a shudder among the “searchers after horror” to whom Lovecraft addresses his tales; the presence of such horrifying specimens of human thought in a foreboding stone Keep overseen by half-mad Nazis in the middle of a bloody world war (which, to that point, the Germans seem to be winning), fairly screams occult. And, readers are told, the volumes have been hidden away, in a hollow spot in the walls.
But, as with the entire vampire motif so intricately developed by Molesar and accepted by Professor Cuza, this suggestion of overt occultism is little more than a spot of misdirection, a literary red herring. Yes, the novel speaks of a god-like race that preceded humanity, but that race shares few characteristics with Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, Shoggoths, or various other things fungoid, tentacled, and eldritch. Eventually, as Wilson develops his own mythology, he reveals that the ancient books of forbidden knowledge serve no function in the narrative, except as they present opportunities for Cuza to deceive the Germans. While they might contain formulae or incantations that would meet the common definition of occult, they cannot explain the deaths, the increasing sense of darkness and despair, the essential mysteries of the Keep.

If one traces the meanings of occult backward, however, toward less common definitions, one discovers that on an etymological level, occult simply means ‘secret’ or ‘covered.’ It is in fact a fairly common astronomical term for what happens when one celestial body—usually the moon or an asteroid—hides a more distant one from sight—the moon, for example, might occult Saturn. There is nothing inherently magical or paranormal about such events, although occultists might read meaning into them.
Using occult in this sense, The Keep gradually reveals itself as an intensively occult novel. Almost everything in the novel is hidden—and in most cases, concealment is intentional on the part of the characters and structural on the part of the author.
To take the most obvious example: the Keep is enigmatic, cryptic. Nothing is known about it; its builder, its history, its purpose are hidden. Its size is anomalous; its condition, misleading. The 16,807 crosses embedded into its stones must have a meaning, that seems apparent to all of the characters; yet no one knows what it is or even what the crosses actually represent. In one sense, the forward thrust of the narrative is determined by the Keep; only as the Germans begin dismantling it, beginning with a stone bearing a single atypical cross—made of gold and silver rather than brass and nickel—do the murders begin. Demolishing the walls dis-covers the cache of ancient books Cuza uses to trick the Germans and advance his personal, secret agenda…and allows the darkness hidden within the Keep to spread.
Nearly every character hides something, and those deceptions become crucial to the story. One of the earliest examples is Private Lutz, who (rather unsuccessfully) tries to hide a streak of venality that, when discovered by Woerrman, makes the private the first victim. His initial failed attempt to pry a cross from a stone earns him night guard duty, which places him in the lower levels of the Keep and allows him to see the gleam of gold that in turn convinces him that he is on the track of a long-hidden Vatican treasure-hoard. In seeking to uncover that secret, he causes his own death.
Other secrets are more central. Captain Woermann is public but guarded about his disdain for the Nazi Party but does not dare reveal his growing fear of the Keep, a fear symbolized and made visual by his failure to discern the hanged man hidden within his sadly prophetic painting. The ironically named Major Kaempffer (‘fighter, battler’) has a deeper, more incapacitating secret: he is a coward, and only the Captain knows it. The tension between the two escalates to the point that neither can function as befits a military officer, and as a result the darkness grows.
Theodore and Magda Cuza are more complex. Professor Cuza is at first motivated by an academic’s interest in discovery but later becomes entrapped in his plans to—quite literally—overthrow the Third Reich and bring redemption to his people. He hides his increasing knowledge of who and what (he thinks) Molesar is; he hides his plans to destroy the Keep and release the monster; he hides his new-found relief from the scleroderma that has made is life a torture; he hides his loss of faith from all except Magda, then funnels his bitterness and frustration into overarching desires: for vengeance and for death to the bringers of death…the Germans. Magda, in turn, hides everything she knows about the red-haired stranger, Glaeken, most particularly his intrusion into her life and her growing estrangement from her father…and from the person she used to be. Between the two of them, father and daughter orchestrate much of the novel’s action by withholding key information from each other and from the Germans.      
Molasar and Glaeken are, of course, masters of the occult. Molasar presents himself as an occult figure, a creature of magic and supernatural powers, of almost infinite longevity (from a human perspective at least) and infinite power. He is all of these, of course, but not in the manner he suggests to Cuza. The truth about him is stranger—yet more rational, more easily explicable given an extended historical span—than the pseudo-history he weaves. Glaeken hides truth in the opposite direction; he presents a façade of normality, slightly tinged with superheroism in his unusual strength and agility. He fully reveals himself to none until the concluding events of the story, when he and Molesar meet. The final revelation of who and what they are, coinciding with Glaeken’s ‘unveiling’—of his sword and of his identity—leads to an apocalyptic struggle between good and evil, with the souls of both Cuzas at stake. (Apocalyptic, by the way, is an appropriate word here; it comes from the Greek apokalýpt (ein), meaning ‘to uncover, disclose,’ a perfect opposite to occult.)

The Keep, then, is a novel of the occult. That it bears little resemblance to contemporary tales of voodoo, demon worship and demonic possession, quasi- or pseudo-religious cults and rituals, magic black or white is at this point irrelevant. While clearly aware of the more common meaning of the word, and incorporating suggestions of traditional occultism deftly and aptly, the novel invariably turns the resulting expectations on their heads, subverting and denying them, subordinating them to explanations presented as logical, factual, and historical (within the novel’s frame of reference). Instead the novel carefully remains true to an older sense of occult, one that provides Wilson with narrative options that would otherwise have been impossible had he committed himself to authentic vampires, for example, with all of the appurtenances that would have required. Instead, by emphasizing things that are hidden, he offers moment after moment of dis-covery, of reveal-ation, constantly inverting conclusions readers have reached about events, about characters, about meanings…and about the Keep.
 


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Stephen King, THE RUNNING MAN--A Retro-review



Around 1995, George Beahm asked me to write short commentaries on each of Stephen King’s books to date. The result was a series of introductions, in chronological order of publication, which formed a portion of Beahm’s subsequent The Stephen King Companion. That excellent compilation of things-King is being revised and reissued; and, with George’s kind permission, I will reprint my original essays (lightly edited for correctness and style) at Collings Notes.
The essays are roughly twenty years old and are in some senses dated, but the underlying suggestions and approaches to King’s works remain viable. I hope you enjoy the essays.


The Running Man (1982)

With the words “Minus 100 and Counting,” King opens a novel that follows an inexorable countdown to the cataclysmic scene in the final chapter, “Minus Zero and Counting.” The countdown motif provides continuity and structure to a novel that might otherwise fragment into separate episodes loosely linked by the presence of Ben Richards, King’s protagonist. But the ever-present chapter titles, with their metronomic countdown, constantly remind us that the novel is a game show, that the hero is a contestant, and that the time on the clock is running out. And as with any successful game show, the task to be completed is designed to elicit maximum suspense as clock and participant move closer and closer to the final seconds.

King’s story is, like those in the other ‘Bachman’ novels, relatively uncomplicated. Ben Richards lives in a near-future America controlled by the Network. Public opinion is shaped by Free-Vee, now mandatory in every home (but it is still legal to turn it off occasionally). The dividing line between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ is both economic and physical, with the lowest classes living in squalor in huge tracts of antiquated, disintegrating, filthy apartments, killed by the very air they breathe and the hazards of the few jobs available to them. They have no hope of decent jobs, decent conditions, decent lives, even decent deaths.

Except the Games.

In order to buy medicine for his dying child and to save his wife from a lifetime of prostitution that earns barely enough for black market food and ineffective medications, Richards volunteers for the Games and is selected as a contestant on “The Running Man.” His task—to survive for as long as he can. If he is spotted before a month is up, he can be killed, and his killer will receive a cash prize from the Network. Worse, he is subjected to the humiliation of seeing his life and loves distorted on the Free-Vee until he becomes not simply a contestant but a despised public enemy to be hunted down and destroyed like a beast. He must film himself twice a day, both as evidence he is still alive and as fodder for the masses who seem to live only to watch the routine degradation of fellow human beings.[i]

Richards runs. Through four key episodes, he runs: first, mindlessly holing up in a Boston YMCA before realizing that the hunters are already on his trail; then more cannily linking with an underground of fellow sufferers dedicated to breaking the Network’s monopoly on information; then desperately taking a wealthy woman hostage, introducing her to the grim realities of life; and finally, aggressively taking the hunt back to the Network itself, hoping to destroy the entity that has so off-handedly manipulated and destroyed himself, his family, and his world.

The Running Man is King’s major foray into strict science-fiction, complete with an assumed jargon to indicate that as close as Ben Richards’ world might be to ours, the two are nevertheless fundamentally different (the SF overlay in The Long Walk becomes less and less critical once the novel begins, and the SF elements in The Dark Tower saga are so intertwined with other genre-patterns that Roland’s quest really ceases to be science fiction in any precise sense). The genre allows him to develop a focused sequence of images, motifs, and themes while continuing the underlying pattern of Rage, The Long Walk, and Roadwork. Charlie Dekker balks at the oppression of parents, friends, and society, and decides to “get it on”; Ben Richards stands up to the pressures of the media, never accepting their attempts to humiliate him, increasingly able to counter their attempts at manipulating him. Ray Garraty walks; Ben Richards runs—but the results are virtually identical. Barton Dawes has lost his child and is in the process of losing his wife; in a very real sense, Ben Richards has already lost his family psychologically the moment he enters the Games building, and as a direct, tragic, and ironic result of his becoming the Running Man, he loses them physically as well.

King has noted that The Running Man was written in 72 hours over one weekend and later published with essentially no changes. The speed of composition might have led to some moments of excessive melodrama (the description of Richard’s escape in the tunnel beneath the YMCA, for example) and some largely stereotypic characters (hip, rebellious, dialect-ridden, street-wise young blacks; overweight, nerdy, white technical genius out of touch with realities of life; monstrous mother whose life is her child and who destroys him as a consequence[ii]). But it also adds a sense of compression to the action itself. As in The Long Walk, the reader is never allowed to rest until the game is finished; the movement propels, impels, and compels without a break. The tensions might be physical or psychological or emotional, but from “Minus 100 and Counting” the novel shows King’s ability to control pacing, character, and story.

To date The Running Man is the only ‘Bachman’ novel to be released as a film—and perhaps may remain so, especially in the case of Thinner, for which the weight-loss special effects would be so demanding as to verge on the impossible.[iii] In spite of what seems on the surface an obvious miscasting of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Ben Richards, and the happy-ever-after ending required by film audiences, it is surprising how much of the tone and feel of King’s story remain. The massive re-writes that transformed surface events into essentially a new story altogether still do not destroy the sense of desperate motion that King works to portray in the novel. And for many readers coming to the novel after seeing the film, the persistent image of dingy backgrounds and high-tech, slick, running costumes superimposed over King’s words and story may lead to heightened involvement with The Running Man. 


[i] From the perspective of several decades, this description sounds uncannily like what happens to anyone holding a minority opinion on FaceBook in 2015.
[ii] This latter image will provide a constant touchstone in King’s works, surfacing in such stories as “The Mist” and elsewhere.
[iii] Ah, the dangers of foretelling the future. Thinner was in fact the next ‘Bachman’ novel released as a film.