Monday, December 21, 2015

Night Shift Review

Initially, I wasn't sure how to review this first collection of short stories.  Should I talk about each individual story, or just give a general overview?  The latter makes sense, but even the most thorough overview will fail to mention several positive and negative aspects of the stories.  I ultimately decided on the former, since any general overview would be just as long as mini-reviews of each short story, since I would want to mention all of them anyway.

Jerusalem's Lot is the first story, and it was, at the time, a previously unpublished one.  As 'Salem's Lot is one of my favorite King novels, it was nice to adventure back into that fictional part of Maine.  This story goes back in time to 1850, to a small town near Jerusalem's Lot and the family history associated with the abandoned town.  While it is a great story - I'd venture to say it is the scariest of the collection - it creates several plot holes for the novel.  For 'Salem's Lot is abandoned, and great pains are taken to mention no people or creatures have returned to it since the incident that caused the abandonment to happen.  How then, does the town come about?  Vampires are present, so why do they leave, paving the way for Barlow?  Still, a great start to the collection.

Graveyard Shift is the next story, and I didn't really care for it.  Dealing with a group of workers trying to clear out the area under a textile mill and the unusual rats they encounter, the story lacks anything resembling a likable character, nor do the motivations of the characters really make sense.  Once the main pair makes it to the deepest part of the underground passage, King does create a horrific ending, but that's about all to recommend to it.

The next story is Night Surf, which is what inspired The Stand (Captain Tripps is mentioned, though details of the disease differ).  Like the unpublished Jerusalem's Lot, the longer novel is much better, and like Graveyard Shift, most of the characters here are unlikable.  In fact, the only real reason to read this one is to see the beginnings of an idea forming for the novel.  Otherwise, one that could be easily skipped.

Next is I Am The Doorway which is great little sci-fi story about a flyby of Venus that has a rather horrendous side effect on one of the astronauts.  While the writing lacks the grace of later King works, the overall story is a stellar one.

The Mangler follows, and I love it for its rather unique premise (demonically possessed press machine from an industrial laundry) and its rather bold structure.  The story starts in media res, with the death of a laundry worker, then goes backwards to explain how the machine came to be possessed.  The story zigzags back and forth between the present and past, which is brave for a short story to do, but King manages to pack quite a bit into this rather short piece of work.

The Boogeyman is next, and it is one of the weaker stories in the collection, in my opinion.  Dealing with a father talking about his various encounters between the Boogeyman and his children, it lacks any sort of buildup, and the ending seems to be trying a bit too hard.  Another one that could easily be skipped.

Fortunately, another of the top tier stories follows it:  Grey Matter.  The story follows a group of men who go to check on a friend who has changed somewhat after drinking some bad alcohol.  King does a great job building the tension in this story, and the ambiguous ending serves it well.

Next is Battleground, which, while not scary, is still a fun piece about a hit man who, after his latest hit, has revenge visited upon him in a most interesting way.

Trucks comes next, an interesting tale about vehicles coming to life and attacking humans.  The prose here is much simpler than most of the other stories, and the story lacks some finesse that many of the others do, even the weaker ones.  Still, the story is solid.

Sometimes They Come Back is the one story that, to me, really needed to be a full length novel.  The story feels rushed, and while explanation for the ghostly visitation the protagonist receives isn't necessarily needed, some inkling of what caused it would help in a major way, as well as an explanation for how he deals with said visit.  Even with its rushed nature, the story has numerous plot holes, and might have been served better if certain subplots had been cut to lengthen other parts of the story.

The earliest work of Kings in the collection is Strawberry Spring, a story told in first-person about a series of murders from the character's past during a strawberry spring.  Another of the strong stories, it lacks a bit of the punch of the top tier ones, but the ending strikes just the right chord and makes it a must-read.

The Ledge follows, and it is more of a thriller than a horror story.  I'd rank it in the upper tier also.  Dealing with a man trying to run away with a mob boss' wife, King takes a simple premise and makes it absolutely terrifying.

The Lawnmower Man is next, and it is, frankly, an incredibly weird little tale.  I'd say it is skip-able, but I have the feeling that it is one either loved or hated for its weirdness.

Quitter, Inc. comes next, and it is the one of the other previously unpublished (at the time) works.  It deals with a man who decides to quit smoking, with the aide of a rather forceful company.  It works great as a standalone piece, and honestly could have been expanded to novel (or at least, novella) length, but loses nothing being a short story.

I Know What You Need is the next story, and the first (and only) to feature a female protagonist.  She deals with a young man who always seems to be there with what she needs, and the darker side of the romance that follows.  King seems uneasy writing this character, with some of the clunkiest dialogue occurring between her and her roommate, but still manages to tell a solid, if unspectacular, story.

Children of the Corn is probably the best known work from this collection, if only for the many movies, but it really comes across as a dud.  Again, the characters are unlikable, and King has them make dumb decisions repeatedly throughout.  The movie fleshed it out and managed to improve upon the premise, but overall, this is a weak story.

The Last Rung on the Ladder is a more emotional short story, dealing with grief and regret.  It deals with a fateful day in the life of two siblings, and the tragedy that befalls one once they start to drift apart later on in life.  It almost seems out of place amongst all the other stories in the collection, but it provides a nice break.  It is another that had been unpublished prior to this collection.

The Man Who Loved Flowers battles with The Boogeyman for my least favorite of the collection.  Following a man who is 'obviously experience spring love' it is short, uninspired, and has a terrible ending.

King again visits 'Salem's Lot with the short story One for the Road.  Unlike Jerusalem's Lot earlier in the collection, this one creates no plot holes, though it does allude to the ending of the larger novel.  This one deals with two men who know how The Lot has 'gone bad' and their attempt to help a man whose family is stranded there.  It's one that definitely should be read after 'Salem's Lot, as it compliments the larger novel, rather than creating problems.

The last work to be featured is also one that was previously unpublished:  The Woman in the Room.  It follows a man who has a terminally ill mother and his grief and anger at her condition.  Like The Last Rung on the Ladder, it isn't a horror story, and feel a bit out of place in the collection.  It is also an odd choice to finish with, as One for the Road would have been stronger and more circular (ending with a 'Salem's Lot companion piece after starting with one).  It lacks the emotional punch of The Last Rung, and the collection fizzles to an end.

How I Would Rank the Stories:
Quitters, Inc.
The Ledge
One for the Road
Gray Matter
The Last Rung on the Ladder
Jerusalem's Lot
I Am The Doorway
The Mangler
Strawberry Spring
I Know What You Need
The Woman in the Room
Night Surf
Children of the Corn
Sometimes They Come Back
The Lawnmower Man
Graveyard Shift
The Boogeyman
The Man Who Loved Flowers

Pages:  504
Movie?:  Several have been made into movies:  Quitters, Inc. and The Ledge are both in the film Cat's Eye, Children of the Corn, The Mangler, Trucks became Maximum Overdrive, and Graveyard Shift.  A movie shares the title of The Lawnmower Man, but has no relation.  Trucks was again adapted for TV, as was Children of the Corn.  Sometimes They Come Back also received a television adaptation, as did Battleground.
Dark Tower?:  The Salem's Lot companion pieces would be considered part of it, but most of these are standalone.
Child Deaths?:  One gets turned into a vampire in One for the Road, several die in Children of the Corn and in The Boogeyman, and one dies in flashback in Sometimes They Come Back.
Penis Talk?:  Surprisingly, none, though I may have missed writing one down.
Grade:  I'd say it averages out to a B, maybe a B+

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Stephen King Book List

(in order of publication)
'Salem's Lot
The Shining
The Stand
Night Shift
The Long Walk
The Dead Zone
The Running Man
The Gunslinger
Different Seasons
Pet Sematary
Cycle of the Werewolf
The Talisman
Skeleton Crew
The Eyes of the Dragon
The Drawing of Three
The Tommyknockers
The Dark Half
Four Past Midnight
The Waste Lands
Needful Things
Gerald's Game
Dolores Claiborne
Nightmares and Dreamscapes
Rose Madder
The Green Mile
The Regulators
Wizard and Glass
Bag of Bones
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
Hearts in Atlantis
Black House
Everything's Eventual
From a Buick 8
Wolves of the Calla
Song of Susannah
The Dark Tower
The Colorado Kid
Lisey's Story
Duma Key
Just After Sunset
Under the Dome
Full Dark, No Stars
The Wind Through the Keyhole
Doctor Sleep
Mr. Mercedes
Finders Keepers
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams
End of Watch

BoMM: Alma's Discovery vs. Clever Girl

Your Champion


The Case for Alma's Discovery:
Brokeback Mountain is filled with quiet, seminal scenes.  While "I wish I knew how to quit you" became the film's most iconic, the scene where Alma discovers her husband secret is a powerful moment.  Her slow walk away from the door into the kitchen is acting perfection, heartbreaking and terrifying at the same time.

The Case for Clever Girl:
Muldoon presents himself as the ultimate hunter throughout the run of Jurassic Park.  When the velociraptors get out, he bravely tries to hunt them down, only to be tricked - leading to this iconic line.

Which do you pick?

Alma's Discovery
Clever Girl
Poll Maker

The Stand Review

So, the hardest decision to be made when re-reading this Stephen King novel was which version I was going to read.  Should I get the original hardcover from 1978?  The updated paperback from 1980?  Or should I go with the 1990 version, which updated the story from 1980 to 1990 and added 400 extra pages of material cut from the initial release?  Ultimately, I went with the 1990 version, mostly because I already owned it, but also because I wanted what Stephen King originally wrote before editors asked him to trim it down.

And make no mistake, this is a thick novel: My copy checks in at 1439 pages, over double what The Shining reached.  Part of this expansion is due to the nature of the book:  As opposed to a small enclosed area (like The Shining, or Rage), The Stand tracks multiple people across the entire United States as the deal with a superflu that wipes out 98% of the population.  A far-reaching apocalyptic novel cannot be hastily done in a tidy sum of pages.

And what's amazing, is that the book could easily have expanded more.  While we do get to delve into the inner thoughts of numerous characters, both good and bad, there are still many prominent characters that don't get much in the way of attention from King.  In fact, Ralph Brentner's lack of character development despite being one of the main 4 sent to make the final stand is one of my biggest critiques.

Still, King rather effectively explains how the superflu starts spreading, and why it doesn't get stopped.  Most novels (and many movies, to be honest) never explain how the world reached its post-apocalyptic state, but King believably explains it from start to finish.  One of the most harrowing sections of the book deals with Stu Redman escaping a government facility trying to figure out the virus they created, and it wouldn't be half as nerve-wracking if not for the groundwork King had laid earlier.

And The Stand is filled with many such moments.  Larry Underwood's trip through the Lincoln Tunnel is (to me) the single most vivid in its terror, but one could just as easily argue for the impromptu appendix removal, Randall Flagg's meeting with Nadine Cross, or even Trashcan Man's interaction with The Kid.  There is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to well crafted moments of horror.

The novel does have its flaws though.  As mentioned above, several characters are prominent without ever really getting delved into (Ralph Brentner might be the worst, but Sue Stern suffers just as much), Randall Flagg, despite having several chilling scenes scattered throughout the novel, never truly feels like a threat, at least not in the way the Harold Lauder does.  And more world-building for Las Vegas would clarify how Flagg maintains loyalty despite having a much crueler disposition than Mother Abagail.

Still, after the shitshow that was Rage, anything would be welcome.  The Stand, thankfully, is pretty great on its own.

Pages:  1439
Movie?:  A miniseries in 1994, nominated for six Emmys, winning two.  Supposedly there is a movie in development... or a series of movies.  It has been in development hell for 5 years now.
Dark Tower?:  Yes.  Randall Flagg is a recurring villain from the series, and the Ka-Tet briefly interact with part of the Captain Trips world.
Child Deaths?:  Lots, since the majority of the planet dies, but King does go into details involving a few.
Penis Talk?:  Yes, up to and including the thinness of a character's semen after masturbating.
Grade:  A-

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Battle of Movie Moments

Previously TV has a wonderful feature called King of Disparate TV Things Mountain where random props, moments, etc. from various TV shows battle it out.  The winner of that day's voting faces a new challenger each day until it loses, or until it hits 10 wins and is retired.  I've decided to do something similar, only with movie moments,  While mine will not be daily (we're going with a weekly theme here), it will follow the 'winner stays until defeated/10 wins' aspect, as well as allowing user submissions.

For our inaugural vote, we have..

Church Fight (Kingsman: The Secret Service)


Alma's Discovery (Brokeback Mountain)

The Case for Church Fight:
Sometimes a movie shocks you with violence, and sometimes it does it with an amazingly choreographed fight scene.  Kingsman combines the two for a brutal moment in a church where the villain causes everyone to go into a rage and start attacking each other.  Highly trained Kingsman Harry Hart is also there and adds to the carnage.

The Case for Alma's Discovery:
Brokeback Mountain is filled with several quiet, seminal scenes.  While "I wish I knew how to quit you" became the film's most iconic, the scene where Alma discover her husband's secret is a powerful moment.  Her slow walk away from the door into the kitchen is acting perfection, heartbreaking and terrifying at the same time.

Which do you pick?

Church Fight
Alma's Discovery
Poll Maker