May 13th, 2007

rant, milk_cheese

Not impressed by Stephen King

After hearing nothing but lauds about it for years, I recently read The Stand ("complete & uncut") for the first time. I was not particularly impressed.

(Also, a word to the wise: Don't start reading The Stand in the middle of allergy season, especially if your primary reading time is just before bed.)

It was good enough for me to keep reading and finish it, but that's not that hard a bar to reach--I once read the entire L. Ron Hubbard Mission: Earth dekalogy. (Once.)

King inserted a mini-rant in the foreword defending the length of and lack of editorial control over his books in general and his decision to add back most of the 400-some pages he'd taken out of this book when it was originally published, in which he strips the story of Hansel & Gretel down to a single paragraph that omits most of the interesting story elements and then complains that one paragraph doesn't make for an interesting story. That's true as far as it goes, but he reduced the story so far that it's more of a straw man than a good example of why his verbosity is the one true way. Even if you take his Hansel & Gretel example as gospel, adding 400 pages of filler and side-plots doesn't automatically turn something into a work of art, no matter how much love for the English language the author has. King obviously subscribes to the maxim that if something is good, then there is no such thing as too much of it. (This would be the sort of theory kids subscribe to when it comes to sweets, until they overdose on Twizzlers and loathe artificial strawberry flavor for the rest of their lives. It's also what almost killed ABC when "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" was the sum total of their prime time lineup long after it had jumped the shark.)

One phrase stuck with me the whole book as an example of the useless excess verbiage with which this book is jam-packed:

Joe had fallen flat on his back. He was splayed out like an x, his arms making a v, his open legs making a second, inverted v. (from Chapter 44)

-clunk- How about just, "Joe had fallen flat on his back, his arms and legs splayed out."? That says the exact same thing, just in fewer words and with a better cadence. Or perhaps, "Joe had fallen flat on his back and lay spread-eagle in the mud."?

There is so much excess in this book that entire runs of chapters could have been removed (or summed up in a few juicy paragraphs) without having a significant negative impact on the story, and without anyone but King himself noticing that there were a few minutes of some of the character's days that weren't specifically accounted for.

And what in the world does someone who is nigh-unkillable, auto-resurrects, and repeatedly (and in great detail) goes overboard in killing anyone who might be competition want with an heir? To the point where he spends years planning it, makes stupid, "When I'm an evil overlord I will not..."-quality mistakes because of it, and the hundreds of pages of setup of that plot then just get tossed out the window (literally) in a fit of pique? Was this trip really necessary?

I've never been much of a fan of supernatural horror (supernatural, sometimes; horror, sometimes--but generally not together), and probably wouldn't have ever read this had I known how much the fundamental plot relied almost completely on supernatural elements for its forward movement--elements that were not really necessary to tell the story and have the end result be substantially the same. I'd heard it had something to do with the onset and aftermath of a plague, and that plus the rave reviews are what drew me in. (The Fourth Horseman, by Alan E. Nourse and The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton are two other books in that particular sub-genre that I've enjoyed, though Nourse's is more of a disaster thriller, and Crichton's is more modern-setting SF with a too-convenient ending.)

That's not to say I completely hated the book. I loved getting to know some of the characters, winced when they got hurt, cheered when good things happened to them, and so forth. The plot that's left after filtering out the supernatural aspects was interesting, and had me thinking about the setting and the way King had obviously spent time thinking through the repercussions. But somewhere inside this lumbering 1,100+ page behemoth there's a 300-page novel trying to break out. Perhaps two or three of them, even.

Feudalism: Serf & Turf