09 December 2012

The Stand (Stephen King)

Thirteen days, you guys! Thirteen days it took me to read King's apocalyptic American epic The Stand. I'll admit that while I enjoyed it the whole way through, by the last 400 pages or so I was kinda ready for it to be over--but I never once considered giving up.*

The Stand
begins with the death of 90% of humanity, slain by a genetically engineered superflu. Bands of survivors across the country find themselves drawn westward in dreams, some to Boulder and a 108-year-old woman named Mother Abagail, others to Las Vegas and the dark empire of a sentient ball of hatred who calls himself Randall Flagg. (The supernatural nature of the dreams, as well as Flagg's magical powers, are actually my least favorite part of the book . . . but really, how else to draw characters from Texas and Maine and NYC together?)

On the other hand, the bulk of King's work deals with what fascinates me about post-apocalyptic stories in general: the (exhaustive) details of survival and reconstruction. Food, shelter, transport, medicine--how to scrounge these things from the remains of industrial society? In this vision, all the resources are still there . . . but what good are scalpels with no surgeon, power lines with no electrician? I could (and did) read about the remnants' improvisation and ingenuity for ages.

But really, the heart of the book is the Tolstoyan cast. If you'll allow me to repeat myself: "Dude can create and dispatch characters so effectively, with such an understanding of the Western cultural expectation of story; it's as satisfying as listening to Mozart."

*(The same cannot be said of Julianna Baggott's Pure, which in its first 20 or so pages continually commits the unpardonable spec-fic sin of using a neologism in dialogue and then immediately explaining it in narration. Authors! It's totally OK if your readers have to figure out what something means from context! In fact, most sci-fi/fantasy readers think that's a big part of the fun!)

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