The Stand, by Stephen King

The StandThis book. I don’t even know what to do with it.

As I’ve mentioned a couple times, I tried to read this book on a vacation a couple years ago and got just over halfway through before the vacation ended and I got caught up in other, shorter books. So when it became the October read for my book club, I was like, hey, now I’ll finally have to read the darn thing! But of course I didn’t remember much of the first half, so I started over at the beginning and read the whole updated version, all 1200 pages of it, over the course of three and a half weeks. I am never getting those three and a half weeks of my reading life back.

Which isn’t to say that it’s not a good book, it’s just not the book I wanted it to be. I always forget that Stephen King’s doorstops are focused more on worldbuilding than on, say, story or plot or characters, and I get frustrated when things refuse to move at a reasonable pace and when the “I know something that character doesn’t know” lasts chapter after chapter after chapter with no resolution in sight. It didn’t help that I’d recently read Station Eleven, which, as I described to my book club, is kind of like The Stand but twenty years later and a heck of a lot quicker. Oh, quicker, I miss you.

But The Stand was a truly appropriate read right now, with Ebola in the news and the flu starting to go around, so I was probably more creeped out by it than I would have been had I actually finished it two years ago. Yay, creepy!

If you don’t know, The Stand follows the accidental release of a manmade flu that kills something like 99 percent or more of the US population, if not the world’s population. The first many chapters involve lots of people developing a sniffle and then dying a horrific death, and then eventually the survivors of these chapters start dreaming about a Good person and an Evil person and they start seeking out their preferred new leader. Mostly the book sticks with the Good survivors as they all make their way to Nebraska and then Boulder, Colorado, where they settle and collect more survivors and work to form an interim government and get life back on track. There’s a running undercurrent of worry about the Evil survivors and their creepy-pants leader Randall Flagg that is obviously going to have to resolve itself in some kind of epic showdown, but mostly the book is just about people doing day-to-day things in a strange new world.

I had no trouble coming back to the book every day to find out what was going on with all these people that I was starting to care for and worry about, though I really wanted that whole epic showdown thing to show up quick because seriously, I wanted to know who was going to win. So then when I got to the showdown and spoilers, it’s neither epic nor really showdown-y, I was like, you have got to be kidding me. And yes, I get that that’s kind of the point, that life doesn’t actually have epic showdowns even when people bring atomic bombs to a gunfight (no, really), but I WANTED A SHOWDOWN, people.

At least I totally called the survival of my favorite characters at the expense of my only-slightly-less-favorite characters, because otherwise I would have had to go find a print copy of this book in order to fling it across the room. Throwing a Kindle is just not the same.

Recommendation: Go read Station Eleven, it’s so much shorter and probably better. Or read this if you’ve got the time and the inclination to enjoy Stephen King. It’s a decent one.

Rating: 6/10

RIP Update

Hello lovely RIPers and spectators! The weather around here has been hinting at fall, but it hasn’t quite taken hold yet. My sweaters are quivering in the dresser!

The StandBut it’s definitely been a spooky couple of weeks around here. As I mentioned on Friday, I’ve been reading The Stand for my book club, which so far has been mostly re-reading; I read half of the book two years ago on vacation and then never got around to reading the rest of it. I’m glad I re-read the first half, as I had forgotten all but the broadest strokes of the story, but the fact that it took me two weeks to get through that first half again is a bit disheartening. After the first harrowing bit where everyone’s dying of government-made flu (which is even more harrowing with the start of regular flu season and the recent ebola worries), there’s been a lot of nothing going on, although it’s clear that King’s building up to a big fight between Good and Evil. I’m intrigued to see where it goes, but I’m not really in any hurry to get there.

HannibalIn TV, Scott and I finished up Hannibal season one, which definitely got better and creepier after those first two episodes, largely because it becomes more obvious that Hannibal is not only a bad guy, but the bad guy. He’s very very good at being the bad guy, too, which led to me being angry at fictional characters at the end of the season when Hannibal has them completely outsmarted. I had to look up the storyline for the second season to make sure that I wouldn’t want to kill Hannibal myself whenever that season gets around to being on demand for me. Come soon!

What are you all consuming in the spirit of the season?

Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Good OmensHee. Teehee. Hehehehehe.

This book, it is delightful. I was hooked from the prologue, which begins with “It was a nice day,” ends with, “It was going to be a dark and stormy night,” and has many humorous sentences in between. By a few pages later, I was texting the friend who had recommended it to me, saying, “I am on page 12 of Good Omens and I may already be in love with it.”

And love it I do. It reminded me very much of the only other Terry Pratchett I’ve read (which was also amazing), but it still felt fairly Gaiman-y to me even though I can’t for the life of me think of a purely funny thing that I’ve read of Gaiman’s. Maybe it’s the pacing of the story that does it? I don’t know. It’s not important.

What’s important is that this book is a, uh, let’s say a divine comedy of errors? Because the two main protagonist-types are Crowley and Aziraphale, the former the apocryphal serpent of Eden and the latter Eden’s angel guardian. One fights for the evil side, one for the good, but both of them spend a lot of time hanging out on Earth, so when the evil side gives humans eleven years to enjoy their universe Aziraphale and Crowley find themselves working together to see if they can’t maybe postpone that end of the world thing a little while.

Their plan is to keep an eye on the Antichrist and get him to make appropriate world-saving decisions, but of course it turns out that they’re keeping an eye on the wrong kid and with just a few days left in the world they have to go find the right one. Others are looking for the child, too, including the Four “Apocalyptic Horsepersons” and an occultist following the predictions left by her always-correct-even-if-you-don’t-know-it-until-later ancestor.

Although there is this plotline — Save the Antichrist, Save the World — most of the story dances around it, focusing instead on how the different characters interact with each other, what the meanings of “good” and “evil” really are, and how our human world came to be so immensely screwed up. And as I may have mentioned, it’s really all about the writing, and passages like the following:

“God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players, to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.”

The ending goes on a bit long, and it takes rather a lot of contrivance to get there (but how else would you?), but I was still quite satisfied and mostly I plan to remember those delightful parts anyway.

Although I read about half of it in print, I did end up listening to the whole thing on a quick road trip, and I can say that the audiobook narrator is a perfect fit for the book. Martin Jarvis has a lot of fun making up voices for the large number of characters and imbues them with the incredulity required to live in this very strange universe. If you need a good listen, check this out.

Recommendation: For lovers of Gaiman, Pratchett, Fforde, and other fine masters of British humor, or really just anyone who needs a laugh.

Rating: 9/10

The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan (27 May − 6 June)

By request of the boyfriend, who is in love with epic fantasy series. In this one we have an attack on a farming community, after which three boys must leave the village and go on terrifying adventures in order to save the world. You know how it goes. This book was kind of disappointing in that the mysteries that crop up throughout the novel are not all taken care of by the end. This is clearly so that you’ll read the next one, but I’m almost disinclined to do so. I don’t mind getting a new mystery at the end, but when I’ve been waiting for nearly 800 pages to find out Rand’s true lineage and I don’t get to find out? Boo on that.

Rating: 7/10