Tuesday, December 6, 2016

It's Fragile, Beauty: "Revival" Revisited, Part 1

Recently, I've been feeling the urge to get back in the swing of things when it comes to King-reading.  I've been slacking (for reasons discussed here) in that regard for the better part of 2016; actually, going back well into 2015.  This drought has gotten so bad that I've still not read his newest novel, End of Watch, which came out nearly six months ago.  Never have I waited this long to read a new King novel!  The itch to do so is finally getting pretty insistent, though, and I'm determined to scratch it before much longer...
...but a voice in the back of my head has been telling me that before I did that, I needed to revisit Revival.  I never felt like I'd given that novel a fair shake when it came out in 2014, and I've been promising myself ever since that I would return to it sooner rather than later.  I guess the boat sailed long ago in that regard, but still, there was that mental voice; and it was fairly insistent.  If this blogging that I do is art of any kind -- and I believe that it is (albeit very self-centered art that is important only to myself) -- then I suppose that was the voice of my muse.
I try to listen to her when calls, so a few weeks ago, I sat down in my old, smelly blue armchair, grabbed my secondary copy (the one I'd bought for note-taking) of Revival off the shelf, and got to work reading and taking notes.
I'll go ahead and render my verdict now: I did indeed fall in love with this novel on the second read.  And yet, I had all the same complaints that I had the first time around.  The difference?  Expectations.  We'll talk more about that later; for now, let's say that, with a reread under my belt, I find that I love Revival for the things it does well.  It does them well at such a degree that my caveats become ... well, not meaningless, but certainly of secondary importance.
Looking over my notes, I think the way to proceed is to tackle my reappraisal in three separate posts: the first covering the aspects of the novel that I love; the second covering the aspects which still don't entirely work for me; and the third covering everything I want to discuss which doesn't fit neatly into the first two.  All of these are going to contain spoilers, not merely for this novel but potentially for other King novels as well; they will be written assuming a familiarity with King's work in the broad sense.
Still not a fan of this cover.

If you've got an urge to read what I thought about the book upon its initial release, then here's a link.  I noted there that I loved the novel for roughly the first 370 pages or so, and I would say that that mostly held true this time.

Monday, November 7, 2016

A Suggested Reading Order for the Extended "Dark Tower" Series (Revised 2016 Edition)

I've been threatening promising to produce a revised version of this list for quite some time now, and here it is, at long last.  We're a bit less than nine months away from The Dark Tower debuting on movie screens worldwide, and despite that lengthy wait, in some ways the Tower is closer than ever.  What was at one point in time seen almost as a sidebar among King's work is increasingly thought of as his magnum opus.

With that in mind, I assume there is still a need for somebody out there to help newcomers to the series sift through all the noise to figure out what books they should and shouldn't read if they want to read the series.  I'm happy to provide that list for anyone who might find it useful.

I wrote the first version of this post way back in April of 2012, and I think it more or less got the job done.  However, in a bifurcated-thinking manner that Roland himself might recognize, I began to feel over time that my list was both too short and too long.  If that seems odd, then let me rephrase: what I was actually feeling was that there needed to be two (or more) different lists, each of which catered to readers with different levels of interest.

It seemed like a good idea, and I've decided to run with it.  So let's get started by looking at what books I deem to be truly essential to the series.  You could begin by simply reading the novels that comprise the actual series, but I don't think that gives you everything you actually need, so I've included a few other titles that cannot be ignored without severely limiting your understanding of the overall universe.

Oh, by the way: there will be no spoilers in this first list; there might be some very mild ones in the later lists, but nothing that should cross your eyes too much.  The comments will be a free zone for spoilers, though, so tread carefully there.


The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger (revised edition) 

Newcomers to the series may not be aware of this, but there are three versions of The Gunslinger.

Version #1: the five stories that appeared from 1978-1981 in issues of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (sometimes referred to as F&SF).  These were: 
  • "The Gunslinger" (1978)
  • "The Way Station" (1980)
  • "The Oracle and the Mountains" (1981)
  • "The Slow Mutants" (1981)
  • "The Gunslinger and the Dark Man" (1981)
The only way that I know of to read these versions of the stories is to track down the individual issues of the magazines.  They tend to be fairly expensive in secondhand markets, although if you are diligent and get lucky, you can sometimes stumble across one at an affordable price.  I got incredibly lucky a while back and found a complete set for about a hundred bucks.  (And eventually, I plan to sit down with the magazines plus the 1982 and 2003 versions and compile a comprehensive list of the differences among the various editions.)
Version #2: the 1982 novel The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, which collected slightly revised versions of the five F&SF stories in a limited-edition hardback.  A trade edition came out several years later, when King finally got tired of fans pestering him for a more widely-obtainable edition.

Version #3: the revised edition pictured above, which came out in 2003.  It is substantively the same novel as the 1982 edition, but does make major additions and revisions that help to bring the novel in line with the rest of the series.

So, the question: what version should newcomers to the series read?

Sunday, November 6, 2016

You Shouldn't Like Things Because People Tell You You're Supposed To: A Consideration of "Stranger Things"

Unless you've been living under a rock that shielded you from American pop culture for most of this year, you're aware of the fact that a television series called Stranger Things made a big impact this summer.  Produced by and streaming exclusively on Netflix, it's the latest smash hit for the company, which has done much to reshape the way we think about television over the past several years.

American pop culture as a whole has been massively redefined during those years, and while Netflix has been an important component of that redefinition, let's have no misunderstandings: that process goes back years, and Netflix has been a beneficiary of it moreso than an instigator of it.
I'm not here to deliver a history lesson on all of this.  Even if I were, I'd be incapable of doing so, because my understanding of it is far too imprecise; I've been aware of it, but only dimly, and not to a keen enough degree to do anything more than pretend at being knowledgeable.  I can tell you that it's been around for the entirety of this millennium; I can say further that I suspect its roots extend back significantly further than that; I can speculate that what we are seeing is the technology-aided fruition of ideas that go back at least two or three decades.
I've seen this trend most clearly in the artistic realm.  (By this, I refer to "the arts" in a general sense: not merely painting or illustration or the visual arts, but also music and, to a lesser degree, fiction and cinema and television and video games, etc.)  The way I've always thought of it is as "mashup culture," and until writing this post I was unaware that I'm by no means alone in labeling it thus.  It's entirely possible that I stumbled across the term at some point and simply forgot that I'd seen it, but I'm not sure that's the case; I do want to leave some room permitting it to be the case, but I don't know that it is.  
Mashups as we know them seem to have begun with music, via people who edited together two different songs in an interesting way.  The first time I became aware of this was listening to an episode of the Rick Emerson Show half a decade or so ago.  The following song began playing:

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

No, I Don't Have A Turntable; Why Do You Ask?

Not gonna be much to this post: I just thought I'd toss up some hastily-taken photos of my Halloween present to myself, which came in the mail today.

If you're wondering why a grown man would spend over $35 on an LP he is unable to play due to not having a turntable of any kind, said grown man would respond thus:
  • If you're looking to me as an example of a "grown man," you are casting your line into a dry pond.
  • Fucking LOOK at it!  I literally bought it for the pictures.  Same reason I bought the Creepshow LP from the same label a while back.
  • You, too, can have one by visiting Waxwork Records.  Look at me, teacher!
  • I mean, I already had the soundtrack on CD, so it's not like I can't listen to it.  (In some universe, this makes sense as an argument for buying it, not against buying it, which now I realize must sound like a solid "con" to neutral observers.)
  • The art is by noted illustrator Francesco Francavilla.  Gorgeous.
What more reason would I need?

What more reason do you need?

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Worst To Best: Stephen King Movies (and TV), 2016 Edition

It's overdue, and will need to be updated yet again a year from now (and probably the next year, and the one after that, and so forth), but here it is at last: an updated ranking of King-based movies and tv shows.
I've changed the way I'm ranking the television series this time around.  Previously, I ranked each season of each series separately.  That's a fair way of doing things, especially for a series like The Dead Zone, which varies wildly in quality from season to season.  However, it's not easy to figure out at all in the case of, say, Haven: it's a show that ranges from awful to mediocre to decent to good, sometimes within the span of a single season.  How do you rank such a thing?  I made a stab at it last time, but it never satisfied me.  So we'll try it this way and see how that works.
One exception: in the case of the anthology series Nightmares & Dreamscapes, I thought it made sense to rank the episodes separately.  They are completely distinct from one another, so that was no challenge.
Finally, I've left off the few Dollar Baby films that I included last time.  They're simply not playing on the same field as everything else.
I'll probably reuse a lot of the text from previous posts in this series.  I'm lazy that way.  Plus, I like some of that stuff; why pitch out the baby with the bathwater?  I've made significant revisions in some places, and have left other sections alone entirely.
I followed tradition by NOT consulting my old rankings prior to creating these new ones; I let my current way of thinking dictate the rankings.

Honorable Mention #1 -- Stranger Things (2016)


I know at least one reader of this blog -- and maybe two -- who will be put into a state of grumpiness by this series being included on my list.

I feel your pain, guys, and under many circumstances I would probably share it.

Let's no no mistakes about this: Stranger Things is not adapted from anything by Stephen King.  However, you can make a claim that a few other things on this list could be described the same way.  Should the fact that those are, legally-speaking, King adaptations be the only factor that sets them apart?

I honestly don't know the answer to that question.  With that in mind, let me announce now that at some point within the next howeverlong, I'm going to write a post reviewing all eight episodes of Stranger Things in an attempt to answer that question.  Because here is a list of things that I know:

  • Whether it does or doesn't have any legal ability to do so, Stranger Things does pull some significant and specific inspiration from (among other things) the works of Stephen King.  I can't ignore that.
  • Thanks to the massive popularity of the series, Stephen King's name got mentioned in the media press a LOT this summer.  I can't ignore that.
  • I loved Stranger Things.  It got overhyped for some people (including the two to whom I alluded a moment ago), but others took it to heart in a way that doesn't happen all that often.  Among those, one of my closest friends, who has actually requested that I write a post like that one is going to end up being.  I certainly can't ignore that!
  • The world is changing.  Mashup culture is here in full force, and shows no signs of going away.  If things continue down that road, then we could well get to a place where an unofficial inspired-by-the-works-of piece of storytelling like this one becomes considered by many to be just as genuine an adaptation as an actual remake of, say, Firestarter would be.  Part of me would LOVE to ignore that; but I can't.

So like I said, I'm going to, in the not-too-distant future, do some blogging and see if I can figure out where I truly stand on the issue.  For now, though, I think I'm honor-bound to at least give Stranger Things an official Honorable Mention.  Would I ever consider actually ranking it on a list like this one?

For now, that's a definite "no."

Things don't necessarily stay as they have been, however.  Time will tell.

Honorable Mention #2 -- Horns (2013)

Well, fuck it, why not?

Horns is not based on anything created by Stephen King, but it's based on a novel by Joe Hill, who, by virtue of being Stephen King's son, was himself partially created by Stephen King.  So there's that.  It'd be a flimsy rationale to use in putting Horns on this list as a ranked entrant, but I can make it work for an Honorable Mention status.

The movie had a tortured history in some ways; after a festival screening in 2013, it languished unreleased and unseen until October of the following year, when it was unceremoniously dumped onto iTunes and a few similar services.  I've got nothing against VOD, iTunes, etc.  However, I feel as if every movie needs to be sold differently based on its merits, and on the perceived potential size of the fanbase.  And to me, it feels like Horns was capable of more than what it got.  Horror had been on a hot-streak circa October of 2014, especially when it came to anything involving demons.  As an extra added bonus, the novel -- and, indeed, the movie -- works fairly well as a tragic romance, a quasi-fantasy, a satire, and a murder mystery.  In other words, there's isn't merely one potential audience for this film, there are several.
Add to that the fact that the movie stars Daniel Radcliffe, who is arguably one of the best-known movie stars in the entire world.  Granted, that's mostly on the basis of the Harry Potter movies; but his presence helped turn The Woman in Black into a hit, and it could have done the same for Horns.

So really, this ought to have been an easy-to-market film that had a gross of $50 million domestic at a bare minimum.  Find the exact right release date, and maybe you could get $75 mil.  Then, later, you can get all the money from ancillary markets like VOD, Blu-ray, etc.  That didn't happen, and that strikes me as a shame.
Such considerations are important, and they're of interest to me on any number of levels.  But really, now that the movie is out, they are irrelevant.

The question now becomes: is the movie good?

The answer: it's okay.  Overall, it's a film in search of a cohesive tone.  At times it is funny, at times romantic, tragic, weird, gross, whimsical, etc.  Hill's novel is like this as well, but Hill, via his strong prose and perspective, is able to make all of these things feel as if they co-exist naturally.  Director Alexandre Aja seemingly only has one mode in him at a time, however, so many of the individual scenes fail to coalesce into what you'd call a unified whole.

Despite this, I think the movie works fairly well.  Daniel Radcliffe is great.  He occasionally feels as if he's forcing things a bit in order to get past the fact that he's having to speak in an American accent.  However, he does so capably, and he does very well with the extreme range of emotions his character undergoes.  This is the first time I've seen him in anything outside of the Harry Potter films, and he's gotten so much better as an actor since then that he may as well not even be the same person anymore.  He's the real deal, folks.

The rest of the cast is good, too, ranging from Juno Temple as Merrin (Ig's dead girlfriend -- say, there's some Gone Girl overlap here, too, isn't there?) to Max Minghella as Lee; Joe Anderson as Terry; Kelli Garner as Glenna; James Remar and Kathleen Quinlan, who are Ig's parents and each of whom has a dynamite scene with Radcliffe; Heather Graham as a (pardon the pun) self-serving waitress; and David Morse, who is excellent as Merrin's father.  Morse has appeared in several Stephen King movies, so it's especially welcome to see him now appearing in a Joe Hill movie.

Of which I hope there will be more to come.

By the way, in case you're wondering where I'd rank this if indeed I did rank it on this list?

Somewhere around #29 or #30, I'd say.  So all in all, not too shabby.

Dishonorable Mention -- You Can't Kill Stephen King (2014)


I'm not entirely sure how this garbage exists.  If I were Stephen King, I'd have my lawyers all over it.  Maybe it's classified as satire, and is therefore protected; or maybe King has given it permission to exist due to the fact that it was filmed in Maine.

All I know is that it's awful.  It's got a trio of hot women in it, none of whom get naked.  Now, look, before you accuse me of being a Trump sexist pig, let me say that I don't have any sort of expectation that attractive women get naked in movies, even horror movies, even low-budget horror movies, even low-budget exploitation-horror movies.  However, if you're going to sexualize them to the degree they are sexualized here, you may as well go ahead and get 'em naked.  You're patently expecting every straight man and gay woman in the audience to feel like wanking while watching it, so why not go ahead and be honest about it and provide the goods?  My way is more honest, and everyone knows it.  Failing that, just don't sexualize your actresses; don't try to have it both ways.

The Stephen King homages in this movie are fairly negligible, presumably because everyone was unclear whether King actually WAS going to sue or not; they seemingly didn't want to do anything that might also encourage various Hollywood studios to sue.  As a result, the entire project is half-baked at best; at when I say "at-best," please know that the movie spends the vast majority of its runtime running at significantly below an "at-best" level.  Mostly, it's an at-worst state of affairs, and that involves ill-conceived racial humor, ill-conceived war-in-Iraq references, ill-conceived implications that Stephen King nerds are perverts, and so forth.  I would point your attention to the DVD cover art, and point out to you that not only is there no real "hot girl-on-girl action" to speak of apart from one relatively chaste kiss, there are also no creepy twins except for in one brief moment.  And there's definitely no sense of humor, unless it's a lame one.

This is a genuinely awful movie.  No Stephen King fan should see it unless they are gluttons for punishment.  And yet, it's actually a better movie than the next one we'll be looking at.  Without further ado, I give you:
#96 -- Creepshow III (2007)
We begin our list proper with a piece of SKINO (Stephen King In Name Only) dung, the odious Creepshow III, which has literally nothing to do with Stephen King, George Romero, or either of the actual Creepshow movies.  This was produced by a pair of untalented opportunists who bought the rights to sequelize Creepshow in what one assumes must have been the Hollywood equivalent of a fire sale.
Nothing in this movie works.  Once upon a time, I amused myself greatly by writing a review of it; if you want to know more, here you go.  But trust when I tell you that you don't need to know a damn thing else: this movie is shit.  Turds turn their nose up at it.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Review of "Crush" (edited by Cathy Alter and Dave Singleton)

A quick review of a book I just finished reading:

I'm sure you've figured out by looking at the front cover that I bought Crush because Stephen King contributed an essay to it.
Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that King's contribution consisted of a mere three paragraphs.  Nevertheless, I recently dusted it off my shelf and sat down to read the meager half-page, and once I'd finished I remembered a vow I made once upon a time: when I buy these anthologies in which King's work appears, I'd resolved to read the whole book and not merely the story or essay by the person(s) whose name(s) induced me to spend a few bucks.  I recently broke that vow when I read and reviewed the short stories of Cooper O'Connor, and felt a little bad about it.
This, then, was my chance to get back in the saddle a bit.
I'm glad I did, because Crush turned out to be a highly enjoyable book.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Stephen King Cast (and Cooper O'Connor)

There are a lot of books about Stephen King's work; I don't have an exact list, but at one point in time there were more books by far about King than by King.  That's an impressive fact, but it's worth asking how many of those books measure up.  How many of them are truly worthwhile in terms of what they add to the study of King's work?
Your mileage may vary, but my list of worthy King scholars would include Douglas E. Winter, Kevin Quigley, Bev Vincent, Rocky Wood, Tony Magistrale, and George Beahm, to name a few.
Here's a new name to add to that list: Cooper O'Connor.  If you've never heard of him, don't worry; you probably will.  O'Connor -- under the moniker "Constant Reader" -- is the host of the podcast Stephen King Cast (or, as it's known on Facebook, Stephen Kingcast).  Constant Reader began the podcast in August of 2014 with a simple goal: a chronological exploration of the books of Stephen King.  In early 2016, he completed that monumental task.
And what I'll say about that is this: I'm barely finding time to reread one King book a year.  This guy not only reread them all in about a year and a half, he produced well over a hundred podcasts analyzing them.  That's an achievement, and would be even if the resultant episodes sucked.
They don't suck.  They are very, very good; not merely as analysis of King's work, but also as aural entertainment.  I'm humbled by what O'Connor achieved, and by my reckoning, he has leaped into the upper echelons of King scholars.  He's also a published fiction writer in his own regard.  We're going to talk about that in more detail toward the end of this post, but first, let's talk about the podcast.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Children Had Been Different In Her Day: A Review of "Suffer the Little Children"

Published in the February 1972 issue of Cavalier, "Suffer the Little Children" was the third story the magazine had bought from him.  1972 marked something of a leap forward for King professionally: including this one, he'd have four stories published, all in Cavalier.  He had the same number published the following year, and his first published novel came out in 1974.  This means that 1971 was the final year for quite some time in which King did not have a significant amount of work published professionally.
In other words, 1972 is kind of where it all really began.
image stolen from http://www.akyle.f2s.com/pre_carrie.html
"Suffer the Little Children" did not make the cut when King collected his first book of stories (Night Shift), nor when he collected his second (Skeleton Crew).  This means that most of his fans did not have an opportunity to read it for over twenty years: with the story's inclusion in 1993's Nightmares & Dreamscapes.
You might logically conclude that the story's omission from the first two collections indicates that King feels a bit unenthusiastic about it.  This turns out not to be the case, however.  Let's see what King had to say about the story in the "Notes" section of Nightmares & Dreamscapes:

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Let's Have A Look At Roland Deschain

The Dark Tower has been filming in New York City lately, and a goodish number of images from the set have popped up in various places around the Internet.
Let's have a look at how Idris Elba is faring as Roland, son of Steven, the last Gunslinger:
Walking away from what one assumes is a freshly-murdered corpse.  Yes sir.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Why I Spent Time Watching "Cell" When I Have Not Yet Started Reading "End of Watch"

"So Bryant, where the hell is your review of End of Watch?" I can theoretically imagine someone asking.  "It came out last week, so surely you've finished it by now...?!?"
And the answer to that is no, no I have not.  I haven't even begun it, in fact.  Nor have I read Joe Hill's The Fireman yet, and that came out in mid-May.  For that matter, I have yet to crack open Owen King's Intro to Alien Invasion, which came out in the unbelievably-distant past of September 2015.  The casual observer -- or even the intent one, for that matter -- would be forgiven for assuming that my Stephen King (and King-family) fandom has waned significantly over the past year.
That's not the case, though.  I got my copies of Intro to Alien Invasion, The Fireman, and End of Watch on their release dates.  In the case of the Owen King book, its release fell during the time when I'd decided to dedicate some time to reading my way through H.P. Lovecraft's bibliography.  I'd planned to read Intro to Alien Invasion immediately thereafter, but it ended up not happening.  In fact, I've only read one book in the entire time since finishing that Lovecraft project last fall.  The casual/intent observer would be forgiven for assuming that H.P. Lovecraft broke me of my love for reading.
That's not the case, either.  I'll tell you this, though (and I spoke about this to some extent in my posts about Lovecraft's fiction): I've driven into some sort of cul-de-sac in which my love of reading still exists as a hypothetical thing, but in which I am not currently interested in -- or good at -- actually sitting down and reading a book.  During my Lovecraft exploration, I branded this phenomenon as reader's block.  Does such a thing exist in a commonly-accepted sense?  Beats me, but I've got it, so as far as I'm concerned it exists.  
You don't care about any of this.  Why would you?  I get that.  The temptation to be self-indulgent in these posts is always present, and I'm going to try and rein back on that horse a bit now.  The particulars don't matter much, the end result is the same.  This book...?
It shows no signs of being read any time soon.  I apologize for that, because it means that there's going to be no review of it here any time soon; and that arguably makes this blog a place where the readers can no longer count on me for timely discussion of the wide world of Stephen King.  That's a bummer.  Timeliness has never been my goal, but a decent amount of it happened nevertheless, and I don't like the extent to which it's fallen away.
Sadly, it's nothing new.  Over a year later, and I've not reviewed Finders Keepers, so visitors here may already have squinted at me a bit in disapproval.  I did read that novel, though, and I even began writing a review of it.
I shall now present to you what exists of that review: