Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Review of "Floating Dragon" [by Peter Straub]

From what I can gather via the (admittedly limited amount of) research I have done on the subject, Peter Straub tends to be a fairly divisive figure among Stephen King fans.  And, for that matter, among horror fans in general.

The most common opinions seem to be as follow:

  1. Peter Straub is one of the best writers in the history of the genre, and maybe one of the best writers of his era regardless of genre classifications.
  2. Peter Straub is a good writer sometimes, and a not-so-good writer at other times.
  3. Peter Straub is one of the most overrated writers in the history of the genre, and maybe one of the most overrated writers of his era regardless of genre classifications.

I leave it to you to determine whether these are actually the consensus opinions on Straub's work, or whether I have feigned all of this as an icebreaker for the post.  Might be it's both.

Regardless of what the truth of this particular situation might be, I think it is probably safe to say that anyone who actually does hold any of those three opinions will find plenty to reinforce their stance if they read Straub's sixth published novel, 1983's Floating Dragon.

Look how scuffed up my hardback is...!  Looks like the previous owner was using it as a seat-booster or something for the past three decades.  Also, how lame is that cover art?  Pretty bad, in my opinion.

There is a great deal about Floating Dragon that is notable, and I can already feel an unfortunate truth brewing: this review will not do it justice.  In saying that, I am admitting defeat up front, which is perhaps a less-than-admirable way to begin a post.  But the fact is, Floating Dragon is approximately 30 lbs. of crazy stuffed into a 5 lb. sack.  Unraveling it would take much more effort than I am prepared to give this week.

So, instead, allow me to simply try to make a case for why this novel, despite its shortcomings, is a hugely worthy piece of work.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

When You Heard Hoofbeats, You Didn't Think Zebras: Considering "Mr. Mercedes"

Stephen King's newest novel, Mr. Mercedes, is now two weeks old, sitting comfortably atop various bestseller lists (including the New York Times, still the standard-setter of such lists) and earning mostly positive notices from those who care about such things.  I don't know what the reaction has been within the King community, because, frankly, I'm separated from most of those communities, and it's probably good riddance on both sides of that equation.  It certainly is on this side.  So whether the reception has been positive, middling, or negative, I do not know.

To be honest, it took me a while to figure out exactly what my own reaction had been.  My first review was positive, but as I began the process of allowing the novel to settle in, I began to feel a bit less persuaded by it all in some ways, and even more impressed by it in other ways.  It's a complicated reaction to a fairly uncomplicated book, which makes me wonder: is it an uncomplicated book?

Well, tonight, I'm going to explore a few of the elements that work for me, and a few that don't, and let's just see where we end up, eh?

Unless the British have made some genuinely Hogwartsian advances in printing technology, I don't think the actual UK hardback rains.  Even so, I like this cover a lot.  Probably not enough so as to cause me to get a copy shipped across the drink to me, but never say never.

Before we proceed, a warning: I will wear no spoiler gloves during this post.  So if you've not read the novel yet, this is not written with you in mind.


One element of the novel that struck me right away was the setting: the latter years of the previous decade.  In and of itself, there is nothing extraordinary about that.  Stephen King frequently writes from the vantage point of the present (or, in this case, the very recent past).  However, when he does so, he frequently writes in a sort of "universal now" mode, by which I mean that the year in which the story is set is irrelevant.  Does it matter when Doctor Sleep or Duma Key are set?  Not really.  Assuming that technological advances don't begin taking place at a preposterous rate of advancement, people sitting down to read those novels in the year 2054 are likely to still be able to read them from a "this is now" sort of mindset, the way we today mostly still do with Carrie or The Shining.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Bryant Has Issues #47

You'll pardon me if I'm a bit distracted tonight: today, I bought myself the first season of True Detective on Blu-ray, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey on Blu-ray, and the original Cosmos on DVD (on account of how it isn't on Blu-ray).  So really, all I want to do is plop down in front of the teevee and spin some discs.

Instead, let's talk comics for a bit, beginning with:

That bottom cover is pretty creepy.  I like 'em both, but the bottom one makes me think that there is some serious chump-change to be made if Joe Hill decides to sell NOS4A2 (NOS4R2 for our friends across the drink) to Hollywood.  I am envisioning a Jason/Michael/Freddy-style series of seemingly-neverending sequels in which Charlie Manx and his Silver Phantom of doom treat everyone to the joys of the holiday season.  These films, of course, would be mostly terrible, but so what?  It's a fun concept, one that could be exploited by shoddy film producers for decades to come.

I'm not sure I would actually want to see such a thing happen, but the thought that it could happen fills me with a perverse sort of happiness.

Wraith #7 wraps up the series, and it does so in a medium-stretching format that is less a traditional comic (i.e., is less a traditional graphic narrative) than it is a sort of illustrated novella.  Let me show you what I mean:

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Collectioning: Robert McCammon Edition

collectioning -- n. -- (1) the act of purposefully building a collection; (2) a made-up word coined by some dude with a blog (mostly) about Stephen King
Not too long ago, I reviewed the 1981 Robert McCammon novel They Thirst, and at the end of that review, I mentioned that I hoped to be attending a signing the author was giving a couple of days hence in nearby Birmingham.

Unfortunately, work got in the way and prevented that from happening.  I've been grumpy about it ever since.  I tend toward grumpiness anyways, so adding this into the grump rotation has proven to be no impediment.
To ease that grumpiness somewhat, I decided to splurge a bit and do something I'd been wanting to do for a while anyways: get my McCammon collection fully up to speed.  And since I've got nothing better to do tonight, why not share the details with you fine folks?
I love that cover art, almost as much as I hate the font on the author's name.  Hopefully that's just a placeholder font.

We begin with the upcoming Subterranean Press hardback limited edition of They Thirst, which I preordered.  It won't come out until October, but a months-long wait is par for the course with these limited editions. 
Subterranean previously published limited-edition hardbacks of McCammon's first three novels, Baal, Bethany's Sin, and The Night Boat, all three of which sold out long ago.  I had been planning to get their edition of They Thirst ever since it was announced, but had not considered trying to obtain secondhand copies of those other Subterranean editions.  However, I decided to check eBay, and was able to scoop each of them up for prices that were within my range.  I'm still a bit mystified as to how I was able to get that lucky.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Pull Leather, You Republican Skunk!: A (Sort of) Review of "Slade"

Today's review is a tricky one, because it deals with a Stephen King short story that is arguably not a short story at all, and is also not available for the vast majority of King fans to read.

What does a blogger do with such a curious beast?

He presses on.

"Slade" was published once, in serial installments over the course of eight consecutive weeks in his college's newspaper, The Maine Campus.  The story has never been published again.  In order to gain the proper perspective, it's necessary to first consider the circumstances behind the story's publication.

During his senior year of college at the University of Maine, King wrote a weekly opinion column for The Maine Campus.  That column was called "King's Garbage Truck," and there were nearly fifty installments of it.  (This strikes me as prime material for a book collection, and while King himself has indicated that such a thing will never happen due to the relative inadequacy of the material, a blogger can dream, can't he?  It would make for interesting reading regardless of the material's quality, or of the extent to which King's opinions may have changed over the many years since.)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Brief (No-Spoilers) Review of "Mr. Mercedes"

I got up at the crack of dawn -- alright, fine, 9a.m., which, for me, may as well be the crack of dawn, since is dawn is something I frequently see at the end of a day but rarely (if ever) at the beginning of one -- and went and bought a copy of Mr. Mercedes, and settled in to read it.  I was sitting in my armchair, two cats comfortably dozing on a half-lap each.  I got to a early scene involving a couple of cops discussing some cases, and became aware that there was out-of-the-ordinary activity outside, in the parking lot.
I reached over and flicked the blinds to the side, and I saw a police-stamped SUV and a standard-issue police car sitting in the road.  Not parked; hogging the middle of the street.
I heard footsteps coming up the stairs, and shortly thereafter I heard a knocking on the door.
Not, happily, my door.
Whichever of my neighbors they needed to speak with never came to the door, and the next few minutes were occupied by occasional knocks, followed by occasional announcements of "Police!"
So, yeah; that's the note on which I began reading Mr. Mercedes.  
It's a sweaty, paranoid nightmare of a novel, and if you're enough of a Stephen King fan to be reading a blog like this one, then odds are that you already know the setup.  But in case you don't, here goes:

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Ghost of Her in the Glass: A Review of "Stud City"

     Chico stands at the window, arms crossed, elbows on the ledge that divides upper and lower panes, naked, looking out, breath fogging the glass.  A draft against his belly.  Bottom right pane is gone. Blocked by a piece of cardboard.
     He doesn't turn.  She doesn't speak again.  He can see a ghost of her in the glass, sitting, blankets pulled up in apparent defiance of gravity.  Her eye makeup has smeared into deep hollows under her eyes.

Today's post/review is a bit of a cheat.  Or, at least, it feels to me as if it is a bit of a cheat; it's probably less so than it feels.

Allow me to explain.
This review of "Stud City" is the latest in an ongoing series of reviews that is examining the entirety of Stephen King's short-fiction output, the most recent of which was "The Reaper's Image," a 1969 story published in the magazine Startling Mystery Stories.  Following my own brief, the next review in the series would have to be a review of whatever story King published next.
Makes sense, right?  Problem is, there is some confusion as to what story actually came next: it was either "Stud City" or "The Float."
Never heard of "The Float"?  I'm not surprised.  It was the original version of the story "The Raft," which did not hit stands until a Gallery appearance in 1982.  It was later collected in Skeleton Crew, and King explained that "The Raft" was a rewritten version of an earlier tale, "The Float," which had been sold to the magazine Adam in late 1969.  This is where the story gets funky: King says that while he was paid for the story, he never received any contributors' copies, nor did he ever actually even see a copy of the magazine.  Seemingly, nobody else has, either, and at some point in time, King lost his only manuscript of the story.  So, for all intents and purposes, "The Float" no longer exists.
I briefly considered reviewing "The Raft" in this spot, but since the story was literally rewritten from top to bottom, I thought that pretending that "The Raft" was "The Float" would be hugely disingenuous and inaccurate.
So, "Stud City" it is.  Problem is, the only version of "Stud City" available to me is the version that was rewritten for inclusion in The Body.  Evidence indicates that this was a fairly substantial rewrite, too, so what I'll be reviewing tonight is, in a way, also a bit of a lie.  In this case, though, it's a lie that is at least consistent with the lies in which I've been engaging all along during this series of chronological short story reviews.  In most cases, I've been forced to review not the original stories themselves, but the revised versions that appeared in King collections.
In other words, following my own brief for this series has been fraught with peril from the beginning, so what does it matter if tonight's post is especially perilous?
Answer: it doesn't, except to the extent to which it does.  And we're going to ignore that, and simply proceed under the assumption that the Different Seasons/The Body version of "Stud City" is essentially the same as the 1969 version published in Ubris.  We all know that that is a lie, but by continuing to read this post, you're implicitly taking part in the lie.  Isn't that a nasty trick for me to play on you?
You'll live.
That, supposedly, is the Fall 1969 issue of Ubris, the University of Maine publication which saw the publication of both "Stud City" and King's poem "The Dark Man."  I stole the image from, and I wish I could find someplace from which to steal, borrow, or affordably buy a copy of the magazine itself.  But hey, we can't have everything, can we?

"Stud City" isn't much of a story, to be honest.  I would not go so far as to call it bad, but it certainly seems to represent a time in his life during which King felt the need to become Literary, and while you can argue over whether or not he ever got to the point of actually being Literary, I don't think there is much argument to be made that he had made it by the time "Stud City" came out.
This is not to say that it is a terrible story, though.  It has a few virtues, here and there.

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Review of "Caretakers" [by Tabitha King]

When last we visited the fictional realms of Tabitha King, it was for the purposes of reviewing Small World.  My thoughts on that novel (her first) were that it had some merit but did not really work.  The science fiction elements sat beside the psychological and emotional elements rather poorly, and the end result was an uncomfortable mix of goofiness and seriousness.
It's been about seven months since I wrote that review, and during that time, I sort of began to dread the prospect of reading another Tabitha King novel.
Let me explain.
I tend toward being opinionated.  If I don't like something, and find myself writing about that something, the odds are good that I'll give you the full force of my displeasure.  If I think a book sucks, I'll tell you so, with examples.
I didn't think Small World sucked, but neither did I think it was particularly good, and I have to admit that I read that novel more out of a sense of duty to my Stephen King fandom than anything else.  In and of itself, that is perhaps not a bad thing; I did the same with the first books I read by Joe Hill, Owen King, and even Kelly Braffet (Owen's wife), and the end result was that I loved all of them.  I did not love Small World.  I liked it, but in a way that made me wonder if I didn't actually dislike it.  Did I like it, or had I tricked myself into thinking I liked it simply because I did not want to find myself saying negative things about a novel written by Stephen King's wife?
The more I thought about it, the more of a possibility that latter option seemed.
All of which means that if I had read Small World partially out of a sense of duty, then I would later read her second novel, Caretakers, wholly out of that same sense of duty.
Looking to squeeze in a short novel prior to the release of Mr. Mercedes, I looked around my bookcases, and my eye eventually landed on Caretakers.  Less than 300 pages; entirely manageable in the week I had left before the new (Stephen) King novel came out.  But I initially quailed from it; and I knew why: I expected not to like it, and did not want to write a review saying as much.  (You might reasonably, at this point, wonder why I wouldn't simply opt to not write a review.  Good point.  The reason that isn't an option is that it would invalidate the reason[s] I'm writing this blog.  It's just that simple.  And this blog is important to me, so that option wasn't an option at all.)
I decided to just bite the bullet and get it out of the way.

All of the above preamble was designed to get us to this point:

I loved Caretakers.