Stephen King is at it again, making noise in the world of e-publishing by debuting a new novella online. "Mile 81" was released today, and thanks to Amazon.com's shiny new Kindle interface for PCs, alls I had to do was shell out $2.99 and pay some tax, and a copy beamed itself onto my laptop in the middle of the night.
Here's the pertinent question: is it any good?
King is a nimble writer of short fiction, and I'm thrilled to see him continually finding ways to keep himself interested in working at non-novel length. However, I don't always feel as if he connects with the ball all that well in short form, and "Mile 81" reminds me more than a bit of two other instances in which I felt like he just fouled one off: "Riding the Bullet" and "Blockade Billy."
Like those stories, this one feels slapped together and poorly-edited, and is largely forgettable.
Without getting into spoiler territory, what I'll say about the story of "Mile 81" is that it's about a young boy who finds himself with the day to waste, and ends up letting his scampery get him into trouble. This trouble involves the latest in King's line of creepy cars, though this one isn't particularly similar to Christine (which, in case you were wondering, is name-checked here -- as is American Vampire, the comic King wrote for last year) -- nor to the car in From A Buick 8, nor even to Uncle Otto's truck.
If it's similar to anything in King's oeuvre, it's similar to the malevolent oil slick in "The Raft," and while I can't find any specifics to prove it, I suspect that this car and that oil slick are members of the same species, if not one and the same being.
The car isn't the problem with the story; it's creepy and cool and memorable. Instead, the problem is that there really isn't much of a story. The main character, Pete Simmons, has potential, but he spends a great deal of the story offscreen, literally asleep, and the characters who come along behind him -- including two gratingly-written children who help to push events forward -- are mostly annoying. They're all sharply-drawn; you can definitely feel that King was interested in the people as he was writing about them. But in my opinion, it just didn't quite work out.
So, there you have it. For me, this one was a bit of a dud. And in case you were wondering, no, I didn't read the excerpt from 11/22/63 that was added on to the end. This is atypical of me, but I'm sticking to it; I want to be as knowledge-free about that novel as possible when it hits in November, so I don't feel any particular urge to read an excerpt from it now.
If you've found yourself disagreeing with this review, by all means head over to the comments and let me know why you enjoyed it. I'd love to hear some dissenting opinions!
And now, I'm off to read the new issue of Locke & Key, to be followed by a viewing of the new movie Children of the Corn: Genesis.