Sunday, August 14, 2011

Review: Cell by Stephen King

Summary: In Cell, King taps into readers fears of technological warfare and terrorism. Mobile phones deliver the apocalypse to millions of unsuspecting humans by wiping their brains of any humanity, leaving only aggressive and destructive impulses behind. Those without cell phones, like illustrator Clayton Riddell and his small band of "normies," must fight for survival, and their journey to find Clayton's estranged wife and young son rockets the book toward resolution.

My Thoughts: Stephen King's getting old, y'all. I'm also reading Under the Dome right now, and he has a character in his mid-twenties who hates cell phones. Clayton is about ten to fifteen years older than Barbie, so his distrust of technology doesn't stand out quite so starkly, but most of the authors and illustrators of graphic novels that I know geek the hell out over new technology, so by rights Clayton should have been battling it out with the Raggedy Man for control of the phone zombies. A good thing he didn't, since we would have a radically different book at that point. King writes good villains, but I don't think that even he could make me root for a zombie over a span of more than 400 pages.

This book shines in all of the places where Stephen King is strongest. Clayton is a decent guy, his heroism arising from his ability to pay attention to the world around him with artist's eyes. (And we stay in his head for the duration of the book, very strange for King.) Raggedy Man is one of King's creepier villains since the late, lamented Randall Flagg, and the bird-like movements of the flock eerier still. The world-building is strong and detailed, and longtime King readers will recognize several of the character archetypes who populated The Stand. It's also pretty streamlined, for a King book, at less than half the length of The Stand. Some readers may cheer this, but I kind of like The Stand's sprawling epicness. (It also makes a handy portable weapon if one needs to go jogging or walk across a parking lot at night.) The thing that I found most noteworthy in comparing it to The Stand was much less about length and much more about tone: this is ultimately a pretty pessimistic book. While Raggedy Man stands in as our Randall Flagg (of a sort, anyway: the book ends with a strangely sympathetic attitude towards its villains), there's no corresponding Mother Abigail. The efforts of the heroes ripple on a small scale rather than a global one; I hope that this is not a conclusion that Stephen King has arrived at about the human race as a whole.

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