Random Review: The Stand

Not his best work (but not his worst.)

The Stand by Stephen KingThe-Stand-Book-Cover

After the outbreak of a deadly virus across the United States, what remains of humanity lives among what remains of society. As they band together guided by portentous dreams and intuition, they find themselves locked in a battle for the soul of humankind and each must make a choice. A choice backed by action, what one might call…a stand.

Early in college I went through a phase where I avoided dealing with all the crap that was piling up on my head by reading Stephen King novels. I read everything in the university library instead of going to class, which took me through Carrie, It, Dolores Claiborne, ‘Salem’s Lot, Pet Sematary, and several more. I had heard a lot about The Stand, and knew people loved it, but I kept thinking it was a John Grisham novel for some reason and I am just not into courtroom dramas (I’m into courtroom comedies like My Cousin Vinnie and Night Court.)

I finally read it in 2012 and, while I see why people go ape over it, I don’t think it’s near the top of the Stephen King stack. It was clear that he was aiming for a Lord of the Rings-scale epic, American-style. Some of it worked like gangbusters: Mother Abigail and Stuart Redman, Larry Underwood’s whole journey, the trashcan man. The tension the author built as the story progressed was almost unbearable by the time Tom Cullen took his solo trip. I think the length of the novel helped with that. There is a good strong vein of story underpinning the whole affair.

However, King loves a sweeping scope and at some point The Stand got out from under him. Randall Flagg came across a bit too campy to be truly frightening, The Kid started as an interesting (and frightening) character but quickly went completely over the top, and Frannie lost all her spark as a personality the minute she teamed up with Harold. Since major plot points hinged on Randall Flagg and Frannie, this hurt the overall quality of the novel considerably.

King has acknowledged that The Stand didn’t turn out quite as he had hoped, but it’s still a solid novel worth reading through despite the high page-count. It just didn’t reach the heights he was aiming for. I’d love to see him try something of this scope again, now that he has more life and many more novels under his belt (no, I don’t consider The Dark Tower an example of a second try.)

Have you read the book or watched the miniseries? What did you think? 

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Random Review: Legend

A copy of a copy of a copy, now with more gimmicks.

Legend by Marie Ludownload

June Iparis wants to find the Republic’s most-wanted criminal Day, even though no one knows what he looks like, and avenge her brother’s death. Day wants to remain a vigilante while keeping his family fed and plague-free.  Both youngsters are beautiful and exceptionally smart and athletic, so naturally they will develop The Hots to complicate their situation.

Reading this book was like hopping into a fully-loaded Lamborghini and being unable to get it started, listening to the engine whine as it tried to turn over instead of flipping into a full-throated roar,  until it begins to disintegrate around you. First I lost a mirror, then the muffler hit the pavement, then all four wheels went at once.

The beginning of the book was exciting and set up a morally complex, high-stakes plot with a lot of potential. June was an interesting character, Day was an interesting character. I believed in the exceptional nature of both, as a result of both genetics and hard work. They lived in a dystopia with a lot of dirt for digging into. They had many fully-formed relationships and attachments beyond the one that eventually formed between them. So why then, halfway through the book, did I find myself wondering why I didn’t like it more? Why did I spend the next quarter mentally picking it apart instead of enjoying the story, before losing interest entirely and skimming the last quarter?

I’m going to go with a list:

  • Gimmicks. This book is loaded with visual gimmicks that became distraction while reading. Gold, sans-serif, space-age-inspired font for Day’s sections. A more traditional font for June. Gigantic 24-point headers screaming JUNE or DAY to indicate shifts in point-of-view. The well-designed Republic emblem on the cover felt like it was mocking me for thinking the Republic in the book would be as thoroughly considered as its logo. The brushed-steel texture of the cover and chrome-finish gold of the flaps on the jacket. I understand why each of these aesthetic choices was made, however at some point someone should have realized it was too much and dialed it back. The overwrought design of the book as object wound up highlighting the under cooked story.
  • June and Day sounded like the same person. They thought the same, fought the same, and mostly talked the same with only superficial deviations. Perhaps this explains the headers and font disparity, but that is something that needed to be fixed at a writing level. Not a visual one.
  • Eureka moments. Several complex plot threads were unraveled by a character glancing at something and suddenly understanding everything behind it. Enormous logical leaps were taken, but the reader was not along for the ride. Saying “oh they just knew because they were super smart” is lazy writing. It’s a cheat. There are many possible explanations and these developments were not well-supported.
  • The lady doth protest too much: I liked June as a character at first. She was tough, ambitious, focused, smart, and rebellious in an oddly patriotic way. There was a lot of potential there. As the book wore on she kept having to go to these formal events, and described her dresses in lavish technical detail even as she complained of being forced into them. That doesn’t wash. It irked me that as an acknowledged military prodigy she would not wear her uniform to state occasions as all the men and higher-ranking women did. She started the novel with a rebellious, “I know best” spark that quickly fizzled.
  • The Republic is a military state, but they let a fifteen-year-old girl stroll about as she pleases sending guards away and meeting with prisoners alone.
  • The scenes on the street were strongest, but they were weakened by the lack of detail in the Republic. A civil war was hinted at and other factions mentioned, but never explained. The dirtiness of the streets was not contrasted with cleanliness or opulence in June’s world at military school. The ball was dropped. I can only assume that Lu expected to have a trilogy to flesh things out.

Chair Rating: 

Looks cool, but doesn't perform its function well.

Looks cool, but doesn’t perform its function well.

Readers, if you’ve read any good dystopian fiction lately won’t you give me a recommendation in the comments? I’m dying for it.