Tag Archives: Stephen King

Richard Bachman writes

KingbookPhil: All the recent fuss over the outing of JK Rowling included a quote from a Waterstones spokesman, “This is the best act of literary deception since Stephen King was outed as Richard Bachman back in the 1980s.”

Which interested me as the day before this earthquake in the world of books, I’d just finished the final story in The Bachman Books, the collected series of stories penned by King under the name “Richard Bachman”. You might remember that when I first tried reading King, I wasn’t hugely impressed but several people pointed me at other examples, including Ms Nolan who spent her teenage years reading him. Her suggestion was to seek out the Bachman novels so when I tripped over a second-hand copy, I snapped it up and dived in.

Like Rowling, King wrote the books under a pen name as a test. Could his books sell just on the strength of the writing, or was he really able to put anything on paper and sell to an adoring fan base. The parallels are interesting – both authors sold but not brilliantly and both were outed by diligent research by readers.

Anyway, there are 4 books, are then any good?

The common theme is that of a journey, either a personal one or physical.

Rage – Nutty school kid takes his class hostage.

This one made me do something I never do, read the first few chapters and then turn straight to the end to find out what happened to decide if I was going to read the rest. I didn’t. Maybe I’m too old for teenage angst or maybe I’m just not sensitive enough but I didn’t care.

The Long Walk – In the future a sporting event is help where competitors have to walk continuously until only one survives. Those who don’t keep up the pace, stop or try to escape “get their ticket”, in other words are shot by the accompanying soldier.

The first one I picked. It’s good but I wanted so much more. While we live the event through the eyes of one character, I didn’t find enough background information in there. What sort of world is it that enjoys this sort of spectacle? How did it start? How desperate does your life have to be to apply to take part in a competition with a 100:1 chance of winning and a 99:1 change of ending up dead?

I didn’t want less story, I wanted a couple more chapters worth of background woven in to the narrative. The world of the Walk didn’t appear that much different to ours but yet something had obviously happened to make the concept palatable.

Roadwork – Man obsesses about a road that will destroy his house.

A personal journey story where you either identify with the main character or you don’t. I did. Not perhaps the way he went about things but you were gently introduced to his pain. The backs-try built up with his wife and children. The tipping-points in his life were there and the conclusion logical if fairly well-signposted. It didn’t matter, I was keen to know how we got there.

The Running Man – Not much like the Schwarzenegger film. Man enters competition where all he has to do is survive for 30 days anywhere in the world with hunters sent out to catch him.

The best of the book. You understand the characters motivations, the world is realistic and the end satisfying. The scary thing is that everything that happens can be extrapolated from where we are now. The pollution. The hopelessness of great swathes of the public. The separation of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. The people who despite being stuck in the underclass, manage to live and survive on their wits. I couldn’t help thinking tha this is more prophetic than I’m comfortable with.

If there is one anomaly, it’s that the contestant has to record a video diary type tape twice a day and post it back to the studio. Back in 1982 when the book was written, this probably seemed logical but now it’s a great example of how technology changes can mess up your predictions.

Oddly, I also like the film despite it being a different beast. I think the novel still has an excellent film in it although perhaps the final scenes (spoiler time) of the contestant crashing a plane into the skyscraper that houses the TV company in charge of the games still won’t play well in the US.

Overall, an interesting read. I’m still not convinced by horror novels but I’m going to dip my toe in again in the future. What I do get is how the youthful Nolan lapped these up in the same way that kids nowadays drink in vampire novels. All the books speak of angst and personal change which are a perfect match for teenagers struggling to work themselves out or adults who miss that wild emotion.

I still don’t think any of these are horrific. Yes the plots and the worlds they are set in are horrible, the thoughts of the characters not nice at all, but there isn’t the splatter, gore or even the violence I was expecting.

It’s all in the mind. Maybe that’s the scariest place.

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The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

The Girl Who Loved Tom GordonPhil: A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I’d read Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King and not exactly been impressed. A couple of commentators pointed me in the direction of a longer novel, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, suggesting that it would be a better read.

My local Oxfam bookshop had a copy on the shelf so I picked it for a very reasonable £3.49. Nice clean hardback with no annoying scribble.

At 213 page, it’s not a long book. The story is handily divided into chapters too, which makes reading in several sessions easy. I hate taking a break part way through a passage but some writers don’t give you a point to pause at. Never mind how good the text is, sometimes a tea break is required! As it was, I read this in two sessions.

The story concerns a young girl (Trisha McFarland) who gets lost in the woods. Tom Gordon is a baseball player who appears in the book, but not really. I can’t say much more without runing the story.

I’ll admit to being impressed. For the overwhelming majority of the book there is only one character. In some hands, this would be a problem as the narrative would become leaden. Here, the story makes progress and you really want to make it to the end. In this respect, the length of the novel is an advantage. I doubt the tension could have been sustained any longer without introducing silly events. As it is, the build is entirely psychological and most importantly, very realistic. There’s been some painstaking research gone into the woodland setting. Some serious map-based planning too. If you were minded, I expect that you too could follow this book in real life.

Enjoyable? Yes, it was. I managed to avoid reading the end but it was tempting. I’m glad I didn’t as that would have spoilt things. As it was, the dénouement worked perfectly and tied everything up perfectly satisfactory.


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Full Dark, No Stars

fulldarknostarsPhil: The last couple of short stories that have flown at me from the Nolan direction have been a long way from the expected chick-lit. They are tales of horror. I queried this and discovered that while most young girls were reading “Jackie”, my friend was immersed in James Herbert and Stephen King novels.

Until recently, I had never read either Herbert, King or Jackie but if this was the direction we are exploring with our writing then I felt it was time to make up for the omission. Doing a little work on another project in my local library, the opportunity was taken to brose the shelves for a suitable first book. Spotting that this once contains four short stories, I reckoned it would be a safe bet. This way, if I didn’t like anything, there wasn’t an entire book to work through to find out what happened.

According to the dust jacket blurb, all four stories are on the theme of retribution. Two of them (Big Driver and A Good Marriage) cover a victims revenge or that of a wife who discovers her husband is a murder. King claims to be trying to put the reader inside the mind of someone and examine what they might do in the same situation.

Fair Extension involves a man given the opportunity of recovering from cancer as long as someone else takes on his misfortune. It’s interesting as the expected finale where the protagonist doesn’t get his comeuppance.

The only story I’d really consider “horror” is 1922 in which a husband who has killed his wife, recounts his life as a form of confession. The whole thing is properly gory, spooky and unsettling. It’s also got a cracking twist right at the end.

To be honest, I’m still not sure. Maybe I need to try another book, but apart from 1922, I’m pretty certain that we could have produced stores as well-written and interesting. Give us a bit of time and even 1922 could be matched. This is a pretty recent book, first published in 2010, and so the author has sufficient success behind him that the publisher knows they can put out anything with his name on the front and it will sell – you can tell this from the cover design. I think I need to go and find an earlier book, and have another go. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the book, far from it, I rattled through each story pretty much in a single sitting, but I didn’t feel the horror.


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The Hunger Games.. hungry for more

Candice: This time of year brings to mind a number of things for me, either “whey hey, the football is over” or “oh bugger, I’ve got another four weeks of it and its going to be worse than before”. Well, this year, unless you don’t have a TV you can’t have missed that there is a small tournament going on. I believe it’s called Euro 2012.  So, for the last week or so I have found a new home, our conservatory.  While the other half is watching in the lounge, I have been chilling in the lovely daylight, sometimes with my able furry assistant.  Emanating from the other side of the house can often be heard, “oh, ah, ohhhh”, and that’s not the blue movie he was watching.  Nope, it’s the sound I hate, FOOTBALL.

However, this has allowed me some quality reading time as I have been a bit slack since the return from holiday.  So my first tackle (ha ha) was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  Written for a slightly younger audience than I, it impressed me by drawing me in from the word go.  Having read “The Running Man” by Stephen King, a similar premise of someone trying to escape game that involved being killed,I wasn’t sure it could do it better, it didn’t but just approached it differently.  I have to say there wasn’t a point in this book where I didn’t want to know what happened next, and though I had an inkling of the outcome, I wondered how she would achieve it.

I won’t give the game away but safe to say, it all ends well but with a nice twist leading on to book two.  And, though there is alot of violence, the sex is minimal (thank god!).

The characters are well drawn, the main female Katniss is strong but shows some weakness, but doesn’t do anything that makes you think, “oh she’d never do that.”  And the fact she can survive in the environment is built well from the start, rather than her suddenly being an expert outdoors person.  I want to know more about the world they live in, and how the present world became their ‘Panem’.

Book two is on my list, but I am holding back else I will read them all in a month and then feel a bit bereft afterwards.   I also think I’ll make an effort to see the film when it’s on the movie channel to see how that works.

So I have one thing to thank the football for!

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