Sunday, March 19, 2017

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Catching Up with the Kings, Part 1: Stephen

If you follow this blog, then maybe you know that I've been putting off reading End of Watch (King's as-of-this-writing most recent novel).  The reasons for that are complicated and weird and not really of interest to anyone other than myself.  Despite that, I blabbed about them at length here.
  
They are not worth rehashing, so I won't rehash them, but it is worth mentioning again that the delay between the release of End of Watch and my sitting down to read it is by far the lengthiest on my personal record for a new King novel (assuming we are not counting King novels released prior to 1990 or so, when I became a Constant Reader).  That's been eating at me.  It's a thing that can no longer be tolerated, and so even though I have not achieved the weight-loss goals I informally set for myself as a prerequisite for reading End of Watch, I've decided to sit down with the novel and get current with King.
  
Thing is, I'd also fallen behind on a few other King books, such as the edited-by-King Six Scary Stories and the partially-by-King Hearts In Suspension.  Plus, there are also a few new short stories of his I haven't read, not to mention books and stories by the sons-of-King writers Joe Hill and Owen King.
  
Rather than dick around and try to write reviews of each of these things, I've decided to just run through all of it and leave some brief impressions of each here.  Not sure if that's the optimal way to do things, but it's what makes sense to me at this particular time.  I'll avoid spoilers in all cases; this is going to be fairly brief.
  
My first thought was to do it in chronological order by release date, but nah, damn that.  There's a novel by Stephen King in the world that I have not read yet.  There's no way to begin anywhere but there.
  
  
  
  
I was entertained by both Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, but I'd be a liar if I said that either one ranked highly on my list of favorite King novels.  Maybe that created a bit of trepidation to get into the third one...?  I don't really think it did, but let's not rule it all the way out.

In any case, having finished it I would conclude that this is easily one of my least favorite King novels.  It's not awful; I enjoyed reading it, at least for the first two-thirds or so, while King's writing still felt engaged.  I'm not a huge fan of Bill Hodges, but he's okay; same goes for Holly Gibney.  The reason for that, I think, is that King himself loves both characters, and that love comes through onto the pages and -- for me -- is somewhat infectious.  But only somewhat, and it can only get King so far.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

About This "Castle Rock" Series...

Alternate titles for this blog post included "Can We All Just Chill the Fuck Out?" and "Settle the Fuck Down," but I correctly thought those might too condescending.  So I settled for something bland and inoffensive.  Good job, me!
  
I’m not one to judge a book by its cover.  However, I have no problem judging the cover by its art (ahem), nor do I balk at judging the message the cover seems to be trying to convey.  After all, whereas it might be true that a cover cannot ruin the book it is covering, it’s at least as true to say that a cover can on occasion do that book no favors.

With that in mind, let’s talk about Castle Rock, the super-secret anthology series for Hulu that is being developed by Bad Robot and Warner Bros.  
  
  
 
  
I had not planned to talk about it here, but my “Stephen King” Google Alert is pinging about once an hour with news of this series, and the sense I get from folks who care about such things is that a general sense of large-scale excitement is afoot.

Friday, February 3, 2017

An Interview with Jason Mayoh

Recently, I wrote a review of "Pinfall," the comic-book adaptation of the never-filmed Stephen King / George Romero story that was intended to be a segment of Creepshow 2.  I enjoyed the comic quite a bit, and reached out to artist Jason Mayoh to see if he'd be interested in answering a few questions about the comic.

Bryant:  This is probably a dumb question, but are you a fan of the Creepshow movies?

Jason:  In my opinion, two of the greatest horror anthologies ever made.

Bryant:  Tell me a bit about your history with those films.

Jason:  As a kid I remember staying at my older cousin's house and we rented both of them and watched them over the weekend.  I just loved the comic-book vibe to them.
  
Bryant:  How did your involvement with the Creepshow 2 Blu-ray from Arrow Video come about?
  
Jason:  Kind of a long story, but here goes...
  
I met George Romero as a fan at a convention [in 2005] when Land of the Dead came out.  At the time I had illustrated and created a five-page zombie pop-up book and showed it to him.
  
  
Pop Up Book of the Dead
  
  
He loved it and I was immediately put in touch with his manager, who informed me George wanted to write the story for it.  We went back and forth with different publishing houses, ultimately to no avail, as no publisher wanted to take a chance on what they perceived at the time to be a niche market.  At the time I was told pop-up books are a huge investment.  (Ironically I also showed Greg Nicotero back in the day, and now there is a Walking Dead pop-up book; go figure.)
  
Anyway, I was truly inspired by George's enthusiasm and continued to attend conventions he was a guest at.  I have the ultimate respect for George's career for the fact that during the majority of his career he operated on his own terms, for better or for worse, outside of the Hollywood system.  Perhaps because of that, George has had numerous undeveloped projects, including a film adaptation of The Stand by Stephen King.  Since the pop-up book I had always wanted to illustrate one of his unfulfilled stories.  Once I learned that there was an unfilmed segment from Creepshow 2 called "Pinfall," I couldn't resist!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Think of the Money I Save: A Review of "Pinfall"

Arrow Video recently released a 3000-unit limited-edition Blu-ray of Creepshow 2, and given that it had a handful of new bonus features on it, I -- being the sucker I am for maintaining a complete-films-of-King library at all times, and in the best possible editions -- was inclined to buy a copy.
  
  

What clinched the deal for me, however, was the news that the limited edition would contain a comic-book adaptation of "Pinfall."

What, you might ask, is "Pinfall"?
  

Friday, January 6, 2017

All the Way Around Robin Hood's Barn: "Revival" Revisited, Part 4

I'll be brief(ish): we are here today to get through this thing called Life.  Electric word, Life, it means... the remainder of the notes I took during my recent reread of Revival.  When I write these posts, I generally make an effort to focus them on a single theme or element, which means that there are routinely potential lines of investigation that fall through the cracks.  There still will be after this post, too, but I'll feel better about it, and that's what I'm shooting for with this one.
  
 
  
  
  
What I'm going to do is just proceed through my notes, and when I get to something that sparks my fancy, we'll talk about it.  So we'll go more or less in chronological order, although I am likely to bounce around a bit as needed.  I'm often inclined to use bulletpoints to structure such an unwieldy beast, but I think I'll break each topic apart with a line of asterisks instead.
  
Like so:
  
*****
  
In Chapter I, Jacobs says to Jamie, "People have many ways to be lousy to one another, as you'll find out when you're older, but I think that all bad behavior stems from plain old selfishness."
  

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

All That Shit Starts With E: "Revival" Revisited, Part 3

Today, we'll conclude* our reappraisal of Revival.  There is plenty left to be said about the novel; I'm unlikely to even scratch the surface, but there are certainly a few things which stood out to me that I'd like to at least mention.
  
First up on the agenda: the theme of music that runs throughout much of the novel, which we are going to use as a Trojan horse to get us to an entirely different conversation.
  
Those who bought Revival as a hardback were greeted by an unexpected sight:
  
  
  
  
And once they recovered from the shock of seeing King with a mustache, they probably noticed that he was holding a guitar.  (For the record: I like the 'stache.  I think it looks pretty fuckin' cool on him.  Not as cool as that Danse Macabre beard from back in the day, but shit, man, nothing looks as cool as that thing.)  They might even have noticed that the neck of the guitar has little drawings of spiders all over it, which is kind of rad.
  
King's history with the guitar goes back farther than this hardback author photo, of course.  It can be dated to at least 1992, when King became one of the original members of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a covers band (formed by Kathi Kamen Goldmark) whose members were all authors.  King played guitar and provided some vocals.  There have been two books of essays written by its members: 1994's Mid-Life Confidential and the 2013 interactive ebook Hard Listening.  King provided outstanding essays for both, but of particular interest to us is "Just a Little Talent," from Hard Listening.
 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Something Happened: "Revival" Revisited, Part 2

Last post, I talked a bit about magic, and passed along an idea I got from Alan Moore: that writing ("spelling") IS magic, or, at least, can be.  It's an idea that probably made a few of you roll your eyes.  So might this idea (also from Moore): the greatest and most powerful magicians of the modern age are almost certainly advertisers.
  
Some people will tell you that perception is reality.  I don't agree; I think reality is reality, and perception is perception, and any attempt to convince you they are one and the same is a misuse of terminology.  It's a widely-known saying, though, and the mere fact that it's caught on to the extent it has is an indication that it's a powerful idea.  It might not be reality, but reality is partially driven by reaction, and reactions are in large part driven by perceptions ... so there is certainly a relationship between perception and reality.
  
As such, a marketing campaign can -- and frequently does -- work to actively shape/reshape reality.  So while the notion of this process being equivalent to magic might seem absurd in some ways, I think it has merit.  We think of magic as being Doctor Strange folding a building in half without any of the occupants knowing it; and, yeah, sure, that counts.  Is that actually more impressive than the course of American history being radically changed during an election campaign?  I'll let you know when I've seen the former; having seen the latter, I know its power (and fear I am going to be given many more examples).
  
One way to think about all of this is to simply decide that marketing is mere dishonesty, a willful form of obfuscation and inveigling designed to trick people into believing things they didn't believe before.  I think there's more to it than that.  Successful marketing works mostly due to the fact that the magician marketer is able to tap into ideas already present in the minds of the audience.  How do you effectively sell cheeseburgers?  You don't do it by walking into a room of vegetarians; you do it by walking into a room of meat-eaters and reminding them that they love cheeseburgers.  From there, it's an easy trick to convince people that you've invented some never-before-dreamed-of variant of a piece of ground beef that has been cooked, covered with a slice of cheese, and put between two pieces of bread.  
  
  
  
  
The marketing of Revival put forth the notion that it was a return to pure horror for Stephen King.  Thus begins an interview with King conducted by Goodreads in November of 2014:
  
Just when you think Stephen King's well of pitch-black, sleep-with-the-lights-on horror must surely be running dry, he finds new and possibly even darker ways to terrify us.  His latest novel, Revival, sees the author of more than 50 global bestsellers -- including The Shining, Pet Sematary, and It -- return to the "balls to the wall" (King's words) supernatural horror with which he made his name.  In a recent Twitter post about the book, King told readers, "If you're going to buy it, better tone up your nerves."  His publisher, Nan Graham, said that upon reading it, "I asked Steve whether it really had to be this dark, knowing before he answered that, yes, it does."
  
Five months earlier, well in advance of the novel's publication, King had said this about the novel, with which (he intimated) he had scared even himself: "It's too scary.  I don't even want to think about that book anymore.  It's a nasty, dark piece of work.  That's all I can tell you."  Several pre-release reviews by King-community luminaries such as Bev Vincent and Hans-Åke Lilja indicated that the book's final thirty-to-fifty pages were where things got really dark.  I seem to recall another such review that said that that final stretch was the scariest thing King had ever written; but I've been unable to remember who wrote that review, so maybe that's an invention of my memory.
  
I leave it to you to decide which aspects of all that (if any) count as "marketing" and which do not; all I know for sure is that these were ideas I encountered prior to the novel's release.  Having encountered them, I could only read Revival with those ideas laid like a filter across it.  Any ideas I had about the novel were required first to pass through that filter, for better or for worse.
  
It's not folding a building.  But it's not nothing, and if it's not nothing, then it's something.
  

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

It's Fragile, Beauty: "Revival" Revisited, Part 1

Recently, I've been feeling the urge to get back in the swing of things when it comes to King-reading.  I've been slacking (for reasons discussed here) in that regard for the better part of 2016; actually, going back well into 2015.  This drought has gotten so bad that I've still not read his newest novel, End of Watch, which came out nearly six months ago.  Never have I waited this long to read a new King novel!  The itch to do so is finally getting pretty insistent, though, and I'm determined to scratch it before much longer...
  
...but a voice in the back of my head has been telling me that before I did that, I needed to revisit Revival.  I never felt like I'd given that novel a fair shake when it came out in 2014, and I've been promising myself ever since that I would return to it sooner rather than later.  I guess the boat sailed long ago in that regard, but still, there was that mental voice; and it was fairly insistent.  If this blogging that I do is art of any kind -- and I believe that it is (albeit very self-centered art that is important only to myself) -- then I suppose that was the voice of my muse.
  
I try to listen to her when she calls, so a few weeks ago, I sat down in my old, smelly blue armchair, grabbed my for-note-taking copy of Revival off the shelf, and got to work.
  
I'll go ahead and render my verdict now: I did indeed fall in love with this novel on the second read.  And yet, I had all the same complaints that I had the first time around.  The difference?  Expectations.  We'll talk more about that later; for now, let's say that, with a reread under my belt, I find that I love Revival for the things it does well.  It does them so well that my caveats became relatively unimportant.
  
Looking over my notes, I think the way to proceed is to tackle my reappraisal in three separate posts: the first covering the aspects of the novel that I love; the second covering the aspects which still don't entirely work for me; and the third covering everything I want to discuss which doesn't fit neatly into the first two.  All of these are going to contain spoilers, not merely for this novel but potentially for other King novels as well; they will be written assuming a familiarity with King's work in the broad sense.
  
  
Still not a fan of this cover.


If you've got an urge to read what I thought about the book upon its initial release, then here's a link.  I noted there that I loved the novel for roughly the first 370 pages or so, and I would say that that mostly held true this time, too.
  

Monday, November 7, 2016

A Suggested Reading Order for the Extended "Dark Tower" Series (Revised 2016 Edition)

I've been threatening promising to produce a revised version of this list for quite some time now, and here it is, at long last.  We're a bit less than nine months away from The Dark Tower debuting on movie screens worldwide, and despite that lengthy wait, in some ways the Tower is closer than ever.  What was at one point in time seen almost as a sidebar among King's work is increasingly thought of as his magnum opus.

With that in mind, I assume there is still a need for somebody out there to help newcomers to the series sift through all the noise to figure out what books they should and shouldn't read if they want to read the series.  I'm happy to provide that list for anyone who might find it useful.

I wrote the first version of this post way back in April of 2012, and I think it more or less got the job done.  However, in a bifurcated-thinking manner that Roland himself might recognize, I began to feel over time that my list was both too short and too long.  If that seems odd, then let me rephrase: what I was actually feeling was that there needed to be two (or more) different lists, each of which catered to readers with different levels of interest.

It seemed like a good idea, and I've decided to run with it.  So let's get started by looking at what books I deem to be truly essential to the series.  You could begin by simply reading the novels that comprise the actual series, but I don't think that gives you everything you actually need, so I've included a few other titles that cannot be ignored without severely limiting your understanding of the overall universe.

Oh, by the way: there will be no spoilers in this first list; there might be some very mild ones in the later lists, but nothing that should cross your eyes too much.  The comments will be a free zone for spoilers, though, so tread carefully there.
  

THE ESSENTIALS

  
The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger (revised edition) 
 




Newcomers to the series may not be aware of this, but there are three versions of The Gunslinger.

Version #1: the five stories that appeared from 1978-1981 in issues of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (sometimes referred to as F&SF).  These were: 
  • "The Gunslinger" (1978)
  • "The Way Station" (1980)
  • "The Oracle and the Mountains" (1981)
  • "The Slow Mutants" (1981)
  • "The Gunslinger and the Dark Man" (1981)
The only way that I know of to read these versions of the stories is to track down the individual issues of the magazines.  They tend to be fairly expensive in secondhand markets, although if you are diligent and get lucky, you can sometimes stumble across one at an affordable price.  I got incredibly lucky a while back and found a complete set for about a hundred bucks.  (And eventually, I plan to sit down with the magazines plus the 1982 and 2003 versions and compile a comprehensive list of the differences among the various editions.)
  
Version #2: the 1982 novel The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, which collected slightly revised versions of the five F&SF stories in a limited-edition hardback.  A trade edition came out several years later, when King finally got tired of fans pestering him for a more widely-obtainable edition.

Version #3: the revised edition pictured above, which came out in 2003.  It is substantively the same novel as the 1982 edition, but does make major additions and revisions that help to bring the novel in line with the rest of the series.

So, the question: what version should newcomers to the series read?