Sunday, January 10, 2010
Under the Drone
Well...I just managed to finish Under the Drone...I mean, Dome... Stephen King's latest... Blimey, that was a slog!!! (Not a good slog. Is there such a thing as a good slog?)
A few spoilers here...
For me, the book was a little tarnished from the start... First up, there's the fact that the PR people are calling it King's 'finest epic since The Stand', which raises expectations somewhat...and is, considering The Stand was King's fifth book, also a little disrespectful to some of King's other fine epics, such as Needful Things, It (not one of my faves, but most people love it) and the Tommyknockers (I also remember Desperation being PR-ed as an epic way back when, which I disagreed with, as the scale of that book wasn't huge).
Also, an 'epic' suggests to me something that there's going to be a lot of scope to the book. The Stand takes place over a period of time, but UTD only takes place in a week or so. I really wondered which direction this book was going to go in - how would it end? Would King revisit the characters in 20 years time - see how they've got on? How cool would that be...? Er, well no...it doesn't happen.
And finally, I'd read in the Blaze foreword that King had worked on an early epic called The Cannibals - how good does that sound?? - and I thought Under The Dome was his new version of that novel. Would these people start eating each other??? Er, no...
So anyway, onto the book itself. It starts off okay enough. King knows a good trick - similar to Cell, hit the ground running. As the 'zombie' plague manifests in Cell, in UTD, we get instant accounts of the Dome going down and injuring/killing different people. It's actually a cool intro, and some of the old-people deaths are quite amusing...but this is also where the major problem of the book rears its ugly head - TOO MANY CHARACTERS! Here is my impression of the first 100 or so pages:
'...Jim walks in. John walks out. There's Andy. He's with Joan. They walk out. Now here's Rusty...'
That's how it feels!! And the characters aren't really that entertaining. Some of them do strike a chord. I liked Rusty, Julia and Thurston... But 'main guy' Barbie did annoy me - he's a very standard King protagonist - and I'm glad he disappeared for most of the book's middle third.
Worst character though, is Big Jim. A complete panto villain - there's just nothing to him. It's a little bit embarrassing. His son, Junior, is not much better either. Oh, so-and-so is in our way, let's kill them. Oookay.
And another problem with the novel - I really wish it had been set in the past, to make the town feel more isolated. Because it's in the present day, the army immediately get involved and a media circus starts (apparently). This kinda makes it a bit less believable that people would just go around murdering people willy-nilly. I mean, in this day and age, what would happen in this situation - reality TV show of course! Cameras would be set up everywhere! It would be the latest phenomenon!
The pace of the novel is all off too... This is a big problem for SK of late. He needs a harsher editor. Lisey's Story almost put me in a coma. It's sooo sloooow!!! UTD gets really tedious at times. And yet, when things actually happen at the end, it's over really quickly! Could SK not be bothered?
- The gang-rape scene - yes, human horror is the most horrific, yadda yadda, but Mr King, that was just really nasty. And to turn it into a 'clever' scene with the 'Nyuk Nyuk' references - just too nasty. The character's arc was interesting though.
- If the dome just lifts off at the end, this suggests it's just half a dome - so couldn't they tunnel underneath? King doesn't make the slightest effort to explain any of this to the reader, which is a bit insulting. (And I've mentioned elsewhere that the Dome has ridiculous similarities to other Dome-related stories, like the Luna Bros' excellent Girls comic and even the Simpsons movie).
- The ending - things take a turn for the drastic in the last 100 pages or so. On the one hand, it just doesn't ring true that things would go tits up so quickly, and also it just seems incredibly cruel what happens to the town members.
So all in all, King still hasn't got his old magic back and he still needs a really good editor. There's a good book in Under the Dome somewhere, King just didn't deliver it.