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  • Jeff Somers 2:30 pm on 2019/09/27 Permalink
    Tags: , , no other worlds, , summer of stephen king,   

    Stephen King’s The Institute Sidelines the Multiverse for Real Life 

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    Stephen King has made a career out of surprising us. Just when we had him pegged as a horror specialist, he veered off into more literary territory.

    After a near-death experience and a premature retirement announcement, he launched into the most productive period of his life.

    And just when he’s got us conditioned to look for connections to the King multiverse links in everything he writes, he drops The Institute, a novel that seems sure to be a perfect throwback to his ’80s heyday, crammed full of overt references to other King books featuring nefarious government scientists carrying out unspeakable experiments—but which actually stands (almost) entirely alone.

    Classic King

    The Institute initially seems like a slam-dunk for multiverse tie-ins—its bones are the stuff of classic Stephen King. The extended opening of the novel, which tells the rambling story of Tim Jamieson, a former Florida cop trying to figure out his next steps after losing his job under a cloud of controversy, has the unhurried pace and character focus of King’s small town-centric novels like Needful Things or The Tommyknockers. When we leave Tim working as a “night knocker” for the small local police force in DuPray, South Carolina, we pick up the story of Luke Ellis, an off-the-charts brilliant kid with a touch of telekinesis. Just as Luke is making plans for early entry into the Ivy League, his parents are murdered and he’s kidnapped and brought to the titular Institute, where he and other kids with mild telekinetic and telepathic abilities are imprisoned and experimented on—echoing both the psychic kid at the center of The Shining and the nefarious government agency that produced the pyrotechnic tyke on the run in Firestarter. Likewise, King centers this story on children—their fierce, surprising courage and sense of loyalty—such that the moment you meet the ragtag crew locked up in the Institute, you can’t help but be reminded of It.

    Real World Links

    But no: King swerves away from the intricate universe he’s been building for the last few decades and writes a robust, thrilling story that is focused on a slightly askew version of our own reality, and taking the opportunity to comment on some of its darkest parts. This is a story about the imprisonment and torture of children, after all—kids in cages, to rip a term from the headlines. Luke and his fellow exceptional kids are subjected to endless indignities—tests, injections, surgeries, and light beatings designed to jolt their mental powers into high gear. The staff at the Institute, with one exception, regard them less ass humans and more as lab animals, employing a combination of violence and bribery to keep them in line. Good behavior earns the kids tokens that can be used for candy, drugs and alcohol, or limited computer access. Obstinante behavior earns them a slap—or a whole lot worse.

    Eventually, the kids can look forward to graduating from the Institute’s relatively comfortable “Front Half” to the mysterious “Back Half,” from which no one returns. The parallels to the current refugee crisis in America—the novel’s children are being held in pseudo-prisons and treated like their humanity is inconsequential—are impossible to ignore. The potential links back to King’s larger fictional universe (the most obvious being whether the Institute is connected to or an evolution of the Shop from Firestarter and The Stand) are left out in favor of foregrounded links to our own all-too-real one.

    The Deep State

    As he’s condemning adults for treating their charges at the Institute poorly, King also takes care to position children as our best hope for a better future. As an author, he’s always displayed an immense faith in children—their innocence, their innate morality, and their inherent power—and he leans into that theme here (the novel is dedicated to his grandchildren). Like the genial sociopaths working at the Institute, it’s easy for us to forget Luke Ellis is a genius as he descends into the madness of the facility and becomes numb to its constant abuse and emotional exhaustion. As Luke loses the friends he’s made to Back Half one-by-one, he uses the new abilities the experiments have unlocked within him to risk a daring escape, and it doesn’t feel like too much of a spoiler to say that, should he make it, he’ll need the help of trustworthy adults to help those left behind (there’s a reason the novel begins with Tim’s story, after all).

    To say more would be revealing too much, but the ending, when it arrives, is unexpected and cathartic—and then King offers a sobering twist that puts a whole spin on the entire story, forcing you to question your own assumptions and attitudes. The fundamental question at the novel’s core isn’t about the poor treatment of specific people—even children—but one of fundamental morality: what are we willing to do to others, or to allow to happen to others, in order to keep ourselves safe?

    If The Institute doesn’t link into the King Multiverse (a vague mention of the town of ‘Salem’s Lot is its only relation to the author’s larger body of work), it seems the decision was made with sobering intent. It’s too easy, sometimes, if we’re reminded that what we’re reading is only part of a story.

    The Institute is available now.

    The post Stephen King’s <i>The Institute</i> Sidelines the Multiverse for Real Life appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Joel Cunningham 1:00 pm on 2019/09/04 Permalink
    Tags: audibooks, constant listeners, , summer of stephen king   

    Explore the Many Worlds of Stephen King—With Your Ears 

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    At Barnes & Noble, the past few months have been, for us, the Summer of Stephen King. As we eagerly anticipate the arrival of Stephen King’s new novel The Institute, we’ve been spending our days celebrating the many worlds King has created.

    One of the pleasures that shouldn’t be forgotten is that King novels don’t just make for darkly magical reading: they also make for marvelous listening.

    Here are excerpts from three of King’s most compelling works that are as thrilling in audio as they are on the page—and often in an entirely different way.

    Misery, 1987

    Doctor Sleep, 2013

    11/22/63, 2011

    And if you’re a King fan, don’t miss our podcast limited series King of the Dark—a journey through the most enthralling of Stephen King’s imaginative worlds with special guests Louis Peitzman and Liz Braswell—starting with his explosive debut Carrie and working up to the present day. Listen to the first episode here:

    And you can find all the episodes of King of the Dark here—the series is still ongoing, even as summer wanes.

    The post Explore the Many Worlds of Stephen King—With Your Ears appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • BN Editors 5:00 pm on 2019/08/26 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , summer of stephen king,   

    Don’t Miss It: An Excerpt from Stephen King’s Upcoming Novel The Institute 

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    Stephen King’s new novel, The Institute, is a riveting story with echoes of some of his greatest and most terrifying themes—from telekinesis, to children confronting forces of unfathomable evil. We’re thrilled to share an excerpt with our readers.

    The Institute Synopsis:

    In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did. In this most sinister of institutions, the staff is ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. As each new victim disappears, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.

    As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of ItThe Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.

    The Institute Excerpt:

    With the essay included, the SAT test lasted four hours, but there was a merciful break in the middle. Luke sat on a bench in the high school’s lobby, munching the sandwiches his mother had packed for him and wishing for a book. He had brought Naked Lunch, but one of the proctors appropriated it (along with his phone and everyone else’s), telling Luke it would be returned to him later. The guy also riffled through the pages, looking either for dirty pictures or a crib sheet or two.

    While he was eating his Snackimals, he became aware of several other test-takers standing around him. Big boys and girls, high school juniors and seniors.

    “Kid,” one of them asked, “what the hell are you doing here?”

    “Taking the test,” Luke said. “Same as you.”

    They considered this. One of the girls said, “Are you a genius? Like in a movie?”

    “No,” Luke said, smiling, “but I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night.”

    They laughed, which was good. One of the boys held up his palm, and Luke slapped him five. “Where are you going? What school?”

    “MIT, if I get in,” Luke said. Which was disingenuous; he had already been granted provisional admission to both schools of his choice, contingent on doing well today. Which wasn’t going to be much of a problem. So far, the test had been a breeze. It was the kids surrounding him that he found intimidating. In the fall, he would be in classes filled with kids like these, kids much older and twice his size, and of course they would all be looking at him.

    One of the girls—a pretty redhead—asked him if he’d gotten the hotel question in the math section.

    “The one about Aaron?” Luke asked. “Yeah, pretty sure I did.”

    “What did you say was the right choice, can you remember?”

    The question had been how to figure how much some dude named Aaron would have to pay for his motel room for x number of nights if the rate was $99.95 per night, plus 8% tax, plus an additional one-time charge of five bucks, and of course Luke remembered. It was a slightly nasty question because of the how much factor. The answer wasn’t a number, it was an equation.

    “It was B. Look.” He took out his pen and wrote on his lunch bag: 1.08(99.5x) + 5.

    “Are you sure?” she asked. “I had A.” She bent, took Luke’s bag—he caught a whiff of her perfume, lilac, delicious—and wrote: (99.5 + 0.08x) + 5.

    “Excellent equation,” Luke said, “but that’s how the people who make these tests screw you at the drive-thru.” He tapped her equation. “Yours only reflects a one-night stay. It also doesn’t account for the room tax.”

    She groaned.

    “It’s okay,” Luke said. “You probably got the rest of them.”

    “Maybe you’re wrong and she’s right,” one of the boys said. It was the one who’d slapped Luke five.

    She shook her head. “The kid’s right. I messed up the fucking tax. I suck.”

    Luke watched her walk away, her head drooping. One of the boys went after her and put an arm around her waist. Luke envied him.

    One of the others, a tall drink of water wearing designer glasses, sat down next to Luke. “Is it weird?” he asked. “Being you, I mean?”

    Luke considered this. “Sometimes,” he said. “Usually it’s just, you know, life.”

    One of the proctors leaned out and rang a hand bell. “Let’s go, kids.”

    Luke got up with some relief and tossed his lunch sack in a trash barrel by the door to the gym. He looked at the pretty redhead a final time, and as he went in, the barrel shimmied three inches to the left.

    The Institute is on B&N bookshelves September 10.

    The post Don’t Miss It: An Excerpt from Stephen King’s Upcoming Novel <i>The Institute</i> appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Sam Reader 5:00 pm on 2019/08/15 Permalink
    Tags: back home in derry, , , stephen king's it, summer of stephen king   

    A Look Back at It, Stephen King’s Dark Fairytale for Grownups 

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    Many books have been likened to “a fairytale for adults.” It’s a phrase usually meant in a literal sense—a way to indicate the presence of mature themes within a familiar storybook milieu, or signaling that the author is telling a dark, violent story set in a lyrical fantasy world. But It, Stephen King’s vast horror epic about childhood fear, the terrors of growing up, and the rot lurking under suburban nostalgia, earns the descriptor on its own terms.

    It is certainly in the fairytale mold—it accounting of a group of children fighting a nightmarish child-eating trauma monster could be straight out of the Brothers Grimm, minus a few embellishments and the modern setting. But it’s also very much for adults—though far too many of us read King at what is probably far too young an age. There’s a maturity and melancholy to It, though those sensations only really only come through with age. It’s not a book for younger readers so much as it is a book for older readers about being young, and about how youth inevitably reshapes, twists, and fades. 

    There’s a certain sense of loss that only comes with the realization that the past is a foreign country, as memories begin to dim and warp with the passage of years. It’s something that has to be felt to be understood—a sadness unique to the world of adults, and perhaps to that of those children unlucky enough to have faced life-changing trauma that split their lives into a “before” and “after.” It’s the sadness of knowing things were, and then they weren’t; that things have a different meaning now than they did then.

    In a very visceral way, It is as much about loss and memory as it is about a murders and a monster. It’s no coincidence that the straggly group of kids it follows refer to themselves as the Losers’ Club—it’s not only their attempt to take the insult back from the bullies who throw it at them, but a symbol of the fact that each of them has suffered a measure of loss—be it an abusive home life or horrific racism. It’s their trauma that draws It to them, and causes It to target them again and again. It’s trauma that pushes them together and ultimately makes them uniquely qualified to take the fight to It. 

    In many ways, the novel is a dark mirror of the traditional coming-of-age fantasy in which a nascent hero matures into their role, faces a great evil, and ends the journey triumphant—the world saved, the bad people dead, and magic very much alive. At the close of the Losers’ Club’s quest, the monster is indeed dead. But the town It poisoned with its evil is also literally collapsing around them, and all that’s good gets swallowed with the bad. The trauma is stared down and defeated, but with it go the memories of Derry and the deep bonds the heroes have formed. In the end, they all forget.

    It ends with the magic fading away, with Bill taking one last ride on his childhood bike, to accomplish one last feat with the magic the town has left. The final strands connecting the weird, dark fairytale of adolescence and the more grounded, downbeat melancholy of adulthood finally snaps. Now grown, Bev’s must still deal with the fallout from her abusive husband; Mike’s still got to live in Derry’s ruins (and finish his book). The glass walkway between the children’s library and the adult library that so enchanted Ben when he was younger is shattered for good. 

    But it’s the best the Losers can possibly achieve. They win out against their childhood nightmares, and are allowed to move past them. They don’t necessarily forget everything (later King books show that after Derry is rebuilt, the Losers’ Club donates a statue to the town), but they forget enough. They leave all of it—good and evil—behind. As the memories fade, as the trauma fades, they get a chance to live their own lives. They’re finally on the other side of the work, even if they can’t remember what that work was. There’s loveliness in that loss. There’s a wistful beauty to that ending. Beyond merely surviving their fight, greatest thing the broken members of the Losers’ Club could hope to achieve is a measure of closure, and they get it. 

    The bittersweet melancholy of their triumph forms the book’s emotional core. It’s also what makes it (makes It) such an enduring classic. The first time you read it, it’s about a bunch of kids coming together to face down a nightmare. Pick it up again in a few decades, and it becomes the story of broken adults finally dealing with the loss that comes with growing up and growing older—accepting the painful fact that the past is only going to fade further and further into the background. In It, Stephen King finds a soft, secret, vulnerable spot hidden within all of us, and slides a story into it like a stiletto. Forget scary clowns—this is a book that will make you scared of growing up. You just won’t know it until it’s too late.

    Why do you think It endures?

    The post A Look Back at <i>It</i>, Stephen King’s Dark Fairytale for Grownups appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 2:00 pm on 2019/08/14 Permalink
    Tags: , other worlds than these, , summer of stephen king,   

    10 Times Stephen King Altered Reality 

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    If there’s another living author as powerful as Stephen King, we can’t name them (and don’t say James Patterson—we’re pretty sure he’s actually some sort of advanced artificial intelligence). King has been more or less the unquestioned lord and master of freaky fiction for four decades and counting, and also seems to be the source material (or blatant inspiration) for at least 19 percent of all film and television being produced today. What’s more, he apparently has the power to shifts reality around himself using just the power of his words.

    What’s that? You didn’t realize Stephen King could manipulate his own reality? Well, consider his recent announcement that he’s going to provide a new ending for the latest adaptation of The Stand—we’re talking about altering literary canon, and that’s no joke. And it’s not the first time he’s done something similar. Consider:

    The Time He Created a Whole Other Person.
    Stephen King in the 1970s was almost as much of a juggernaut as he is today, sales-wise. But he was also younger and on a lot more drugs, which means he was often casually writing novels in his sleep. His publisher was worried about saturating the market, and King himself was worried that his success was more about marketing than talent, so he invented an alias, Richard Bachman, that would allow him to publish more than one book a year and to see if he could write his way to success without the King brand. Thanks to the efforts of an unusually observant bookseller, the charade didn’t last long enough to answer King’s question, but it did establish Bachman as a defined persona—whom the author abruptly “killed off.” King played further with the idea that Bachman was a real person by introducing the concept in his novel The Dark Half and crediting his 1996 novel The Regulators (marketed as a “mirror” novel to Desperation) as a lost Bachman work.

    The Time He Rewrote The Stand.
    The Stand is a big book. The manuscript that King originally delivered to his publisher would have been almost 1,200 pages long, and his publisher blanched at the idea of selling a pricey book that would require a hand truck to carry home (remember, this was way before digital books were a thing), even from an author as successful as King was in 1978. They convinced King of the limitations of the market, and he dutifully—if a bit unhappily—edited the book down to the relatively trim 823 pages that comprised the first edition. A few years later he also updated the time period of the novel from 1980 to 1985 to keep it fresh. Tellingly, a lot of the material he cut from the book was skillfully and surgically removed, and no one noticed anything amiss in the original version.

    The Other Time He Rewrote The Stand.
    By the time the 1990s rolled around, it was clear King was no mere flash-in-the-pan, but a genuine literary phenomenon—meaning he finally had the clout to get all that material he cut from The Stand reinstated—or most of it; he did make a slew of new revisions and trimmed some of the excised material down to a (slightly) more manageable length. Some of the other changes he made involved updating the time period again to the 1990s, sprinkling in references to pop culture that hadn’t existed in the late 1970s. The mammoth 1,152-page “director’s cut” does improve a few aspects of the novel, offering a deeper exploration of the character of Frannie that delivers an emotional payoff, and revising a few head-scratching choices (like changing Larry Underwood’s inexplicable disco career to a more timeless blues-rock style), but ultimately, the extra material doesn’t fundamentally change the novel. One thing it did allow King to do was make the connections to his emerging shared universe more explicit—including a coda featuring Randall Flagg (as Russell Faraday) waking up after the disaster in Las Vegas.

    The Time He Made a Book Disappear.
    Not every author has the ability to erase mistakes. Stephen King originally wrote Rage, a story about a student who holds his classroom hostage, in 1965 when he was 18 years old. He published it in 1977 under the Bachman pseudonym because he could literally publish anything at that point. King grew to view the book as juvenilia over the years, and was happy to see it slide out of print, but it remained as part of the Bachman Books omnibus collection. But after a series of school shootings in the 1980s and 1990s, however, King realized that the world of 1965 was much different from the world he was then living in. He contacted his publisher, and Rage literally disappeared from the world—it was taken out of print and it isn’t coming back. Good luck finding a copy!

    The Time He Rewrote The Gunslinger.
    The Stand isn’t the only book that King has substantially revised. He began writing the original version of The Gunslinger in 1970, and published it in five parts in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction between 1978 and 1981. The novel was finally published in full in 1982, but that version is very different from the one you’ll likely find on the shelves today. In 2003—after the publication of sequels The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, and Wizard and Glass—King revised the book, changing the language and tone to match the later volumes, to retcon in explicit links to his shared universe (including combining all of Roland’s antagonists into one person), and to set the stage for what was to come in the final three volumes of what had come to be known as The Dark Tower saga, which were published in rapid succession. Where the revision of The Stand was mainly about the addition of material, the revision of The Gunslinger makes it into a very different book.

    The Time He Backwards-Engineered a Whole Shared Universe.
    Speaking of that shared universe we’ve been mentioning, it has bloomed into one of the most complex and fascinating literary projects of all time, linking almost all of King’s various works into a single mythology. But it’s not like King knew he was doing this back in 1965 when he started writing; it evolved over time. But the laws of physics can’t contain Stephen King: he’s managed to cleverly fold even his older books into the King-o-verse by incorporating their characters and events into later novels—and in meaningful, thematically relevant ways at that. Take, for example, the character of Father Callahan, who flees ‛Salem’s Lot in disgrace at the end of that novel. When he pops up in The Wolves of Calla 25 years later, it’s not just a case of shared universe fanservice; it provides a memorable character with a wholly redemptive arc, enriching his appearance in the earlier novel. (See also the skillful way he turned The Talisman into a de facto spinoff of The Dark Tower, decades after the former was published.)

    The Time He Threatened to Remove Himself from His Shared Universe.
    King famously inserted himself into his imagined reality via the Dark Tower series—and not just as a character, but as a major linchpin of the plot, even incorporating his own true-life experience of being hit by a van and almost killed. This is usually a make-it-or-break-it moment for readers of the books; some folks find it thrillingly brilliant, some find it kind of self-indulgent (especially when King starts communicating with the characters through the words on the… well, spoilers). King has long talked about the extant Dark Tower novels as being “first drafts,” and in dire need of a revision. One thing he’s teased is removing himself from the books entirely. What this would mean for the story we can’t say, since he’s pretty integral to the endgame at this point—but we are dying to see who might portray King in the new streaming television adaptation, assuming it gets that far.

    The Time He Tried to Replace a Stanley Kubrick Classic.
    Some writers get bent out of shape when adaptations change aspects of their stories. King, in fact, got very bent out of shape when Stanley Kubrick adapted The Shining into the film starring Jack Nicholson. To be fair, King’s complaints aren’t nuts—Kubrick more or less reinvented the story, shedding almost all of King’s subtext and interpreting the character of Jack Torrance and the haunted hotel he inhabits in vastly different ways. Not entirely in agreement with the consensus that a work of cinematic genius had been crafted from his source material, the author worked hard to make people forget all about the Kubrick version, even agreeing in writing to never criticize the film in public again in exchange for getting the film rights back so he could produce his own version. he resultant 1997 television miniseries version was extremely faithful to the text, if inarguably not as artfully cinematic as Kubrick’s version. But how many authors would have even gotten the chance to try to make us forget about “Heerrrree’s Johnny!”?

    The Times He Made Changes To His Stories Canonical.
    While King’s reaction to Kubrick’s The Shining resulted in a rare fit of pique from the author, most of the time King is jazzed about smart changes to his material. When the film version of his novella The Mist ended with what may be the blackest, most soul-chilling denouement in cinematic history, he was quick to admit that it was a superior conclusion, one he wished he’d come up with. In fact, aside from the The Shining, King has a habit of endorsing the creative decisions of filmmakers who adapt his work, thereby making them just as legitimate as the original endings in the books. Maybe he learned his lesson?

    The Times He Reinvented Himself as a Literary Novelist, and a Crime Writer, and…
    Most authors fall into a genre slot early in their careers and stay there. Sometimes they make attempts to break out  and write something out of character—but often they fail to redefine themselves, and go back to the well soon enough (King even sketched out a version of this trajectory in the career of Misery‘s fictional writer protagonist Paul Sheldon). King, however, apparently decided one afternoon he wasn’t just a horror writer: he was a literary writer. The result? Stuff like The Body and Lisey’s Story. Later on, King decided he was also a crime fiction writer, gifting us with great novels like The Colorado Kid and Joyland, not to mention crime-horror fusions like the Bill Hodges trilogy and The Outsider. King has also found success in fantasy (The Eyes of the Dragon) and non-fiction (On Writing, Danse Macabre). If, one day, he decides to kill it in epic poetry or space opera, we’ll will be lined up to read those books too.

    Have we forgotten other times King changed his reality?

    The post 10 Times Stephen King Altered Reality appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

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