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  • Jeff Somers 2:00 pm on 2019/08/14 Permalink
    Tags: , other worlds than these, , , the dark tower   

    10 Times Stephen King Altered Reality 

    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.

  • Omar L. Gallaga 3:00 pm on 2019/07/30 Permalink
    Tags: , gwendy's button box, hearts in atlantis, hey he's walkin' there, , , the dark tower, ,   

    The Man in Black: The Most Memorable Appearances of Stephen King’s Most Reliable Boogeyman 

    He’s a shadow, a magician, perhaps a demon. But you must admit, he’s got style.

    Longtime readers of Stephen King’s many novels have encuntered Randall Flagg by many names and in many guises since he first appeared as a major character in 1978’s super-flu book The Stand. He’s been the Dark Man, the Walkin’ Dude, Marten Broadclock, and the Ageless Stranger, among many monikers. All of Flagg’s various personas have this in common, though: they are bad news—shadowy agents of chaos and evil who come to tempt or destroy King’s good-hearted protagonists. Flagg doesn’t always succeed, but he’s never wholly defeated either; more than four decades on, he continues to be a presence in King’s writing and on-screen adaptations, played most recently by Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey.

    Here are a few of Flagg’s most memorable appearances:

    The Stand
    While he was alluded to in earlier works by King, The Stand marks Flagg’s coming-out party. He appears even as Captain Trips, a devastating flu virus, reduces the world’s population to a small number of survivors. Flagg, sporting jeans, cowboy boots, and a denim jacket, tempts the weak and evil to journey to Las Vegas in preparation for a Biblical good versus evil battle involving a nuclear warhead and many, many pages of text. Even when he’s ultimately defeated by his opposites in the flock of a good-hearted 108-year-old woman named Mother Abagail, it’s not the end for Flagg, who, in an epilogue added to the 1990 extended edition, reemerges as one “Russell Faraday” on a tropical beach somewhere and begins to assemble a new band of followers.

    The Eyes of the Dragon
    Known here as just “Flagg,” he’s an evil magician providing untrustworthy counsel to the doomed King Roland. It is Flagg’s betrayal that sets in motion the story of this 1986 novel, whoch offers King’s kid-friendly (ish) take on the epic fantasy genre. He murders the queen, poisons the king, and frames the heir to the throne, Prince Peter, for the deed. Trading his jeans for wizard’s robe, Flagg is portrayed as a more traditional, mustache-twirling fantasy villain. At the story’s end, Flagg is defeated, but not killed; he disappears and is pursued by Prince Thomas and his servant Dennis, only to show up many more times in King’s other series of fantasy books…

    The Dark Tower series
    Flagg is a big presence in the many books, comic-book adaptations, and even the film version of King’s sprawling epic fantasy saga, appearing in multiple guises. As Walter, he is the man who has an affair with Roland the Gunslinger’s mother, setting in motion the downfall of the capital city Gilead. The series literally begins with Roland in pursuit of Flagg, hell-bent on a mission of revenge from the very first line: “The man in Black fled across the Desert, and the Gunslinger followed.” Roland will lose his soul and maybe even his sanity in this pursuit for Walter/Flagg, whom he hopes will lead him to the Dark Tower, the nexus of all universes. Over many individual pieces of fiction set in King’s Mid-World, Flagg has appeared as multiple characters, all serving the Crimson King (though originally they weren’t all intended to be the same character, King clarified matters in a revised edition of The Gunslinger published in 2003). As Walter O’Dim, he appears to be killed before he can take over the highest level of The Tower, but it doesn’t stick.

    Hearts in Atlantis
    A minor appearance to be sure, but in King’s collection of interconnected Boomer Generation novellas, Randall Flagg is mentioned as Raymond Fielger, the leader of a cult responsible for a bombing at a military recruitment office. Chunks of the book—particularly the first story, “Low Men in Yellow Coats”—are closely connected to the Dark Tower universe, to a degree that plot elements of book seven, The Dark Tower, will prove confusing to readers who’ve never read it; it provides essential backstory on the schemes of the saga’s overarching adversary the Crimson King, whom Flagg serves as a loyal (until he isn’t) lieutenant.

    Gwendy’s Button Box
    Is Randall Flagg getting soft in his old age? As portrayed in this story of a young girl in possession of a gifted box that can change world events, Flagg appears as Richard Farris, who seems less of an evil monster than simply a representative of elusive forces young Gwendy Peterson couldn’t hope to understand. In the ways that Farris advises, helps, and even seems to admire Gwendy’s innocence, Farris shows King (and co-author Richard Chizmar) imbuing Flagg with the most sympathetic and nuanced portrayal yet. Has Flagg simply been working to maintain the balance of good and evil in the world all this time—a necessary force of nature in a stew of predetermination? We might get more answers in the follow-up, Gwendy’s Magic Feather, a sequel due out from Chizmar in November.

    What’s your favorite incarnation of the Man in Black?

    The post The Man in Black: The Most Memorable Appearances of Stephen King’s Most Reliable Boogeyman appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2018/01/12 Permalink
    Tags: bag of bones, black house, , , cell, christine, cujo, cycle of the werewolf, delores claiborne, desperation, dreamcatcher, duma key, , , , from a buick 8, , , , joyride, lisey's story, mr. murder, needful things, rage, , , rose madder, , , stephen king books, stephen king books ranked, , , , the dark tower, , , the regulators, the running man, , , , the tommyknockers, under the dome   

    A Definitive Ranking of Every Stephen King Novel Ever 

    Stephen King is a literary icon, a status he’s achieved by a) defining a genre; b) writing brilliantly; and c) being prolific. In other words, not only has Stephen King written some genius novels (and short stories, novellas, essays, and works of criticism), but he’s written a lot of them—49 novels to date, in fact, with number 50 coming up shortly.

    Note, however, the use of the word “some” up there. While we’d argue that King has never written a bad novel, there’s certainly a spread. We don’t just read the books so you don’t have to, we also rank them so you don’t have to. Without further ado, here’s how we see the novels of Stephen King—from absolute genius to, well, not so genius.

    To Be Determined: The Outsider

    King’s newest novel is due out in May, 2018. What do we know? We know it involves the brutal murder of a small boy, and that a mountain of physical evidence pointing to a beloved schoolteacher and family man as the killer. King loves stories about exploring the dark side of a person, but we’ll have to wait and see what he does with the plot this time around. After all, it’s never as simple as that.

    49. The Tommyknockers

    King has been open about his past drug abuse and other issues, and admits he wrote this book while high as a kite. It shows. Oh lord, does it show. Somewhere under the heart-pounding, jittery self-loathing, there’s a fascinating germ of an idea—alien artifacts (including an entire spaceship) are compulsively unearthed by folks in a small town, with disastrous results—but the only term that really fits the final product is “hot mess.” Though an immanently readable hot mess.

    48. Rage

    There’s a term for a writer’s early work: juvenilia. This novel was King’s first, and was later published under the Bachman pseudonym. The story of a teenager who murders two teachers and takes a classroom of students hostage, it’s quite simply not very good in comparison to what followed, filled with the sort of overheated writing that young authors often engage in while thinking they’re being provocative. After a rash of shootings at schools, King pulled this book from distribution, and it’s hard to find these days—and not worth chasing down, save out of curiosity or super-fandom.

    47. Rose Madder

    This messy novel reads like two separate stories merged together uncomfortably. In one, you have a realistic and brutal tale of an abused woman. In the other, there’s a magic painting that serves as a portal to another world. Even after the abused woman steps into said painting to flee her attacker, they never stop feeling like two separate stories.

    46. Cell

    We won’t say King phoned this one in (because that would be a bad pun), but it does almost read as a parody of his vintage work. From the flimsy premise—a mysterious pulse turns anyone caught speaking on a cell phone into a hungry, aggressive zombie—to the stiff dialogue, there’s not much to recommend here beyond some admittedly visceral thrills and the veiled references to The Dark Tower.

    45. The Regulators

    The mirror novel to Desperation is entertaining and has some moments of fantastic, chilling horror, but the premise (an autistic boy, assisted by the same evil entity that orchestrates the horrors of Desperation, gains the ability to alter reality in his neighborhood) wears thin by the end. What’s more, without the interesting parallels to its sister novel, The Regulators is much less interesting still.

    44. Dreamcatcher

    King wrote this alien invasion story shortly after he survived his famous accident, and it reads like a journal kept by a man in immense pain (and on a lot of painkillers). It’s the sort of body horror that can be—and frequently is— effectively creepy, but the verisimilitude actually goes too far, until you feel like you’re reading King’s private pain journal. On top of that, the self-consciously gross and hilariously-named monsters (literally called “sh*t-weasels”) come off as silly rather than scary. The less said about the ill-advised film adaptation, the better.

    43. Bag of Bones

    This isn’t a bad novel—in fact, it’s pretty darn good. If another writer had published it, we’d look on it more fondly. But since it was written by King, you can’t help but notice that it’s in just about every way a retread of themes, motifs, and tics he’s explored before—and usually better. A good novel? Yep. A mediocre Stephen King novel? Double yep.

    42. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

    This is the story of a girl who gets lost in the woods with nothing but her portable radio, tuned to the Red Sox game. That’s it. As exposure and dehydration worsen her physically, she hallucinates a pretty horrific scenario, leading to a battle with the God of the Lost in which the terrifying creatures and events mirror the reality of her struggle to survive. It’s a slight story that now also suffers from being a bit dated—after all, Tom Gordon isn’t exactly a household name any more.

    41. From A Buick 8

    Use a high concept (a 1953 Buick Roadmaster abandoned at a gas station is not, in fact, a 1953 Buick Roadmaster, but some kind of doorway to another dimension that occasionally disgorges bizarre alien items or creatures) to tell a series of stories about it in a campfire/ghost story structure, and the result should be something great. While the individual stories are interesting, and the overall concept creepy, the lack of a definitive ending to it all undercuts the success of the novel.

    40. Joyland

    Another story as flimsy as it is pleasant, Joyland is basically a toothless coming-of-age narrative with just a hint of a mystery. It’s an enjoyable read, but doesn’t really stick with you, good or bad. It just is.

    39. Cujo

    Cujo has some great ideas, but is among the weakest of King’s earlier novels. While it sports his usual skill at depicting characters and setting, ultimately it’s a story trying to wring horror and tension from a rabid dog; while it’s well worth reading, it never quite leaps off the page the way some of King’s more successful books have.

    38. Blaze

    Blaze is a tough one to rank. It’s well-written and often engaging, but ultimately, the story of a brain-damaged con artist who kidnaps a wealthy man’s baby for ransom then bonds with the child is kind of weightless. There’s nothing “wrong” with it, it’s just a story you forget almost immediately, which is something you can’t usually say about King’s work.

    37. Dolores Claiborne

    Your mileage will vary on this one. Some fans rank it much higher. Told as a long, rambling monologue by the title character, it’s impressive that King can maintain such a unique voice for so many pages, but rock-solid technique aside, the story—while not uninteresting—is slow as molasses. Some readers thrill to the immersive experience and the slow-burn mystery, but others find it hard rowing.

    36. Doctor Sleep

    To say there was some excitement among King fans when a sequel to The Shining was announced would be an understatement. The book is actually less a sequel and more an update on the character of Danny Torrance—which is fine. Danny is more interesting as a supernaturally gifted adult than he was as a kid, but the antagonists are, in a word, weak. You might read “spiritual vampires” and think otherwise. You would be wrong.

    35. Finders Keepers

    The middle novel of King’s Mr. Mercedes trilogy is a pretty good procedural yarn that ties into the first novel in interesting ways, but then sets up the third book in a clunky, heavy-handed fashion. Te reason it’s not a few ticks higher on this list is mostly because King engages in some rare lazy plot work, making a few things happen simply because he needs them to in order for the plot to hang together. King almost never cheats, so it really hurts this one.

    34. Duma Key

    The story of an artist who loses an arm and gains the ability to affect events through his paintings, there is much to love in this lush and often frightening novel. But it’s also rambling and a bit overlong. A tighter edit would push it up this ranking.

    33. The Colorado Kid

    When you’ve written as much as King, experiments are inevitable and laudable. This straightforward crime novel is an experiment that takes a decent if not particularly riveting story and ruins it, because it’s a mystery that is never resolved. According to King (and we believe him) that was the whole point, but while we give him credit for the artistic ambition, it renders the book frustrating.

    32. Cycle of the Werewolf

    Each chapter in this illustrated novel is a self-contained story that links with all the others to form the narrative. It’s a pretty straightforward werewolf story about a small town terrorized by one of the creatures, whose true identity is worked out by a wheelchair-bound boy—but it’s very well handled, and the unusual structure elevates it.

    31. Roadwork

    A truly underrated novel, and one of the few full-length novels King wrote that has absolutely zero supernatural or horror ingredients. It’s the story of a broken man served with an eminent domain buyout from the city, which intends to build a highway through his neighborhood, and his increasingly violent efforts to resist. It’s pretty intense novel, with a gut-punch of an epilogue, and has actually become more relevant as time has marched on.

    30. Lisey’s Story

    There is some great stuff in this novel, centered on the widow of a brilliant novelist as she reflects on their relationship and private and unique language while dealing with the emergence of repressed memories and the very real threat of a super-fan stalker who goes from threatening to violent. While King’s rumination on the inner workings of a relationship is interesting, there’s far too much of it in here, and the supernatural aspects feel tacked on. That said, at its core, this is a very good story, and certainly one of the most unusual in King’s oeuvre.

    29. The Running Man

    An early novel published under the Bachman pseudonym, The Running Man depicts a dystopia centered on an insane gameshow—this time having the contestant hunted by professional assassins on live television. It’s one of the most action-packed of all King’s novels, more of a thriller with a fantastic premise than anything else—but it’s a tightly written, gripping sci-fi story that has aged very well.

    28. Under the Dome

    King fans argue about this one a lot, but in many ways, it’s classic King. The premise is elevator pitch-ready (a town discovers that an impenetrable, invisible dome has suddenly appeared, cutting it off from the rest of the world), the characters are vividly imagined and (mostly) realistically drawn, and the payoff is one of the more clever and imaginative ones he’s ever engineered.

    27. Desperation

    Another of King’s ambitious experiments was the simultaneous publication of Desperation (under his own name) and The Regulators (under the Bachman pseudonym), with the books telling stories set in parallel universes that share characters and other elements. Of the two, we rank Desperation much higher: the tight, claustrophobic atmosphere of its premise—people traveling a lonely highway are pulled over and kidnapped by a possessed police officer and imprisoned—is a creepy and effective.

    26. End of Watch

    The final book in the Mr. Mercedes trilogy nudges the story into the supernatural, as the serial killer Mr. Mercedes has acquired some limited mental abilities that allow him to manipulate people and objects from his coma-like state. It’s a genius move, elevating the story beyond its need to wrap up the story and tie off the loose ends.

    25. Mr. Mercedes

    King’s efforts to evolve as a writer have produced some great work. While Mr. Mercedes, the first of a trilogy of crime novels, isn’t perfect (some of the characterizations are a bit thin and clichéd, as if King were aping other crime novels or TV shows) it’s tense, pivoting on a serial killer (who opens the story by running down innocent people in a Mercedes, hence his moniker) who taunts a retired police detective with his plans to kill again and again.

    24. The Dark Half

    Some of the best stories have very simple concepts. This one is razor-sharp: a writer finds that the pseudonym he’s been writing under has become much more real—and independent—than should be possible. And his dark half is doing terrible things. The psychological richness of this idea, especially considering King’s own history with pseudonyms, combined with the tightness of the writing put this one in the middle of the pack.

    23. Black House

    When King and Straub wrote The Talisman, King’s multiverse was still more of a notion than a firm concept. Its sequel, however, ties Jack’s story of parallel universes firmly to King’s Dark Tower saga, as an adult Jack whose memories of his earlier adventures have been repressed slowly realizes a serial killer plaguing a small town is actually an agent of the Crimson King. Jack retains his rare ability to flip between universes, and must reluctantly take on the task of saving not just his own, but all of them. It’s a rare example of a sequel that updates and matures its characters, themes, and universe in equal measure.

    22. Revival

    Revival is one of King’s best recent efforts—a chilling and unique work of horror that hits all the right buttons. A beloved minister loses his faith and pursues experiments in “secret electricity” that enable him to heal almost any affliction (with terrible side effects). He creates an experiment in order to communicate with the afterlife—and comes to the awful realization that the afterlife is a hell in which enormous, ancient monsters enslave and torture all humans, no matter what kind of lives they led. It’s bleak, depressing, and a fantastic read.

    21. Sleeping Beauties

    Co-written with his son Owen, this 2017 novel supports a high-concept premise (women begin falling into a supernatural-like sleep, becoming cocooned in a gauzy material, and react violently to attempts to wake them) with a rock-solidly realistic world to support it. The key to many of King’s best ideas is the futility of fighting against forces you have no control over; in this case, the women’s efforts to stay awake indefinitely has that rough-edge of pure terror that propels this novel into the top-half of King’s work.

    20. Christine

    If you stop to think about it, it’s remarkable King could take a hoary old premise like “haunted car goes on killing spree” and somehow generate a thoughtfully scary novel from it—but Christine is so much more than the sum of its parts. Tapping into the excruciating pain of being gross and unpopular in high school, King transforms adolescent rage into a universally horrifying experience.

    19. Needful Things

    The first part of this story is just King gleefully turning the crank, bringing the tension to an almost unbearable level before unleashing hell. A simple concept—a magical store where your darkest desires can be acquired, for a hidden and terrifying price—is elevated into a commentary on humanity, society, and the craven nature of people’s inner lives. When it’s casually parodied on Rick and Morty, you know you’ve written an all-time classic.

    18. Gerald’s Game

    Another choice that will likely spark some arguments, Gerald’s Game is one of King’s least supernatural horror stories, finding its terror in helplessness. The genius comes in the levels of helplessness King explores, ranging from the helpless sense of being trapped in a relationship, to the helplessness experienced by victims of child abuse, to the literal helplessness of being tied to a bed in a remote, deserted location. There’s a reason this book inspired one of the best King film adaptations of all time.

    17. Thinner

    Another Bachman Book, the premise for this thriller is so sharp and simple you can sum it up in one elevator pitch-ready sentence: a selfish, overweight man kills a gypsy woman and escapes justice, but is cursed by her father to grow ever thinner, no matter how much he eats. That’s it. It’s that simple. As the man steadily loses weight, his desperation grows to frightening levels. The richness of this plot, full of dark symbolism for modern-day America, remains powerful—and the blackly comic ending still packs a punch.

    16. Insomnia

    King himself regards the novel as something of a failure, but there are two reasons we rank this one, which is about a man who loses the ability to sleep and starts experiencing strange visions that might be more than simple hallucinations,  so highly. One, Insomnia is inextricably linked to The Dark Tower series, and could even be regarded as an essential part of it, in a sense—it features the first mention of the Crimson King, in fact. Two, it’s a daring and ambitious story, exploring some of King’s most stunning concepts with a real emotional punch, and a classic King premise involving a character who loses control of their own body.

    15. The Long Walk

    You know your writing career is going well when you’re forced to invent a secret identity in order to publish all the books you’re writing. The Long Walk, another one of the infamous Bachman Books, was The Hunger Games before The Hunger Games, except reduced to its most brutal basics—a group of young people are forced to walk until all but one of them is dead. It remains a surprisingly effective dystopian thriller.

    14. The Eyes of the Dragon

    While King is still often described as a “horror writer,” he’s been exploring other types of stories throughout his career. In this fantasy, King shows that he can craft a devious plot using any tropes at hand, and displays the same sort of worldbuilding prowess that has made The Dark Tower books so powerful.

    13. The Talisman

    Another transporting fantasy entry. Many of King’s stories involve children; the limited agency and mystification with adult concerns enhances the terror of his bogeymen and grants a level of verisimilitude to some of his more fanciful concepts. Co-written with Peter Straub, this story of parallel universes, which can be traversed if your twin in the other universe has died, centers on 12 year-old Jack. Jack seeks to cure his mother’s terminal cancer by locating a magical talisman, leading him through several dark and dangerous adventures that add up to one of King’s most satisfying stories, though the blatant homophobia throughout does dull its sheen, three decades on.

    12. Firestarter

    Ultimately, many of King’s best stories deal with primal forces, forces that are so terrifying in part because we can’t control them. Nothing is more primal than a child’s simple view of the world, when coupled with her immature impulse control—especially when that child has the power to set just about anything on fire with her mind. This one gets overlooked even by long-time fans, but a reread will remind you of its unadorned storytelling genius.

    11. Pet Sematary

    One of King’s greatest strengths as a writer is his ability to zero in on fundamental human experiences—like the loss of a beloved pet, the powerful yearning we all experience when we lose any creature that we care for, the state of fear parents live in for their children’s safety. What would you do to bring something—or someone—back? King asks that question and then offers a story that could have been kind of silly, but makes it absolutely terrifying when the magical titular spot does indeed bring the dead back to life—except different.

    10. The Green Mile

    One of the most successful of a string of King “publishing experiments,” The Green Mile was originally released as a “serial novel” in six installments. It’s the story of a mountainous, simple-minded black man named John Coffey, who in 1932 arrives on death row at a penitentiary nicknamed the Green Mile, having been convicted of murdering two white girls. King masterfully mixes issues of race, sadism, and mercy into the story as Coffey’s innocence becomes clear in parallel to the realization among some of the more compassionate guards that he has incredible empathetic and healing powers.

    9. ‘Salem’s Lot

    King is the consummate artist who respects what came before and builds on it. Raised on old-school vampire stories, his take on the story incorporates all the classic tropes, from the slightly insane vampire’s assistant to all the old rules involving sunlight, permission to enter, and seduction—and gives them all a modern twist that still feels fresh and frightening, even four decades after its publication.

    8. 11/22/63

    King’s career is so long, he’s been through several phases, like any artist. 11/22/63 is part of a late-career surge (still ongoing) of particularly strong, character-focused work. Time travel has been done so often in sci-fi it’s difficult to find a fresh angle, but King managed it using one of his trademark techniques: the inexplicable Mystery Spot located in a nondescript location. Tied to the Kennedy Assassination (still one of the most seismic events in U.S. history), the story morphs into a tragedy so subtly the reader barely understands why they find the ending so powerful.

    7. Carrie

    King’s first huge success is a relatively simple story that touches every reader in a universal sore spot: the hell of adolescence. King shows his talent for identifying pain points and exaggerating them just enough to make them terrifying, from Carrie’s humorlessly religious mother to her effortlessly cruel peers, building up to that classic moment when a suffering girl with strange powers makes everyone regret how they’ve treated her.

    6. The Stand

    The sheer scope of The Stand meant it was either going to be a tremendous success or a messy failure; not only does King offer up dozens of characters and settings, he tells an apocalyptic tale that starts off as a plague story and transforms into a biblical battle between good and evil. Even after he released the expanded version, replacing much of the material excised during the original editorial process, the story still hangs together perfectly, setting a multi-genre bar for success few writers could ever hope to clear.

    5. Misery

    If there’s a King novel that’s familiar to folks who don’t read King on the regular, it’s Misery, the story of a popular but conflicted writer who winds up in the clutches of his highly unstable biggest fan. Here, King perfected his technique of wringing true terror from scenarios that have nothing to do with vampires, ghosts, or ill-defined alien technologies—and everything to do with the fact that hell is other people. Crazed reader Annie Wilkes may be the most compelling villain he’s ever created, and that’s saying something.

    4. The Dead Zone

    King is at his strongest when his characters and story are rooted in a realistic world populated by regular folks—regular folks who just happen to be dealing with incredible circumstances. The Dead Zone, in which an unwilling psychic sees a terrifying vision involving an unstable politician, is the Platonic ideal of such books. As a bonus, it’s a surprisingly current book for the political present.

    3. The Dark Tower Series

    The eight novels that make up King’s multi-dimensional science fantasy epic vary a bit in quality, displaying a sag in the middle that’s surprisingly common for multi-book SFF series. But few would argue that the first three or four are mesmerizing, and the final book brings everything back to such a high level that the averaged score for the series, which tells the circular quest of the world’s last Gunslinger on a quest to reach the titular Dark Tower, the axis on which all worlds (including those depicted in many other Stephen King books) turn, puts it near the tippy-top of his massive oeuvre.

    2. It

    It can be surprisingly divisive, partially due to its epic length and partially due to a specific scene that was pointedly left out of the film and television adaptations (and thank goodness, because: gross). For our money, though, It is King tapping into the collective childhood terrors that we all share and generating a literary nightmare that finally made the world face it’s chief threat: clowns. That, and memorable characters and a palpable sense of place have made it a book that endures, and will continue to do so.

    1. The Shining

    The Stephen King Top Ten could be argued up and down, but there’s little doubt that The Shining—his most parodied, most famous, twice-adapted novel—is always going to be a contender for the top slot. We rank it number one because it’s in many ways the ideal King novel, the novel scientists would create if they sought to grow a King novel in the lab. Every theme, flat-out terrifying moment, and character is 100% Stephen King working at the height of his powers.

    What’s your number one King?

    The post A Definitive Ranking of Every Stephen King Novel Ever appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Ross Johnson 5:00 pm on 2017/02/07 Permalink
    Tags: before i fall, everything everything, , muder on the orient express, , the dark tower   

    16 Books Coming to the Big Screen in 2017 

    Books have been a significant inspiration at the movies since the earliest days of the cinema. We’re never less than thrilled (if, perhaps, trepidatious) when we learn our favorite novel is being adapted into a film, because when it all comes together in just the right way, it’s glorious, breathing a second life into a beloved book. Here are some major books coming to the big screen in 2017.

    A Dog’s Purpose, by W. Bruce Cameron (January 27)
    Just a glance at the cover of this book will get the tears flowing, but that’s dog stuff for ya. W. Bruce Cameron’s beloved 2010 bestseller follows Toby the dog (the first of several names he answers to), who experiences life over the course of several reincarnations. Each time, he comes a little closer to discovering his true purpose. The book is sweet and inspiring, but bring tissues to the theater. Lots of tissues.

    Fifty Shades Darker, by E.L. James (February 10)
    Why not start the filmgoing year off with a little bit of light kink? Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan return as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey for the adaptation of the second book in E.L. James’ naughty (no judgments) trilogy. In Darker, Ana and Christian resume the relationship that ended so abruptly in the previous entry, this time under Ana’s rules. The final entry, Fifty Shades Freed, arrives in 2018.

    Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver (March 3)
    Zoey Deutch stars in the adaption of Lauren Oliver’s 2010 contemporary YA with a speculative twist. It follows Sam Kingston, a 17-year-old who is killed in a car accident only to wake up the next day with another chance to live her last day on earth right. This happens again and again, with each new day moving Sam closer to figuring out what she’s supposed to do. It’s a dramatic take on Groundhog Day for a new generation.

    The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes (March 10)
    Good reviews already abound for this adaption of Julian Barnes’ award-winning 2011 novel (the film has been screened on the festival circuit). An appropriately tony cast has been assembled to tell the story of a love triangle that cascades through decades, as seen through the eyes of retired loner Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent). Charlotte Rampling, Dame Harriet Walter, Emily Mortimer, and Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery round out an impressive slate of actors.

    Ghost in the Shell (March 31)
    Manga/anime megafranchise GITS is finally making its way to live action, following the 1995 animated feature that brought the story of public-security agency Section 9 to a broad audience. It’s an action story that digs deep into themes relating to individuality in a technological world, ideas that are more relevant than ever—if the new movie goes there. The casting of Scarlett Johansson as the protagonist of the Tokyo-set story has already generated some controversy, so we’ll see.

    Wonder, by R.J. Palacio (April 7)
    R.J. Palacio was inspired to write her 2012 children’s novel of the same name by a real-life incident. Encountering a girl with a facial birth defect, Palacio’s attempts to prevent her son from reacting negatively wound up creating a much more awkward set of circumstances. The book and film tell the story of Auggie Pullman, a young man who has spent years in and out of hospitals and is now going to school for the first time. Julia Roberts heads up the cast.

    The Lost City of Z, by David Grann (April 21)
    In 1925, explorer Percy Fawcett went missing in the Amazon along with his son while searching for a fabled lost city. His doomed quest inspired dozens of other explorers, many of whom also disappeared while searching for Fawcett himself. David Grann wrote his 2009 nonfiction book after having undertaken his own expedition, uncovering new evidence of the explorer and his lost city. Charlie Hunnam stars in the adaptation.

    The Circle, by Dave Eggers (April 28)
    Eggers’ 2013 book brought Brave New World into the 2010s with the story of Mae Holland (Emma Watson), a young woman who gets a dream job at The Circle, an internet company bringing all of your online activity together in one place, under one single identity. The suspenseful, satirical novel tackles heady themes of privacy and the utility of memory in an online world (so, relevant). The movie boasts an impressive cast of favorites: Watson, John Boyega, Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan, Patton Oswalt, Glenne Headly…oh, and Tom Hanks. Could be one of the year’s prestige pictures.

    The Dinner, by Herman Koch (May 5)
    English speakers are finally getting their own adaption of Herman Koch’s 2009 novel (there are already Dutch and Italian versions). The bleakly comic story is centered around the titular meal, during which Paul Lohman (an unreliable narrator in the book, played in the film by Richard Gere) and his wife converse with his politician brother about how to handle a violent crime committed by their sons, one they know about but that hasn’t yet been made public.

    My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier (July 14)
    The works of Daphne du Maurier have been a reliable source of cinematic inspiration for decades (Rebecca, The Birds, Don’t Look Now), and this 1951 novel has itself been the subject of a couple of adaptions. My Cousin Rachel is very much in the mold of Rebecca: a romantic mystery set on a grand estate along the Cornish coast. A young man falls in love with his cousin while encountering evidence that her motives may be less than pure.

    Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon (May 19)
    Nicola Yoon’s touching 2015 debut novel is about 18-year-old Madeline, confined to her home for her entire life as a result of an immune disorder. She lives with her mother, but otherwise inhabits a world entirely bounded by the walls of her house. Until a new family moves in next door, and she begins an online friendship with the son, Olly, that develops into a long-distance romance from the next house over.

    Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (July 21)
    Prolific director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, Lucy) is directing his passion project: an adaption of the French science fiction comics series Valérian and Laureline, by Pierre Christin. On the surface, it’s about a couple of time-and-space-traveling agents in the 28th century who protect Earth and guard against temporal paradoxes. A little deeper down, the series can be deeply political. We’ll see how much of that comes across onscreen. If nothing else, it looks pretty.

    The Dark Tower, by Stephen King (July 28)
    Intriguingly, it appears that the long-rumored, long-desired adaption of Stephen King’s fantasy/western/horror/sci-fi series won’t be an adaptation at all. The first film set in the world of King’s gunslinging knight Roland Deschain is actually a sequel to the book series, following 11-year-old Jake Chambers as he follows a mystery that leads him to Mid-World, and to an encounter with Roland himself (played by Idris Elba). We’ve met Jake in the books, but it sounds as though the goal is to provide a new story for fans and an entry point into King’s elaborate fictional universe. It’ll be a neat trip if it works. Scuttlebutt is that the film might be followed up by a prequel TV series in the next couple of years, making King’s magnum opus into a true multimedia franchise (there are graphic novels, as well).

    It, by Stephen King (September 8)
    Stephen King’s 1986 novel about a group of friends who band together to fight a murderous interdimensional being has already been the subject of one indelible adaption: the 1990 TV miniseries starring Tim Curry as the killer’s preferred form, Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Along with the book, that one made an entire generation afraid of circus makeup, so it’ll be interesting to see what this new adaption brings to the table.

    The Mountain Between Us, by Charles Martin (October 20)
    Idris Elba and Kate Winslet star in this romance-cum-disaster story based on author Charles Martin’s 2011 bestseller. He’s a doctor on the way to perform a scheduled surgery, and she’s a writer going to her own wedding. A rushed charter flight ends in chaos when the plane crashes into the wilderness of northern Utah, forcing the two strangers to face weather, isolation, and injuries together.

    Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie (November 22)
    The story has been adapted any number of times for film and television, but Agatha Christie’s (maybe) most famous novel (with the second most famous twist) always makes for cracking good viewing. Kenneth Branagh directs this version and stars as persnickety Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot, leading an appropriately all-star cast of suspects. Sounds like it’ll be a bloody good way to kick off the holiday season.

    The post 16 Books Coming to the Big Screen in 2017 appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

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