“What we’ve got here is a lunatic genius ghost-in-the-computer monorail that likes riddles and goes faster than the speed of sound. Welcome to the fantasy version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
Roland, The Last Gunslinger, moves ever closer to The Dark Tower of his dreams and nightmares as he crosses a desert of damnation in a macabre world that is a twisted image of our own. With him are those he has drawn to this world: street-smart Eddie Dean and courageous wheelchair-bound Susannah. Ahead of him are mind-rending revelations about who and what is driving him. Against him is arrayed a swelling legion of foes both more and less than human….
This is the book where I didn’t read it when it was initially released. Well, I began reading it, yes, back in 1992 when I received a trade paperback edition as a gift; however, around that same time I began sliding into the point in my history where I stopped reading fiction in general because of…reasons. One day I shall go into these “reasons” in depth, but for now, that’s just going to have to do. Needless to say, I got to about the part when Roland and the Ka-Tet (which is a great band name idea, by the way) encounter a giant cyborg bear. I’d say SPOILERS, but chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve read the book as well and know what I’m talking about. That’s the point when I closed the book and said, “I’m good,” and put the book away, to be lost with the other books that I had turned my back on in that time period. The 1990s was a wacky time for me.
It wasn’t until 2010, when I decided to read all of the Dark Tower books in succession when I read The Waste Lands in its entirety. Being a bit older, and a bit…well, I wouldn’t go so far as saying “wiser”, but for want of a better word and all, I found myself enjoying this third entry in the Dark Tower series far more than back when I first attempted to do so.
Here in The Waste Lands, after running into said giant cyborg bear (which turns out to be one of the Guardians of the Six Beams that are tied into the Tower), they get a bead on the path to the Dark Tower, and head out into Mid-World. There, it’s found out that, due to Roland’s actions in The Drawing of the Three, he’s created a paradox in reality, wherein certain events in The Gunslinger have been retconned out of reality, but Roland remembers both that reality and this reality. Eddie is inspired to carve out a key that would open up a door between Roland’s world and the New York in our reality, and let Jake through, joining the quest. Along the way, they encounter a Billy-Bumbler who also joins the gang, and then Jake gets kidnapped by a bunch of post apocalyptic city dwellers lead by a guy named the Tick-Tock Man. Then they all climb aboard a high-speed bullet train with sentient AI and an acute case of psychosis who wants nothing more than to exchange riddles and jokes while deciding whether or not to kill them. Also, they’re headed towards Kansas. The end.
The Waste Lands was, for all intents and purposes, a continuation of The Drawing of the Three, wherein more is revealed about Roland’s world, and the final members of his Ka-Tet completes the group: Jake and Oy, the billy-bumbler that is described as a kind of racoon/dog hybrid with a high level of intelligence. The adventures in this installment are a bit darker, especially when they arrive in the run-down city and Jake is almost immediately kidnapped by the locals. Then there’s the psycho train they climb into at the end, which will lead into the next book and leaves things in quite a cliffhanger.
Overall, the story in The Waste Land was necessary to the narrative, but seemed to cram a lot into a small area to accommodate the story. There were points where it was in danger of going completely off the rails, no pun intended. Regardless, a rather interesting continuation of the overall tale.