Book Review: 2001 A Space Odyssey

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Book Review_ 2001 A Space OddyssyArthur C. Clarke
New American Library
1968

“The thing’s hollow, it goes on forever…oh my God! It’s full of stars!”

In the year 2001 an alien artifact is found on the moon. Tracking its radio signal in outer space, an expedition is launched with mysterious, haunting results.

Well, here’s a rather daunting task. Try and tie down my thoughts on the classic Sci-Fi novel 2001: A Space Odyssey. You can see my dilemma, I’m sure: Much has been written about the book, as well as the even more famous Stanley Kubrick movie of the same name that was the result of both him and Clarke creating both the movie and the book together in tandem. Thesis papers, analytical books that make up several volumes, entire web pages have dedicated millions of words expounding on the nature of a book that, for all intents and purposes, was only a couple hundred pages or so. So, what does some pseudo-journalist wannabe like myself have to add to this mountain dedicated to one of the greatest yarns in Science Fiction to come out of the 20th Century?

Eh, nothing important. Or interesting, I would presume. Only that I recently got around to reading this, and now I must share my thoughts on the whole matter. Because that’s what I do. It’s my gift, it’s my curse.

So, my introduction to 2001: A Space Odyssey was probably like how hundreds if not thousands before me had experienced it: by watching the movie. In my case, it was a late night showing on a local PBS station. I was all of 13, and had heard of the movie by way of my Junior High English teacher talking about the general plot of it in class. That’s also how I got into Stephen King, if you recall. I remember watching it, feeling two things: confusion and boredom. Of course, this was also my first exposure to the cinematic stylings of Stanley Kubrick, so that reaction from my young self is to be expected. Unfortunately, because of that, it took me a very long time to finally look into the classics in science fiction literature, mostly because I was afraid I wouldn’t understand or get a lot of it. Of course, now is a different story. But, I digress.

I happened to purchase the first book in what would eventually become the Space Odyssey series of four, along with the three sequels at the same time, at the local 1/2 Price Books in Omaha. I figured, why not get all in one shot, read them in tandem, and see what happens. And so I did. And I’m just now getting around to sweep my brain droppings into manageable piles about these. So, on to the first one, shall we?

To start, I have to say that, while I’m not a fan of having to do homework to really enjoy a movie, having finally read 2001: A Space Odyssey, a lot of questions that I had despite multiple viewings of the movie since that night in Grandma’s basement were given an explanation. For instance, the whole Primate section shed a bit of depth into the inner thoughts and fears of the primates, and goes a bit further into the actual function of the mysterious monoliths in a way that was kind of lost in the movie. And that is about the only time I’m going to do that comparison between the two mediums, I promise.

So, essentially the story of 2001: A Space Odyssey deals with questions of the history of modern man, where we came from, how we came about, life, the universe and everything. And it looks like the answer can be boiled down to one word: Aliens. Or, in this case, the mechanisms of aliens. Or something like that. Anyway, after an extended look at the primates and how they got all smart and stuff, we flash forward a few million years, to “modern” times, and another monolith was found on the moon, which lead to an expedition to Saturn, where another monolith was found floating around.

Yeah, I should point out that Clarke was working with a version of the movie script idea that had Saturn as the planet, instead of Jupiter. It was fixed in the future books without any explanation as to why, beyond “the stories take place in parallel realities”. And this is the very, very last time I’m going to compare the two mediums. I pinkey swear.

While taking readings on the floaty black rectangle thingie, the ship’s AI begins to have a crisis of sorts due to contradictory programming, starts killing off the crew, leaving one alive to shut down the computer, and in the final moments of the book decides to take a shuttle pod directly into the monolith. It’s here where he discovers one of the functions of this monolith, and is ultimately transformed into an immortal Star Child that, disappointingly doesn’t look at all like David Bowie.

So, overall, having finally read this novel, I do have to admit that it wasn’t nearly as confusing as I initially thought it was going to be way back when. I had no doubt about it now, being older and having a bit more sci-fi reading experience under my proverbial belt. This is maybe the second Arthur C. Clarke novel that I’ve read, and so far his style seems to be a good bridge between the classic Hard Science Fiction stories and the more fantastical style of sci-fi that everyone is used to nowadays.

Yeah, that last sentence didn’t sound condescending at all. Look, despite what your thoughts on the movie are, at least give the book itself a chance. You’ll be surprised. And those of you who already have (several times, I’m sure) and think this “review” of mine is way off base, well…I’m really not as smart as you are, I guess.

Book Review: HELL HOUSE

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Book Review HELL HOUSERichard Matheson
Tor
1971

For over twenty years, Belasco House has stood empty. Regarded as the Mount Everest of haunted houses, it is a venerable mansion whose shadowed walls have witnessed scenes of almost unimaginable horror and depravity. Two previous expeditions to investigate its secrets met with disaster, the participants destroyed by murder, suicide, or insanity. Now a new investigation has been mounted, bringing four strangers to the forbidding mansion, determined to probe Belasco House for the ultimate secrets of life and death. Each has his or her own reason for daring the unknown torments and temptations of the mansion, but can any soul survive what lurks within the most haunted house on Earth?

One of the books that seems to be on everybody’s list of Top (ENTER NUMBER HERE) List of Horror Novels, not only from regular horror literary geeks, but from some of the bigger names in horror fiction. Notably, I read Stephen King refer to it as “one of the most brain-freezingly frightening haunted house novels of the 20th Century…”. That carries a bit of weight for me, as far as recommendations on what to snuggle up with on a dark and chilly night, to tantalize my imagination. Which also had the adverse effect of being a bit daunting to actually pick up and read. Not because it would be “too scary”, but like every other thing I’m hesitant to read, what if it turns out to be not as good as my brain hyped it up to be?

Fortunately, that didn’t stop me from picking up a copy of Hell House and reading it. My copy, with the cover art itself in the upper part of this review, is one of the many reprints that have been made of this, in case you’re some how curious about things like what was on the cover printing. I wouldn’t know why, but I’m sure there are people like that out there. Anyway…

As far as haunted house stories go, I have to admit that I agree that Hell House is one of the better ones written. If you’re familiar with Richard Matheson’s style of writing, then you know that he doesn’t necessarily write straight horror stories. He has said as much himself. They are horror, yes, but there’s also a heavy dose of science fiction that ties it down a bit more to earth rather than the supernatural. That isn’t to say there wasn’t a lot to cause my skin to crawl and want to turn on more than just one lamp while reading this, mind you. Such is Matheson’s style.

The story of Hell House involves a very old, very rich man hiring four people in different specified areas of research to investigate an old mansion that is rumored to be the site of many depraved orgies and debaucheries and death, and is now considered one of the most famous of haunted houses in the world. The old man wants to find out, once and for all, whether the nicknamed Hell House really is haunted, and if so by what, or if there’s actually a rational scientific reason behind the failed investigations done decades prior. To this end, he has hired a scientist and his wife to assist, a spiritualist, and a survivor of a previous investigation into the house that ended in a deadly disaster, who is tormented by his psychic abilities. Together they will stay inside the house for several days, attempting to determine if there really is something sinister behind the building’s facade, or if it’s something else with foundationally speaking. See what I did, there? I made architectural jokes. Yeah, whatever. Anyway, things start going wacky pretty much on the first day they arrive at the house, and everyone struggles to keep from going mad while sorting out the mystery behind the house itself. Or, you know, try not to die doing so.

This being written in the very early 1970s, there’s a bit more of, shall we say, an adult orientation to the story. And by that, I mean there’s a rather violent scene featuring necrophilia at one point, as well as some squeamish descriptions of possession and poltergeist manifestations going on. Add in some rather effective dark Gothic imagery with the house, and you really do have a spine-chilling supernaturally-tinged Gothic ghost story mystery that doesn’t end on a very up note.

I understand that there’s a movie adaptation made of this. I haven’t seen the movie, or even sought it out. But, I am glad I got around to reading Hell House, and seeing why everyone seems to hold it in high esteem. Recommended reading, my fellow horror hounds.

Book Review: FULL DARK, NO STARS

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Book Review FULL DARK, NO STARSStephen King
Scribner
2010

Stephen King excels at telling stories. That’s pretty much the basic gist of it, I guess. He’s been telling stories in many different formats over several decades, which means he’s capable of telling tales that manage to break the bounds of the genre that most have pigeonholed him in. Which, I guess, is my lame way to start off this review for his third collection of novellas to have been published, Full Dark, No Stars.

The four stories collected here lean more to the hard-boild crime chiller type of stories that, had this been a different time, probably would have been published under King’s former pen name Richard Bachman. But, before I get too far, let’s take a look at the individual stories contained herein, shall we?

“1922”
…a Nebraska farmer writes a confession/suicide note detailing the bad year he had in 1922. It’s a murder chiller that plays out like a classic story from the old EC Comics thrillers of old.

“Big Driver”
…this was a hard one for me to get through, mainly due to the subject matter of a woman who is raped and gets her revenge on the culprits. The whole violence against women thing makes me sick to my stomach; regardless, this was a good hard-boiled revenge thriller with…well, I wouldn’t say a “happy ending”. Would that even be possible ever again?

“Fair Extension”
…the shortest story in this collection, it would be a stretch to call this a novella, given that it’s just a skosh over thirty pages. And for whatever reason, I pictured Jason Alexander (of Seinfeld fame) playing the part as the Devil in this story. Anyway, kind of a darker Twilight Zone type of story, where a guy who’s had nothing but bad luck happens upon someone who can give him a new lease on life, for a certain price.

“A Good Marriage”
…a wife’s long-time and idealistic (if not a bit hum-drum) marriage existence gets shaken to the core when she accidentally finds out her husband might be a notorious serial killer. Pretty tense, and the ending is straight out of a Columbo mystery.

Overall, the collection within Full Dark, No Stars aren’t so much supernatural horror, so much as hard boiled thrillers from the same vein as the EC Comic and the Alfred Hitchcock pulp magazines. Obviously, there’s going to be a touch of the supernatural style, mostly with “A Fair Extension”; most of the horror, though, is derived from regular everyday people finding themselves in a very non-regular and dark situation, where there’s no hope of coming out unscathed. Like I mentioned earlier you might say these are Richard Bachman stories that King just decided to put his regular name on.

I really should note that two stories from here have already been made into movies: “Big Driver”, which was made into a Lifetime movie, and “A Good Marriage”. And there’s been news of “1922” being made into one as well. I haven’t watched any of the two movie adaptations, and probably won’t any time soon. As far as reading the book goes, yeah, no regrets doing so. It’s a Stephen King book for certain. What more can I say?

Book Review: The THRAWN TRILOGY

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Timothy Zahn
Bantam Spectra
1991-1993

As long as I’m getting the novels that I have read a long, long time ago (see what I did, there?), I might as well knock one out on the Thrawn Trilogy of novels that I read, most in part due to my friend introducing me to some of his favorite Star Wars characters, both from the movies and the Expanded Universe. And while now, in the post-Disney acquired Star Wars that we have, most if not all of the previous Expanded Universe stories have been rendered glorified fan-fic, in the case of one Grand Admiral Thrawn, things are a bit different.

Back in the early 1990s, interest in Star Wars was waning from what it was in the 1980s, mostly due to lack of movies and general tie-ins to keep the momentum going. With the release of this trilogy, Star Wars fans were introduced to a character that was never in the Original Trilogy of movies–Grand Admiral Thrawn, a remnant of the now-defunct Imperial Empire. Suddenly, a character that was never in the movies, nor had a toy made out of him became a fan favorite, and more or less revitalized the Star Wars franchise, at least in the Expanded Universe form.

And thus it was, in the early days of the 21st Century, my friend Nex lent me his copies of the Thrawn Trilogy, to introduce me to one of his favorite characters, and I obliged by reading them. And here’s my belated assessment of what I did thus read:

book-review_-star-wars_-the-thrawn-trilogy-1Book One: HEIR TO THE EMPIRE
It’s been five years since the second Death Star went boom, and along with it the Empire was shattered and the New Republic arose from the smoke and ash. Well, metaphorically speaking, give or take. Leia Organa is married to Han Solo, and they’re expecting twins. Luke is working to re-establish the Jedi, and everyone is working to mop up the remaining Imperial remnant while making sure everyone in the galaxy plays nice. Unfortunately, there’s one hold out that’s causing problems to the fledgling government, one Grand Admiral Thrawn, a high-ranking and brilliant tactician, and one of the rare non-human officers in the Imperial fleet. Thrawn spends time gathering a bunch of critters called ysalamiri, which cancels out the Force within a short radius, and in the process runs into and recruits a mad Jedi by the name of Joruus C’baoth, whose only request is to have Thrawn obtain Luke and Leia so that he may train them in his vision of the Force. Meanwhile, Han is trying to recruit fellow smugglers to help with rebuilding the Republic with much-needed cargo transport, Thrawn launches a bunch of hit-and-run offensives in New Republic territory, Luke gets stranded on a planet and encounters the Wild Karrde, the official smuggler ship of one Talon Karrde, the guy who is supplying Thrawn with the ysalamiri. On board is Mara Jade, who kinda sorta has a hate-on for Luke for reasons stemming from her time as Emperor Palpatine’s assassin tasked in eliminating Luke Skywalker. Leia experiences a bunch of kidnapping attempts by the Noghri, an alien species that can be described as Golum if trained as ninja assassins. Most of these attempts fail, but since they’re persistent little buggars, they manage to come close to succeeding…until the one that nearly gets her stops suddenly for no apparent reason before slapping it into “B” for “Boogie” and splitting. Meanwhile, Lando has his newest operation invaded by Thrawn, and Admiral Ackbar is arrested on Coruscant on charges of treason. To be continued…

book-review_-star-wars_-the-thrawn-trilogy-2Book Two: DARK FORCE RISING
Grand Admiral Thrawn now has full access to Emperor Palpatine’s private storehouse on the planet Wayland, and he begins planning for a massive attack against the New republic. Part of the plan is to find the fabled Katana fleet, a fleet of highly automated Dreadnaughts that were constructed in the days before the Clone Wars, that went missing after the crews went mad due to a virus, slaved the controls to each other, and sent them all into hyperspace, never to be heard from again. Until now, it appears. Seems a former Republic Senator that Han and Lando try to recruit in their fight against Thrawn has a few of those particular Dreadnaughts in his own fleet. Meanwhile, Joruus C’baoth summons Luke to the planet Jomark to train him, with Mara Jade still trying to take him out. Leia and Chewbacca take their captive Noghri back to his planet, where it’s discovered that previously the Empire made promises to restore their ecosystem when in actuality they were keeping them oppressed to do their bidding. Leia seems a bit squicky about being referred to as “Lady Vader”, but she does have Vader’s scent due to her being his daughter and all. Luke then manages to escape and join up with Lando and Han with securing the Katana fleet, although Thrawn had captured all but 15 of the Dreadnaughts. To be continued…

book-review_-star-wars_-the-thrawn-trilogy-3Book Three: The LAST COMMAND
Grand Admiral Thrawn has a bunch of Dreadnaughts now, and he launches his offensive against the New Republic. Along with the might of his newly commandeered fleet, he uses certain highly effective deception techniques that result in the capture of several planets back into the Imperial Empire. He then manages to immobilize Coruscant by cloaking a bunch of asteroids. Meanwhile, due to an Imperial raid on one of their meetings, the Smuggler Alliance decide to join in the fight against the remnant of the Empire, rather than stay on the sidelines. Mara Jade joins up with Leia and Han in stopping their twins from being kidnapped for Joruus C’baoth, who really wants to turn them to the Dark Side. Luke, Han, Lando, Chewie and Mara–along with some help from the Noghri and a couple of local alien races on Wayland–where they rig the cloning facility to go boom. They face off against C’baoth, who seems to have cloned his own Luke (going by the name of Luuke, because that extra “u” should help differentiate against the actual Luke, I guess) by using the hand that was lopped off of him in The Empire Strikes Back. That pesky thing. Mara kills Luuke, and thus fulfills the Emperor’s orders on a technicality. The Republic then organizes an assault on Thrawn, who nearly pulverizes the fleet, but then gets assassinated by the one Noghri he kept on board. All the Imperial forces retreat, and later Luke gives Mara Jade his first lightsaber (which came with the hand) and invites her to train as a Jedi.

Overall, I do remember a goodly portion of the Thrawn Trilogy from when I originally read them. They all were engaging, and managed to stick inside my brain for all this time. It is amazing that the popularity of Thrawn is such that Disney has added him to their own Star Wars canon within the show Star Wars Rebels. Even though the Thrawn Trilogy has been regulated to Legends status, it is a rather intriguing yarn, one that doesn’t feel as bloated as it could have been with three novels. Very much recommended.

Book Review: STAR WARS: The Bounty Hunter Wars

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K. W. Jeter
Bantam Spectra
1998/1999

Back in the magical year of 2001, I was in the midst of reading the vast array of Star Wars novels that my friend Nex had in his personal library. I was something of a Star Wars novice at the time, and he was picking out certain Expanded Universe stories that I would probably enjoy. This was long before Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars, and consequently declared all of the Expanded Universe stories null and void. And since up to that time Boba Fett was essentially that character that said a few things, took Han Solo to Jaba, and then was swallowed by a giant sand pit creature, but for some reason was massively popular for many Star Wars fanatic. Which included Nex. So, in the course of a few days, I took the Bounty Hunter Wars trilogy of novels and read them, taking in what was said was going to cement why Boba Fett was such a cool badass. Did it do as such? Let’s go through the three books and find out, shall we?

book-review_-star-wars_-the-bounty-hunter-wars-1Book One: The MANDALORIAN ARMOR
Book One in the Bounty Hunter Wars trilogy opens with Dengar (that one bounty hunter on Darth Vader’s super star destroyer in Empire Strikes Back, with the turban) sifting through the wreckage of Jabba the Hutt’s barge for something valuable, when he comes across a very dead-looking Sarlacc, and then a still-alive Boba Fett. Seems Fett was able to blast his way out of the Sarlacc, and he’s a bit worse for wear. So, Dengar takes Fett to a nearby cave to nurse him back to health. Then we have a flashback to about the time between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, where an independently-minded Fett gets the drop on a Bounty Hunters Guild assignment, and delivers it to an arachnid go-between that gave Fett the counter-assignment. Fett is then given his next contract: join the Bounty Hunters Guild and take it down from within. Meanwhile, in the present time, the head of an Imperial ship building yard wonders if Fett is really dead, while a lady suffering from a bit of amnesia really, really needs to talk with Fett. Then we flash back to Fett successfully joining the Guild, despite some objections by Bossk (the lizard guy in Empire Strikes Back…who also says “damn straight” a lot), and then there’s a meeting between the Emperor and Darth Vader with crime boss Prince Xizor, who apparently was the one who gave Fett the contract to take down the Guild by joining in a plot to trim the fat, as it were. To be continued…

book-review_-star-wars_-the-bounty-hunter-wars-2Book Two: SLAVE SHIP
Back in the present, the Imperial ship yard is experiencing a bit of a coup, while Bossk is stranded on Tatooine after Boba Fett plants a fake bomb on his ship and takes it, Dengar and that amnesiac lady along for the ride. To pass the time, Dengar tells the tale of the Bounty Hunters’ Guild split: seems after Bossk killed (and eaten) the head of the Bounty Hunter’s Guild (which happened to be his father), the Guild split into the True Guild, which comprised of the older members, and the Guild Reform Committee, which was made up of the younger bounty hunters, and headed up by Bossk. Meanwhile, the Empire allows the head of the Black Sun to continue weeding out the weaker bounty hunters and leaving the strong ones to be hired by the Empire, by way of a bounty on a former stormtrooper wanted for the slaughter of his entire ship’s crew. This leads Boba Fett to team up with Bossk and Zuckuss to help capture said stormtrooper, leading to Fett to double cross his temporary partners to keep the bounty all for himself. Because he’s Boba Fett, that’s why. Fett delivers the bounty to a giant galactic spider; meanwhile, one of the galactic spider’s minions is plotting against his master with the head of Black Sun. To be continued…

book-review_-star-wars_-the-bounty-hunter-wars-3Book Three: HARD MERCHANDISE
In the present time, bounty hunters Zuckuss and 4-LOM takes down a gambler that wages on battles being waged during the Galactic Civil War; Bossk sets up shop in Mos Eisley to pawn off the forged evidence against the head of the Black Sun. In another flashback, Fett arrives at the Giant Galactic Spider’s lair with his bounty to deliver, only to almost get killed by the mutinous minion’s trap. The bounty is delivered, Fett is spared, and the Giant Galactic Spider is blowed up but good. Back to present time, Fett has returned to the ruins of the Giant Galactic Spider, does a bit of techno-necromancy to get some answers, only to be ambushed by the minion again. Fett then heads out to the Kuat shipyards, which is under siege. Answers to the mysteries surrounding who was trying to kill Boba Fett and the amnesiac slave girl are…answered, I guess, and then things blow up. The End.

Overall, while reading them (and finding them entertaining enough), I got the sense that maybe, just maybe, instead of spreading things out in three novels, things could have been narrowed down to two books easily. There’s a lot of bouncing around between flashback and the present day narrative, and while things didn’t get confusing because of that, there could have been a way to keep the past tale contained in one book, then continue on with the present day in the second novel. But, instead we got three books, written by the guy who wrote the extended novel sequels to the Blade Runner movie.

The Bounty Hunter Wars utilizes a lot of exposition, with a bit of action thrown in. That may be the standard for, say, a Star Trek novel, but for Star Wars, a lot of the enjoyment rests on the action. Also, Bossk says “Damn skippy” a lot. Didn’t think that was a general catch phrase for a reptile humanoid. The Giant Galactic Spider was a neat concept, I would pay to see more with that guy introduced back into the Disney-era Star Wars Universe.

In the end, although I did enjoy reading the novels at the time, when they ended, I found myself forgetting a lot of what I just went through. I managed to make myself remember to get a proper review done (I read them at a time when I wasn’t doing book reviews at the time…that came years later). If I utilized the Five Star rating system, I would give it three out of five. That’s being generous, though.

Book Review: The DARK TOWER

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book-review_-dark-tower-viiStephen King
Grant
2004

“Death, but not for you, gunslinger. Never for you. You darkle. You tinct. May I be brutally frank? You go on.”

The seventh and final installment of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower saga is perhaps the most anticipated book in the author’s long career. King began this epic tale about the last gunslinger in the world more than 20 years ago; now he draws its suspenseful story to a close, snapping together the last pieces of his action puzzle and drawing Roland Deschain ever closer to his ultimate goal.

The final book (in theory) of the long-going Dark Tower series, and this one’s a doozy. Strap in, this is gonna be a bumpy ride.

So, picking up where the last book left off, Jake and Callahan sieges The Dixie Pig, which turns out to be a vampire lounge that specializes in roast human flesh and features doors leading to their worlds. Because nightmare fuel really brings out the subtle nuanced taste of the brisket. Callahan ultimately sacrifices himself to save Jake from the inevitable vampire attack. Meanwhile, in the world of Fedic, Mia (having been separated from Susannah) gives birth to a bouncing baby boy…that can turn into a spider, which it does and immediately feasts on his mother. Susannah manages to escape Fedic back into the Dixie Pig and meets up with Jake and Oy, Roland and Eddie recruit a guy named John Cullum in Maine, then they all make their way back to Fedic. Walter/Randall Flagg is killed by the rapidly maturing baby/spider (going by the name of Mordred), while Roland and the gang get involved with freeing a bunch of psychics that are being used to weaken and break the beams that support the Tower. Eddie is wounded and dies, then Roland, Jake and Oy jump back to our world Maine 1999 and save Stephen King from getting hit by a minivan, only to have Jake killed by said van in his place. Roland and Oy meet back up with Susannah in Fedic, get chanced by a monster, and continue on to The Dark Tower. They meet up with another vampire, a psychic one, that makes them laugh a bit too much, they free his captive that had once appeared in King’s 1994 novel Insomnia, who can make his drawings come to life, and so Susannah has him draw a door out of this world, because she knows that Roland needs to finish his quest without her. Then Mordred (suffering from a serious case of the trots) attacks, killing Oy (quite the body count we’re racking up, Sir Roland), but then gets killed by Roland. The remaining two finally arrive at the Dark Tower, only to find it already occupied by the Crimson King. No worries, though, because Roland’s remaining companion manages to just literally erase the Crimson King’s existence, allowing Roland to enter the Dark Tower finally. Then we get a glimpse of how Susannah turned out, and if you keep reading, you end up right at the beginning of the upcoming Dark Tower movie. The End.

I’m not kidding about that last part. It seems that the long-planned and finally coming out the year of this writing is officially a sequel to the book series, as a small bit of a reveal that I’m not going to spoil shows why it’s a sequel and not a straight adaptation of the books.

As far as The Dark Tower goes, this was epic. Both by the size of the book and the scope of the adventure itself. It’s quite a bit darker, as of course people close to Roland don’t get out unscathed. I understand that the majority of those I’ve talked with consider the final confrontation between Roland and the Crimson King to be a cop-out let down, but I actually get it; it’s in keeping with King’s voiced opinion that the big bad evil always seems bigger and scarier from far off, but when you finally confront it face to face, the “unstoppable evil” always turns out to be more bark than bite. That’s not to say that the Crimson King was a wuss; his evil influence has a far-reaching and devastating effect, felt in the books Black House and Insomnia (where a couple of characters first hail from), and is quite possibly the embodiment of Satan himself. Regardless, it was a rather out-of-the-box way that he was defeated. Also, the true ending to the tale…I found it satisfying. Then again, I am something of a geek when it comes to…endings like that. Also, giving the were-spider monstrosity explosive diarrhea was hilariously awesome.

Overall, though it clocks in at nearly 850 pages in length, being the longest book in the series, I was completely engrossed in the story from beginning to end. I think the all-encompassing tale of the Dark Tower is far from being over; however, this is a good ending to a larger arc in the tale.

Book Review: SONG OF SUSANNAH

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book-review_-dark-tower-viStephen King
Grant
2004

King looked back at Roland. “As The Man With No Name–a fantasy version of Clint Eastwood–you were okay. A lot of fun to partner up with.”

To give birth to her “chap,” demon-mother Mia has usurped the body of Susannah Dean and used the power of Black Thirteen to transport to New York City in the summer of 1999. The city is strange to Susannah…and terrifying to the “daughter of none,” who shares her body and mind. Saving the Tower depends not only on rescuing Susannah but also on securing the vacant lot Calvin Tower owns before he loses it to the Sombra Corporation. Enlisting the aid of Manni senders, the remaining katet climbs to the Doorway Cave…and discovers that magic has its own mind. It falls to the boy, the billy-bumbler, and the fallen priest to find Susannah-Mia, who, in a struggle to cope with each other and with an alien environment “go todash” to Castle Discordia on the border of End-World. In that forsaken place, Mia reveals her origins, her purpose, and her fierce desire to mother whatever creature the two of them have carried to term. Eddie and Roland, meanwhile, tumble into western Maine in the summer of 1977, a world that should be idyllic but isn’t. For one thing, it is real, and the bullets are flying.

Here we are, the penultimate edition in the overall Dark Tower series, and…things get wonky. I mean, things have gotten wonky in past books, yes; this is, after all, a fantasy epic, in the same vein as The Lord of the Rings, by way of Sergio Leone. But, where the previous novel had only a little bit of the ol’ time-and-dimensional hopping shenanigans, Song of Susannah goes entirely Masters Of The Universe: The Movie. You know, the live action He-Man movie that didn’t have the budget to set things in Eternia, so He-Man and the gang wind up in New York for most of the time? Yeah, this is the Dark Tower novel that’s set in our dimension, at different points in history. Specifically, 1977 and 1999. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, here.

So, after Susan got all possessed by her unborn demon child and escaped into the dimensional doorway into New York of 1999, closing said door and throwing away the proverbial key, Roland and the remaining Ka-tet members–Eddie, Jake, Oy, and including Father Callahan–manage to open up another magic door and go in…only, Jake, Oy and Father Callahan wind up in 1999 New York, where Susannah/Mia have shown up at, while Roland and Eddie are sent to 1977 Maine. Roland and Eddie manage to fend off enemies sent by the Crimson King and get the deed to the land that has the rose in New York, and then get all super-meta when they pay a visit to Stephen King. Mind you, it’s 1977 Stephen King, and is considered the conduit for which the story of the Dark Tower saga transmits itself. That, and the Gunslinger and Eddie’s presence in Maine causes reality in the town to go all wonky and “thin”, as it’s mentioned. And thus Roland encourages this “wordslinger” to continue with the writing of the Dark Tower saga. Meanwhile, in 1999 New York, Susannah/Mia are taken to a restaurant called the Dixie Pig and is preparing to give birth to that unholy spawn, attended to by the Crimson King’s men, as Jake, Oy and Father Callahan show up and prepare to storm the restaurant to rescue Susannah. Then we end things by discovering via journal entries that Stephen King the character died in 1999. Wacky.

Considering the shadows of our world showing up in Ronald’s world, and the fact that The Drawing of the Three spent a goodly chunk of time in (for lack of a better term) our real reality (albeit something of a slightly altered history version), the characters jumping to different points in time in our reality wasn’t something suddenly utilized to shake things up. Also, authors appearing in their own novels isn’t anything new, either. And in a way, Stephen King writing himself into this story actually fits in the narrative; the fact that he was rather self-depreciating when he did it, making him come off as a bit of an arsehole that got on Ronald’s nerves a nice way of downplaying what could have been a cheep ego boost.

Overall, while the twists and turns do tend to give you a bit of motion sickness, Song of Susannah nevertheless was rather engaging and entertaining.

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