The Stand by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I was slightly anxious to jump into my second read of The Stand, but after having read most of his other novels, often having read them twice, I figured I was up for the challenge.
Of course, the challenge is not in the length. It's easy to assume that might be the case, considering that it has well over a thousand pages, but no. It's Stephen King. It rambles, it rolls, and it often rocks. And for many people, the assumption is that this is King's best, most epic work, so there's obviously a LOT of forgiveness going on here.
What? Do I sound like I'm leading up to a bit of CRITICISM of The STAND?
Maybe. A little.
For a book originally released the same year as Niven/Pournelle's Lucifer's Hammer, reworked more than a decade later with an extra novel's worth of text, it is still an apocalyptic SF following a long tradition that echoes On The Beach. It's darker than most that came before but pretty on cue for Niven/Pournelle's vision.
One thing that King does really well is characters. I have to admit I'll always give him the biggest prizes for his people. I really appreciate the huge distinctions between decent folk and the other kind. It's obvious he supports a wide, wide cast of all kinds of people, strong and weak of each sex, crazies on both sides of the good/evil divide, and he makes no bones about letting people die for all sorts of good or plain lousy causes. It's FUN. I mean, why else would you want to read a book where 99.4% of the population dies horribly in a super-flu only to watch them go nuts on themselves and whittle down the gene pool even more?
So what's my problem?
Some themes haven't aged well.
We've already had a long, long run of about fourteen billion novels, tv shows, movies, and even music albums giving us the whole Christ motif. Epic battles of Good Versus Evil. Just because King does the same thing but slightly better than the smug, self-righteous masses doesn't mean that my enjoyment isn't marred by the eye-rolling heavy-handedness of the whole schtick.
"But what about Flagg!", you ask?
Yep, he's pretty wicked and cool. I still just got the impression that Walter/Man in Black/Martin was just playing a silly video game in a shadow-world where nothing mattered but his desire to watch all the bugs scurry around and eat themselves. In Wizard and Glass, he's simply whimsical about the world that died. His whole part in the tragedy is played off like a homage to Baum. He's never more evil and crazy than he is in The Stand, but then, he's nothing more than a projection, a shadow. And this version of the Earth, at least in the terms of the Dark Tower, is also nothing more than a shadow.
It's sobering. The biggest themes in The Stand basically say trust in God. Don't think. Just do whatever silly thing comes to you in a vision. All things serve the Beam. Yup. If it wasn't for this and most (but not all) of the supernatural elements that conveniently or explicitly tied up this work in a genuine Deus Ex Machina, I probably would have given it a glowing five stars. It is OVERFLOWING with great characters and situations.
It didn't age as well as I had hoped.
Unfortunately, I prefer MOST of SK's other works over this one.
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