Top Ten Tuesday: Pandemic Fiction

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Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

For some I know this topic will hit too close to home right now, and I don’t blame you.  Feel free to skip this and go on to the next link.  But if you’re like me, with a black, and often inappropriate sense of humor, you might be craving every pandemic book you can get your hands on right now.  Some of these I’ve read, some of them I haven’t, but I hope everyone finds something interesting.

And if speculative plagues are less your thing, here are a few historical and nonfiction plague books:

 

I realize this list is far from comprehensive – have I missed any of your favorites?  Are you reading pandemic fiction now or avoiding it?

 

Book Review: The Stand by Stephen King

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Rating:  ★★1/2

“In America even scummy douchebags like you should be able to catch a cold.”

M-O-O-N, that spells unpopular opinion. I do have oh so many of those. Laws, yes.

I don’t want to write this review. Really I don’t. I don’t want to say that this is far and away my least favorite King book ever. I don’t want to tell you that the Satan versus God war was total bullshit, or that King does much better when he writes general Good Vs. Evil stories.

I don’t want to tell you that Randall Flagg is totally lame. That Brady Hartsfield would bend Flagg over his knee and give him a fucking spanking and send him off to his room without supper.

“To be polite, she sipped a little more of the dreadful Kool-Aid.”

But I have to say these things you see, because The Stand is 1,400 pages of boredom. I did not drink the dreadful Kool-Aid.

I have been thinking long and hard about this. Pretty much ever since the book started. (That was on April 15. Laws, yes, almost two weeks ago.) And I can’t precisely articulate what exactly it is that I find so boring about it.

“That was the whole world, after all, nothing but thoughts and plots.”

Maybe because so much time was spent on the opening, on the beginning of the flu. Was the flu horrifying? Yeah, in a “Oh God what if this happened for real?” sort of way… Could King have done more with it? Why, Laws yes, I think he could have. I would have liked to see the panic overtake the cities, the mass exodus, the cars crashing, the people stomping each other into the dirt and turning ugly in a fight for survival, the panic power of a single sneeze in a crowded room.

King, your Constant Reader knows you are capable of this. Instead I was given passing references to the military blocking off roads and shooting people down, a code name for a super secret evil government plan that didn’t seem like it ever manifested. It was all hinted at. I don’t like you when you’re subtle Steve. I much prefer when you take all the ugly people are capable of and slap me across the face with it. That’s just the kind of girl I am. Maybe I’ve got a little R.F. on my shoulder.

“But no one knows how long five minutes is in the dark; it might be fair to say that, in the dark, five minutes does not exist.”

But that’s not all. I was more than a little annoyed at the hints of brilliance, being reminded of what was to come. I saw the beginnings of Cujo in there, The Kid trapped in a hot car surrounded by evil wolves. I might have glimpsed pieces of Dreamcatcher. The beginnings of Under the Dome, little ideas sprinkled all around.  All these quotes I’ve included?  I highlighted 30 others, and will cherish them all.  But a 1,400 page book has to be more than a string of good quotes.  Maybe it’s a matter of not aging well, I don’t know. Might I have liked this if I had read it 30 years ago, when it was first released? Yeah, maybe. As it stands, I was disappointed, and maybe that isn’t fair, but it is what it is.

All my favorite things about King’s work are there. The characters being real people, average Joes and Janes. The underdogs. The minute details, the Baby, Can You Dig Your Man’s? The pure nostalgia of his work. And somehow they didn’t come together in a way that made me love any of it. Did I love Glen? Sure. Nick? Sure. Tom Cullen? Yes. Kojak? You can bet on it. But Larry, Stu, Ralph, Joe, Lucy, Abagail? I really didn’t care. They were, to quote the book, No Great Loss.

“The flu didn’t just leave survivor types, why the hell should it?”

I think my problem, in the end, was the distance between the good and the evil here. There’s something wildly impersonal about this story. Randall Flagg wants to be evil just for the sake of being evil. Brady Hartsfield is the same, but he’s not afraid to do his own dirty work. In fact, he wouldn’t have it any other way. Mind-fucking people into being bad for you just doesn’t carry the same weight as Brady throttling a car into a crowd of people in need, just because he can. Just because he wants the world to suffer with him.

There were some high points. That chapter that glimpses the second wave? The non-survivor types the world left behind? Absolute gold. As far as I’m concerned, it was the best chapter in the book. That, was what I wanted more of. If we’re going to use third person omnipotent, we should be using it for exactly this. The Kid? From what I understand, he wasn’t in the original, which baffles me, because he too, was one of the highlights. Like a Junior Rennie with his brain fully intact.

“That was an act of pure human fuckery.”

There were consistency/continuity errors. The ending was hugely unsatisfying. Many character ARCs are never given legitimate conclusions.  I now understand why people thought King couldn’t write women.  At one point Stu offers to get Frannie a washing machine.  A washing machine, for when the electricity comes back on so she won’t have to break her back doing all the laundry.  And what does she do?  She throws her arms around him and kisses him.  Uh-uh.  Not in my house Stu Redman.  You better get yourself a goddamn washing machine or you better find a fucking time machine and travel back to 1958.

Beyond all that, it was incredibly messy for a King book.  There were the bizarre alternating timelines spliced into the middle, sudden in their appearance and just as sudden in their disappearance.

“After all, the only practical compensation for having a nightmare is waking up and realizing it was all just a dream.”

The foreshadowing and the supernatural didn’t jive with the ending we were given. Minor spoiler: at first it seems like the people who are immune to the flu are the ones who dream, and people who aren’t regular dreamers, die.  Kojak, one of the world’s only surviving dogs, is a dreamer.  Later, it’s explained that children who are the product of two immune parents are also immune.  Well which of these is the determining survivor factor, genetics or dreams?  I’ll accept either answer but I won’t accept both.  Either the dreams make them safe or they don’t.  If it’s not the dreams, those shouldn’t have been happening until after the plague had done its work.  If it’s genetics, then in theory wouldn’t any survivors also have to have surviving family members?  The whole premise fell apart because the book couldn’t decide if it wanted to be fantasy or science fiction.

I just can’t express it any clearer than to say I was disappointed. When society caves in on itself, and King writes books about it, I expect the worst of his characters. I expect there to be Johnny-do-good types with questionable pasts. I expect there to be charming, cunning, wolves in sheep’s clothing, who mostly win, until they don’t. Instead I got a world full of mostly decent people who do bad things with one oddly levitating demon pulling their strings.

“‘The Lord is my shepherd,” he recited softly. “I shall not want for nothing. He makes me lie down in the green pastures. He greases up my head with oil. He gives me kung-fu in the face of my enemies. Amen.'”

God bless Tom Cullen, Laws yes.  That’s all I have to say about that.

In case you don’t trust me (why the hell should you? wtf do I know?) The Stand can be found on GoodReads here, and Amazon here.