17 September, 2012

Review - Cell by Stephen King

Stephen King does zombies! Well...kind of. We'll get to that in a bit.

But first,

How I think this book came about (that means this next part is 100% fictitious):

Way back in aught-6 (2006), or just before because Cell was published in '06, but who knows with King, am I right? But anyway, we've come a long way since that time. Everyone was getting cell phones and they were just about getting to every last person around. I imagine him having this conversation with, let's say, his son, Joe Hill.

Stephen: "Wow, cell phones have really gotten popular lately. Everyone seems to have one."

Joe: "Yeah Dad, come on, get with the times already, man."

Stephen: "Well, at least we'll never get rid of these landlines right? Both are VERY necessary. [useless joke probably not in King's character, just wanted to make fun of how we used to still had landlines when everyone was switching to cell phones]

"But seriously, I am SO sick of people being on their cell phones all the time. You can't even have an honest-to-goodness conversation with a person without someone bombarding you with a call.

"Can't we just have real conversations with human beings anymore? Instead, we talk to electronics and let them control everything we do, sacrificing our humanity.

"If only there was a way to put an end to this nonsense...I've got it!"

The Review:

Cell [US] [UK] starts out as your basic zombie book. People are going about their normal business when suddenly lots of people start going crazy and attacking other people while a few people escape unscathed for a while until they get attacked.

Well, Stephen King made a couple of changes to the normal zombie mythos (I think we can call it mythos now). Here, the zombies are created by a pulse that occurs through cell phones. All the people using their cell phones at the time of the "pulse" (as its known throughout the book) are immediately changed into what is essentially a zombie. Those without cell phones or not on them at the time are saved.

It's not exactly clear whether they are (or have to be) dead or not, some are, but not all, but they all have the same traits, which are pretty zombie-like. They go crazy, they attack people including their own kind, and make survival the number one priority for those who weren't turned.

They are known throughout the book not at zombies, but as "phone crazies." Boy did I hate that term after a while. It's just so dumb. It's also descriptively appropriate, but meh. Call them walkers, call them phoners even, but "phone crazies" just bugged me to no end.

In addition, the zombies only come out during the day and therefore leave the night to the survivors.

Cell follows Clayton Riddell, a survivor of the pulse who happened to be in Boston at the time of the "pulse." He lives in (you guessed it) Maine (but he's not a writer, he's a comic artist, completely different because they do "graphic" novels), which is where his family is located at the time of the pulse and provides the impetus for Clay and his group of survivors to head north.

I did enjoy this book, but to talk about why I didn't enjoy it enough to even reach the 4 star threshold, I'm gonna have to get into some spoilers. These aren't huge, ruin-the-book spoilers, just possibly ruin a part of the first 200 pages/quarter of the book. You've been warned.

/Begin mild spoilers

I could go more into Clay's group because they do play a large role in the novel, but I just don't have the time nor the energy at the moment. Know they're there and they are some great characters.

The reason I wasn't a huge fan of this particular zombie book is that King almost immediately kills the whole reason I read zombie books. I read them for the constant suspense and scare that the people we've grown close to are going to get eaten, turned, die, whatever.

King introduces telepathy into the zombie mythos.

While it's an interesting and unique take, I realized toward the end that it pretty much killed this particular zombie novel for me.

Because the zombie apocalypse occurred through the pulse, the phone crazies (bleh) are connected somehow, they can even communicate in a way telepathically. It begins through large gatherings where they sleep during the night while getting essentially reprogrammed telepathically.

While they are communicating telepathically, they begin to flock just like some types of animals (birds in a "v" for instance). While they flock, they don't attack humans. It just stops.

There's more that happens and they do begin to do some much more devious things, but the survivors, and especially our little crew we follow, are essentially immune from the day-to-day zombie attack.

Bigger Spoiler and for the novel I Am Legend as well: While I'm still within the spoiler section of my review, I also wanted to add that I totally thought he was going to go I Am Legend with the zombies, making the zombies the new society and the survivors the outcasts. It seemed to be going there, but didn't in the end.

/end mild spoilers

I enjoyed this book, it had great characters (as expected) and a good enough story to keep me enjoying it. It also had an interesting take on zombies that, while I applaud King for his creativity and boldness, kind of killed the zombie part of this zombie novel.

3 out of 5 Stars (Recommended with reservations)