Under the Dome: Book vs. Show

Under-the-Dome-21

Now that season one of CBS’s “Under the Dome” is over, we can look back to its source material—that 2009 tome by Stephen King—and see how the show sizes up against the original. King has stated that the show is not a direct adaptation from the book, but rather a parallel story in which the dome has a different explanation. Still, there are strong echoes of the novel throughout, from the main characters to that strange repeated line, “Pink stars are falling in lines.” To be honest, neither the show nor the novel knocked my socks off, but they were both passably entertaining distractions.

So which is the more successful iteration of King’s story about the small town trapped under a mysterious dome? To answer this, I had to ask a few questions: Which is scarier? Which has better writing? Which has more interesting and engaging characters? Which has a better storyline? A clear winner emerged.

SCARIER?

under-dome-cow

I have to admit, the cow was pretty cool.

Though it’s not anywhere near King’s scariest work, I would still classify the novel as horror. The murders are gruesome. Drugs and religious zealotry play with reality and fear. Halloween plays a fairly prominent role. And there are some creepy moments of necrophilia.

The show, however, strays quite a bit away from horror. Even though it’s still a town (of some bad and psychotic people) trapped under a dome, somehow everything is just… so adorable. You know Junior, the crazy dude with wicked migraines who killed and then raped a couple of girls? In the show, though he kidnaps his girlfriend, we are somehow led to believe it’s only because he loves her in his own twisted way. Instead of images of burning and Halloween, they give us images of butterflies, mini-domes, eggs, and a surprising amount of pink. Way too much “pink stars are falling.”

Quick, guys! Run away from the horror... of the butterflies...

Quick, guys! Run away from the horror… of the butterflies…

Answer: BOOK

BETTER WRITING?

Every time I tuned in to “Under the Dome” on Monday night, I ended up cringing at some of the sloppy, stilted writing. The characters all seem a bit dumbed down, telling us what’s happening on screen as if they have a constant need to explain reality to each other. Often they all agree upon a conclusion based on one person’s gut feelings, rather than clues or logical explanations. The show loses its attempt at mystery in too much vagueness… like when our group of heroes decides who their leader must be (the “monarch” from the dome’s inane message, “The monarch will be crowned”) based on the flight pattern of a special undead butterfly…

King’s logic in the book, on the other hand, is a little more solid. The book explains more than the show, but of course the show has been left deliberately at a critical moment to get the viewer to tune in for season two. Though there is a lot more depth in the book, to arrive at that depth King had to write a seemingly-endless 1,000-page narrative that ended up being overlong, overdramatic, and kind of a drag.

The show writers decided there would be a spontaneous fight club for an episode. So there was.

The show writers decided there would be a spontaneous fight club for an episode. So there was.

Answer: BOOK

BETTER CHARACTERS?

The book’s characters are more fleshed-out than the show’s version, due mainly to the extended character study and backstory. Some characters, like Junior and Big Jim, are much creepier and more psychotic: forces of evil that cannot be persuaded to back down. Barbie is much more than the pretty face on the show. Julia, unfortunately, is just about as annoying as she is on the show, thanks to her silly story about getting her pants pulled down in second grade, and how that somehow changed her as a person.

"I just... don't understand why I have to be called Barbie."

“I just… don’t understand why I have to be called Barbie.”

The show’s version of the characters are mostly awkward and wooden. Even Dean Norris (Hank from Breaking Bad) who plays Big Jim can’t quite salvage the show’s muddling of his character. The child actors (including goofy Joe and whiney Norrie) say everything so emphatically. And of course Junior isn’t the twisted necrophiliac he is in the book.

Answer: BOOK

PLOT TRAJECTORY?

When I was watching the show, I often ended up thinking to myself: what the hell is going on? For some reason, there is a mini-dome with an egg inside, and only four specific people can touch the mini-dome without getting shocked, and a butterfly makes the entire dome turn black, and pink stars shoot out of the ground when Julia throws the egg in the water, and why is any of this happening? The finale offered no answers. I still have no idea what’s going on.

“Hey, guys… did we drop acid?”

The book was much less focused on the fantastical elements that baffled me above, and instead provided tense, frightening, and even harrowing scenes (I just remembered that awful gang-rape scene…) depicting people reacting badly to a crisis situation. Though I found these scenes more interesting than the ones in the show, the overall story was too long and puttered to a lame and predictable ending.

Answer: BOOK

Obviously if I were to pick which incarnation of Stephen King’s Under the Dome is better, my choice is the book. That’s not saying a whole lot, though, since I found the book largely unsatisfying. Here’s to hoping King’s next offerings, both in literary and visual forms, will exceed the mediocrity doled out by both versions of the story of Chester’s Mill.

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Book Review: “Summer of Night”

Summer of NightAs someone who adores Stephen King’s IT, I was immediately drawn into Dan Simmons’ world in Summer of Night, with its group of kids who realize they are the only ones who can stop an ancient evil from destroying their small Illinois town.

The first thing we’re introduced to is Old Central: a school with much history that is about to be torn down. When summer begins, so do strange occurrences centering around the school, including the disappearance of a student and a horrific sighting one of the boys makes through the window of the school, involving their dead teacher.

Simmons fully immerses us in this world before he sets loose the chaos, letting us know who the boys are and what life is like in Elm Haven without loosening any of the tension already in place—the mark of a great horror writer. It is perhaps because Simmons is drawing from his own childhood in the real-life Elm Haven, as well as from his childhood friends for the characters, that the novel fully comes to life; nevertheless, the imaginative and fantastical elements do just as much to drive the story.

When one of the boys uncovers the shrouded history of the Borgia Bell—an ancient relic connected with murder and said to be in the closed-off belfry of Old Central—the disturbances in town focus their attention on him. The others must figure out the truth, which certain adults are keeping from them, before the evil comes after them, too. Said “evil” includes the Rendering Truck, which Van Syke (school janitor and cemetery caretaker) uses to haul dead animals; a ghostly soldier in outdated attire; and mysterious underground tunnels created by many-toothed lamprey-like creatures.

This book is rich, layered, complex—but also just a little too long, in my opinion. For much of the novel, the pacing keeps you right along with all of the characters as they try to solve the mystery, but there were times in the middle where it dragged just a touch. There are a few times when the boys come up with some sort of plan, but the reader is not privy to it before it is set into motion. That made me feel deliberately left out of the loop, and wondering why I cared about the scene if I didn’t know what it was they were trying to accomplish. But these are minor issues that hardly take away from the whole.

And the whole is a truly entertaining and well-written horror novel. The characters are engaging and realistically-drawn; the setting of the small 1960s Midwestern town is pitch-perfect; and it all climbs its way towards a violent, action-filled, tense climax with plenty of horror to go around. I admit, I was just a little disappointed by the final revelation of the ancient evil—I think, after the buildup of mystery, I was hoping to know more about the nature of the evil—but there are bad guys aplenty to thwart the boys at every turn, and the ending is satisfying.

Despite my minor quibbles, I enjoyed this one a lot, and I’m planning on reading the sequel, A Winter Haunting at some point in the future.

FINAL VERDICT

Storyline: 8 out of 10 giant lampreys

Characters: 10 out of 10 giant lampreys

Originality: 8 out of 10 giant lampreys

Writing Style: 9 out of 10 giant lampreys

Scare Factor: 8 out of 10 giant lampreys

Overall: 8.5 out of 10 giant lampreys

Book Review: “The Hungry Moon”

The Hungry MoonIt’s hard for me to believe I’ve made it this far into life as a horror writer and never read Ramsey Campbell, but thankfully I’ve decided to remedy this—starting with the Lovecraftian, druidic, religious-hysteria-driven creepfest, The Hungry Moon.

Campbell eases us into the story with prolonged, perhaps even a little slow-moving, introductions into the characters in the town. However, by the time the action starts, you really feel as if you know these people: they are well-drawn, complex, decidedly real individuals.

That’s when an American evangelist, fittingly named Godwin Mann, comes to town with a horde of followers who decide to convert the entire town to their particular brand of Christian fanaticism. It is perhaps a testament to Campbell’s convincing rendering of this hysteria that left this non-religious reader more frustrated by these characters than by, perhaps, any other character in any work of literature. Thankfully, there are a handful of nonbelievers who comprise the group of protagonists who see beyond the blind faith Mann has inspired in the rest of the town. Though I was quite hoping for some kind of apology to the nonbelievers at the end, there’s a bit of poetic justice served to the particularly fanatic among the religious folk that, I think, remedies this.

The town in question is a small moorland village in the Peak District of England, a fictional place called Moonwell. An old tradition of dressing a deep, dark cave with flowers every spring gets interrupted when Mann claims it is relenting to the evil that resides within. So, in order to bring God fully into the town, he descends into the cave… and comes back something else entirely.

When an unearthly darkness settles over the town, blacking out the rest of the world and effectively isolating the inhabitants of Moonwell, the real horror begins. An ancient Lovecraftian moon-creature that the druids (rightly) placated with their dressing of the cave emerges to wreak havoc as the darkness drives the already-hysterical townsfolk to violence and scapegoating.

There’s one particular scene in which the main protagonist, Diana, experiences a vision of the creature’s birth: it’s spectacular. That, along with some creepy scenes involving a dead priest and a ghostly child, is surely my favorite part of the book.

Unfortunately, after all the wonderfully creepy build-up and horrors that Campbell throws at these characters, the climax feels a bit rushed. The story of one particular child character just sort of ends, and some of the resolution feels a bit too easy. The epilogue, especially, was a disappointment, but I won’t spoil the nature of the let-down because the book is still definitely worth reading, if you haven’t already.

In all, despite some of its shortcomings, this book has already jumped to my list of favorites for the eerie moon-and-shadow imagery that really starts to take hold of you as you journey into the dark forest with the characters and wonder if you’ll ever make it out alive. Highly recommended, as its merits far outweigh the issues. I’m already trying to decide which Campbell book I’ll pick up next.

FINAL VERDICT

Storyline: 8 out of 10 grinning moons

Characters: 10 out of 10 grinning moons

Originality: 9 out of 10 grinning moons

Writing Style: 8 out of 10 grinning moons

Scare Factor: 9 out of 10 grinning moons

Overall: 9 out of 10 grinning moons

Happy Birthday, H.P. Lovecraft!

Today let’s celebrate one of the masters of horror who really defined the genre of weird fiction: H.P. Lovecraft! Here’s one of my favorite quotes by him:

“Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places. For them are the catacombs of Ptolemais, and the carven mausolea of the nightmare countries. They climb to the moonlit towers of ruined Rhine castles, and falter down black cobwebbed steps beneath the scattered stones of forgotten  cities in Asia. The haunted wood and the desolate mountain are their shrines, and they linger around the sinister monoliths of uninhabited islands”

H.P. Lovecraft 1890-1937

Book Review: “Ghost Walk”

Having heard the name Brian Keene before, as he is quite a prolific horror author, I thought I’d pick up an intriguing-looking book called Ghost Walk from Half Price Books. Since it was only $3.99, I hate to say it wasn’t worth the money, but… it wasn’t really worth it.

The premise is intriguing: a burned-out hollow in the woods, which is rife with stories of hauntings, murders, and a goat-man, sits like a shadow in the town of York, Pennsylvania. A man has decided to build a haunted attraction in said woods, a forest walk filled with nightmares. Except an ancient, Lovecraftian evil resides there and has slowly begun slipping through a doorway into this world, infecting those who venture into the hollow by manifesting as their worst fears.

Throughout the book, we meet tons of characters that take up 5-10 pages of pure exposition, which is heavy-handed in explaining the “ghosts” of their pasts (since everyone has some sort of tragedy that’s haunting them), and immediately after this the character is effectively killed off by the creature, Nodens. This becomes such a cliché that I actually started skimming these character introductions towards the end of the book because I knew I shouldn’t care about them since they were just going to die in a few minutes.

The characters who do stick around are, sadly, two-dimensional. Maria is a journalist who fears her parents’ disapproval. Levi is an annoying ex-Amish man who can do magic and has a rather holier-than-thou attitude. Ken Ripple, the designer of the ghost walk, misses his dead wife. That’s about their only personality traits.

The dialogue between these characters was disappointingly juvenile, and I could never quite believe that I was witnessing real people. There wasn’t any mystery, either: you find out early on what the deal is with Nodens, and after that, you know exactly how they plan to defeat the creature. And they do.

The ending itself was so abrupt, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be left feeling. They defeat the creature in a quick few pages, and then there’s another heavy-handed discussion about what they believe in (there are a lot of unnecessary conversations about God, which are designed to make the characters feel bad if they don’t believe). Then, the book just sort of… ends.

I’m surprised that someone as well-known in the horror world would have published such an utterly lackluster paperback, but then again, he has written over 30 books. This feels like one he just churned out for the sake of having another book. The writing itself was bland, lacking in any distinctive style, which leads me to believe he didn’t care too much about the artistic merit of what he was writing.

Disappointing from start to finish. I’ll think twice before I pick up another Keene novel.

FINAL VERDICT

Storyline: 4 out of 10 man-eating shadows

Characters: 3 out of 10 man-eating shadows

Originality: 5 out of 10 man-eating shadows

Writing Style: 4 out of 10 man-eating shadows

Scare Factor: 4 out of 10 man-eating shadows

Overall: 4 out of 10 man-eating shadows

Stephen Kingapalooza

In light of the post I recently made about how Stephen Knig’s IT is going to be remade into 2 movies, I thought I should also share some more interesting info that I’ve just received. If you’re a King fan, brace yourself: 2013 is going to be a phantasmagoria of remakes and new adaptations to get you salivating.

Stephen “I am more successful than all of you plebians put together” King

All of the following information comes from this article.

We’ve got a list of not one, not two, but TEN adaptations to get through here. Starting with…

1. CARRIE

Hard to top psycho Sissy Spacek as a blood-drenched telekenetic prom queen, but they’re sure gonna try. I’m actually excited about this one because it looks like they want to make it “darker and more psychological” than the original, and those are two words I absolutely love. Also, Chloe Moretz will be playing the title role, and I think she’s got enough talent to pull this one off.

2. THE EYES OF THE DRAGON

Look to the SyFy channel for this TV series. I never read this one, but it seems to be a fantasy involving dragons and such.

3. IT

I already made a post about this one, so you can just go read that.

4. ROSE MADDER

Not sure how this one is going to turn out. Even King himself doesn’t seem to be much of a fan of the novel, calling it a “stiff, try-too-hard” mix of domestic violence and Greek mythology. However, seeing as I’m obviously a fan of Greek mythology, since it plays a big part in my upcoming novel, PANDORA, I might be inclined to check this one out.

5. PET SEMATARY

The script writer for 1408, Matthew Greenberg, and director Alexandre Aja of The Hills Have Eyes (and other winners like Piranha 3D…) come together for this second adaptation. Nothing is solid yet, so it might still be a while before we see it, but I could get behind this update.

6. 11/22/63

King’s newest book about going back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination is already preparing for the big screen. Unsurprisingly, it’s another massive book, so they’ll have to pick and choose what to focus on. I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s not King’s first foray into the political spectrum, his other one beingThe Dead Zone, which was both a movie and a TV series.

7. A GOOD MARRIAGE

A psychological thriller with a rather bland title, this one is a short story from his recent collection, Full Dark, No Stars. Can it live up to his other successfully adapted short stories like Secret Window and 1408?

8. UNDER THE DOME

Steven Spielberg himself plans to turn this book about a town that gets trapped under a mysterious dome into a Showtime series, with the script written by Brian K. Vaughan of LOST. Sounds like a winning combo, especially since it seems like premium cable series seems to be the best way to go with books and book series these days, with the success of shows like Dexter and Game of Thrones.

9. THE TEN O’CLOCK PEOPLE

Another short story, another movie, another tale about a guy who tries to quit smoking (we get it, King, you used to be a smoker). Maybe it’s about people who have bedtimes before midnight.

10. THE DARK TOWER

This one is going to bridge the movie-series gap and become not only a trilogy of movies, but also a TV series to bridge the movies together. Sound intense? Yeah, it does to me too. I think maybe they should just stick with just an HBO series for this one, but who knows, maybe the mix of movie and TV will be the perfect medium for this dark fantasy series. And with Ron Howard and Javier Bardem on board, I see success in the near future.

As a writer, I am both salivating over this and also throwing up a little in my mouth. Seriously, King, how much dough have you raked in from all these projects? It seems as though everything he writes becomes a movie. That’s pretty insane considering just how prolific he is. I guess the other side of the coin here is that about half of his adaptations end up being campy and horrible, which goes to show that you really can’t win ’em all… but you sure can try!

Ray Bradbury Dies at 91

Ray Bradbury: 1920-2012

I’ve mentioned Bradbury several times on this site not only because he was a great writer, but because he was a great writer of science fiction with dark fantastical elements who loved Halloween. When I felt my style getting stale, I’d flip open something by him to inspire me.

Even his writing for a younger audience is sophisticated enough for adults, thanks to the layers of his stories and the beauty and elegance of his prose. Something Wicked This Way Comes is a wonderful exploration of the loss of youth through the evil carnival that rolls through town. The Halloween Tree is a fun and educational boyhood tale, and also a love-letter to my favorite holiday.

Perhaps he is best known for his science-fiction works Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles. In any case, the man was a true genius at blending genre fiction with literary fiction, and he is a perfect example of the art that can be created by using horror, science fiction, fantasy, and other speculative genres.

But let us not mourn his passing; let’s instead celebrate the truly amazing things he gave us in his long lifetime, for his legend will live on.

“He felt the vague pain in his chest. If I run, he thought, what will happen? Is Death important? No. Everything that happens before Death is what counts. And we’ve done fine tonight. Even Death can’t spoil it.”

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Book Review: “Soundtrack to the End of the World”

SOUNDTRACK TO THE END OF THE WORLD by Anthony J. Rapino is not your average zombie apocalypse tale. Perhaps in an effort to thwart the growing stagnancy of the zombie genre, it seems that lately people have been twisting the idea of zombies in new directions, and it is only by doing this that I believe they can succeed.

That’s why Rapino’s tale had me hook, line, and sinker.

The story follows Marty Raft, the huge but endearing friend and bodyguard of Corey, an amateur comedian. A few years ago, Marty saw his parents murdered and now tunes out of the world when things get too heavy by plugging into his mp3 player. The soundtrack that plays into his ears becomes our soundtrack as the story unfolds (sidenote: I think this would make a great movie. A zombie-killin’ anthem for metal-heads. I’d watch that).

The two of them manage to get caught up in a strange new music scene that allows anyone who hears it to go “head-hopping,” or having an out-of-body experience. At first they think it’s a mass-drugging, but when they team up with Naomi, an aura-reader, they realize there’s more at stake here.

Turns out, some people leave these clubs without their souls: abandoned bodies who drift around stupidly, or, as Marty calls them, stage-one zombies. An epidemic of these soon transform into stage-two zombies: the screamers.

It’s a good thing Marty has his earbuds in most of the time because once the thread that attaches the abadoned bodies to their floating souls is severed, they become full-on ravenous zombies. The twist is that it isn’t their bite that harms you: it’s their unearthly scream.

This book has the trifecta of a great read: interesting characters who you get to know and love, a unique and suspenseful storyline, and good writing. I enjoyed getting to know Marty and the crew as much as I enjoyed the new take on zombies as people whose souls have gotten lost in the ether, and the way the vibrations can affect us.

It’s these different layers that make me appreciate the ways we can use horror for more than evoking feelings of revulsion and terror. Rapino delves into relationships, existential ponderings, the possibilities of pseudo-sciences like aura-reading, materialism, and the power of music. And he does all of this with zombies running amok.

If you can hear the music, it’s already too late. So you might as well go read Soundtrack to the End of the World now.

FINAL VERDICT

Storyline: 8 out of 10 screaming zombies

Characters: 8 out of 10 screaming zombies

Originality: 9 out of 10 screaming zombies

Writing Style: 8 out of 10 screaming zombies

Scare Factor: 7 out of 10 screaming zombies

Overall: 8 out of 10 screaming zombies

Book Review: “The Hunger Games”

I know, I know, I’m behind on this cultural phenomenon. By now everyone and their grandmother has read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. See, I get a little turned off when something becomes an explosive, all-popular cultural phenomenon; I don’t know if it’s because I don’t like to buy into what everyone else is doing or because usually it’s something stupid like Twilight, but this time around I went ahead and gave in.

Good thing I did! The book is not a masterpiece of literature by any means, but it is a highly entertaining young adult book with dark themes and violence and the exploration of dystopia that adults can enjoy as well. I suspect books like these become big hits because many adults are too lazy/stupid/impatient to wade through something at an adult reading level, so they latch onto quick, easy reads with a fast pace and high entertainment factor.

In this case, there’s nothing wrong with that, since The Hunger Games is a good book. The writing style is geared towards young adult readers but is smooth and polished, with content that is meant for the high school level and above. It’s told in present tense, which amps up the tension and cements the reader in the current moment.

Our heroine, Katniss, makes me pleased that this book is as popular as it is. Katniss takes the damsel-in-distress trope and turns it on its head. She is fierce, independent, stubborn, great with a bow-and-arrow, and she ends up saving the male lead more than the other way around.

My middle name is Badass.

In case you’re living under a rock somewhere, the Hunger Games are a gladiator-style competition in a future dystopia where America has collapsed into a new country called Panem, comprising of a Capitol and 12 districts. After a failed uprising, the Capitol decided to put all of the districts in their place by creating a yearly battle royale between children ages 12-18, where 2 are chosen from each district (one male, one female) to fight to the death. The last one standing is the winner, and the competition is televised to the entire country, mainly for the entertainment of the shallow residents of the Capitol.

It’s gruesome. The children die in horrible ways, from getting speared to poisoned bee stings. Katniss finds herself thrown into the arena with Peeta, the boy from her district, who has a crush on her. They get through the tournament by playing up a half-fake romance (for the Capitol’s entertainment) and through the hunting skills that Katniss has developed over years of feeding her poor, starving family.

The reason the romance actually works in this book (as opposed to, I don’t know, Twilight?) is that it happens naturally and does not take over the plot. Peeta really does like Katniss, but Katniss herself struggles to pretend to be in love with him for the cameras all around them. She does grow fond of him, of course, but it is not some ridiculous love at first sight nonsense. She has a good head on her shoulders and is simply trying to survive the Games.

I’ve only read the first book, so I can’t say how this continues to play out in the sequel. Many people probably enjoy this book for the romance factor (blargh), but I appreciated the well-handled elements of horror and sci-fi along with the strong feminism that many current romance-driven books seem to lack. There is much more to Katniss than romance; in fact, she herself admits that romance is the least of her concerns right now, as it should be. She doesn’t want to get married, and she doesn’t want to bring children into the world only to have them potentially get pulled for the Hunger Games. I like this girl. This is a heroine I can get behind.

FINAL VERDICT

Storyline: 9 out of 10 poisoned bee stings

Characters: 8 out of 10 poisoned bee stings

Originality: 8 out of 10 poisoned bee stings

Writing Style: 7 out of 10 scrpoisoned bee stings

Scare Factor: 6.5 out of 10 poisoned bee stings

Overall: 8 out of 10 poisoned bee stings

Read The Hunger Games now!