AWordofDreams’ 21 Favorite Horror Novels of the 21st Century (So Far)

By Andrew Buckner

21. The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker
20. The Night Parade by Ronald Malfi
19. The Devil’s Labyrinth by John Saul
18. Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
17. Broken Monsters by Lauren Feukes
16. The Lords of Salem by Rob Zombie, B.K. Evenson
15. The Taking by Dean Koontz
14. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
13. The Gordon Place by Isaac Thorne
12. Lock Every Door by Riley Sager
11. Stranglehold by Jack Ketchum
10. The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay
9. The Strain by Guillermo del Toro, Chuck Hogan
8. The Institute by Stephen King
7. Under the Skin by Michael Faber
6. Consumed by David Cronenberg
5. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
4. Nos4a2 by Joe Hill
3. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
2. The Fireman by Joe Hill
1. Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

A Word of Dreams’ 10 Favorite Books of 2018

By Andrew Buckner

10. HOOKED ON HOLLYWOOD: DISCOVERIES FROM A LIFETIME OF FILM FANDOM by Leonard Maltin

9.WADE IN THE WATER: POEMS by Tracy K. Smith

8. WARLIGHT by Michael Ondaatje

7. ELEVATION by Stephen King

6. THE CABIN AT THE END OF THE WORLD by Paul Tremblay

5. TRUE INDIE: LIFE AND DEATH IN FILMMAKING by Don Coscarelli

4. THE RISE AND FALL OF THE DINOSAURS: A NEW HISTORY OF A LOST WORLD by Steve Brusatte

3. THE RECKONING by John Grisham

2. GHOSTBUSTER’S DAUGHTER: LIFE WITH MY DAD, HAROLD RAMIS by Violet Ramis Stiel

1. THE OUTSIDER by Stephen King

A Word of Dreams’ 5 Favorite Books of 2018 (So Far)

By Andrew Buckner

*Please note that every volume included in this list is based on the criteria of a 2018 publication date.

5. Wade in the Water: Poems by Tracy K. Smith

4. The Cabin at the End of the World: A Novel by Paul
Tremblay

3. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World by Steve Brusatte

2. Ghostbuster’s Daughter: Life with My Dad, Harold Ramis by Violet Ramis Stiel

1. The Outsider: A Novel by Stephen King

Runner-Up:

Warlight: A Novel by Michael Ondaatje

The 60 Greatest Films of 2017

By Andrew Buckner

It has been another remarkable year for cinema. With this in mind, I gladly enclose my list of the sixty greatest films of 2017. The criteria I utilized when putting this composition together is that every picture had a U.S. release date in the aforementioned year. Please note that I have yet to see The Shape of Water and The Disaster Artist. Hence, the exclusion of these features from this article. Yet, make sure to return to this page. I will be adding to this piece once I have had the chance to view these pictures myself. Enjoy!

60. Icarus
Director: Bryan Fogel

59. Marshall
Director: Reginald Hudlin.

58. Wind River
Director: Taylor Sheridan.

57. A**holes
Director: Peter Vack.

56. Land of Mine
Director: Martin Zandvliet.

55. 20th Century Women
Director: Mike Mills.

54. Night Job
Director: J. Antonio.

53. Columbus
Director: Kogonada.

52. 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene
Director: Alexandre O. Phillipe.

51. Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary
Directors: John Campopiano, Justin White.

50. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Director: Noah Baumbach.

49. Okja
Director: Bong Joon-ho.

48. Get Out
Director: Jordan Peele.

47. The Big Sick
Director: Michael Showalter.

46. Fairfield Follies
Director: Laura Pepper.

45. Second Nature
Director: Michael Cross.

44. Baby Driver
Director: Edgar Wright.

43. Gerald’s Game
Director: Mike Flanagan.

42. 1922
Director: Zak Hilditch.

41. A Dark Song
Director: Liam Gavin.

40. Blade Runner 2049
Director: Dennis Villeneuve.

39. After the Storm
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

38. The Lost City of Z
Director: James Gray.

37. The Beguiled
Director: Sofia Coppola.

36. Personal Shopper
Director: Olivier Assayas.

35. Strapped for Danger
Director: Richard Griffin.

34. War for the Planet of the Apes
Director: Matt Reeves.

33. Alien: Covenant
Director: Ridley Scott.

32. Blade of the Immortal
Director: Takashi Miike.

31. Kuso
Director: Flying Lotus.

30. Anti Matter
Director: Keir Burrows.

29. The Transfiguration
Director: Michael O’ Shea.

28. Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Director: Steve James.

27. We Are the Flesh
Director: Emiliano Rocha Minter.

26. Rat Film
Director: Theo Anthony.

25. An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
Directors: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk.

24.. The Lure
Director: Agnieszka Smoczynska.

23. Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond- Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton
Director: Chris Smith.

22. Mudbound
Director: Dee Rees.

21. A Cure for Wellness
Director: Gore Verbinski.

20. Colossal
Director: Nacho Vigalondo.

19. Spielberg
Director: Susan Lacy.

18. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Director: Richard Griffin.

17. A Quiet Passion
Director: Terence Davies.

16. David Lynch: The Art Life
Directors: Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, Olivia Neergaard-Holm.

15. My Pet Dinosaur
Director: Matt Drummond.

14. Strong Island
Director: Yance Ford.

13. Leftovers
Director: Seth Hancock.

12. The Phantom Thread
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson.

11.Loving Vincent
Directors: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman.

10. Last Men in Aleppo
Directors: Firas Fayyad, Steen Johanessen, Hasan Kattan.

9. All the Money in the World
Director: Ridley Scott.

8. Long Night in a Dead City
Director: Richard Griffin.

7. Raw
Director: Julia Ducournau.

6. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos.

5. Endless Poetry
Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky.

4. Detroit
Director: Kathryn Bigelow.

3. A Ghost Story
Director: David Lowery.

2. The Post
Director: Steven Spielberg.

1. mother!
Director: Darren Aronofsky.

The 11 Best Books of 2017

By Andrew Buckner

11. The Silent Corner: A Novel of Suspense by Dean Koontz
10. Bare Roots by Molly S. Hillery
9. Camino Island by John Grisham
8. Tales from The Darkside: Scripts By Joe Hill by Joe Hill
7. Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King, Richard Chizmar
6. The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston
5. Inside the Wave by Helen Dunmore
4. Strange Weather by Joe Hill
3. The Rooster Bar by John Grisham
2. Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King, Owen King
1. Dragon Teeth by Michael Chrichton

“The Dark Tower” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: *** out of *****.

Director and co-writer Nikolaj Arcel’s The Dark Tower (2017) is too generic, polished and over-sanitized at times. It could have also benefited from higher degrees of emotional resonance. Such a factor is especially lacking in the otherwise engaging finale. The cinematic exercise might have also been strengthened by incorporating less of a young adult friendly tone. But, the ninety-five-minute film, based on a series by Stephen King which spans eight books and one novella, is so fast-moving and fun that such flaws barely register as the picture unfolds.

Additionally, Idris Elba (as Roland Deschain/ the Gunslinger) and Matthew McConaughey (as Walter O’ Dim/ the Man in Black) are terrific. McConaughey plays the antagonistic O’ Dim in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner. Regardless, both performers stay true to the essence of King’s characters. All the while they deliver their own unique interpretations of the central figures. This is while visibly relishing their lead turns. Continuously, Katheryn Winnick as Laurie and Karl Thaning as Elmer Chambers also provide strong representations. Dennis Haysbert is just as proficient as Roland’s father, Steven. He is spied in the successfully utilized flashbacks. All of which are evenly dispersed throughout the undertaking. Likewise, the various nods to King’s other works, a trait prevalent in the literature itself, heightens the joy at hand.

The story revolves around the teenage Jake Chambers (in a likable enactment from Tom Taylor). He has psychic powers (King’s classic “shine”). In the opening stretches, he is suffering from nightmares of “Skin-Men”. There is also an enigmatic edifice which keeps the universe in one piece. Such is also viewed in these fearful flashes. Sights of Deschain and O’ Dim are just as widespread. These images will take on more of a pivotal role in Jake’s immediate future than he can initially imagine.

After etching a collection of drawings which concern a rugged cowboy figure in his parents’ New York City apartment, he is inadvertently pulled into an on-going combat. This is between the archetypically virtuous Gunslinger and the evil Man in Black. The latter is attempting to keep the former from reaching the title place. This is before O’ Dim destroys the building himself. Yet, Deschain’s problems with O’ Dim also resonate from a profoundly personal level. Such makes the stakes, as the fate of worlds hang in the balance, increasingly palpable. This peril is augmented as O’ Dim sets his sights on capturing Jake. Such a goal is set in motion to help the Man in Black achieve his own nefarious goals.

It would be easy to say Arcel’s opus lacks the epic scope, structure and ambition of the source material. There are only light touches of some of the author’s original springs of inspiration present in Arcel’s endeavor. For example, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954-1955) and Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966). In Arcel’s rendition, a continuation of the events which concluded The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (2004), the many genres King injected into his tale have been reduced almost exclusively to fantasy, science-fiction and adventure. The mythology, themes and symbolism are also comparatively stripped down.

Correspondingly, the effects are lackluster at best. The same can be said of the screenplay from Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinker, Anders Thomas Jensen and Arcel. To be fair, the dialogue has its share of clever banter. Such is evident in a second act sequence where Deschain briefly becomes a patient in a hospital. It is also perceptible in a late segment which showcases Jake and Deschain eating a hot dog in “Keystone Earth”. This is the term Deschain uses for the parallel universe Jake sees as his day-to-day reality. But, there are just as many cringe-worthy instances.

Still, the cinematography from Rasmus Videbaek and the collective sound team contribution are vastly immersive. Junkie XL’s music is exciting and dramatic. The action scenes, which occasionally feel as if they are lifted from The Matrix (1999), are striking. Similarly, the exertion flows well and is largely coherent. Such is refreshing given the reports of the re-edits and re-shoots which plagued the project. Thus, the effort makes for a satisfying, if undeniably minor, slice of big-budget B-movie cinema. This is on its own accord. It’s forgettable. But, its diverting, taut and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Sometimes that’s enough.

(PG-13). Contains adult content and violence.

In theaters now.

“Cell” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: **1/2 out of *****.

Technology is turning us into autonomous drones. This is becoming all the more true with the passage of time. Modern dependency on social media as the primary source of wide-spread communication is all the evidence we need to back this accusation. It is also the central statement behind Stephen King’s ambitious, but overlong, Scribner published novel from 2006, Cell. In this undergoing, the term “zombie” was replaced with “phoners”. Yet, the overall comparisons to the undead are undeniable. Such is also the cornerstone of the ninety-eight minute film version. This uneven, sporadically engaging but technically inept entity will receive its official theatrical run beginning July 8th, 2016.

This notion is a perfect pulpit for King’s intended commentary. It is also wonderfully form fitting for his trademark, dark sense of humor. Such is also in line with his ability to turn real-life circumstances into otherworldly terror. These were all utilized well in the literary rendition of the saga. But, the cinematic experience, though nowhere near as overblown as many similar efforts of late, is a more tepid, straightforward affair. In turn, it is just as much a sufferer of the ‘hive mind’ its transformed counterparts suffer from. Even these aforementioned antagonists look no different than what we expect a non-living creature to traditionally look like. They are also of the grating ‘fast runner’ genus. Such is especially disappointing. This is made all the more melancholy given the way King went out his way to introduce a rather new, and intriguing, modus of morphing from man into thoughtless monster into the plot of both book and film. Furthermore, the mechanical screech these fiendish beasts elicit is far more annoying than creepy. It would laughable if it weren’t so irritating.

cell pic 5

The fiction, King’s first elongated stab at such an apocalyptic exertion as this, primarily concerns Clay Riddell (in a depiction by John Cusack which starts shaky but gets progressively better as it goes along). He is an artist from Maine. Riddell is on his way to Boston as part of a comic book deal. Almost immediately he meets up with a middle-aged gentleman amid the chaos, Tom McCourt (Samuel L. Jackson in a likable, but serviceable, portrayal. Still, it is but another variation of his usual role). They are attempting to survive the threat of “The Pulse”. This is a signal sent over a global cell phone network. It is one which causes individuals using their calling devices to turn into mindless, savage brutes. All the while, Riddell is trying to return to his son, Johnny (a well-done presentation by Ethan Andrew Casto), in New England.

Along the way they, predictably, encounter a varied group. All of these are trying to avoid transformation. Among those is Alice Maxwell (Isabelle Fuhrman), whose role is much smaller here than it was in the foregoing King authored epic of the same name, Charles Ardai (Stacy Keach), Chloe (Alex ter Avest), and the surviving prep school pupil, Jordan (Owen Teague). We also eventually meet Raggedy, or “The Raggedy Man” as he was dubbed in the hardcover, (Joshua Mikel). All of these personalities are intriguing in their own way. They give the piece a finer edge of watchability. Their performances all respectively back up this attribute splendidly.

The motion picture form of Cell, which will disappoint gore hounds with its nearly non-existent and perceivably faux use of the red stuff, wants to hammer us over the head with its now fairly exhausted thesis declaration. In so doing, it greatly constrains the entertainment value. Such merely ebbs and flows throughout the effort. This is also drown out by the all too conventional sub-plot of Riddell’s search for his immediate kin. There is also a general air of soullessness, as well as a blatant disregard to the traits which make audiences care. These are cast out through much of this endeavor. Such King co-penned with Adam Alleca in the most lackadaisical fashion imaginable. Regardless, the quiet, subtle atmosphere maintained through most of King’s 384 page tome is refreshingly reverberated, at least for a vast portion of the duration, in the Tod Williams (2004’s The Door in the Floor, 20010’s Paranormal Activity 2) directed undertaking.

cell pic 4

What also hurts the more recent transition of Cell is Williams’ lack of vision and flare. His behind the lens contribution is mediocre. Williams constructs the scenes, especially those meant to provoke fear, in a mechanical manner. The approach is essentially what you would easily call: “point and shoot”. This is done with little to no build-up or suspense. The style Williams uses here is practically indecipherable from your garden variety undead narrative. Likewise, the overall feel is far too much in line with the plethora of similarly idealized horror opuses that have also been arriving in theaters and Video on Demand in droves. Such is especially observable in the ten years between the release of the text and the photoplay variants of this chronicle.

This overwhelming familiarity is only heightened by cringe-worthy computer generated effects. Both the optical and special aspects in this category, from a collective group of over two dozen people, are equally unappealing. Such is especially evident in the various instances herein showcasing fire. What also mirrors this sensation, and parallel, is the limp characterization. This is most noticeable in the almost too fast paced initial act.

Here we are given only the briefest bits of exposition. This arrives mostly via McCourt. These moments are so rushed, and artificial, that we endure another case of those in a thriller spouting unnecessary backstory. This is while running from one routinely erected threat to the next. Luckily, this construction largely settles down in its last 2/3rds. This gives a chance for the fiction to breathe. In turn, the quality of the picture increases exponentially. The same can be said for the human categorizations as well as the enactments which embody them. During this near hour long stretch, we actually find ourselves caring for these individuals on-screen. Yet, even this component is held back by a commencement that places action above all its other aspects. This competent duration mixes with the breakneck speed of the first half hour. Such creates a general movement of events and an arc that is choppy and bizarrely structured.

cell movie

King and Alleca’s strangely bland and unusually coy screenplay oddly leaves out many of the crucial details which made those in the earliest evokation of Cell so relatable. This is also what made it pivotal to its place and period. It almost seems as if it is deliberately taking out important bits to add a sense of confusion to the proceedings. Perhaps, the screenwriters, who give us dialogue that ranges from semi-potent speeches to merely plot serving quips, were trying to instill a sensibility of what those who dominate the screen are themselves feeling. This is as they jump from one hazard to the next without much of an opportunity to contemplate their deeds. But, the conclusive result is the sensation of King and Alleca only giving us the bare essentials of the account. This is one of those rare modern silver screen occasions when the production could’ve benefited greatly from at least another twenty minutes of explanation added to the product. Such could’ve cleared things up remarkably. The engineers of the script also give us a completely different climax. It is well documented that this is because of the negative reactions to the shoulder shrug that was the last page of the tome. Though this one is satisfying enough, and far less open-ended, it still seems modeled after too much that came before it.

Further hindering this misfire is Michael Simmonds cinematography. Simmonds goes for an almost too dark veneer. Such could easily suit an endeavor such as this. Yet, what we are given is simply too drab and unpleasant to look at. This only makes the variety of flaws at hand all the more difficult to peer around. Marcelo Zarvos’ music is fair, but unmemorable. Jacob Craycroft’s editing is sloppy. This is during the unimpressive and unimaginative sequences meant to provoke excitement. Such is especially noteworthy in the opening scene in an airport in Boston. This has the incredible benefit of a cameo by schlockmeister Lloyd Kaufman. In the bestseller, this was set inside Boston Commons. This drastically alters the most exhilarating, and lengthiest, segment of King’s prose rendition of the tale. Yet, it becomes more proficient, as well as the case with the source material, when the fiction begins to slow down and become more focused. The art and sound department contribute skillfully in their singular regions. Alex McCarroll’s art direction, Kristen McGary’s set decoration and Lorraine Coppin’s costume design are impressive. But, these admirable items cannot hide the fact that we have seen this far too often, and in many superior incantations, prior.

cell 7

Cell, in its original format, was partially dedicated to master of the flesh-eating ghoul, George A. Romero (1968’s Night of the Living Dead, 1978’s Dawn of the Dead and 1985’s Day of the Dead). King even had an uncredited bit as the voice of a Neswreader in Romero’s fifth opus of the similarly equated ilk, Diary of the Dead (2007). Their masterful 1982 anthology, Creepshow, which Romero directed and King penned, and 1993 pairing The Dark Side, where Romero successfully adapted King’s 1989 yarn with a matching moniker, resulted in two instant genre classics. There is an obvious mutual respect between these two terror maestros. It is this motivation which Cell, in both its volume and movie interpretations, appears used as an indirect catalyst.

This is especially accurate when considering the modern day consciousness, eerily reminiscent of Romero, which is injected into the fabric of Cell. In the 2006 take, the power of the imagination combined with this parallel to make the labor a nearly cinematic homage to the seventy-six year old director. In the flick, this article comes across as too much of a forced wink at its core spectators. It seems to imitate and never truly evoke the foundation laid down by Romero. Ultimately, it is the grand promise that came with the premise, the fact that it could’ve been something that could’ve been used in the same exclamatory breath as one of the previously stated cracks by Romero which is most disheartening of all. This makes Cell all the more underwhelming.

But, this is not to say that many of the bricks in said groundwork are not worthy of praise. Yet, Cell, as a whole, could’ve been a monument of an achievement, as well as a subtle letter of respect to Romero. Instead, it is just another building. One that has little more for the eye than all the other edifices on the block. Fellow King admirers and genre addicts may like it well enough to find it an intriguing diversion. But, I cannot imagine that this pairing of King, Cusack and Jackson, who gave us one of the best adaptions of King’s short stories with 2007’s superb 1408, will merit the appreciation of a second look. This is by the standards of anyone who dares travel down its all too acquainted path.

cell 8

 

“End of Watch” By Stephen King – (Book Review)

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.

End of Watch (2016) oversees incomparable best-selling author Stephen King concluding his Bill Hodges Trilogy, which began with the riveting and Edgar Award winning Mr. Mercedes (2014) and continued with the experimentally designed Finders Keepers (2015), in spectacular fashion. Published by Scribner on June 7th, the 432 page volume is a labyrinthine maze of a novel. King has given us another instant classic. It radiates as another wildly inventive, skillfully paced example of why King endures as such a beloved storyteller. He is one who has captivated audiences for over four decades. Two years ago, I wrote that Mr. Mercedes was “elaborately conceived” and “worthy of Hitchcock”. The same sentiment certainly applies here. It even elucidates much the same relentless tone and sheer, compulsive enjoyment as Mr. Mercedes. End of Watch is a worthy, fitting finish. It is every bit on par with the initial effort which started this fascinating, ambitious, hard-boiled detective series.

mr mercedes cover

To its further credit, the work cracks with King’s sharp focus on characterization. He also sews his believable, sinister situations into often darkly comic humor. Likewise, his singular metaphors, vivid imagery and fluently engaging style are engraved deep into the fabric of the narrative. Such makes the experience all the more endlessly absorbing. It is also, much in the King tradition, ingeniously structured and plotted. King frequently fashions white-knuckle suspense, with touches of the supernatural and the everyday, gradually. This is issued organically and entertainingly throughout the entirety of this masterfully macabre ride. He creates a mounting wall of dread that is introduced strongly early on. True to King’s conventions, it mercilessly builds upon itself. There are also subtle references to both his prior undertakings, with The Shining (1977) being the most evident among them, and pop culture articles carefully, and with a wink to his audience, placed throughout the entirety. We are also, refreshingly, given an anything but overblown climax. It only adds to the realism King so ingeniously mirrors his latest tour de force after. The true to life drama and moments of heart King derives from these jarring circumstances, most visible in the last few pages, make this full-throttle investigative chronicle all the more well-rounded and illuminating. King’s ‘constant readers’, as well as those who are simply looking for a gripping account, will leave the tale fully satisfied.

The fiction concerns the infamous Mercedes killer, Brady Hartsfield, who remains one of the most purely wicked and intriguing antagonists conceived by King, slowing gaining power. This is while appearing dormant in hospital room 217. He is still in a persistent vegetative state. When a rash of suicides, many of them are individuals who have come into contact with Hartsfield at one point or another, begin to accrue: Hodges, who is suffering from pancreatic cancer, and his movie-loving partner, Holly Gibney, have an unshakable, inexplicable feeling that it is Hartsfield himself who is the cause of these tragedies. What is just as odd is that all of these horrific events are traced back to a cartoonish game, with potent hypnotic abilities, called Fishin’ Hole. Yet, what are these voices players seem to hear coming from the app? Furthermore, how does the letter ‘X’, which is left at many of the crime scenes, tie into all of this? Hodges and Gibney, who are eventually re-teamed with the computer savvy Jerome Robinson, must solve this case. This is before this wave of self-killings becomes an epidemic which wipes out hundreds or even thousands.

finders keepers

Hodges, Gibney and Robinson are as likable as ever. The dialogue King presents them is always absorbing. This attribute is lively and beautifully put together. It is easy to equate their mutual speeches to the conversations three real life friends may have. This is especially accurate considering being confronted with the puzzle, which is just as mesmerizing itself as Fishin’ Hole is to its victims, as the one King presents to them and, simultaneously, his legion of enthusiastic fans. King also weaves pivotal information from the past two entries in a seamless, diverting fashion. At no point does any of this feel forced, as it may with a less capable auteur. Additionally, those who have not had the pleasure of becoming lost in the world conjured by the other two installments in this saga will have no problem following this mesmerizing volume. For those of us who have perused the tomes, it offers a pleasant reminder of details that might have become a fuzzy effect of time. He also introduces other on-going personas, such as Hodges former police colleague, Pete Huntley, just as logically into the proceedings. He blends the perspectives of these individuals just as well into this striking exertion. These specifics are all further indications of the literary prowess King has injected into every technical venue herein.

The result of these components are highly addictive. King deserves every ounce of the acclaim he has attained throughout his career. He hits every note necessary for a wholly filling venture. This is done, as expected, with increasing interest and gusto. He draws us in with his opening words. This is by recreating the events which commenced Mr. Mercedes from an entirely new viewpoint. From then on we are trapped in the grim web that is End of Watch. We are gripped in this manner through the duration. King’s incredible imagination and ability to pull horror from mundane daily occurrences is in full swing here. It is as welcome, and tremendously wrought, as ever. He will have you seeing pink fish, and the various other more terrifying mental picture he invokes from them, swimming through the electronic currents of your nightmares. All the while, you will be as entranced by King’s brilliant, often cinematic, writing skills. This is yet another masterpiece in a career rich with titles where such a term can easily be equated. The king of the terror genre has returned and he is as amazing as ever. End of Watch stands alongside The Fireman by King’s son, Joe Hill, as another example of the year’s best books!

end of watch pic 1

“The Fireman” by Joe Hill – (Book Review)

fireman pic 1

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.

One of the great joys of reading Joe Hill is that his stories seem to exist in the same literary world created by his father, Stephen King. So when Hill’s masterful fourth novel, The Fireman (2016), calls upon, and often directly incorporates, ideas from King benchmarks like The Shining (1977) it doesn’t just summon a smirk. Instead, it seems natural and even expected. This sensibility is so strong that I often even silently anticipate Hill’s antagonists running into those who populated King’s tales at any given interval.

With this in mind, it should not be a shock that throughout Hill’s latest eight ‘book’ epic he also slyly references other King works. For example, the novella which was first made available in King’s short story collection Different Seasons, Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption (1982). There is also an undeniable parallel to The Stand (1978). This is most evident in the end of the world theme, scale and ambition. It is also comparable in the sheer length of Hill’s massive seven hundred and fifty two page tome. Hill also shares King’s knack for effortlessly entertaining his audience through the pure readability of his terrifically written sheets alone.

There is also an intimate character-focus and various pop-culture mentions. We are also amended statements concerning Maine and the state’s surrounding spots. All of these further align Hill to King. Yet, there is a noticeable inspiration from J.K. Rowling, Harper Lee, Ray Bradbury and, of all things, Julie Andrews. Mary Poppins (1964) is a personal favorite of Hill’s heroine, Harper Willowes. Likewise, the Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman composed song, “A Spoonful of Sugar”, is constantly mentioned. It is also creatively mixed into the proceedings. There is also a direct comparison to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) and the trials which occur within the confines of Hill’s most recent opus itself. This creates a direct arrangement to the measures of Hill’s fiction sewn into the fabric. It also seems to be modeling itself after The Andromeda Strain (1969) by Michael Chrichton in many respects.

True of all the talents of the authors mentioned above, Hill has an affinity to make us deeply care for our leads. He keeps a sense of urgency, a quiet intensity, lurking at every turn. This is present even in the numerous exposition heavy stretches which take up much of the mid-section. Yet, such makes every tragic, unexpectedly poignant and occasionally comic item all the more pivotal, intimate and immediate. This makes the adventure Harper, a nurse, takes with John Rookwood, a likable Englishman whose own dreams are alluded to in the title all the more jarring, exciting and spectacular. Helping matters is the singular, expertly developed personalities Harper meets along the way. For example, a vindictive radio personality dubbed ‘The Marlboro Man’ is among Hill’s more interesting antagonists. This only enhances the credibility and quality of the undertaking stupendously.

The story itself is set in modern day New Hampshire. It concerns an outbreak of Draco Incendia Trychophyton or, as it is commonly dubbed throughout this meticulously detailed affair, Dragonscale. This is a lethal spore which evokes spontaneous combustion in those who have not learned how to control it. Those who do find the beauty in this microorganism. Such activities, taught to Harper by The Fireman himself, bring about a sense of time slowed down. Among the benefits of such a control is the ability to create blazes without a match. But, how long will it be before this power is corrupted?

Once Harper unveils that she is a carrier of Dragonscale, early in the undertaking, we follow her on a continually mesmerizing journey. She narrowly escapes her husband, Jakob. He is a self-proposed ‘intellectual’ and amateur writer. One that is slowly becoming unhinged and increasingly more fascinated with a suicide pact he made with Harper before she found out she was pregnant. She is fearful. This is until she finds a presumed safety at a place for those who are infected. The name of this area is Camp Wyndham. It is run by the ever-intriguing Father Storey.

Here she becomes more familiar with the title entity. It also gives her a sense of temporary safety. She thinks this will be a haven. One which will ensure that her unborn child will be protected from her increasingly violence prone spouse. This is until the pleasantries of those at Camp Wyndham are unveiled to be a ruse. It is than she must fight to survive for the sake of herself, those around her and the babe within her.

The result of this struggle, the pushing force of the entire narrative, is fully satisfying on all fronts. This is sprawling, suspenseful and smartly paced in equal doses. All the more admirably, these attributes often appears to transpire simultaneously. Hill’s structure throughout is meticulous and always fascinating. He also evokes crisp imagery. It is as spectacularly visual and unforgettable as the most haunting and harrowing mainstream blockbuster. This is especially true in the first and last hundred pages.

What is just as admirable is the magnificent way he ties up as many loose ends as possible in the concluding stretches. This makes the rare predictable element, such as a chain of events brought forth by the hierarchy in Camp Wyndham, easily forgettable. This is also true of the last 1/3 of the hardcover. Here Hill follows a generally formulaic pattern for tales of this variety. Still, he breaks new ground and dismantles expectations at nearly every turn. Thus, these small familiarities are made all the more trivial in comparison.

The volume triumphs as action. There are plenty of scenes so rigorously detailed you can often hear the crack of the shots fired and the clash of fictional vehicles. It succeeds just as well as science-fiction, horror and drama. There’s terror, poignancy, life lessons and wisdom in abundance. Just as prevalent is Hill’s rich prose. It is as grand as the plethora of authors who served as the muse for this astonishing tour de force.

Hill wants to teach us the importance of a song and unveiling moments of splendor amid an ever-blackening backdrop. Furthermore, he wants to instruct us on how everyday people can turn into heroes under the most horrific circumstances. There is also a strong emphasis on kindness and humanity amid insurmountable odds. Such, along with a tremendously realized and deservedly poetic finale, will produce tears from even the sourest of hearts. To its further credit, there is also an active imagination vividly alive here. It also easily aligns Hill with those who he specifically notes as his muse early on. These are but a few of the many numerous achievements visible in The Fireman.

Hill’s latest is endlessly engaging and meditative. It showcases the remarkable talent he demonstrated in his short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts (2005), and in the Bram Stoker Award for Best Debut Novel winning, Heart Shaped Box (2007), as continuing to blossom and take flight. Though the overall content may not be as horrific as that exhibited in NOS4A2 (2013), whose Christmasland is also cleverly referenced here, it is every bit as magnificent. The William Morrow and Company published piece certainly towers over Hill’s uneven Horns (2010). What’s best is that the comic book series Locke and Key (2008-2014) scribe continues to exhibit growth, further potential and brilliance.

There’s a lot of Hill’s dad in him. This much is true. Admittedly, this connection is what drew me initially to his material. But, with every new labor turned in Hill proves that his voice is exceptional and distinctly his own. The Fireman is no exception. As a matter of fact, it is one of the most striking novels I’ve read in years. For those of us who like many genres triumphantly put together into one compulsively readable digest: this is an absolutely mandatory experience.

fireman pic 2