don't answer your phone

In my recent web meanderings I stumbled across an excellent page that offers sound advice to writers: Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do) by Pat Holt. Stop by and pick up some writing tips.

Over the weekend I demolished Stephen King’s latest novel, Cell. I have a history with King books. As a kid I read all his early work but stopped at Misery. Actually, I planned to abandon King after It, because that very long book wore out my patience. I gave Misery a chance partly because it was so short–and I’m glad I did as the book is excellent.

However, my wariness about King’s books remained, especially his gargantuan tomes, and since then I haven’t read any of his novels, even though I’m aware that some of them were very worthy.

Cell registered on my radar partly because I thought the premise was great, and also because there’s already a buzz about the movie adaptation. King’s film adaptations are hit and miss; the ones that stand out in my memory are Stand by Me, The Dead Zone by Cronenberg, Carrie by DePalma, Misery, and the original TV series of Salem’s Lot (although the mini-series of The Stand was decent).

I enjoyed Cell a great deal and I think that King has tapped into a pertinent cultural zeitgeist, and has written a very filmable novel.

The premise is simple: on October 1 everybody who answers their cell phone is subjected to a Pulse that wipes out their human conditioning and strips it back to a primordial madness. By page 5 of the book the slaughter begins. I had forgotten that King, when he’s playing true to the horror genre, is the goriest son of a bitch on the planet.

The protagonist is Clayton Riddell, a comic book artist who discovers that the destruction of civilisation renders him out of work. Clay is in Boston when the Pulse hits, and has to survive the chaos that quickly engulfs the city. Along the way he picks up a crew of fellow survivors, but his ultimate goal is to return to Maine to find out what happened to his separated wife, and more importantly, his son.

As the story advances the humans that have been affected by the Pulse begin to change and adapt in unusual and terrifying ways. Clay and his band of friends have to survive the zombified humans in a world where civilisation has abruptly ended.

The horror genre has often exposed our latent fear of technology, but King has cleverly singled out the cell phone as a medium to exploit our insecurities about our rapidly evolving digital age. By page ten I glanced over at my mobile phone with a modicum of distrust.

While it’s great that King has returned to his horror roots and has whipped up a gripping apocalyptic novel, there are a couple of issues with the book. King’s style of writing is readable, and the plot moves along at a brisk pace, but the characterisation falls to the wayside on a number of occasions. When something terrible happened to a major character during the book I didn’t even flinch. I felt no emotional investment in the person’s survival. It’s a curious disconnect in the novel, especially since King usually is a master of character.

Yet, it’s a gripping horror yarn and it’s extremely adaptable to the big screen. At several points during the book I could visualise how the movie would look. Dimension Films has hired Eli Roth to direct the movie, which is due out in 2007, or as soon as Roth finishes with Hostel 2.

This will be the biggest production that Roth has worked on, so I hope he can step up his game, because Cell has the potential to be a kick-ass horror flick.