Wednesday, December 17, 2008

20 Years, 4,750 Pages

Stephen King's Dark Tower septology, or whatever, holds a singular place in my reading history. As a series, it has spanned 20 years of my life, from the time I read the first book in about 1988. So, it was with equal parts relief as well as sadness that ~4,750 pages later I finally finished it.

Book 3, the Wastelands, I read while at art school. #4 I read upon returning home from my honeymoon 10 years ago. At the rate the books were appearing, I stopped until he was finished lest I completely lose the plot, being so spaced out. Once he'd finally done so, I decided to re-read the first 4 books. Sitting at the San Jose Airport in 2005, weeks before leaving my hometown for all the other places we've been, I began reading The Gunslinger again. I talked a little about this years back, when I was still at the start of my re-reading.

I re-read #4 while in Spain. The thick trade paperback went with me on the bus the day we moved back to the states. Due to our space requirements, I tore off the first 300 pages or so I'd completed and left them in the bus, taking the rest with me. Luggage space was at a premium! Books 6 & 7 I read almost entirely while taking public transportation since May.

I have mixed feelings about the series. It was entertaining, at times fantastic. But starting in book 3 or so I really got the feeling that the book was coming out of King in a sort of stream-of-consciousness, benefiting from his years of honing his craft but not so much from structuring. Does he normally write this way? I don't think so, though I've only read two of his other books. I know that back in college, when I wrote more, I wrote that way. Stuff just sorta came out, and I rarely went back to organize it. At times, the language was sophomoric, the intended weight and seriousness of the dialects and High Speech shoehorned in such a way as to make them trite devices--King did not even take a running leap at being a fraction the linguist that Tolkien was. Yet, the story, perhaps because of its right-brained flow, was always throwing you curves, and the characters were genuinely interesting.

I read most of the books in their trade paperback editions to benefit from the illustrations. In truth, I liked the Whelan and Hale illustrations (books 1,2 and 7), and disliked the rest to varying degrees.

One surprise for me was that I reached the end and found it had not been spoiled, despite knowing others who'd read it. That was nice. I'll agree with King's estimation--it ended the way it really had to, though I hoped for something different until I got to it. By the way, though I'm not reading the Harry Potter books (nor do I intend to), I must say that I still don't know who if anyone dies in the last book as people wondered before its release. So, good job you Potter fans.

Now what? I'd like to take a break from fiction for awhile, although it would be nice to read a good old-fashioned standalone novel. In fantasy / science-fiction, it is almost impossible to find a standalone novel these days--series bloat is endemic. And if you do, it's like 3,000 pages long, the length of a series. I think I might have more luck with sci-fi in this regard. Honestly, series-bloat has kept me from reading quite a lot over the years. I wonder how much this has factored into the shrinking book publishing market, at least on the F/SF side.

If anyone knows of something good that fits the bill, do let me know.