This post is about another of my favourite books. I’ve tried reading books that I thought I ought to have a crack at, and sometimes it works, most times not. So, another book that I have several copies of, “The Stand” by Stephen King.
Ultimately, this book is about the battle between good and evil. That should really be Good and Evil, for they are major forces. The release of a biological weapon (called Captain Trips) from a US facility causes a pandemic to spread across the world with a terrifying mortality rate. Soon, most of the human world is dead or dying. King lets us see this happen from a number or angles, none of which is pleasant. A soldier escapes from the facility when the containment fails, packs up his wife and child and sets out across the States, ultimately crashing into a petrol station where some old friends are hanging out and shooting the breeze. From there, things only get worse. The military tries to stem the spread of Captain Trips, but the chaps in white coats in their desert labs have been a bit too clever this time, and containment proves futile.
For the survivors – not everyone dies, only about 99% of the world’s population, things go from bad to worse. Visions start coming to those able to percieve them, either of an elderly black woman, or something terrible coming through the corn-fields. Depending on their nature, people are drawn to either of the two visions. The emissary of evil in this case is the Walking Man, Randall Flagg, drawing forces to him. The elderly lady is Mother Abigail, in Nebraska. The various groups of survivors criss-cross the country, heading for either Nebraska or Las Vegas, which Flagg has taken as his headquarters. Again, as with many of King’s novels, the characters are what drew me in. Good or bad, they all seem like real people, who would have an opinion on things. You might not like them, you might pray you never cross their path (or they yours), but they seem real. Another thing is that with the good characters, they are almost never wholly good, as you might find in a Bulldog Drummond or Richard Hannay story (nothing wrong with that, either). One of the only characters I can think of in this story, other than Mother Abigail, is the Judge. He knows the consequences of doing what he feels is right, and does it anyway. True grit. For the rest, they have the normal human mixture of desires, fears and dreams. The same goes for those on the side of evil. Many aren’t what you would call dyed-in-the-wool evil, just corrupt, venal, out to consolidate what little power they have in the new world order.
The idea of a post-apocalyptic America was intriguing too. It reminded me strongly of “Earth Abides”, though with a great deal more detail and more characters. Can you imagine walking through any large city, once almost everyone else has died off? Walking over the cracked asphalt at O’Hare, once the aircraft have fallen silent forever. Would you stay sane, retain your humanity? I don’t know. That’s a question we would each have to ask ourselves.
As with quite a few of the books I’ve reviewed, I can’t say too much, for fear of spoiling what I think is a great read. I liked the characters a great deal, particularly Trashcan Man.
The Stand was originally released in a “cut” version, because the publishers thought that such a large book wouldn’t sell well. I was lucky enough to come to it when it had been released in it’s un-cut form, with hundreds of pages back where they should have been. The major difference is on the final page, in a “coda” of sorts, which changes the complexion of the entire book. You’ll need to read it to see what I mean, but removing that last page would make a massive difference, you’ll see.
So, a mammoth book about the ultimate struggle between good and evil. For me, it is up there with the Lord of the Rings, just an entirely different kind of book. Both are great.
Rating: 9/10 – it doesn’t get much better than this!