I, like so many others in the reading public, went through a Stephen King phase. It was in junior high for me, when I bought his books by the yard and read one after the other, from Christine to Firestarter to all of The Bachman Books.
It gave me a certain reputation in school – I was, for lack of a better label, the weird one. It is an odd social phenomenon that you can get branded as the creepy outcast by reading one of the most popular writers in the history of English – but that’s for another discussion.
Naturally, once I came out on the other end of my Stephen King phase, I bared my pimply, teenaged ass to him, disparaging such drivel in favor of more erudite works by Tolkien and Melville (yes, those two can go together). The dizzying juices of teenage rebellion pushed me to turn against King – because he is The Man – and I use that term with all the heavy connotations it can carry. He sells millions of books, so he’s a sellout, right? He has scored the mass appeal that should be possible only with a giant compromise in one’s artistic integrity.
And he makes it all look so easy. He is easy to read, easy to digest, even when he goes on a bit too long – see It and Needful Things, for example. And that, I have to admit, is a great skill, one not possessed by many in this world.
Given that, plus his prolific career, King can cast a long and oppressive shadow on other writers – one that darkened my recent addition “Year of the Turtle.” This story is part of the Highway Virus series, and it and its companion piece “Little Things” are about two brothers trying reconcile their relationship and their own places in the world amid the chaos of a civilization in decline. Also, water is one of the themes, as you might expect from a story with “Turtle” in the title.
Then I read King’s story “The End of the Whole Mess” in the collection Wastelands. It was the first King work I had read in a long, long time. The story, in keeping with the theme of the collection, is about the end of the world. It focuses on two brothers – the narrator is the older brother and the younger brother contributes mightily to our end. And the active agent that ends it all moves through the water.
Damn, that all sounds really familiar. Given my ambivalence to King’s work in general, I can’t help but feel the same about these parallels. It is flattering that I share at least some of the same creative juices with such a successful writer. I have talked about the Noosphere before – and it should be at least a partial boost to my confidence that I might have bumped into him within that rarefied space.
On the one hand, I feel like I am a few more feet underground, on the bottom of the literary dumping ground, pelted by concepts eerily similar to my own work. I have done something that seems derivative – even though I wasn’t aware of the “progenitor” until after it was done. I guess that will always be the risk in any apocalypse fiction. In the end, you are always chasing The Road Warrior.
(Doomsday may not have been all that good, but at least Neil Marshall had no illusions about the type of movie he was making.)
Of course one reason why I may not be too psyched about the comparison to King’s story is that “The End of the Whole Mess” isn’t the strongest in the collection. I don’t say that to be snarky or vindictive. I honestly feel that the best story so far (and I’ve read only about half the book) is Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The People of Sand and Slag.” Great story – and a really unique look at a possible future for “humanity.”