Thursday, August 16, 2007


Stephen King
Magpie's Grade: B- / C+

What can I say? It was a Stephen King novel. The premise: a mysterious "Pulse" wipes the brains of anyone who is talking on a cell phone across the Northern US (and presumably across the world). Only those Luddites who are not chatting on the infernal devices are left unscathed among the wreckage of society. Because, of course (this being Stephen King) those unfortunates whose brains are sent back to Go are reduced to their most animal instincts. Bloody, gut-churning chaos ensues - I believe there's someone chewing a dog's ear off in the first three pages.

Our fearless technology-deprived hero, Clayton Riddell, along with a not-so-merry band of fellow travelers also in their right minds, must make the trek between Boston and Maine to rescue Clay's son Johnny-Gee from the evil clutches of the "phone crazies." Though the crazies are not quite crazy for long because apparently the Pulse also "flipped a switch" in the zombies' minds, setting in motion an Evolution in Overdrive that renders the phone people....well, you'll just have to read it.

It's a quick read, which was good, given that I felt compelled to stay awak until 4:30 in the morning to finish it. It wasn't particularly scary, but it was gruesome in parts. The whole "that which Man hath wrought will destroy Him in the end" idea has been done many times before, and this is nothing new. We even get fun zombies out of it! Stephen King does play with the idea that humans are, under the trappings of civilization, essentially crazy. I think my favorite quotation is:

"At bottom, you see, we are not Homo sapiens at all. Our core is madness. The prime directive is murder. What Darwin was too polite to say, my friends, is that we came to rule the earth not because we were the smartest, or even the meanest, but because we have always been the craziest, most murderous motherfuckers in the jungle."

Something I've been saying for years, to my sorrow.

The plot devolves into running from the phone zombies. There are some clever parts, but not enough to call this high literature. I was frustrated with the end (let's just say it sets itself up neatly for a sequel). There are also unexplained gaps - for example, King never bothers to turn his attention to the mass-murdering idiots who started the Pulse to begin with, other than to mutter vaguenesses about "terrorists whose plans went awry." It is what it is - a Stephen King novel. Overall, not a bad airplane book. Just make sure to turn your cell phone off when the nice flight attendant asks. We have enough zombies in the world.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Seventh HP

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Magpie's Grade: B+

Not much can be said about the seventh and final installment of the Harry Potter series that other reviewers will say better and more thoroughly than I. I enjoyed it, it's worth reading if you're a fan of the series. It was a good end.

Ms. Rowling is not a lyrical writer. The joy of the book is not in the language per se, but in the imaginative and fast-paced action and in the character development - especially in this series of Ron and Hermione, and of doubts cast on Dumbledore's character. The writing is perfect for tweens and those adolescents who have grown up with Harry. James Joyce this is not (thank God).

There is more death in this one, more wholesale destruction, and an interesting angle reminiscent of Christian theology of choosing death in order to save everyone. I am sad in some ways to see the series end. I have fond memories of reading the first couple of books while driving between home and college (a blatant disregard for other drivers I do not recommend now - what can I say. I was young and foolish).

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach
Magpie's Grade: B

I liked Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers better. I did enjoy the chapters on EVP and how mediums would fake spirit visitations using sheep stomachs. Though it was a bit on the gross side. I wish Ms. Roach had come to more of a conclusion; as she put it, she indulged in "The Big Shrug" frequently.

I suppose the issue for me is one of belief. Sometimes analyzing esoteric subjects like life after death for incontrovertible truth, for answers one way or the other, destroys the mystery in life. I suppose that's why Ms. Roach chose to go with the Big Shrug. The aspects of human fascination with the afterlife with which she chose to deal focused primarily on the patently ludicrous - the spirit tapping, the googly-eyed mediums, the crooks and shams and money-grubbers that make humans so depressingly fascinating. She didn't mention much about religion, other than as reference for her skepticism.

I did enjoy Ms. Roach's irreverent sense of humor. Her footnotes are hilarious. She is the kind of person I would love to have a beer (or two) with. Her sometimes morbid jokes are right up my dark and twisted alley. Her curiosity about the world is seemingly endless, and I appreciate that.