The Books of Richard Bachman

Richard Bachman was an American fiction writer who died in 1985. His books were quite dystopian and unpleasant. From what I can figure out, he was a friend of Stephen King – both authors repeatedly reference each other in their works, and Stephen King wrote introductions to several posthumous editions of Bachman’s books. I’m a big Stephen King fan, so I decided to spend a few months reading every book that Bachman wrote. I’m reviewing them here in the order that I read them, not the order that they were published.

bachman rageRage – 1977
This is the only book by this author that’s out of print. It’s about a kid killing two of his teachers and then taking his class hostage. While being held hostage, the students start opening up and sharing their deepest secrets with eachother. I found it pretty hard to swallow the idea of the kids bonding in a situation like this. At the end, they gang up on a boy (not the shooter) and brutally attack him.

The shooter had a messed up home life, but it wasn’t nearly messed up enough to justify his behaviour. None of the victims in this novel deserve what they get. There’s no satisfaction when they die. School shootings have become a far more frequent occurence since this book was published too, and some actual school shooters’ lockers have been found to contain this book. I didn’t like this one much.

 

long walk bachmanThe Long Walk – 1979
This is the story of 100 teenagers in a competition to see who can walk the furthest without stopping. If they stop, they are shot dead. An interesting idea for a story, but it’s not an enjoyable read. A few months ago, I complained about how Henry James used frustrating language to make his readers feel the frustration that his characters are going through. In a similar way, Richard Bachman wrote a gruelling book about a gruelling experience. Like the road the characters are walking, this book goes on and on. While reading it, I kept wishing that it was a short story – it’s a straightforward concept that can only end one way, perfect for that format – but a short story wouldn’t bring out the true horror, the monotonous, inevitable, tortuous misery of the Long Walk.

I kept hoping that the walk would reach a point where the walkers started dropping off quickly, but that doesn’t really happen. The concept is quite brilliant in that way – the further the walkers go and the fewer of them that are alive, the better each individual’s chances become, spurring them on to continue. It’s a really clever, yet absolutely horrible, idea. The book is succesful in making the reader feel uncomfortable – for a book set on the open road, it’s strangely claustrophobic – but I can’t really say I enjoyed the journey. It reminded me of sitting through the 5th hour of a 10 hour flight. A rotten book that will make you feel lousy.

 

bachman roadworkRoadwork – 1981
I’m still not sure if this was a good book. While its ending is only marginally less obvious than The Long Walk, I found getting to that point to be more entertaining. (There’s only one potential destination for the characters in both novels, but the protagonist of Roadwork has several potential ways of getting there.) This is the story of a man’s life falling apart. It was clearly written by a person who was upset. No real surprises, but entertaining all the same.

 

bachman blazeBlaze – 2006
Rage, The Long Walk, Roadwork and The Running Man used to be published together as a collection called The Bachman Books. I can’t remember why, but I took a break from that collection after Roadwork and read this 2007 book. Blaze was written in the 70s and revised for publication 30+ years later. Essentially the author has taken the 2 main characters from a famous Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and put them into very different circumstances. Instead of ranch workers, they’re now small time criminals, and once George is murdered, Lenny (or Blaze, as he’s called here) comes up with a plan to make a million dollars. If you’re familiar with Steinbeck’s work, you’ll have an idea of how things are going to end here, but that doesn’t ruin this story. There is only the slightest hint of supernatural activity towards the end of the novel, and I think it’s quite a push to describe this as a ghost story. It’s not a bad read though.

 

bachman running manThe Running Man – 1982
Honestly, this felt like a much improved version of the Long Walk. It’s the same basic idea (a government that kills people for entertainment), but this one has more of a futuristic, sci-fi vibe to it. Again, there’s only a few ways this story could possibly end, and by the time you get to the last quarter of the book, there is absolutely no question of where this is going. The chapters are numbered backwards too, and the whole countdown thing is pretty cool. I tried watching the movie, but I only got 40 mins into it before giving up.

 

stephen king desperationDesperation – 1996
Ok, so I know you’re probably surprised to see a Stephen King novel in this post, but let me explain. In 1994, Richard Bachman’s widow found a manuscript of an unpublished novel called The Regulators in her cellar. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but somehow the manuscript managed to find its way into the hands of Stephen King. There is a brief reference to the Overlook Hotel (from King’s The Shining) in The Regulators, and King has name-dropped Bachman in several of his works since Bachman’s death, so I assume the two authors had become friends at a literary party or writing convention or something in the 80s. If Bachman’s wife or agent had stayed in touch with King, they might well have sent the manuscript to him to help get it published – by the mid 90s, King was the most popular author in the world. Before exerting his influence to have the book published, King seems to have decided to pay homage to his fallen comrade by writing a companion text to Bachman’s unpublished novel.

This post is about Bachman’s books though, so I’ll explain that in more detail in reference to his text later. As for King’s book, this is definitely one of his less brilliant novels. The concept is decent, the story is super gory, and there are some genuinely creepy ideas in here, but I reckon this would have worked better as a novella. At 700+ pages, Desperation is needlessly long. It’s also surprisingly religious. King was going through some difficult stuff in his life and used writing this book to work things out for himself. There’s a lot of discussion about the nature of God. This book has weird sex things, underground monsters, blood and guts, but it’s actually quite shit.

bachman the regulatorsThe Regulators – 1996
This book features the same characters as Stephen King’s novel Desperation, but instead of them fighting against the demonic Tak in a ghost town filled with corpses and scorpions, they get to battle him without leaving their neighbourhood. The Regulators is set in an alternate universe where the characters from Desperation are neighbours rather than drifters in the desert. Realistically though, most of the characters share only a name with their counterpart in Desperation. (David and Ralph Carver switch places as father and son.) Tak, the antagonist, is quite different too.

The Regulators was fairly shit, but I don’t think I noticed how shit it was until I was finished. It was exactly like a Goosebumps book for grown-ups. The plot was quite dumb. If a person was determined to finish all of Bachman’s books, I would suggest reading King’s Desperation before The Regulators. I know that sounds a bit strange given that The Regulators has to have been written before Desperation, but let me explain: The Regulators is quite short, and I think that Desperation’s mammoth size was King’s attempt to flesh out Bachman’s concept without editing the original text. Both books are shit though, so you’d be better off just leaving them alone.

 

bachman thinnerThinner – 1984
Out of all of Bachman’s books, Thinner was the one that I wanted to read most, so I saved it for last. Somehow my friend Damo and I managed to rent a VHS copy of the movie version when we were kids, and while I remembered very little of the plot, I knew that this one was going to be a fairly straightforward horror story. Reading through a story that I had seen in a movie almost 20 years previously was a bit strange. I’d realise what was going to happen just before the book revealed it.

A fat man gets cursed by a gypsy and starts losing weight. The story is quite Bachmany in its inevitability – horror stories about curses can’t have happy endings. From the very beginning, you know that the protagonist is either going to waste away to nothing or have the curse lifted only to suffer an even more miserable death. The drawn out misery of the first two thirds of the book reminded me of The Long Walk. Things definitely pick up towards the end, but I think that this would have been more enjoyable as a short story than as a novel.

There’s a reference to Stephen King in here too, strengthening my belief that the two authors were friends.

richard bachmanThe only known photograph of Bachman

Well, that’s it for Richard Bachman. Apparently his wife still has some unpublished manuscripts, so it’s possible that another one will come out in the future. In honesty though, I’m happy enough waiting. These books weren’t anything special. Bachman’s friend, Stephen King, writes more enjoyable books.

Hail to the King!

Towards the end of last year, I wrote a long post about the work of Stephen King. I had read nothing but King for a few weeks prior to writing that, and so I decided to give him a break for a while. He has been showing up in the news recently due to his hilarious behaviour on twitter and for the record breaking new trailer for It, and so I decided to indulge myself with a smattering of his marvelous brand of trashy horror fiction.

it stephen kingIt – 1986

I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time. I remember being thoroughly creeped out by the video box of the 1990 movie version when I was a kid but being a little disappointed when I actually got to sit down and watch It. With the new movie coming out in September, I decided that I had better read the book now so that I can act cool and knowledgeable to anyone who mentions it to me in the coming months.

In some ways, It is a brilliant novel. The characters are great, the scary bits are very scary, and the transitions between past and present are really well executed. I also have personal reasons for enjoying the story of a gang of losers getting into rock fights with bullies, building hideouts in the woods, and breaking into abandoned houses. I was a little older than the characters in the book when I went a very similar, although significantly less supernatural, set of adventures myself.

Several scenes in the book involve the kids breaking into an abandoned house only to meet It in different ghoulish forms. When I was 18, my friends and I broke into an abandoned house and went rummaging through the cellar. When we were down there, we saw a strange light glimmering on the wall by the stairs. This was rather frightening as it was well after dark, and that set of stairs was our only escape route. We grabbed what we could from the debris on the ground (a stick, a rope, a rusty grill…) and prepared to do battle with whatever it was that was coming down the stairs.

We waited in silence for several minutes, but nothing moved and the light eventually went away. Afterwards, as we sat on some chairs that we had fashioned from old breezeblocks, we came up with a story to explain the peculiar glare. It had been the ghost of the former resident of the house, an old woman who was none too pleased with our presence in her home. We wrote a song about it that began:

In the hoose (sic), the times we had.
Our antiques (sic) made the Granny mad.
Her toilet, it was brown and crappy;
in the bin, her vaginal nappy.

shitty toilet
Her toilet was indeed both brown and crappy.

Anyways, there are several genuinely creepy scenes and ideas in here, but It is a very long book, and in truth, it’s a little incohesive. By 1986, Stephen King was the most popular novelist in the world. He could have written complete rubbish, had it published and sold a million copies. I’m not saying that this is rubbish, but I reckon it could have done with a bit of editing. Some bits aren’t really unnecessary to the lengthy plot, and some crucial plot elements (It‘s origin, the Turtle, how some adults can see Pennywise) are given scant explanation. This doesn’t detract too much from the book however; when a novel’s opening scene depicts a clown dragging a small child into a sewer to eat him, one aught to adjust their expectations accordingly. Don’t question the plot’s coherence; just turn your brain off and enjoy the trashy horror goodness.

When reviewing an extremely popular work, I try not to repeat information or ideas that will be available from thousands of other blogs and websites, but I will say that the infamous sex scene towards the end of this novel was damn weird.

I tried to rewatch the old movie version right after finishing the novel, but it’s very long and aside from Tim Curry, the acting is awful. I lasted about 20 minutes before watching a best-bits compilation on youtube. I will definitely be going to see the new version when it comes out.

 

cycle of the werewolf stephen kingCycle of the Werewolf – 1983

This story is packaged as an illustrated novel, but in reality, it’s shorter than some of King’s short stories. It’s about a werewolf on the loose in a small town. There’s nothing in here that you wouldn’t expect from the title and cover of the book. It’s not an unpleasant read, but I don’t think anyone would say that this is King at his finest. I read it on my commute to work one day.

 

carrie stephen kingCarrie – 1974

 King’s first novel, Carrie, is also one of his best. I started it one morning last week and had finished it by that afternoon. Obviously, this is a very popular work, one that has spawned 3-4 movie versions, and I was familiar with the plot before reading it, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it immensely.

This is nowhere near as ambitious as a novel like It, but I reckon Carrie is actually the better book. The reader quickly comes to understand Carrie’s plight and to lust for her revenge, but this book also encourages its readers to consider how they treat the Carries in their own lives. It’s a simple formula, but it’s entertaining and effective.

 

I love Stephen King, but I’ll probably leave him alone for another few months. He’ll doubtlessly appear on this blog again. Oh, and sorry for the recent lack of posts; there should be a few new ones popping up fairly soon.

The Divine Rite of King

When I as a kid, my parents would sometimes take me to the videoshop after mass on a Sunday and we’d rent two cassettes: a cartoon for the kids and a movie for my parents. As I got a little older, I found myself drawn to the wall over by the sales counter. This was where the horror films were stacked. I distinctly remember being fascinated by the video boxes of Return of the Living Dead III, Ghoulies, and The Howling II. There was one similarity shared by several of the other boxes; it was a man’s name, Stephen King. I remember the mildly titillating feeling of dread that came from looking at the boxes of Children of the Corn, Tommyknockers, It and Graveyard Shift. The covers made these movies look horribly disturbing. I mean, these looked like the kind of films that were supposed to make you mentally sick if you watched them. But underneath my revulsion there was an intense curiosity. I wanted to see those films badly.

My parents had seen a few of the better movies that had been made from King’s work. I remembering pestering them for every plot detail of the Shining  and Misery.  It was probably soon after that that my mam allowed me to read The Moving Finger, a short story from Nightmares and Dreamscapes. It was a bit like the Goosebumps books that I absolutely adored at the time, but this was for grownups. I thought Stephen King was super cool.

I’m the eldest of my siblings, and my parents were a bit stricter with me than they were with my sisters. When one of my teachers told my parents that students should spend 3 hours studying every day, my mam took that to heart. I was never locked in  room or anything, but I was expected to spend several hours a day on my schoolwork. It wasn’t worth fighting over, so I just stayed in the front room of our house by myself, pretending to study for a few hours every day. I can’t remember/don’t want to admit how I spent all of those hours, but there was a bookshelf in that room, and sometimes reading novels seemed like a better idea than reading textbooks. There were only four books on that shelf that looked remotely appealing, and I got through all of them. ‘What books were they?’, I hear you say. They were Roddy Doyle’s excellent Barrytown Trilogy and Bag of Bones by Stephen King.

bagofbonesBag of Bones (1998)
I read this about 15 years ago and can’t remember much about it. I believe I enjoyed it at the time. Anything beat studying.

theshiningThe Shining (1977)
I read this one a little over 5 years ago, and I absolutely loved it. At one point, I actually had to put the book down to take a breather and calm myself (I believe it was right after Danny went into room 237). I had seen Kubrick’s film several times before reading the book, and I reckon it’s better to do the film/book combo in that order.

nightmaresanddreamscapesNightmares & Dreamscapes (1993)
While my first experience with this short story collection was probably 20 years ago, I only got around to reading it cover to cover in 2014. (Well, I’ve never technically read it cover to cover to be honest; I read it in my old office job from a pdf file saved in my google drive). Some stories were great. My favourites were Popsy, Crouch End (a pastiche of Lovecraft), and Night Flier, the movie version of which is laughably bad. Dedication is weird and gross but definitely worth a read. I enjoyed this book, but I don’t think it was quite as good as King’s earlier short story collections.

nightshiftNight Shift (1978)
In October, I took a seasonal job in a powder factory. The work required a lot of standing still, and I was allowed to do it with headphones in. I decided to download some audiobooks to get me through the long dusty days, but I was fairly disappointed in the selection offered by illegal fire-sharing sites. Also, choosing the right audiobook to listen to at work is tricky; the book needs to be interesting enough to keep your mind occupied, but it also has to be light enough that you don’t have to take notes to keep up with the plot. My problems were all solved when I found a big torrent of Stephen King’s audiobooks. His writing is very straightforward, and it takes barely any effort to soak it in. Also, his short stories are about vampires, aliens, mutant rats, and men that turn into slime. If that doesn’t sound enticing to you, get the fuck off my blog and go listen to your Coldplay cds, you stupid fucking barrel of shit.
This is the first collection of short fiction that King published, and some of the stories are  great. Children of the Corn is maybe my favourite. The written text is so much better than the utterly shit movie version that came out in 1984. Graveyard Shift and The Mangler were both great too, but I haven’t watched their movie adaptations. One for the road and Jerusalem’s Lot both expand on the material from Salem’s Lot (reviewed below), and Night Surf is a brief glance at the idea that would become The Stand (also reviewed below). Not everything in here is brilliant, but I really like the fact that King is willing to take any silly idea that comes into his head and turn it into a story. The man has a brilliant imagination.

skeletoncrewSkeleton Crew (1985)
I think I stole a copy of this book from my Granddad’s house when I was 21. I remember taking it to France with me and reading most of The Mist on a plane. Frank Darabont’s version of the Mist is one of my favourite movies and one of the few times that I think a film improved on the book. I read another few stories after that, but lost the book soon thereafter. I started going through the remaining tales as soon as I finished Night Shift last month, and this one picks up right where that one left off.
Survivor Type is fantastic. I laughed heartily as I listened to it. I guessed what was going to happen only a little bit into the story, but I didn’t think King would have the guts to write a story like that. I was wrong. Stephen King definitely has the guts to write a story like that. This collection was thoroughly enjoyable.

4pastFour Past Midnight (1990)
I had found that Stephen King’s fiction was the perfect way to pass the time in work, but I had run out of short story collections. I read that Four Past Midnight was a collection of novellas, but I had never actually seen a physical copy of the book before I started listening to it.  It turns out that some of these “novellas” are longer than some of King’s most celebrated novels. Why were they released in a collection rather than individually? I reckon it was something to do with the fact they’re not exactly his most brilliant work.

The Langoliers
This is a weird one. It’s about a plane that flies into another dimension. The audiobook version is narrated by Willem Dafoe, and I really enjoyed it, but in retrospect, it doesn’t make much sense at all.
Secret Window, Secret Garden
This, in my opinion, was the worst story in this collection. The twist ending is apparent from the very beginning.
The Library Policeman
This was my favourite. It’s weird as fuck.
“Come with me, Ssson. I’m the Library Polissse Man”
The Sun Dog
A boy’s camera offers a glimpse into another reality. It’s an interesting concept I guess, entertaining enough.

I enjoyed Four Past Midnight, but I really doubt anyone would ever have heard of it if it wasn’t written by Mr. King. It would not be a good starting point for anyone interested in sampling his works.

salemslotSalem’s Lot (1975)
About 8 years ago, I stayed up late two nights in a row to watch the 1979 movie version of Salem’s Lot. I was unimpressed. I decided to give the book a chance right after finishing Four Past Midnight. I’m really glad that I did; it’s a very entertaining vampire story set in modern America. I’d strongly recommend that you read it if you haven’t.

thestandThe Stand: Complete and Uncut (1990)
By the time I started on the Stand, I had read/listened to nothing other than Stephen King books for almost two months. I’ll be honest, that was probably a bad idea. At 1153 pages, the uncut version of the Stand is King’s longest book. I never got bored when I was reading it; it is very entertaining, but towards the end, I started to really look forward to reading other books.

King takes his time setting the story up, but it all winds down fairly quickly. There’s three books in the stand. The first ends the world with a super plague, the second details how the two factions of survivors organize themselves, and the final book describes the conflict (or lack thereof) between the two groups. The concept is cool, but the pacing is silly. Given the overall plot of the book, the section on the plague wiping out most of humanity is too long. For the first few hundred pages, the Stand is a fairly straightforward disaster novel that describes a calamity that is in no way unrealistic. Then, after 99.6% of human beings have been wiped out, we find out that the survivors have been left with mild telepathic abilities, and the book quickly turns into a religious parable about the forces of good and evil. It’s already already very, very long, but I felt a bit cheated when the conflict that the previous 1100 pages had been leading to was literally prevented by the hand of God. I mean, come on Stephen; you could have got another 5000+ pages if the two sides had actually gone to war! I wouldn’t be surprised if the Stand had originally been even more epic in its scope and that King only realized that he wouldn’t be able all fit everything into one book after he had already written 700 pages. He has acknowledged that The Lord of the Rings was an inspiration for this work, but King’s fellowship only sets out for their Mordor (Las Vegas) in the third book of the Stand. If he had really used Tolkien’s trilogy as a model, the Stand would probably have lasted 5000-6000 pages.

The religious undertones of the book also irked me a little. I thought Randall Flag was fucking cool, and I definitely would have joined his side. Also, while several of King’s works feature a “Magical Negro”, Mother Abigail serves as a particularly cringeworthy example of this trope. King is definitely not a racist, but some of his writing depicts a slightly dated worldview.

All that being said, the Stand is filled with cool characters and awesome scenes, and I enjoyed reading it. Stephen King has acknowledged that he considers his work to be trash (good trash specifically), and I, for one, am not above reading trash. I fucking love trash, and I loved Trash.

I’ve enjoyed every Stephen King book that I’ve read, but right now, I am looking forward to reading something else. I didn’t know if I was going to review his books on this blog when I started binging on him in October, but the more that I think about it, the more I think that he deserves to be here. If you like horror, you’ve already read this guy. His books are spooky, gross, and seriously entertaining. I’m going to give it a few months, but I’ll definitely be reading more Stephen King in the future. Aside from his fiction, he also seems like a cool guy; he hates Donald Trump and he’s into AC/DC.

kingStephen King, I salute you!