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Review: The Gunslinger (Dark Tower, Book 1) by Stephen King

Review: The Gunslinger (Dark Tower, Book 1) by Stephen King

Stephen King was an oft-read author during my teen years, primarily because he’s one of my father’s favorite authors and his books were in our home library. King’s dark imagery has the infinite power to draw the reader in, like a spider luring a fly, and snare the imagination in the vividly drawn worlds he creates.

The Gunslinger in its revised and updated version is no different. While King readily admits in prefatory comments to updating the language of this, one of his earlier works, the story itself, at its core, remains the same.

Roland, the titular character and the primary narrator, is a gunslinger whose attitude and manner echoes the bygone era of the Old West. He is the last of his kind, a remnant of a higher culture, forced by fate and circumstance only partially explained in The Gunslinger to journey alone in search of the Man in Black and the Dark Tower.

The Man in Black is a sorcerer who assumes many forms during the drawn out chase. In flashbacks, he is the man cuckolding Roland’s father and the same’s murderer. In the story’s luridly described present, the Man in Black is a setter of traps and the servant of the entity ruling the Dark Tower.

Roland and the Man in Black are by and large the most well crafted and, therefore, most easily understood characters populating The Gunslinger. Other characters fare almost as well, like Alice, the owner of a saloon-esque establishment who becomes Roland’s lover for a time. In Alice, King captures the futile desperation of life for a woman living in a remote settlement, cut off from the society of decent folk and men.

Other characters are shortchanged. Jake, an orphaned child yanked out of time and place by the Man in Black, is by turns loved and hated by Roland. His past is teased out through hypnosis and his emotions are evident, but he is only a tool within the plot rather than a fully drawn character.

And that tool to the plot feeling lingers in other important characters: Roland’s parents, high society hobnobs who deliberately and otherwise distance themselves from their only child by having him trained as a gunslinger, in a manner similar to the Spartans; Roland’s early ka-tet, his training group with whom he should have the most in common, but from whom he remains separate; and other characters whose roles seem to be in spurring Roland toward his ultimate destiny rather than having any internal or external motivation of their own.

In spite of this and the often overblown descriptions, The Gunslinger is a wonderful introduction to a story world that is by turns surreally antithetical (in its reversion to an almost feudalistic treatment of individuals) and eerily similar to our own. Recommended to all readers of Fantasy and fans of Stephen King. (Paperback, Kindle)

Friday Finds

Friday Finds

Header image:
Smoke has become a real problem across Western North Carolina and the surrounding areas as wildfires burn in several national forest locations.
Photograph courtesy of Cris Bessette.

A roundup of interesting books, movies, and tidbits, some old, some new, and some stuff I just wanted to share.

Halloween may be over (unless you're a Hobbit, in which case, Second Halloween!), but this movie is one I'll be watching again soon. 

Because I only watched it twice leading up to Halloween, thank you very much.

Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman deliver outstanding performances in the lead roles, and are supported admirably by Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest as The Aunts, and Goran Visnjic and Aidan Quinn as the Owens sisters' love interests. 

Now, some of you probably think that because I'm a writer, I should be pointing to the book on which the movie was based, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. Uh, no. This is one of the few cases where the movie was far, far better than the book. Stick with the movie. Don't watch it alone and, for pete's sake, "Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plant roses and lavender, for luck. Fall in love whenever you can."

Dubbed a techno-thriller by reviewers, Chuck Wendig's Zeroes is the story of a group of misfit hackers who are pulled together and coerced (read: imprisoned and forced) to work for a shadow government agency to an end that becomes clear after a terrifying and weird twisting journey. Technology geeks and nerds of all flavors will enjoy this one particularly, but anyone who likes a fast-paced, intense story should find a good read between the covers. I did, and no one can accuse me of being a geek... Oh, wait.

Every once in a while, I go on a mini-book-buying spree. A couple of days ago, for instance, I ordered five paperbacks ranging the gamut from Epic Fantasy to Urban Fantasy to Science Fiction. Amazon is my friend. 

So is Barnes & Noble. Whenever I'm in Asheville, I try to stop by the local B&N and browse the new releases, and usually come home with at least one book. On the trip before last, I picked up one by debut author Becky Chambers, whose first work is titled The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

The title alone is worth the read.

Amazingly enough, Harper Collins, the publisher, has set the Kindle edition's price to $1.99, completely contravening the Big 5's usual practice of pricing digital editions as high as, or higher than, the paperback edition. (Or, at least, that was the price when I wrote this blog post at 4:38 p.m. on Thursday, 10 November 2016, EST.)

This was the book I took with me to read during my recent Kodak/Knoxville, Tennessee, trip. Unfortunately, I didn't get very far into it during the trip and had to turn my attention away from fun reads toward more serious, work-related reads (see the sidebar for what I'm currently reading). Don't tell me how it ends! I want to figure that out myself.

The crew working the Jones Gap fire northwest of Highlands, North Carolina, just a few miles from my current home.
Photo courtesy of the US Forest Service.

While most around the United States are preoccupied with the recent election results, folks here in the Southeast are more concerned about the wildfires spreading across the Southern Appalachians. Some of them are being set by an arsonist(s), including those in the Macon County, North Carolina, and Rabun County, Georgia, areas. Many are being forced to evacuate, while others are under a state of emergency, and many more try to find a way to cope with the smoke permeating our air.

This is my home area, friends. The smoke is so thick in some places, the roads are impassable. My son is asthmatic. A couple of nights ago, we drove from his home in Georgia up to Sylva, NC, to eat at Bogart's. (Best burgers in Jackson County!) The smoke was so bad and so hard on his lungs, we contemplated turning around.

Smoke from wildfires diminishes the sun in Franklin, NC. Photo courtesy of Brandon Ledford.
Thick smoke from wildfires obscures the sun in the Frogtown area of Franklin, North Carolina.
Photo courtesy of Brandon Ledford.

Good thing we didn't. Halfway through our meal, a group of about eighteen forest rangers walked in, and that eventually led to my son and I visiting the Jackson County Command Center, where we spoke with a young man about donations. The folks fighting the fires include, from my understanding, forest rangers, members of the National Guard, and others flown in from at least nine states across the country, as well as local firefighters and other emergency service personnel. Under the harsh floodlights shining down on the command center, the men and women looked completely worn out. I later learned that they're shipped out to the fires after breakfast and don't come back until bedtime.

That's a long, hard day, especially considering that the only food they have in between is what they can carry in their packs and clothes.

I ended up going in with my editor (Richard, for those who don't know him) and donating a crap ton of Slim Jims, nuts and dried fruits, and sodas, the latter having been specifically requested by members of the fire crews. After the hours they work trying to stop the spread of these wildfires, the least we can do is provide something other than water and Gatorade for them to drink.

As far as I know, the command centers are still accepting donations. I only know of two, the one set up at the Holiday Inn Express just north of Dillsboro, NC, and the one set up at the old Caterpillar factory outside of Franklin, NC. (This article mentions a command center in Clay Co., NC, but I don't know the location.) Considering the scope of the fires, there have to be others, so if you're interested in donating or otherwise helping, try contacting local emergency services or ranger stations for more information.

The men and women who came here from outside the South have been overwhelmed by the generosity of the locals. Let's continue doing what we can to make their lives easier until they can return to their own families and communities.

Ledford Road smoke by Amy Watts
Smoke hangs over the road leading to property owned by my family near Franklin, North Carolina.
Photograph courtesy of Amy Watts.
Pumpkintown wildfire by Erica Welch Arvey
Fires burning across the road from a populated area in Pumpkintown, North Carolina. 
Photograph courtesy of Erica Welch Arvey.