Friday, July 23, 2010

Skeleton Crew

Well, I just finished reading "Skeleton Crew" by Stephen King. I really enjoyed it, as with most of Stephen King's work, but with all short story compilations, there were some stories I loved, some I didn't really like, and some that didn't really stand out much to me. So, to cut down on time, I'm going to review the stories I liked and didn't like the most thoroughly and will breeze through the others in a sentence or two. (Sorry, this review is going to be long.) Still, overall this was a pretty good compilation, but for some reason I liked Night Shift better.

The Mist - The Mist was the first story in the book and recently there was a movie that came out based on this story. I might have to see the movie now because the story was pretty good. Still, there were a few things about it that made it less enjoyable for me. The basic storyline is a man and his son are on a trip to the supermarket when a strange mist rolls in and strange creatures start killing people in that mist. I liked the idea because it had a very Lovecraftian feel. Also, the concept of being trapped in a supermarket in that sort of crisis is interesting because it takes out the possibility of starvation or dehydration--at least for a very long time. The thing I found to be most unlikely however, was an old crone basically convinces most of the people there that they need to preform a human sacrifice to appease the monsters outside. First off, they're only trapped for about two or three days, so even though Lovecraft's monsters do tend to unhinge one's sanity, I like to think the situation wouldn't devolve that quickly. It takes more than a few days to form a cult. Since not everyone was for the idea at first, I think it would be more likely that they would hoist her outside before they would willingly throw someone else to the proverbial wolves. The second thing I didn't like, apparently Stephen King didn't like as well, was when the main character cheats on his wife during the crisis before he knows what has happened to her. If that wasn't enough, he doesn't bother to find out if she's alive or not later on. It was more than cowardly, and made me have a distinct lack of sympathy for the main character. I like to think that he could've controlled his urges for two or three days, and would've tried a bit harder at least for his son's sake to find his wife. Still, it wouldn't surprise me if Stephen King didn't want that to happen and it just sort of did. Sometimes characters don't do the things we originally want them to, at some point it's as though they control themselves. Still, overall, not a bad read.

Here There Be Tygers - This one made me giggle. Let's face it, in elementary school there's at least one teacher that you wish would get eaten by a tiger.

The Monkey - This was probably my favorite story in this book. The concept itself is kind of cliche, a possessed clockwork monkey makes a living thing die every time it claps it's cymbals together. Still, the way it is written is truly terrifying. The way the monkey is described is chilling, to the point you can almost see the demonic grin on its face as it causes something horrible to happen in the main character's life. The way he describes the thing is that it's just evil, not even a conscious evil but somehow naturally that way. Also, the fact that he tries to get rid of it and it just keeps reappearing is disturbing. The little blurb at the end about the fish dying is disturbing as well...

Cain Rose Up - Sorry, I have to give away the ending to this one, because to explain what the story is about I have to. This story didn't really impress me. It's a little chilling because of the calmness the main character shows as he basically loses his mind. Still, because the character didn't seem to have a reason to shoot anyone (he was shooting random people by the end of the story), the point was kind of lost on me. Maybe that was the point, that some people do horrific things and don't even know why themselves. I really don't know, but I didn't really like this one.

Mrs. Todd's Shortcut - I found this story really interesting. Basically, it's about a woman that tries to find the shortest route possible everywhere she goes, to the point that somehow she bends time and space to get there. The woman herself isn't normal, and as she cuts time off of her route, she also seems to get younger in the process. The woman is basically the avatar of Diana, and her car is her means of expression and freedom. This story was just fun to read. The way it's told draws you in little by little. It's a slow start, but by the end, it's really interesting.

The Jaunt - The Jaunt is probably my third favorite in this book. This is a science fiction story about teleportation, taking place shortly after teleportation is invented. I won't give away the ending, but basically it's a father telling his family about how the process called "the Jaunt" was invented. The scientist tested the process on mice originally, but the mice died when they got to the other side. This was due to sensory input, the mice saw something that killed them. When they were put under they came through safely. It turns out that those who can perceive when they teleport perceive it as eternity without anyone or anything to interact with. The concept is incredibly disturbing. In fact, the only complaint I have about this story is the environmental doomsday scenario that prompted this invention seemed unrealistic to me. (I don't buy into that sort of thing very easily.)

The Wedding Gig - This was kind of a fun story about a group of jazz musicians that are forced into playing during the wedding of the sister of the head of a criminal syndicate. Needless to say, things don't go well. It isn't a bad story, it just didn't stand out much to me. I actually had forgotten about this one.

Paranoid: A Chant - This is a short poem written from the perspective of someone with paranoid schizophrenia. It starts off almost humorous but gets worse and worse as the poem goes on. I have to admit the rhyme scheme was good and as a poem it was interesting and well written--still, almost a little too well written if you ask me. (Just kidding, Mr. King.)

The Raft - Everything about this story is pretty good, except for the fact I didn't like the characters. There was only one character I was "okay" with and she died first, so it was kind of hard to finish this one after that. There was a surprising amount of blood and gore in this story. Stephen King definitely has a way of making the most mundane of monsters still seem scary. This story is about "The Blob." I kid you not. A group of college students swim out to a raft, and a large dark spot in the water starts to pick them off one by one. I had trouble taking this story seriously because all I could think of was oozes, black puddings, and gelatinous cubes from D&D. (I also kept thinking of a very funny episode of the anime Cowboy Bebop, when he leaves a lobster in the fridge until grows an intelligent ooze that starts attacking everyone in the ship--the ooze is eaten in the end, instead of eating the crew like it did in this story.) Anyway, not all that impressive to me, but you may not have the same experiences I do and might enjoy this one more than I did.

Word Processor of the Gods - This was a pretty cool story. I liked the concept and I liked the ending. Basically, the main character has lost his sixteen year old nephew, a nephew that he really wishes had been his son rather than his brother's. His nephew made him a word processor for his birthday, just before he died, out of a conglomeration of spare parts, almost like a mad scientist's invention. When the main character uses the machine for the first time, he finds that he can delete things from reality, or add things to reality simply by typing. The Processor is like Aladdin's lamp. The power the main character is given is godlike, but the processor won't last long.

The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands - I really enjoyed this story as well. This one had the feel of an old timey setting, though I don't think the year is ever really said, with a group of older men telling stories. The story this one features is about a man who was afraid to shake hands with anyone--and it turns out there's a very good reason why involving a curse from Bombay.

Beachworld - This is a science fiction story where there are two survivors from a crash into an unknown planet. The planet is filled with sand, that for some reason is like beach sand rather than desert sand. It's a story about their struggle to survive and one of them descends into madness, but is it really madness if what he is thinking is true? The sand around them is alive. It isn't a bad story, but it didn't stand out very much to me. It had the feel of man verses environment and that sort of story doesn't typically appeal much to me--tough it was interesting when the environment took physical form against the one trying to escape at the end.

The Reaper's Image - This story seemed too short to me. I liked the idea of a mirror where a person would see the image of the Grim Reaper and then disappear. The fact the person who saw the image didn't die but just vanished was creepy and different, but there was a long lead up to finding out that fact, and not enough meat to the actual story, in my opinion. Then again, I do tend to make my stories a bit too long, but this one didn't start off fast enough and ended when it had just gotten interesting.

Nona - This story had an interesting twist at the end that pretty much made the story for me. I liked the symbolism of the personification of violence made in the image of the woman Nona, and the obvious Gynophobia of the main character. Still, since the main character is a murderer, it is a bit hard for me to sympathize with him. Still, I want to believe his story.

For Owen - I'm not sure what to say about this poem. It's very odd and describes children as various types of fruit. I have theories about the symbolism in this poem but would rather hear if anyone else has any ideas about what this poem is meant to mean. I think maybe it has something to do with feeling old in the presence of a young child.

Survivor Type - Probably my least favorite of the set. This story is about a man who is a surgeon, but also a drug dealer, who is trapped on a desert island without food and is forced to do the unthinkable to survive--he starts to eat himself bit by bit. He keeps considering himself a survivor and will do anything to survive. While I think the first amputation would probably have worked, this story was way too far fetched. Surgeon or not, he would've bled to death when he amputated his second foot, and would've run out of his four gallons of water probably before eating became the biggest problem he had to deal with anyway. I'll spoil the ending--by the end he's a torso and is eating his fingers. There's just no way.

Uncle Otto's Truck - This one was pretty good because it personified and vilified an object very well. In this case, it was a beaten up old truck. This is going to sound strange, but I've always thought of old trucks as feeling angry, because when they get faded and rusty and abused, there's something about the woods overgrowing on them that seems kind of neglectful. So, the truck having a grudge was kind of a creepy thought to me. I liked this story.

Morning Deliveries (Milkman #1) - The concept is disturbing because basically it's about a deranged milkman that poisons his clients. Still, I couldn't take it seriously because he reminded me too much of the milkman in the game Psychonauts. All I could think was "What is in the Milk?" And the cheerful look on his face as the threw the molotov cocktails. Still, a good story about the vulnerability people have to those who prepare their food.

Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game (Milkman #2) - I didn't like many of the characters in this game, but I'm pretty sure you weren't supposed to like them. That's why this one was entertaining to read. Explaining this story would take a bit too long. The Milkman is in it, but only briefly at the end, but his presence is felt throughout the whole story. Read it, and you'll know what I mean, but read the other first.

Gramma - This story is so messed up, but in a good way since that made me have lot of trouble putting it down. It's told from the perspective of a nine year old kid, left alone with his slightly crazy Grandmother. As the boy remembers stories about her little by little, you come to understand that his Grandmother isn't an ordinary old lady, and her past is pretty dark. His Grandmother dies while he's waiting on his mother to get home, but it seems that her business with him isn't quite over...
You can really sympathize with the little boy, and older people tend to be a little intimating to young children anyway, and this story speaks to the part of us that remembers that.

The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet - I'm not sure why, but this is my favorite story in this book. The story is about an editor talking about the strange madness of an author who gave him a story that came at the right time during his life. The madness of the author rubs off on him and he becomes paranoid. This story is amusing because the author believes that a little fairy called a Fornit lives in his typewriter and helps him come up with stories, and everyone around him is trying to secretly kill the Fornit. Still, the author's obsession with this imaginary creature pushes him to the point of trying to kill his wife, housekeeper, and her child, and eventually himself. Still, there's a question at the end of how much of this was in the author's mind. Did his belief in this creature somehow make it real, or was his madness somehow spreading to those around him. I liked the questions it posed and the story was genuinely different and compelling. It might be just because I am a writer and sometimes I also don't know where the ideas come from. I'd like to hear your opinion of this one as well.

The Reach - For some reason, I didn't get into this story at all. It's basically about an old woman who starts seeing the ghosts of friends and relatives, particularly her dead husband, beckoning to her. She thinks that she's about to die because of the things she's seeing, and decides that before she dies she'll cross "The Reach" a large body of water that separates her island community from the mainland. The reach has frozen over, so she can walk across it to get there. She's always been comfortable on the island and never wanted to leave, and most of the story is spent while she's reminiscing about old times and family lines. I found most of the story pretty slow and a little uninteresting, but the ending was touching, so I must've gotten attached to her somewhere along the way.

Well, that's it for my review. I'm sorry it was long, but I like to be thorough. I hoped you at least enjoyed it a little, and I highly recommend picking up this book.

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