(2006) Stephen King, Hodder & Stoughton, £17.99, hrdbk, 399pp, ISBN 0-340-92144-7
This book is dedicated to Richard Matheson and George Romero and treads firmly in the territory of the former's I Am Legend and the latter's Night of the Living Dead films (not to mention King's own The Stand). Following an event known as "the Pulse", which sends some sort of signal through the mobile phone network, people initially become insane and violent, triggering a global collapse of civilisation in an orgy of destruction. In the aftermath the survivors witness strange "flocking" behaviour in those affected by the Pulse and, possibly, the rise of something like telepathy and/or a group mind evolving. One such survivor, a comic artist called Clayton Riddell (who had just sold his first series to Dark Horse Comics - said series being a nod to King's recently completed Dark Tower books), tries to make his way back home in order to discover what has become of his wife and child. He and his wife had just bought their son a mobile phone... With fellow survivors Tom McCourt and Alice Maxwell, a gay man and young girl respectively, Clayton journeys North, destroying one flock along the way. The Pulse victims seem to be herding survivors to a specific location, but also seem to have marked Clayton (and other flock-killers) for some other fate...
Sadly we never get to explore the Pulse, despite uninformed speculation by the characters as to whether or not this was some terrorist act or just some phone hacking prank gone terribly wrong or even some weird natural phenomenon, but that's rarely the point with 'sudden-collapse-of-civilisation' books. Nor do we really discover much about the telepathic group mind, other than its capacity for feelings of vengeance toward flock-killers. In fact this is a fairly lightweight and standard tale of love of family and common humanity as survivors try to make some sense of, and place in, their new world. However, unlike I Am Legend which has the goal of a cure, or King's The Stand which has an apocalyptic battle being played out, Cell is more like the Dead movies of Romero in that there is no goal or endpoint to aim for, merely survival and risk and conflict. As such the book, including its ending, is a trifle unsatisfying, though King has certainly lost none of his power to craft a good, page-turning tale. So, a bit of a disappointment over all and I can only really recommend this as a 'beach-reader'. Tales of King's retirement, it seems, are greatly exagerrated...
Other King books reviewd on this site include: Bag of Bones, Black House, The Dark Tower Vol.7, The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer, Dream Chaser, Everything's Eventual, and From a Buick 8.
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