“Like cheap whiskey, it’s very nasty and extremely satisfying.” wrote Stephen King describing his 53 rd book and 44th novel, “Cell“.
Cellphones are everywhere these days and that is the cornerstone of this apocalyptic horror story. As he usually does, King takes the reader straight into the action, on a pleasant October afternoon in downtown Boston everything suddenly goes crazy. The protagonist, Clay, a phone-phobe was down from Maine touting his graphic novel. Suddenly people attack strangers, break things and speak in wild inarticulate cries (“Gluh“, “Rast”), all as a consequence of the brain zapping that the book calls The Pulse. It has been delivered via cellphone. Only the few not using a cellphone are spared. The plot is simple. The pulse delivered through the mobile phone system wipes clean a person’s mind and sends them back to basics, like a computer rebooted and they become unreasoning killers. The phone crazies evolve, they begin to flock together and develop a sort of telepathy.
By using cellphones, which have become the dominant form of communication in our daily lives, you simultaneously turn the populace into your own conscript army – an army that’s literally afraid of nothing, because it’s insane –
Those that didn’t hear the pulse and survived the bloodbath also group together and a struggle for survival begins. Clay joins up with Tom and Alice and heads north hoping to find his son in Maine (Stephen King’s home state). King keeps the number of principal characters small, making it easy to follow. An antagonist emerges halfway through the novel as a leader of the phonies. Clay refers to him as the “Raggedy Man” another survivor band describe him as “the President of Harvard”, his first appearance comes in Clay’s dream, a dream he finds his fellow travellers have also had.
Tech satire or just another zombie tale? Stephen King gives a shout out to cyberpunk writers like William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, John Shirley and Neal Stephenson.
Jordan grinned radiantly.”Neal Stephenson’s a god.”
The phone-crazies do add an element of telepathy not usually found in the zombie genre. However, this is more a horror novel than a cyberpunk offering and King is a master of the genre. Although, this novel isn’t in the same league as his earlier apocalyptic novel, The Stand, it is still a cleverly written tale crafted by a master storyteller, who knows how to keep the reader’s attention. Even a sub par Stephen King book is better than most novels on the market.
A film has been made of Cell but even actors of the calibre of John Cusack, Samuel L Jackson and Isabelle Fuhrman couldn’t save it from being awful, like many Stephen King adaptations it strays a lot from the book. The book starts in Downtown Boston, the film starts at the airport. In the film Clay (John Cusack) has a phone it just isn’t charged, in the book he doesn’t own a cellphone. I only managed to watch half of the film but I finished the book.
I would recommend the book with some reservations. There are better Stephen King books out there. I would recommend avoiding the film unless you are really into bad films.
My rating 3.5 out of 5