The Stand * Stephen King

Best Sci-Fi/Alternate History ever published. A wonderful piece of work from Stephen King. This book is an epic story of survival in an event of a virus-driven appocalypse – like the one seen in Oryx and Crake and I am Legend

I loved this book. All 1400 pages of unabridged content. I see now why they put it in the top 100 books of our time and even though it was written with year 1990 in mind, I believe the subject is still in there today. A super mutant virus (think about the Swine Flu, Bird Flu, etc), super contagious, un-curable, 99.8% infection rate, air-born and death in 3-4 days.

The book is split up into three major parts, first one dealing with the deadly blow to civilization (yes, it’s happening in America but we know that the rest of the world was affected too). The story goes with all the deaths piling up and a few survivors remaining: Stu Redman (hunka man), Nick Andros(deaf-mute), Tom Cullen(not playing with all the cards), Frannie Goldsmith (preggers), Harold Laudner (Fat Kid with a complex), Nadine (black-haired virgin, promised), Joe (or Leo as he will later find out), Larry Underwood (failed singer with a baggage) and a lot of other characters which did not struck me as overly important (like Glen the sociologist) and Ralph(the man good for all).

That is the curse of the human race. Sociability. What Christ should have said was “Yea, verily, whenever two or three of you are gathered together, some other guy is going to get the living shit knocked out of him.” Shall I tell you what sociology teaches us about the human race? I’ll give it to you in a nutshell. Show me a man or woman alone and I’ll show you a saint. Give me two and they’ll fall in love. Give me three and they’ll invent the charming thing we call “society.” Give me four and they’ll build a pyramid. Give me five and they’ll make one an outcast. Give me six and they’ll reinvent prejudice. Give me seven and in seven years they’ll reinvent warfare. Man may have been made in the imnage of God, but human society was made in the image of His opposite number, and is always trying to get back home.

I need to say I fell in love with Nick – the deaf mute. He was not stupid by any means and he came up with the best ideas the fastest from all the lot. He was a born leader and you would need one like him these days ruling the political scene.
All these people act like magnets, drawing others around them. Romances come to be and flourish while the big migration begins. All towns dead, the remaining survivors find themselves plagues with vivid dreams of a terrible shadow man (R.F. – Randall Flagg, Robert Freeman and so on) and of Mother Abigail, the opposing force of Good, drawing them all to her house and then to Boulder Colorado.
Thus, the survivors are split in two – the bad ones go to RF and the good ones to mother Abigail. It’s not as easy as it looks as some bad people do manage to get into Abigail’s camp and cause mayhem and also a few good ones are scared into following the bad man.
The first part of the book deals with the infection, the deaths and the gathering of all under the loving hand of the two icons (one for Good, and one for Evil). And as they put it in the book:

It’s during the last three decades of any given century that your religious maniacs arise with facts and figures showing that Armageddon is finally at hand. Such people are always there, of course, but near the end of a century their ranks seem to swell . . . and they are taken seriously by great numbers of people. Monsters appear. Attila the Hun, Gen_ ghis Khan, Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden. Charles Manson and Richard Speck and Ted Bundy in our own time, if you like. It’s been suggested by colleagues even more fanciful than I that Western Man needs an occasional high colonic, a purging, and this occurs at the end of centuries so that he can face the new century clean and full of optimism. And in this case, we’ve been given a super-enema, and when you think about it, that makes perfect sense. We are not, after. all, simply approaching the centenary this time. We are approaching a whole new millennium.”

The people remaining have been further reduced by murders, accidents and mis-haps and the sane ones were turning insane due to solitude and fear of loneliness.

“And you think going to Boulder is the right thing?”
Mother Abagail said, “It’s what we’re meant to do.”

The Second Part of the book deals with the gathering of souls into one camp or another. The Trashcan man goes to black and is used to retrieve bombs and missels and firearms. The Kid is killed by wolves (at least he died strangling one to death). Harold is more jealous and envious of Stu who took his girl (Fran wasn’t his to begin with but he’s too upset to care). Nadine hits on Larry Underwood AFTER he has settled down with Lucy and then, after being told NO, she goes to Harold and they play naughty games together.
Harold and Nadine decide to leave Boulder, Colorado and go to the black man with a bang – so they plant a bomb in Ralph’s house.
Nick, Ralph, Stu and the lot (7 in total) create a primitive form of government in Boulder and try to re-create society – with a law man, a body-disposal unit and a census society. On one of their meetings, Harold detonates the bomb and Nick and 5 others are killed. I could not believe it. Why Nick! He was awesome!
Mother Abigail returns from her purging wilderness walk and tells Stu, Larry, Ralph and Bren that they need to walk on foot to the dark man in Vegas and God will help them. She dies unfortunately, but well, 108 is a long time to be alive.

The dark man is becoming careless, he manages to drive Nadine – his bride to be crazy after the first mating. Harold dies alone at the side of the road with a bullet in his brains, finally realizing that he could have been better if he had stayed in the group.

Three spies from Boulder are sent to the dark man and two die. Tom Cullen, the third, is not caught and the timing is just perfect – because when he returns from his mission, he finds Stu Redman in the desert with a broken leg and pneumonia.

After having left with the three other men, Stu managed to cock up his leg in a shifty ravine and asked them to abandon him there and carry on with their mission to destroy the dark man. The dog proves helpful as he retrieves game and wood for cooking and keeps him alive until Tom finds him.

The three other men are taken in as prisoners by the dark man and Glen is the first one to die because he made the dark guy angry.

“I’ve decided to let you go,” he said briskly. His smile sprang forth again, radiant and vulpine. Lloyd uttered a little gasp of surprise, and Flagg turned to him. “Haven’t I, Lloyd?”
“Uh . . . sure,” Lloyd said. “Sure nuff.”
“Well, fine,” Glen said easily. He could feel the arthritis sinking deeper and deeper into his joints, numbing them like ice, swelling them like fire.
“You’ll be given a small motorbike and you may drive back at your leisure.”
“Of course I couldn’t go without my friends.”
“Of course not. And all you have to do is ask. Get down on your knees and ask me.”
Glen laughed heartily. He threw back his head and laughed long and hard. And as he laughed, the pain in his joints began to abate. He felt better, stronger, in control again.
“Oh, you’re a card,” he said. “I tell you what you do. Why don’t you find a nice big sandpile, get yourself a hammer, and pound all that sand right up your ass?”
Flagg’s face grew dark. The smile slipped away. His eyes, previously as dark as the jet stone Lloyd wore, now seemed to gleam yellowly. He reached out his hand to the locking mechanism on the door and wrapped his fingers around it.
There was an electric buzzing sound. Fire leaped out between his fingers, and there was a hot smell in the air. The lockbox fell to the floor, smoking and black. Lloyd Henreid cried out. The dark man grabbed the bars and threw the cell door back on its track.
“Stop laughing.”
Glen laughed harder.
“Stop laughing at me!”
“You’re nothing!” Glen said, wiping his streaming eyes and still chuckling.
“Oh pardon me . . . it’s just that we were all so frightened . . . we made such a business out of you . . . I’m laughing as much at our own foolishness as at your regrettable lack of substance . . .”
“Shoot him, Lloyd.” Flagg had turned to the other man. His face was working horribly. His hands were hooked into predator’s claws.
“Oh, kill me yourself if you’re going to kill me,” Glen said. “Surely you’re capable. Touch me with your finger and stop my heart. Make the sign of the inverted cross and give me a massive brain embolism. Bring down the lightning from the overhead socket to cleave me in two. Oh . . . oh dear . . . oh dear me!”
Glen collapsed onto the cell cot and rocked back and forth, consumed with delicious laughter.
“Shoot him!” the dark man roared at Lloyd.
Pale, shaking with fear, Lloyd fumbled the pistol out of his belt, almost dropped it, then tried to point it at Glen. He had to use both hands.
Glen looked at Lloyd, still smiling. He might have been at a faculty cocktail party back in the Brain Ghetto at Woodsville, New Hampshire, recovering from a good joke, now ready to turn the conversation back into more serious channels of
reflection.
“If you have to shoot somebody, Mr. Henreid, shoot him.”
“Do it now, Lloyd.”
Lloyd blindly pulled the trigger. The gun went off with a tremendous crash in the enclosed space. The echoes bounced furiously back and forth. But the bullet only chipped concrete two inches from Glen’s right shoulder, ricocheted, struck
something else, and whined off again.
“Can’t you do anything right?” Flagg roared. “Shoot him, you moron! Shoot him! He’s standing right in front of you!”
“I’m trying–“
Glen’s smile had not changed, and he had only flinched a little at the gunshot. “I repeat, if you must shoot somebody, shoot him. He’s really not human at all, you know. I once described him to a friend as the last magician of rational thought, Mr. Henreid. That was more correct than I knew. But he’s losing his magic now. It’s slipping away from him and he knows it. And you know it, too. Shoot him now and save us all God knows how much bloodshed and dying.”
Flagg’s face had grown very still. “Shoot one of us, anyhow, Lloyd,” he said.
“I got you out of jail when you were dying of starvation. It’s guys like this that you wanted to get back at. Little guys who talk big.”
Lloyd said: “Mister, you don’t fool me. It’s like Randy Flagg says.”
“But he lies. You know he lies.”
“He told me more of the truth than anyone else bothered to in my whole lousy life,” Lloyd said, and shot Glen three times. Glen was driven backward, twisted and turned like a ragdoll. Blood flew in the dim air. He struck the cot, bounced, and rolled onto the floor. He managed to get up on one elbow.
“It’s all right, Mr. Henreid,” he whispered. “You don’t know any better.”
“Shut up, you mouthy old bastard!” Lloyd screamed. He fired again and Glen Bateman’s face disappeared. He fired again and the body jumped lifelessly. Lloyd shot him yet again. He was crying. The tears rolled down his angry, sunburned cheeks. He was remembering the rabbit he had forgotten and left to eat its own paws. He was remembering Poke, and the people in the white Connie, and Gorgeous George. He was remembering the Phoenix jail, and the rat, and how he hadn’t been able to eat the ticking out of his mattress. He was remembering Trask, and how Trask’s leg had started to look like a Kentucky Fried Chicken dinner after a while. He pulled the trigger again, but the pistol only uttered a sterile click.
“All right,” Flagg said softly. “All right. Well done. Well done, Lloyd.”

Not bad, eh? Larry and Ralph live one more day until the most unlikely characters of all saves them. As in saves them to heaven and kills the entire population associated with the black man. The trashman shows up with a Nuke.

On the other side of the desert, Nick guides Tom to Stu and then they manage to get further east, first by walking (Stu being dragged) and then with a car. Winter is coming and Stu is almost dying from the infection cursing through him. Nick shows up again in Tom’s dreams and guides him to the pharmacy where he shows him all the medicine he will need to treat him back to health.

They recover in November and set back to reach Boulder by January. They manage to get back just after Fran had given birth and Stu is shocked to find that the baby was also ill – had the superflu. He manages to come clean though from her mother’s antibodies and after a few more months of peace, Stu and Fran decide to go back to Montana.

Somewhere in the Jungle, the dark man rises once more.

Favourite Quote:

The beauty of religious mania is that it has the power to explain everything.
Once God (or Satan) is accepted as the first cause of everything which happens in the mortal world, nothing is left to chance . . . or change. Once such incantatory phrases as “we see now through a glass darkly” and “mysterious are the ways He chooses His wonders to perform” are mastered, logic can be happily tossed out the window. Religious mania is one of the few infallible ways of responding to the world’s vagaries, because it totally eliminates pure accident.
To the true religious maniac, it’s all on Purpose.


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