If you ever wondered whether Stephen King attempted to write another amazing epic since “The Stand” that features a virus outbreak and mass-destruction of human society, “Cell” is the answer.
Except the “Amazing” part. Cell fell short of the epic story involving Captain Trips and resembled more the first season of “The Walking Dead”. I kept on thinking as I was reading this novel – this is soley written with TV in mind. The scene already felt edited, the story already had the aura that you get from watching witty-forced dialogue you see on screen. It wasn’t a massive surprise when I saw that the rights to the movie were picked up and that John Cusack who played in the 1408 adaptation also got a star role in the movie. King stated that because fans didn’t like the ending of the book, he had changed it for the film.. it still sucked.
Clayton Riddell, a struggling artist from Maine, has just landed a graphic novel deal in Boston when “The Pulse”, a signal sent out over the global cell phone network, suddenly turns every cell phone user into a mindless zombie-like killer. That’s the story. “World War Z” anyone? “The Walking Dead” with wireless?
Civilization crumbles as the “phoners” attack each other and any unaltered people, including animals (a man attempts to eat a pet dog), in view.
Amidst the chaos, Clay is thrown together with middle-aged Tom McCourt and teenager Alice Maxwell; the trio escapes to Tom’s suburban home as Boston burns. The mindless zombies appear not to be so mindless as they begin to flock together. They decide to head towards Maine at Clay’s suggestion in order to get him reunited with his son. They trek north by night across a devastated New England, having fleeting encounters with other survivors and catching disturbing hints about the activities of the phoners, who still attack non-phoners on sight.
It becomes clear during their journey that the phoners have become a hive mind and are developing psychic abilities. Much like Unity.
The survivors decide they must destroy the flock and, using two propane tankers, they succeed in doing so.
That night, all of the survivors share the same horrific dream: each dreamer sees himself in a stadium, surrounded by “phoners”, as a disheveled man wearing a Harvard University hooded sweatshirt approaches, bringing their death. Waking, the heroes share their frightening dream experiences and dub him “the Raggedy Man”. Again, I was disappointed as this was not Randall Flagg from The Stand.
A new flock surrounds their residence, and the “normies” face the flock’s metaphorical spokesman: the man in the Harvard hoodie. The flock kills other normals in reprisal and orders the protagonists to head north to a spot in Maine called “Kashwak”.
Then follow an array of suicides, murders and the group finds itself ostracized from other normal people as they have been tagged by the zombies as untouchables until the hive executes them publicly for torching their sleeping buddies.
As Clay awaits their morning execution, he sees Ray’s unspoken plan: Ray had filled the rear of the bus with explosives, wired a phone-triggered detonator to them and killed himself to prevent the phoners from telepathically discovering the explosives. Clay is able to detonate the bomb and wipe out the Raggedy Man’s flock (and, based on the remains of the Harvard hoodie left in the aftermath, the Raggedy Man himself).
The majority of the group heads into Canada, to let the approaching winter wipe out the region’s unprotected and leaderless phoners. Clay heads south, seeking his son. He finds Johnny, who received a “corrupted” Pulse; he wandered away from Kashwak and seems to almost recognize his father. However, Johnny is an erratic shadow of his former self and so, following another theory of Jordan’s, Clay decides to give Johnny another blast from the Pulse, hoping the increasingly corrupted signal will cancel itself out and reset his son’s brain. The book ends with Clay’s dialing and placing the cell phone to Johnny’s ear.
The book was massive and unfortunately it dealt with a subject which has been used to death in the past years: zombies. And not just any zombies but zombies that evolve to levitation and thought-control and telepathic abilities.. Now, I understand King is trying to make a point on society through the sheer number of zombies, but let’s face it, the number of people this would effect is not that fucking catastrophic. In Cell, it is, almost 75% of the world seems to either have been zombified, or is in immediate danger due to someone else’s transformation into a zombie. This sheer mathematical impossibility annoyed me throughout the course of the story. Adding to my troubles, the main character, Clayton is hell-bent on finding his family, he’ll do anything just to see if they are alive or dead, even endangering his new friends and the fragile life he still has.
I totally thought he was going to go I Am Legend with the zombies, making the zombies the new society and the survivors the outcasts. It seemed to be going there, but didn’t in the end.