Authors king, stephen sfe science fiction encyclopedia

(1947- ) US author, in the context of this encyclopedia of greatest interest as a central creator of Horror in SF, though he is perhaps most famous for his supernatural horror. With over 300 million books in print in a career that only effectively began in 1974, the example of his success, along with that of Dean Koontz, revolutionized the horror-fiction business, though the feverish over-expansion of horror as a market up to around 1990, and its subsequent deflation, cannot be laid down to him.

At first he was attracted to sf, beginning with the not-formally-published teenage stories assembled as «People, Places and Things» (coll 1960) and the unpublished novel «The Aftermath» (written in 1963 when he was sixteen); his first commercially published work of genre interest seems to be "Graveyard Shift" in Cavalier for October 1970.

Night Shift (coll 1978) collects much of his early short fiction, his main market then being Cavalier; it includes some grisly sf in the pulp style. He was perhaps diverted from a conventional sf career by the response of Donald A Wollheim to his first novel submission: "We here at Ace Books are not interested in negative Utopias." King wrote four early novels (the first three before Carrie came out) subsequently published as paperback originals as by Richard Bachman: of these, two are sf. Apparently first drafted circa 1967, The Long Walk ( 1979) as by Bachman is a Hitler Wins tale set in an Alternate History version of America under fascist rule, and features a peculiarly savage sport (see Games and Sports): a hundred boys are launched on a walk, the winner being the last survivor of the torments inflicted during the ordeal. The Running Man ( 1982) is set in the distant Near Future, where savage to-the-death gladiatorial comments soothe the ruinously-polluted-for-profit, corporation-dominated country; it was filmed as The Running Man ( 1987). Shortly after the publication of a fifth novel, the supernatural Thinner ( 1984), the Bachman cover was blown, and an omnibus edition of the first four out-of-print Bachman titles was published as The Bachman Books: Four Early Novels by Stephen King (omni 1985).

Under his own name, King concentrated from the first on horror/fantasy with occasional sf grounding (see Horror in SF; Paranoia), as exemplified by the focus on Psi Powers, notably Telekinesis, in his first published novel, Carrie: A Novel of a Girl with a Frightening Power ( 1974), successfully filmed as Carrie and less successfully sequelled as The Rage: Carrie 2 ( 1999; vt Carrie 2) with virtually the same plot. Other paranormal talents feature in The Dead Zone ( 1979) (see Precognition), filmed as The Dead Zone ( 1983), the first of King’s novels to be set in Castle Rock, an imagined town in Western Maine which was also the venue for Cujo ( 1981), The Tommyknockers ( 1987) [see below], The Dark Half ( 1989) and Needful Things ( 1991), the last of these providing a massive conspectus of life in Castle Rock through a structure directly derived from the play Our Town ( 1938) by Thornton Wilder (1897-1975). While King does not have the analytical approach of the Hard-SF writer, and is not especially interested in "explanations" of his Gothic creations, he has a down-to-earth quality which gives even his purely supernatural fiction a true sf "feel"; he eschews the nebulous; he describes and specifies with some exactness.

Several King novels are in fact sf by any measure (though they incorporate elements from other genres). The earliest and perhaps best is The Stand (abridged from manuscript 1978; rev vt The Stand: Complete & Uncut Edition 1990), a long and intelligent story of the Holocaust in the USA, beginning with the accidental release of a germ-warfare virus by the US military and extending into the Post-Holocaust world; in the second half of the book a supernatural struggle between powers of light and darkness weakens the impact from an sf point of view – though the two powers’ versions of the ideal world contrastingly pit Utopia against Dystopia – but the novel remains a very superior example of its genre, clearly owing something to George R Stewart’s Earth Abides ( 1949), but not imitative of it. The Stand ( 1994), an unusually strong television miniseries, deals well with this long and complex story. Other early sf Firestarter ( 1980), which involves pyrokinesis (see Psi Powers), and filmed as Firestarter ( 1984), Christine ( 1983), a Technofantasy, and The Tommyknockers ( 1987), which is gothic horror dressed in sf clothes, a lurid, eminently readable tale of an alien Spaceship buried for millions of years and now dug up, and of the effects it has on people nearby: sudden technological brilliance, physiological changes and a melding into a group mind (see Hive Mind; Transcendence). A four-hour ABC television miniseries dramatization, also called The Tommyknockers, was broadcast in May 1993.

The Talisman ( 1984) with Peter Straub is an uneasy collaboration in which two very strong individual writers seem to jostle one another, with King’s own sometimes unstoppably prolix voice in the ascendancy; the sequel, Black House ( 2001) with Straub is relatively concise and very much more finely – even at times masterfully – tuned. Primarily a fantasy quest, the sequence culminates in a descent Underground in a Parallel World whose lineaments are those that King explores at very much greater length in the Dark Tower fantasy series beginning with The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger ( 1982), and ending with The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower ( 2004). Different in tone from most of King’s work – and perhaps more demandingly inventive than usual – these have an undeniable mythic charge, partly because of the alienated-adolescent theme that runs through them. As the series continued, it increasingly took on a quest structure typical of – and inhabited a landscape whose metaphysical pathos also evokes – pure Fantasy, though Post-Holocaust imagery also pervades the tale, and a self-aware AI is a major threat to the protagonists.

Later sf novels, or novels in which sf and supernatural modes are Equipoisal, sometimes forcedly, include It ( 1986), in which an Alien, once defeated by a group of adolescents, devastatingly returns; Desperation ( 1996) – plus The Regulators ( 1996) as by Richard Bachman, which tells the same story from a different universe – in which a local community is decimated when – again – an Alien shapes events from within ( Desperation won a Locus Award); Dreamcatcher ( 2001), with an Invasion of Alien parasites (see Parasitism and Symbiosis) which infiltrate not only our planet but our intestines and are opposed by kids with Psi Powers; From a Buick 8 ( 2002), in which what looks like a car is in fact a gateway to another Dimension; Cell ( 2006), a Disaster tale, told rather as though by an enriched Richard Bachman, in which cellphones across the world suddenly and simultaneously act as Basilisks, stripping their victims of higher mental functions, creating Hive-Mind mobs of Zombies whose behaviour threatens to end civilization and may – for the tale’s Slingshot Ending is equivocal – do so; Under the Dome ( 2009), which – vastly sophisticating the premise which inspires Josephine Young Case’s At Midnight on the 31st of March ( 1938), and deepening the impact of similarly claustrophobic narratives of his own – describes the sudden imposition of a barrier that encloses a small Maine town, transforming it into a kind of Pocket Universe where the nature of what it means to be human is savagely tested; 11/22/63 ( 2011), an exceedingly ambitious Time Travel novel whose protagonist returns repeatedly to the period of President Kennedy’s assassination in attempts to prevent it; and Revival ( 2014), a supernatural tale whose underlying terror – we are soon told that the inherent aspect of the world is malice, that "Something tricks us. That is what I believe." – is deeply similar to the terror that opens into vastation (see Horror in SF). In End of Watch ( 2016), the final volume of the otherwise nonfantastic Bill Hodges Trilogy, the yet-uncaptured serial killer Villain, having been experimented upon by a Mad Scientist neurologist, has acquired Telepathic powers, which allow him to turn a seemingly obsolete Computer Videogame into a weapon: those who attempt to play it immediately commit suicide (see Basilisks). Sleeping Beauties ( 2017) with Owen King complexly plays on interactions between Zombies and Utopias (for more details see Owen King). The Outsider ( 2018) begins as a criminal investigation into a possible serial killer, but exfoliates into the supernatural. Elevation ( 2018), another tale set in King’s default Maine town of Castle Rock, features a man who begins to lose weight but does not shrink; deadpan but deliberately, the tale is almost light-hearted.

King’s short fiction, whose themes and narrative techniques sometimes intensify the range of effects displaced within his longer works, has been assembled in several volumes, beginning with Night Shift (coll 1978) [see above], and including several collections where almost all his early career has appeared: Different Seasons (coll 1982), Skeleton Crew (coll 1985; exp 1985; exp 2015), Four Past Midnight (coll 1990) and Nightmares and Dreamscapes (coll 1993). Later short work, some significantly subtler than in his seeming 1980s heyday, have primarily been assembled in Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales (coll 2002), Just After Sunset (coll 2008), Full Dark, No Stars (coll 2010) and The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (coll 2015).

It is often suggested that most films based on King’s novels, stories and original screenplays are poor. In fact Carrie, The Shining ( 1980), The Dead Zone ( 1983), Cujo ( 1983), Stand By Me ( 1986), Misery ( 1990) and The Mist ( 2007) – the latter based on "The Mist" (in Dark Forces, anth 1980, ed Kirby McCauley) – are all strong films, although King dislikes the second, directed by Stanley Kubrick according to his own lights. The Shawshank Redemption ( 1994), neither sf nor horror, is a fine Prison buddy movie based on a novella from Different Seasons; The Green Mile ( 2000), also set in Prison, is also very strong. Fantasy/horror films aside from those already mentioned are Salem’s Lot (tv miniseries 1979), Creepshow ( 1982), Christine ( 1983), Cat’s Eye ( 1984), Children of the Corn ( 1984), Silver Bullet ( 1985), Creepshow II ( 1987), Pet Sematary ( 1989), Graveyard Shift ( 1990) and It (tv miniseries 1990). Return to Salem’s Lot ( 1987) directed by Larry Cohen is "based on characters created by Stephen King". Tales from the Darkside: The Movie ( 1990), an anthology film based on the television series of the same name, contains an adaptation of King’s "The Cat from Hell" (June 1977 Cavalier). The eight-hour television anthology miniseries The Golden Years of Stephen King ( 1991) was a ratings flop, and was re-released on videotape in 1992 with a new ending and cut to 236 minutes. The Dark Half (1991 but released 1993 because of Orion Pictures’ financial problems), directed by George Romero, is a valiant attempt to dramatize a not wholly satisfactory original. King rightly repudiated the sf film The Lawnmower Man ( 1992) – nominally based on his short story "The Lawnmower Man" (May 1975 Cavalier) – as having nothing to do with his work, and won a lawsuit demanding that his name be removed from the credits. He wrote an original screenplay for the uneven Vampire film Sleepwalkers ( 1992; vt Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers). Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice ( 1992) is a sequel to a film based on an King story, but otherwise has no connection with him. Stephen King’s "Sometimes They Come Back" ( 1993) is a 97-minute television movie adaptation directed by Tim McLoughlin. Needful Things ( 1994), 120 minutes, directed by Fraser C Heston, is less satisfyingly apocalyptic than the original novel. A further adaptation disliked by King – together with his own source novel – is Dreamcatcher ( 2003).

One film adaptation of a story by King – "Trucks" (June 1973 Cavalier) – was directed by King himself from his own screenplay: Maximum Overdrive ( 1986). Though not as bad as some critics stated, it flopped commercially. Technically sf, it has Earth passing through the tail of a Comet that mysteriously gives self-awareness to Machines (trucks, lawnmowers, hairdryers, electric carving knives, etc.), which then revolt against humans. This paranoid Technofantasy is crudely made with very broad stereotypes, but at least one sequence, of a boy cycling through a quiet township littered with bodies, suggests latent cinematic talent.

King’s occasional critical commentaries, the reverse of academic in style, are usually observant and interesting, and his analysis of horror is deeply informed and strongly argued, especially in Danse Macabre ( 1981), whose remit includes horror in books, films and comics; it won a Hugo for Best Nonfiction Book in 1982. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft ( 2000) won a Locus Award for nonfiction. King has won Grandmaster awards in the fields of horror and fantasy where his work has been of domineering importance for several decades; these include the 2004 World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. His pungent prose, his sharp ear for dialogue, his disarmingly laid-back, frank style, in which he has couched passionately fierce denunciations of human stupidity and cruelty (especially to Children), put him among the more distinguished of "popular" writers. Indeed, he has been one of the writers who have, over the last decades of the twentieth century, essentially vitiated the distinction between "popular" and "serious". Some considerable furore surrounded the presentation to King of a Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by the National Book Foundation in 2003. Given his continued productivity, and abundance of invention, over the years since, this furore seems last-ditch, indeed preposterous. Nowadays, the perception is not so much that Stephen King has been at finally allowed to sit at the head table, but that he never really had to ask. [PN/JC]