Sweat, Tears and Digital Ink

Personal blog of freelance writer MGMason

Tag Archives: stephen king

Book Review: 11.22.63 by Stephen King

Some say that Stephen King is at his best when he is turning away from the horror genre that has made him famous. Judging by the quality of the likes of Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption it is not difficult to see why. This raised a few eyebrows on release – Stephen King doing time travel? Very little of his work has been out and out sci fi until this one. Read more of this post

The Scariest Fiction – Part 2: Books


So here is the second part in my trilogy of scares in fiction. Referring back to the date I had a few weeks back, the woman in question reeled off a list of books that had scared her as an adult. I struggled, personally, to come up with any books that I found genuinely terrifying. This is odd because I nearly always prefer the book to the film version and was able to come. Read more of this post

My Top 3 Stephen King Novels

This week has seen the release of a sequel to his novel The Shining – a book that divides fans firmly between “prefer the film” and “I hate the film for missing the point”. Is it possible for me to sit on the fence of this issue and say that I appreciate both productions for different reasons? For the record, King hates the Kubrick film – and as much as I enjoy it, I fully appreciate and accept his reasons for doing so (number three on the list).
Read more of this post

Why the 2012 World Fantasy awards are a triumph

So, David slew Goliath at this year’s World Fantasy awards, gushes The Guardian when the small-published, genre boundary challenging novel Osama by Lavie Tidhar went up against and defeated a whole host of big names.

Congratulations. I understand it is a well-received book that is seen as quite the work of art; not everybody’s cup of tea but a book that seems to be widely appreciated. Read more of this post

No sex please, we’re writers!

It seems we are an unimaginative bunch when it comes to writing the sex scene. The standard is apparently so bad that it is necessart to give out awards for the worst examples. Yes, its the time for the Bad Sex Awards!

Going by examples in the genres I’ve read, there have been many very good and very bad sex scenes. When they are bad, they are really bad and more likely to get the reader to burst out into fits of laughter than the desired effect of titillation.

The article mentions Stephen King. I can’t really say I’m shocked, I’ve yet to see an example of good sex scenes in his work. Neither am I surprised to see Jean M. Auel on there. Having read three of her Earth’s Children books, I have commented that there is a lot of it. Overall, most of it is very good but there are some examples, particularly in The Plains of Passage, that are just awful. It seems that the final book in the series The Land of Painted Caves is ripe with bad sex.

Details of last year’s winner (loser?) is here.

Bad sex scenes usually contain the following:
* cheesy metaphor
* bizarre similes
* unrealistic dialogue
* little actual description of the human body
* athletic abilities that most Olympic gymnasts would struggle to achieve

I’ve yet to write any sex scenes, I have so far not felt the need and haven’t had the opportunity to test my erotica skills. I do plan to put at least one in the sequel to my complete novel but that is some time away yet as next year I want to do a serious rewrite of the original.

I’ve made a mental note that when I do write a sex scene, not to compare the physical act to mechanical processes (unless of course I’m writing steampunk, lol) or to erupting volcanoes, caves or to overuse the very unerotic word “member”.

I will revisit the subject in the near future when I’ve had the chance to experiment writing sex scenes.

Is there social commentary in horror?

Having already established that science fiction often contains elements of social commentary, I wish to explore whether the same is true of horror. I had this idea about a week ago and in preparation felt I ought to write a few book reviews of my favourite horror novels.

To be perfectly honest I can’t think of a great many horror novels or films that really attempt to explore the same sort of issues that hard science fiction or social science fiction attempt. Those that do tend to be the exception rather than the rule. The primary aim of horror is, after all, to terrify. Science fiction has no such primary goal. Read more of this post

Book Review: Needful Things by Stephen King

Despite that The Stand is my favourite King novel, Needful Things comes a very close second.

In some ways it is a much more intriguing story in that it deals with a much more base issue: human greed and the things people will do for personal gain.

Leland Gaunt arrives in Castle Rock, the setting for a good handful of King’s novels, opening up a bric-a-brac shop. The thing is with this shop is that it always seems to have the customer’s most secret desire and Gaunt never seems to require much money for the sale. But there is always a second price, to perform a small prank on somebody else.

Needless to say, the pranks become increasingly malevolent and re-ignites old animosities between individuals. Soon the whole town has descended into chaos and murderous violence and it is down to Sheriff Pangborn to put it right. Long-term fans of King will know Pangborn from The Dark Half and The Sun Dog.

Because of the subject matter, the story required a bit more in-depth characterisation than we might be used to from Stephen King. This he does very well and the interactions, positive and negative flow well with the plot.

Despite the fantastical setting, the plot is believable because it criticises human greed and explores how it consumes, asking us all the way “how far would you go to obtain your inner-most secret desire?”

Book Review: The Stand by Stephen King

Every writer must dream of the day that they write the book that defines them and their writing career. Undoubtedly, The Stand is the jewel in Stephen King’s crown. It is also his longest by far with the original version being close to 900 pages and the extended version close to 1200.

It is broken down into three parts and starts with a simple premise that is all too familiar today: a genetically engineered form of flu has been released upon the world. The mortality rate is in the region of 99.9% and the US authorities try and then fail to contain it. As people die and societies collapse, we follow those who are immune as they struggle to cope with the end of the world and decide what to do and where to go. Guided by dreams of a sinister figure named Randall Flagg and the benign Mother Abigail, our survivors gravitate in one direction or another.

This part of the novel is a rollercoaster of action as we witness the spread of the disease and chaos as people realise that social conventions no longer apply. Some of this is over the top but you can imagine probably realistic as we must accept that the only reason some people don’t do bad things is because they don’t want to be punished.

The second part shows the various survivors as they being their cross-country journeys to meet either Mother Abigail in Boulder, Colorado or Randall Flagg in Las Vegas and begin to re-build society.

For me, this is where the novel really comes alive and justifies the length of the novel. King leaves no stone unturned as he portrays an American landscape devastated first by disease and later by panic. Cities where bodies are everywhere, tunnels are jammed with broken down vehicles, fires rage with nobody to put them out and buildings crumble.

In the third section, the two cities are now fully aware of each other and the threat that each poses to one another. There must be a confrontation and Mother Abigail chooses a small group to go to Vegas and confront Flagg.

Poignantly, the novel finishes on a note discussing human nature. Will we ever learn from our mistakes or are we doomed to keep repeating them over and over again?

No review could ever do this book justice and there is much that I have left out. It is down to you to discover for yourself what an amazing book this is.

Fear – Post a Day #145

I’m going to reinterpret this “post a day” to discuss horror. I realise I have barely touched on the subject so far and it is right next to science fiction in practically every book store.

What is it about horror that fascinates us? What is it about being scared that is like a drug? For many Brits of a certain age, that fear began young: cowering behind the sofa at the appearance of the Daleks or the Cybermen on Doctor Who. Children seem to love being scared and my childhood memories of television are littered with terrifying programmes such as Children of the Stones, Under the Mountain, The Tripods, Dramarama (some were spooky) and countless others who titles I can’t remember but have images of events that took place. One is really irritating me that I cannot remember what it was called. There was a witch in a cave that presided over a labyrinth. The walls of the labyrinth were about 6 inches high but in order to get into a magical world, the protagonist (I think a girl of about 12 years old) had to follow the path through it.

All of these were scary and all of them were aimed at children. Some of them are still disturbing these days, I can still recommend Children of the Stones.

As adults, most of us still like being scared but for me the horror genre of the last 20-30 years has really been short on scares. I cannot remember the last horror book that actually scared me, if there was ever one. Don’t get me wrong, I do like the genre. I’ve read quite a lot of Stephen King and I think that James Herbert is an amazing writer… but that is mostly because of how he engages social issues (anybody who thinks that ‘The Rats’ is just about mutant killer rats needs to re-read the first 100 pages or so). I have read a couple of novels by Dean Koontz; I find his style is generally lacking in the sort of substance that I look for. Furthermore, his work is more about shocks than plot; the written equivalent of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Fine if you like that sort of thing but I don’t.

In film, the situation has been even worse. After the 1970s, horror became less about scares and more about effects. That was until an ultra low-budget film recorded on a handycam became the first internet sensation riding a wave of hype and word of mouth promotion. But love or hate The Blair Witch Project, it cannot be denied that it re-invigorated an exhausted genre and brought back the scares. Since then, horror has generally taken a step away from effects-laden gorefests and tried to get back to basics. This is no better demonstrated than in the overwhelming success of the sort of films that we have seen since 2000: [REC], Insidious, Sunshine, 28 Days Later (and its sequel 28 Weeks Later), Dawn of the Dead.

We also have the influence of Japanese horror to thank for this greater emphasis on scares. Though many of them have been unnecessarily re-made by Hollywood, clearly international cinema has helped to give horror a new lease of life.

I’ve never understood what it is about people that we want to feel terrified and the success of those films mentioned above shows that it is scares, not gore, that is important to most horror fans. Perhaps it is the adrenaline rush? The only film that ever gave me that feeling was The Blair Witch Project, I came out of the cinema with a buzz akin to getting off of a white knuckle ride. Or is it something else? I open the floor to you readers…

So, putting aside all waffle here is a list of my top 10 favourite horror novels:

1. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
2. The Stand – Stephen King
3. Dracula – Bram Stoker
4. The Rats – James Herbert
5. Needful Things – Stephen King
6. The Thief of Always – Clive Barker
7. 48 – James Herbert
8. Haunted – James Herbert
9. I Am Legend – Richard Matheson
10. The Dark Half – Stephen King

Looking at the list above I realise just how narrow my horror reading has been to date. I had a fascination with Stephen King through most of my teenage years before moving on to James Herbert. So far I have really only stuck with the safe bets of King, Herbert and Barker.

And my top 10 favourite horror films:

1. Alien
2. The Thing (1980)
3. The Blair Witch Project
4. The Shining
5. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
6. Ring (Japanese version)
7. The Exorcist
8. [REC]
9. The Omen
10. 28 Days Later


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