Reviews - Stephen King

Stephen King: Cell

Don’t Pick Up The Phone

Today I am writing to you to talk about the Stephen King novel, Cell.

Cell is a Post-Apocalyptic story that was released in 2006 and is effectively King’s crack at the ‘Zombie Apocalypse’. It received a film adaptation in 2009, starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson.

The Plot

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The story follows Clayton (Clay) a struggling artist who is trying to reunite with his son after a signal, The Pulse, is sent out over the global phone network and turns almost everyone into mindless animals.

Clay is thrown together with two others, Tom, a middle-aged man, and Alice, a teenager. The three escape the initial chaos and flee to Tom’s home. The next day Clay goes to reunite with his son Johnny and Alice and Tom join him.

During their journey, they come to a prep school with a student and teacher remaining. Here the group learns that those affected by the pulse have become a hive mind and have a psychic connection with each other. They kill the ‘phoners’ around the school while they are vulnerable and then share a dream in which they are individually confronted and killed by the same man who they dub the Raggedy Man.

They then meet the Raggedy Man, who, after some murder, orders the group to travel to Kashwak. The group agrees, but Clay is still determined to go home.

During the journey Alice is killed, and the group reach Clays hometown of Kent Pond. Here they find out that Johnny has also been told to go to Kashwak by the Phoners. However, as the group journey on Clay has a dream that all those who are not affected will be exposed to the pulse once they reach Kashwak.

The group meets others and eventually disband as Clay heads off alone. But the rest of the group quickly re-join him as the Phoners’ psychic powers are forcing them to. One of the group secretly given Clay a cell phone and told he’ll know when to use it.  

The group reaches Kashwak and notices the Phoners are behaving oddly. It is theorised that a computer sent The Pulse, and it has now become infected with a ‘computer worm’ and caused The Pulse to mutate. Clay figures out that the back of the bus is full of explosives and the phone he was given is the trigger. Clay uses the bus and blows up the Phoners in Kashwak.

The group then head to Canada, where they think the winter will wipe out the Phoners. But Clay goes south looking for his son, who he finds. Johnny has, however, been exposed to the corrupted pulse. Clay gives Johnny another blast from The Pulse, hoping the increasingly corrupted signal will cancel itself out in his son.

The book ends with Clay putting the phone to Johnny’s ear. We never find out if Johnny was cured.

My Thoughts – General

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I’m not usually a big fan of Zombie stories in books, oddly enough I enjoy them in games and in television though. However, I still found Cell enjoyable as its more a story about people. The slightly different take on Zombies being a hive mind and the whole virus being computerised was also a nice bit of diversity.

I also really liked that the Phoners could cause harm to the group in ways other than physical violence. The group is forced/compelled to do and act in ways they don’t want to due to the physic attacks. This was quite refreshing in a zombie-style story, the threat wasn’t always tangible but always had very real physical consequences.

My Thoughts – Characters

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The cast of characters is reasonable, with the main characters being well thought out, flawed people. There’s not an awful lot of development through the story but the characters are believable and feel very real. Clay is easy to connect to and King puts in enough work that when certain members of the cast perish you usually give some shits. Even the less ‘important’ characters are three dimensional enough that King is able to use them to raise and lower tension when needed.

My Thoughts – Setting

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The setting was pretty standard, as in it was a real world, non-fantastical location. These locations often work well in horror to keep us grounded when everything around us is going to hell. I enjoyed the time spent in the prep school and Kashwak was an interesting location.

My Thoughts – Plot

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The plot is well paced, a little slow in some places but the slower points only help the higher tension moments have a higher impact.

Because of the work King puts into his characters the plot has enough tension and gravitas. The whole Zombie Apocalypse is seen through the small world view of the characters as opposed to the wider world view. We never really see the wider implications of The Pulse and what happened the world over and that helps us stay grounded. It keeps the story a people focused one as opposed to a ‘natural disaster’ type story.

I didn’t find the plot to be overly predictable. Usually in zombie type media the survivors are traveling to a safe zone, so it was nice to see our group effectively do the opposite. I did suspect that Johnny wouldn’t make it through the story alive, but the potential cure and its effectiveness being left unknown was interesting.

Stakes wise I thought the plot made them clear in some places, we understood the stakes from a personal level. The threat of death, mindlessness etc all on a person level. So we had the survival stakes but then we also had the relationship between Clay and his son and his desire to find out what happened to and later protect his son. We also had the unsolvable mystery running through the story, where did The Pulse come from? Was it created? Is it AI?

Over all I thought this was an interesting take and if you’re a King fan or a Zombie fan you’ll enjoy this one.

I'd love to hear what you think, please comment below.

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