What to read in a time like this?

I try to find the humor in every situation I face. Somehow, if I can laugh about something it just doesn’t seem that scary/depressing/overwhelming/(insert emotion). I remember when I was hospitalized for a three foot blood clot and I had made a joke about it to my wife (at the time). She doesn’t share my humor for laughing in the face of disaster.

Maybe that’s why we’re no longer together. Hmmm…

Anyhoo, so for those that are self-quarantined, staying away from the public, or just simply an introvert here are some choices in reading material for this time of season. And please, just know that even though this list is themed toward pandemics, it’s simply a literary book list with some dark humor to it.

So for your reading pleasure, here is my 2020 Pandemic Book List:

the stand1. The Stand, by Stephen King. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this horror classic. The premise of this ginormous novel is a detailed vision of the total breakdown of society after the accidental release of a strain of influenza that had been modified for biological warfare causes an apocalyptic pandemic that kills over 99 percent of the world’s population. It’s an amazing read about what happens to humanity and the good vs evil theme is quite page turning. I’m currently watching the television adapted movie and reading the uncut version of the novel. I’ve been sniffling and coughing up phlegm all the while.

Makes a man a bit paranoid, haha.

the-andromeda-strain2. The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton. First off, I love when people call books a techno-thriller. It’s such a great name for a genre. So this novel handles the narrative differently. It documents the efforts of a team of scientists investigating the outbreak of a deadly extraterrestrial mirco-organism in Arizona.

Year-One-Nora-Roberts3. Year One, by Nora Roberts. Okay, so if you’re not that into Stephen King because of the length of books he writers, I get it. However, if you’re looking for a pandemic themed book that invokes King’s The Stand without the 1,000 + page count then this one is it. I’ll warn you though, it’s part of a trilogy so if you’re wanting a one and done read, then you may reconsider it. It’s a great read about a sickness that spreads suddenly and within weeks, everything starts to crumble. This is different than your basic pandemic. Where science and technology falls, magic rises and people start developing magical powers and turning into elves and other magical creatures.

world_war_z_book_cover4. World War Z, by Max Brooks. So, without getting into all the zombie fiction out there (and believe me there’s a lot) I’ll just offer this one beacon of light among the undead. This book, written by Director Mel Brook’s son, is a collection of individual accounts following the devastating global conflict against the zombie plague. For those that have read The Zombie Survival Guide, this is the same author and it’s equally well written. While the guide was written in a half-comical nature, WWZ is written in a serious tone that examines survival-ism, uncertainty, and the ineptitude of individuals and governments. It’s really a must-read.

As an additional note, I really disliked the movie simply because it was nothing like the book. In my opinion, it would’ve been better to make it a strict adaptation of the novel. And you can fight me on that.

dracula_book_cover5. Dracula, by Bram Stoker. Okay, hear me out on this one before I get an angry voicemail about how I need to “get my facts straight.” Dracula is about a vampire that travels to England so that he may find new blood and spread the undead curse. However, the good Count is defeated by a band of humans that wield science as a weapon. Sound familiar? It should because that’s the basic theme of almost all pandemic themed fiction. I once wrote a college paper about how Dracula was a metaphor for Cholera. It was pretty good paper inspired by a very good work of fiction. Check it out.

Well, that’s five pandemic inspired fictional works. While I hope you all don’t fall ill with the coronavirus, I do hope you read some of the books on this list. All have a soft spot in my literary heart and have earned a place on my Hall of Fame for books.

With any luck, I’ll talk to you all next week.

2019 Film Recap: The Worst

Last year I ranked the films I watched in three categories: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. This year’s film recap, I only watched 23 films that released during 2019. Because of that, I am categorizing this year’s list into two halves: The Worst and the Best. So, without any further ado, here are numbers 23 through 11. Or as I like to call them… the worst of 2019.

Since these films were released in the last year I will caution about spoilers.Dark Phoenix

23. Dark Phoenix
My Score: 2/10
IMDb Score: 5.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 23%/64%

You know, people complain about The Rise of Skywalker and all of its plot holes, but no one really talks about the horror that is Dark Phoenix. The bland alien invasion, the fact that it was forgotten that the Phoenix showed up in the previous film (how they defeated Apocalypse), the F-Bomb dropped by Cyclops, and the fact that Magneto was just allowed to exist after Apocalypse was killed. Most people will discount this film due to the fact that the entire thing is now pointless because Disney purchased Fox. The funny thing is that even if Fox hadn’t been purchased, the X-Men franchise would’ve been dead due to this garbage fire of a film.terminator

22. Terminator: Dark Fate
My Score: 4/10
IMDb Score: 6.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 70%/82%

Sure… kill John Connor. Okay… erase Skynet. I would’ve been onboard with these decisions if they’d been for a purpose. I’d have been on board with it if they tried to go at things from a different path. However, Dark Fate is the exact same plot. A poor lady gets targeted by termination by robotic assassins sent back in time by a robot overlord that’s trying to eradicate the human species. The only thing that stands in between her and the assassins is a human that’s sent back in time by the future version of that lady. Sound familiar? Well, it should. Swap Skynet for Legion, John Connor for Danni (I honestly don’t remember her name), Reese for another person I can’t remember, and update some of the tech and you’ve got pretty much the same movie.alita

21. Alita: Battle Angel
My Score: 4/10
IMDb Score: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 61%/93%

Granted, this film looks beautiful. I can’t knock the CGI. However, the weak storyline and the forgettable villains really just make this film forgettable in my opinion. I’m sure I’ll get some flack for my opinion on this film, but eh. And really, if you think about it, it’s just a CGI futuristic John Wick, dead dog included.

godzilla20. Godzilla: King of the Monsters
My Score: 5/10
IMDb Score: 6.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 42%/83%

I’m not much of a Godzilla fan. I’ll go watch them, but I’m not one of those fanboys that will defend the film religiously. I understand that they were trying to make a giant monster film, but what I don’t understand is why they have to attempt a human-interest side of things. The audience goes into a Godzilla film wanting to see the King of Monsters rampaging through cities as it defeats other monsters. For the most part, this film delivers in this aspect. However, the parts of the film where the humans are trying to do their human-thing just drags the plot. Just let them fight.

detective pikachu19. Pokémon: Detective Pikachu
My Score: 5/10
IMDb Score: 6.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 68%/79%

I went to see this twice in theaters. The first time, I really liked it. The CGI was great, the plot was decent, and the humor connected fairly well. Then I went to see it with my nephews. The second time was not as enjoyable as the first. The humor was stale, the plot had holes I hadn’t seen during the first viewing. Yet it was still pretty decent because of the franchise’s nostalgia. Overall, it was not a bad film. Not a good film either, but just average.

zombieland18. Zombieland: Double Tap
My Score: 6/10
IMDb Score: 7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 68%/88%

When I heard they were making a sequel of my favorite zombie flick, I felt both excited and apprehensive. Excited because I wanted more of that comedy and action. Apprehensive because they could totally mess things up. I got that humor and that action, but they totally messed things up. The idea of anti-gun, vegan hippies surviving in a zombie apocalypse is nuts. Having Tallahassee not kicking their butts once is a big letdown. Add in the fact that the humor is sorta stale, the girls take off on their own with the dudes going after them (same plot point as the last film), and the introduction of cool evolved zombies only to have them be referenced maybe once or twice and you’ve got a subpar film.

men in black17. Men in Black: International
My Score: 6/10
IMDb Score: 5.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 23%/66%

Another film that tries to compete with the prior films in the franchise. Overall, I liked this film. Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth have great chemistry together. The pawn alien voiced by Kumail Nanjiani was the highlight of the film. Really, when you consider MiB 2, anything is better.

glass16. Glass
My Score: 6/10
IMDb Score: 6.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 37%/68%

If this film came out before the superhero genre exploded, it would have performed better at the box office. Unfortunately, M. Night Shyamalan was a bit too late on this lackluster conclusion to his loosely linked trilogy. James McAvoy and Samuel Jackson are great, but Bruce Willis’ acting is as flavorful as a piece of dry white toast. Since it is an M. Night Shyamalan film, we know there’s some type of plot twist. This time around, the three main characters are murdered by a secret organization bent on keeping the fact that superhumans are real a secret. Of course, due to people’s obsession with social media, this secret gets out to the masses.

scary stories to tell in the dark15. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
My Score: 6/10
IMDb Score: 6.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 78%/72%

I loved the book that this film was adapted from. It was a treasured tome of mine growing up. The film did a decent job of merging a lot of those stories into one cohesive plot. The acting was alright, but the ending was the thing that suffered the most. It was meant to end with a few more sequels to build off of. However, I doubt that we’ll get those sequels because of the lukewarm reactions of the fans/critics. The monsters were very creepy, one of the best parts of that movie.

pet sematary14. Pet Sematary
My Score: 6/10
IMDb Score: 5.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 57%/34%

Most Stephen King films will rank higher than most on my list. I’m a huge fan of the author and I love watching his books come to life on the big screen. I think I’m being a bit picky, but I really didn’t like Jason Clarke as the main character, Louis. In truth, I’ve never liked anything Clarke plays. He’s not my favorite actor. What saves the film is John Lithgow as Jud. Loved his acting. If you’ve seen the original, then this may or may not be your favorite. The original is hard to beat because it instilled that creepiness. Watching the new version, that creepiness has been dulled a bit. But it was still there, lurking in the background as the plot lengthened.

childs play13. Child’s Play
My Score: 7/10
IMDb Score: 5.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 63%/57%

When you reboot a movie, you sometimes change some things about it to make it your own. In Terminator: Dark Fate they changed details but didn’t make things different. When Chucky came to the big screen in this reboot, just about everything was changed. Instead of a bad guy that wills his soul to enter a children’s toy, this time around it’s a doll that’s sabotaged and learns to be evil. It’s a great lesson about nature vs. nurture. Another lesson is to never make a child’s toy that can control all the electronics around him angry at you.

noelle12. Noelle
My Score: 7/10
IMDb Score: 6.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 53%/59%

This was a film I didn’t anticipate on watching this year. It wasn’t one that I really wanted to watch this year. It does have the powerful acting chops of Anna Kendrick, Shirley MacLaine, and Bill Hader to make this Disney + original Christmas film a success. Watching Noelle travel to Arizona to find her missing brother, the next Santa Claus, in time to save Christmas was a rather funny experience. The humor was unexpectantly funny and I laughed more than I expected.

in the tall grass11. In the Tall Grass
My Score: 7/10
IMDb Score: 5.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 38%/36%

For this last film on this list, it sort of surprised me. Sure, it’s a mediocre film with a confusing plot and some vague pseudo-religious relic and cult. But that’s what makes it intriguing to me. Watching this Stephen King short story come alive is not a masterpiece, but it does make you scratch your head and wonder what the heck happened. For those that are gluttons for punishment, it’ll make you want to watch it again. Can I just add that Stephen King has now forced me to put corn fields on my “don’t mess with” list. And I’m from Indiana so that’s pretty impressive. And a bit scary.

Soon, I’ll have my best of 2019 list showcasing the top ten films I’ve watched. Did you think my list so far is accurate? Which ones did you agree with? Which films do you think should’ve been higher/lower? Let me know in the comments!

A Decade Remembered

For my work, I was tasked in combing through ten years’ worth of Starke County Leaders to find highlights from the last decade. It’s only natural, while making your way through almost 500 editions of a newspaper, that I began to think about the highlights from my own life.

Dictionary.com defines highlight as “an important, conspicuous, memorable, or enjoyable event, scene, part, or the like.”

I think it’s important to consider the fact that a highlight can include negative events as well as positive ones. After all, you can’t take the good without taking the bad. For example, look what happens to the Jedi Order when you don’t study the Dark Side of the Force. You end up on the bad side of Order 66. Nobody wants that.

Here are some of the highlights from my own personal decade:
– I celebrated my one-year wedding anniversary on July 11, 2010.
– In March 2010, I wrote this joke: Q. What do you call a sleep walking nun? A. A Roaming Catholic. It was received with mild success.
– In 2011, I went back to school at IUSB. Instead of Computer Science, I began studying English.
– In December 2012, I wrote a 1,600-word paper on King Arthur’s court collapsing due Marxist Theory. It was pretty spectacular.
– My grandfather, James Norton, passed away on March 7, 2013. He was a great man, role model, and grandpa.
– Signed with Permuted Press to have my book series published in February 2014.
– Spent an amazing week in Seattle for the American Writers & Publishers (AWP) conference with fellow IUSB writing friends.
– In 2014 I got a mortgage for a home in Plymouth with my wife of five years.
– On March 2, 2015, I found out that Permuted Press cancelled the book contract.
– I finished my college education at IUSB in May 2015. It took me 11 years, but I did it.
– Left my job at IUSB and started work at the Pilot News Group, where I’m still employed and loving it.
– Found out I had a ginormous blood clot in my left leg. That was fun (sarcasm).
– November 2015 I signed a new book contract with Burning Willow Press for that series that was earlier canceled.
– In 2017 I became a published author. Since then I’ve published three books, four short stories, and a combined book with several other authors.
– After a two-year separation my wife and I divorced in 2018. This event ended nine years together.
– When BWP closed in 2019, my books were once again homeless. But only for a day when Random Evolved Media offered to pick them up.

There have been many other good and bad highlights that I won’t mention. From the list above, it looks to me as if my life has been filled with more bad memories than good. That might make some people feel depressed. Admittedly, there were times during the last ten years that I feel deep into depression. I still do sometimes.

Since I’m a nerd, I thought of this quote from the BBC show, Doctor Who. “The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things,” says The Doctor, portrayed by Matt Smith. “The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”

There’s no way of knowing what the next ten years will throw at us. However, as long as we cherish that pile of good things while learning how to overcome the pile of bad things, I’m sure I’ll be writing another decade rewrap. And hopefully you’ll be here to read it.

Goodbye 2010-2019 and hello 2020-2029!

See you all next year.

Books make the best gifts

Okay, so maybe books don’t make the best gifts. I’ll admit that I’d rather be given a Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ over a Stephen King book. One exception to that if the Stephen King book was a first edition signed copy. If my “Secret Santa” was looking to gift me one of those phones, then make sure it’s able to be on the Sprint network. Just saying. Now onto this week’s rant.

There are many reasons why books make the perfect gift. Here are some reasons why:

1. Books are easily transportable. You can’t take a 72-inch flat screen television with you to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and watch as you wait in line to renew your driver’s license. You also can’t take a Playstation 4 with you to a government meeting and play the new Star Wars game a few minutes before the meeting convenes. I’ve tried. You just end up with council members giving you weird looks as you try to plug an HDMI cable into the monitors. Books can be taken with you wherever you go. It doesn’t matter where you go: churches, meetings, the BMV, even the bathroom. All of those places and more, a book can be taken with you. Last detail about that: if you’re borrowing a book from the library or a friend, don’t take it into the bathroom. That’s common courtesy.

2. Books are cheap. If you’re like me, a writer, you can’t really afford to spend a bunch of money on Christmas presents. I mean, you could spend rent and bill money to buy that perfect, albeit expensive, gift for your loved one. You might be asking them for a place to stay while you catch up on bills, but whatever. Books are the perfect alternative. You don’t have to drop $400 dollars on a book unless it’s a signed first edition of Stephen King.

3. Books are personalized. Fantasy, Horror, Romance, Science Fiction, etc. Everyone has a preference when it comes to works of fiction. Or non-fiction. Choosing the perfect book for that person tells you that you know them enough to know what types of books they like to enjoy. Televisions aren’t personal like a book can be. Just make sure you take in deciding which book is right.

4. Books require no assembly. Unless you buy a book from Ikea, you don’t need to assemble anything the night before Christmas. Plus, they need no batteries. I can’t tell you the money I’ve spent buying batteries for gifts that didn’t include them.

5. Books make the perfect re-gift. When you’re finished reading a book, you can pass them on as a White Elephant book. If you’re like me, you wear a book out in the first reading. I typically crack a spine of a book more than I crack my own. If it’s a hardback, then maybe that’d be an okay book as a regular gift. However, if you bend the edges of the pages like I do, then maybe consider buying a newer version.

6. Books don’t hurt as much as other things. Have you ever stepped on a bunch of Legos? Have you ever banged your head on a television? Stepping on the edge of a book, a pointy hardcover, is a pretty difficult thing to do. I don’t think I’ve ever done that.
Literature is something that I’ve tried to purchase for my friends and relatives for birthdays and Christmas gifts. Personally, I like hunting for the right book. Sure, it may take time but that’s what makes gifts so enjoyable. Remember that old saying, “It’s the thought that counts?” Books personify that sentiment.

Happy hunting and merry Christmas!

The Curse of the Written Word

Keeping up with this month’s theme of the spooky and creepy, I want to share my feelings about one of the curses of the Written Word. Don’t worry, it’s not really one of those curses that’ll turn you into a frog, newt, or any other amphibian. I don’t have that power.

But I do have another power granted to me by the Written Word.

See, words have power. The power to create, to sustain, to build up, and to grant freedom. Take the United States Declaration of Independence for example. Written in 1776, this document explained why 13 colonies sought to free themselves from the Kingdom of Great Britain.

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

You can’t tell me those two paragraphs are simply a well-connected string of words and punctuation. Those words have meaning. They, and the entire document that follows them, contain a power that has created a nation, has sustained that nation for over 200 years, has built up other countries that have sought independence, and has granted freedom to an unmeasurable number of men, women, and children.

People say magic doesn’t exist. Whenever I hear that claim, I ask them if they’ve ever read a book.

With all powerful things, there are neglectful people that use it haphazardly. And, of course, there are evil people that use it for abusive practices. Look at Twitter to see some of those abusive practices.

You might be thinking, “Jim, who are you to accuse us of abusing the power of the written word?” Because, dear reader: I’m a horrible practitioner of the written word. If you’ve read my past rants, you’ll know what I think of both James Patterson and the State of Michigan. Unlike the Founding Fathers, I’ve never used my power for good when it came to those two subjects.

Recently, I’ve been using it without thinking of the implications. The true curse of the written word is that it’s hard to interpret a message from a friend. I remember when I was married, my wife accused me once that I didn’t love her. It was on a way home from work. She was sitting in the passenger seat of our van and I was driving. She was abnormally silent, and I knew something was up. You could always tell when she was angry about something when she was quiet. Silence, in this case, was deadly.
After spending some time coaxing her into talking, she responded that I hadn’t ended a text with “I love you.”

It didn’t help that I laughed when she said that. I couldn’t help it. I thought I’d accidently done something wrong. After a few more minutes of driving in silence (her anger had renewed and grown after my outburst of laughter), she informed me that when I had texted back “Sure, Taco Bell sounds good” and I had left out those essential three words, the message was interpreted that while I loved Taco Bell, I somehow didn’t love her. So, after that day, I’d always text back with those three words. Even when I was indisposed. Example: “I’ll be downstairs in a minute. I’m using the bathroom… I love you.”

It’s been my experience that I often text something I think it funny, but when others read it, they are offended, confused, or think I’m serious. That’s why if I ever text you, you’ll usually receive another text saying “lol jk.” For those that don’t know lol means laugh out loud and jk means just kidding.

It hits me hard when I hear back from people that I’ve offended them by something I’ve texted. I recently hurt someone close to me due to this. It’s painful for them, and it’s painful for me.

Texting someone is convenient, but we lose something in the translation between word of mouth and the written word. That’s the true curse of the written word.

As Uncle Ben once said to one of my favorite superhero’s: “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

Treat the power you have. Don’t trick people with it.

Book vs Film: Scaring your Audience

Since it’s October, I thought it’d be appropriate to write a series of scary topics to coincide with All Hallows’ Eve. To kick off this series, I’ll be discussing the differences between a horror book and a horror film.

Boo!

By your reaction (yes, I’m watching as you’re watching this) I failed in my attempt at a jump scare. You see, that’s the main difference between a visual media and a written version. For those that don’t know the term, a jump scare is used to scare the audience by surprising them with an abrupt change in image or event. Typically, that means something, or someone appears in front of the audience and often accompanied with a loud noise. At this point, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two friends of mine. One friend, we shall call Angela, is particularly good at two things: hiding and jump scaring the other friend. The other friend, we shall call Kenny, is particularly good at one thing: being scared. Let’s just say, jump scares are an effective way to frighten your audience.
When used in films in an effective manner, jump scares can be a sudden payoff to a long period of suspense. As the tension builds up, the jump scare is the climax. They’ve been called “one of the most basic building blocks of horror movies.”

Recently, the use of jump scares has been criticized as overused and a lazy method to scare the audience. Which is true. Going back to my two friends, Kenny is like the audience and Angela is like the movie. Kenny’s been scared so many times by Angela that he’s used to it by now. Of course, that just means that Angela (and films) have to figure out new ways of scaring.

In a literary work, the author doesn’t have the above-mentioned technique to scare readers. Like film, authors must find alternative ways to scare the reader. One of those methods (there are many and I have just a limited amount of space, so I’ll only cover one in this article) is to create a false sense of security.

Simon Kurt Unsworth, author of The Devil’s Detective, talks about creating a false sense of security. He explains that if you make your story based in the real world so that readers recognize and relate to it, then add elements that show that world’s weaknesses. “Real fear comes from seeing in the narrative a set of events that, if they occurred, could threaten what’s important to the reader, and could change their world into something they no longer recognize or understand,” he once said. He goes on to say, and I really like this line, that “monsters aren’t really scary; monsters walking up the street where we’re living and threatening our children? That’s scary.”

Why do you think Stephen King’s books are so scary? IT, The Shawshank Redemption, The Institute, The Shining, Carrie, Firestarter… I could go on. He’s written so many books that are set in the real world and shows us that sometimes it isn’t a scary monster that’s the villain. It’s often society or the government that’s scarier than the space alien that feeds on children’s fear and then feasts on their flesh.

Even when your story is fantasy, there are still elements of realism that can be incorporated into it to make it more relatable to readers. In Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, the characters are effected by addiction and mental issues even as they traverse across Mid-World on the Path of the Beam. Sometimes, the things that scare you are the ones that live inside your head.

Like the King of Horror once said in The Shining, “Sometimes human places, create inhuman monsters.” Sure, he was talking about a haunted resort, but it also meant Danny’s father turning into a homicidal abusive patriarch.

The real world is scary folks. Hopefully, we only experience it through the pages of a book or through the screen. It’d be nice to think that. Maybe that’s why we read and watch cinema. To escape the horrors of our everyday life. One last quote by Stephen King, I know, I quote him a lot. I think this sums up the article so here goes:

“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win,” King said. Isn’t that the scariest part of life and literature, when the monsters win?

Review of The Institute

institute.jpgLet’s get this disclaimer out of the way so that we can get down to the meat and potatoes of this book review. I absolutely, positively love everything that Stephen King has ever written. Not so much his film adaptions, but that’s another review for another time.

Released in mid September, the storyline of The Institute follows two main characters. The first readers encounter is Tim Jamieson, an ex-policeman that’s traveling to New York for a job. Following his intuition, Jamieson ends up in DuPray, South Carolina. He ends up being a Night Knocker. For those that don’t know what a night knocker is, don’t worry I didn’t know either. Basically, it’s just a lowly paid member of local law enforcement that walks around at night making sure places are locked up. Jamieson has his own interesting history and is developing a life in DuPray when the story shifts over to the central character of the novel, Luke Ellis. 

Luke is a twelve-year-old genius that’s about to enter college. One night, he’s kidnapped from his home in suburban Minneapolis and taken to The Institute. It’s a facility located in Maine. Luke soon finds out that he and all the other kids in the facility have either telekinesis or telepathy. Oh, and the facility is operated by a super secret shadowy organization.

Going into the novel, I was certain that it was a sequel King’s 1980 novel, Firestarter. It’s essentially the same premise. A child with pyrokinetic powers is hunted by The Shop, a super secret government operation that does drug testing on people with telekinetic abilities. Spoiler alert: Firestarter ends with The Shop reforming under new leadership. With Doctor Sleep being a sequel to The Shining, it wasn’t that hard to think that The Institute was a sequel to Firestarter. However, don’t get your hopes up. There’s no references to the book that was adapted into the 1984 film starring Drew Barrymore.

While I really enjoyed Luke’s journey of survival and vengeance, all I really wanted to do was get back to Night Knocker Tim. For some reason, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Tim’s normal, everyday life compared to the freaky and slightly traumatizing tale of Luke Ellis. As you could guess, the two main character’s path eventually collide and that’s when the story picks up. To quote Pam Beesly-Halpert from The Office, “There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?”

Stephen King is one of those authors that has an innate talent to craft a decent story with children as characters. The Institute is pretty much a mash-up of IT and Firestarter. You take a shadowy government organization testing children and the children must band together to survive. Luke and the other children share a deep relationship together and King so masterfully gives each child a story arc without bogging down the narrative.

The one thing that I truly did not like were the political digs at President Trump and the Republican Party. If you follow King’s social media, you’ll know that he doesn’t particularly look on them with a positive light. There aren’t many of these references, but they always made me cringe and pulled me out of the narrative when I read them.

I guess I wouldn’t be a good reviewer if I didn’t mention how the novel parallels real world events. When you finish this 576 page science fiction/horror thriller there are a few things that hit close to home in terms of vaccinations, missing children, and zealots that believe that the ends justify the means. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that The Institute is an interesting look into these issues and the deeper and terrifying implications they have on society.

If you’re a fan of Stephen King, The Institute will itch that literary scratch. For those that haven’t delved into the deep library of King, you’ll find this book a great introduction into it. The Institute is definitely one to put on your To-Be-Read list.