Thursday, July 22, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 169 (7/22) -- Stephen King's The Stand: Soul Survivors by Aguirre-Sacasa and Perkins

Middles can be tricky things -- they have to get from the beginning to the end, making sense all the way, and still preserve enough interest among the audience that know the ending is coming, and mostly just wants to get there. Middles can be even trickier, though, when they come as ostensibly separate objects, with very little explanation of how middle-ish they really are.

Soul Survivors is the collection of one of several miniseries published by Marvel adapting Stephen King's novel The Stand; it was written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and drawn by Mike Perkins. It comes shrinkwrapped, and the only indication that it is a piece of middle -- not an independent side story set in the world of The Stand, or any of the other possibilities -- is the word "continues" in a small paragraph of copy on the bottom of the back cover, down by the price and ISBN barcode and Marvel logo. I believe that Soul Survivors is the third such miniseries, but don't quote me -- that's based on the very last page of this book, which has two bookshots (of the collections Captain Trips and American Nightmare) under a headline reading "The Story Starts Here." There's also no indication how many more series will be required to finish adapting The Stand -- I'd assume a lot; it's a huge book, and this adaptation seems to include every plot point and event -- but the next one will be called Hardcases.

All those things would generally be considered more important to a reader -- and to the successful marketing of a book adapting one of the best-known and -loved books by a hugely bestselling writer -- than the name of Marvel's Senior Vice President for Strategic Development (Ruwan Jayatilleke), but the latter is easily found in Soul Survivors, and the former is entirely missing. One thus begins to understand why Marvel has had relatively little luck getting its products into bookstores; they're still packaging those products for an audience that already knows everything about the things they care about, makes detailed lists of the things they're going to buy, and visits their chosen retailers obsessively. Occasionally, Marvel can reach the larger audience that does not do any of those things, but only by luck.

The story of Soul Survivors, as I said, is entirely middle. A number of people -- the most important of whom were introduced in the earlier books, and just appear here -- continue their journeys through an America depopulated by the government-created (and accidentally released) "Captain Trips" supervirus, after the death of 90% of us. They meet new companions, face some new threats, and converge on the Nebraska home of a centenarian black woman, Mother Abagail. Meanwhile, all of the evil people left over are similarly heading towards Las Vegas, drawn by the "dark man," Randall Flagg. (And, as usual for that period in his career, King's symbolism is nowhere within a country mile of subtle.) It begins in the middle and ends in the middle, focusing almost entirely on the "good" characters as they gather together for their inevitable battle against evil.

There's no reason to read Soul Survivors alone -- either you're a big King (or Stand fan), and want to follow the story in every medium, or you read Captain Trips and have been following along since then. It's middle-ness is so perfect that there's no good opening into it for anyone not already familiar with the story, and so it should be left to them.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

1 comment:

FS said...

America depopulated by the government-created (and accidentally released) "Captain Trips" supervirus, after the death of 90% of us.

Actually, the virus had a death rate of some 99.4%.

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