Have you ever read The Stand? It’s a massive Stephen King novel that was originally published in 1978, but was then republished in 1990 under the guise of being “complete & uncut.” I guess the latter version is something of a director’s cut. That’s the version I’m reading. It comes in at a total of 1,141 pages in length. So when I say massive, I mean it’s pretty dang big.
I may have mentioned on here, somewhere in the past, that I’m interested in reading through the complete works of Stephen King. The order in which I read his books is the order in which they were published. I started with Carrie, followed up with ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, and finally Night Shift. That last one was a collection of short stories that was published in 1978. This leads me to The Stand. One could make a good argument that I should be reading the original version of the book and not the 1990 “uncut” version. But I’m doing it this way. Deal with it.
I’m also not reading it all straight through, either. The novel itself is divided into three parts. Book I: Captain Trips makes up the first 382 pages, very easily a novel on its own. But this first section really acts as more of an introduction than anything else. Yes, a lot happens. And when I say a lot, that’s an incredible understatement. If you’ve read anything by King, you know that he has this amazing ability to express detail in even the smallest of things. I have no doubt that the man would be able to describe, exhaustively, the make up of a water molecule that would make calling it H2O look stupid.
If you haven’t read the book or never saw the mini-series back in the 90’s, you’ll probably want to stop reading this. Unless you like spoilers. In which case, keep on going.
The world kind of ends. Not really, but civilization as we know it pretty much crumbles. And it’s all thanks to one little virus. Some places in the book call it the superflu, some call it “tube neck,” while others call it Captain Trips (giving Book I its title). See, this Captain Trips disease is a tricky virus that has pretty much no weaknesses. So when it gets out, it gets way out. And then it gets out of control. And no one can stop it. And it kills just about everyone.
Inexplicably, there are a handful of people left on the planet who seem to be immune. For some reason, they sit back and watch as this disease destroys all the people around them, while they remain completely healthy. These are the people that the novel is built around. These are the people that this introduction introduces us to. By the time we reach page 382, we have most of their life stories told.
Maybe it isn’t fair to call this first part an introduction. As I said, it could be a novel all on its own. It’s the story of a terrible disease running rampant across the world. A global pandemic is definitely the kind of thing that haunts people who fear getting sick. We see what happens to the United States when some guys in a government-run lab slip up and let their little experiment get loose. We see how the chain of command can begin to crumble as they try (unsuccessfully) to put a lid back on Pandora’s Box. We see how the dominoes fall down one by one.
And then we’re left with the chosen few. Stu’s a guy from east Texas who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was one of the first to be exposed to the disease, but he never caught it, which really gave the brass at the CDC a difficult time. Fran’s a girl from a little town in Maine who just discovered she was pregnant out of wedlock. She briefly dealt with the fallout of informing her family when the disease abruptly snatched her family away from her, leaving her alone in town with her friend’s annoying little brother, Harold, who was also immune. Larry’s a guy who’s on the cusp of rock and roll stardom. He partied a little too much out on the coast, so he decided to move back to his mom’s in New York until things blew over. When the superflu hit, things blew over, but so did his career. Lloyd was a small time crook who was always in one mess or another until he met Poke. The two of them went on a tri-state killing spree. Poke was killed in a shootout. Lloyd was locked up. And he stayed locked up for a long time, even after Captain Trips had killed all the guards and other prisoners. Nick was another kid in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was a drifter. He was deaf. He was mute. So he got the crap beat out of him in a small town in Arkansas. While the sheriff tried to help him get some justice, everyone around him died of the disease, leaving him alone in a world of silence.
It’s a really good story and I’m eager to pick up where I’ve left off. I watched the televised mini-series years ago, so I sort of know what happens next, but my memory of it is fuzzy. Also, it’s hard to tell just how much could have been changed to condense such a huge book into a few hours for TV. But for now, that’s all I’ve got.