One of my favourite SF books was Stephen King's 1979 "The Stand", which I read in the full unadulterated double-doorstop version released in 1990, which was considered far to voluminous to release in 1979. This is the second time I'm re-reading it. How did it fare?
This is the sort of SF that is all too plausible, an accidental spill from a biological weapons facility releasing a plague-like virus which sweeps the planet in a matter of weeks, leaving 99% of humanity dead. King introduces a scores of protagonists, split into two camps of good and evil, the good 'uns drawn to Boulder Colorado through a shared dream of a 108 year old black woman, and the baddies under the control of supernatural drifter Randal Flagg.
King said he had been wanting to create an American Lord of the Rings, saying he:
“...just couldn't figure out how to do it. Then . . . after my wife and kids and I moved to Boulder, Colorado, I saw a 60 Minutes segment on CBW (chemical-biological warfare). I never forgot the gruesome footage of the test mice shuddering, convulsing, and dying, all in twenty seconds or less. That got me remembering a chemical spill in Utah, that killed a bunch of sheep (these were canisters on their way to some burial ground; they fell off the truck and ruptured). I remembered a news reporter saying, 'If the winds had been blowing the other way, there was Salt Lake City.' Only instead of a hobbit, my hero was a Texan named Stu Redman, and instead of a Dark Lord, my villain was a ruthless drifter and supernatural madman named Randall Flagg. The land of Mordor ('where the shadows lie,' according to Tolkien) was played by Las Vegas”
I noticed on re-reading it that the first half of the book is dark and wickedly drawn, mining the full depths of human depravity. A gang of marauding baddies rounding up any men and women they come across and forcing them into herds of sex slaves, and as it is King writing, always managing to make the premise and dialogue believable; tugging at the reaches of the readers mind in slightly disturbing ways, causing intakes of breath at the audacity of his imagination; as the, by now unfazed members in the sex slave gang giving advice to the new, offering tips on how to keep the brutes from fully ravishing them, by making sure to give effective head, a particularly transgressive flight which spurs the pages to turn in anticipation of how much farther he is going to push the envelope. And then, in the second half, this muck and mire kind of vibe, dissipates as the goodies win out and the whole tenor and underlying tow of the book fundamentally shifts into a wholly different register, suffused with an evangelical tint. The ferocity of it, which at the time I noticed but did not think on, ebbing away into the denouement of all the baddies, who King opts to get rid of by having a pyromaniac protagonist, Trash Can Man, accidentally blow them all up after towing a nuclear bomb to the Las Vegas HQ, and all the good people living happily ever after. The creative nuts and bolts of the writer's personal psychology behind this book, were made known to me after I read King's prose how-to book: On Writing, which he wrote whilst recuperating from a serious accident after being put in a coma when a juggernaut knocked him down as he was on his daily afternoon walk; the driver of which he ominously revealed in passing, had died (I think) a violent death a few years after at the hands of an unknown killer.
He said that when he began to write “The Stand”, his daily and prodigious writing practice was centred around sitting at the word processor, with a 12 or 24 slab of beer, drinking, smoking and ingesting lots of drugs, which explained the outrageous feats of his imagination in the earlier part of the book. Mentally loosened up by a cocktail from across the full spectrum, his mind in a cloud all of its own making, revved along in that particular frazzled frenzy conclusive to massive paranoia which conjures up all sorts of diabolical scenarios - King had harnessed this power which in most people would see them on the streets whacked out their minds, and put it to profitable use. However, half way through the book, at the insistence of his family, he reached the end of the road with this lifestyle, and suddenly found himself in a new head-space after drying out, and minus the previous crutches and creative aids (and personal wrecking balls) of drink and drugs, so the totally different register and massively toned down transgressive scenes in the second half of the book is explained. He said that due to this sudden shift in his day to day habit, he ended up, even by his standards, with a sprawling mass of characters, of which there were just too many to tie up into a denouement of set coherent scenes, so came up with the brainwave of just blowing them all up, and at a stroke unburdened himself of a massive workload.
It is what it is.
SF = Speculative Fiction.