Cell by Stephen King

Cell cover art

Title: Cell
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Pocket Books (division of Simon & Schuster)
Publication Date: December 2006
ISBN: 1416524517

The phone-crazies own the days; when the stars come out, that’s us.  We’re like vampires.  We;ve been banished to the night.  Up close we know each other because we can still talk; at a little distance we can be pretty sure of each other by the packs we wear and the guns more and more of us carry; but at a distance, the one sure sign is the waving flashlight beam.  Three days ago we not only ruled the earth, we had survivor’s guil about all the other species we’d wiped out on our climb to the nirvana of round-the-clock cable news and microwave popcorn.  Now we’re the Flashlight People.

          -Page 161 of Cell by Stephen King 

The apocalypse doesn’t begin with the deafening boom of war, but with the quiet ring of a cell phone.

 According to GEARlog, as of Nov. 2007 82% of United States citizens have cell phones, a number of  1/4 billion.  In fact, the United States is second only to China in number their number.  With that number in mind, imagine what would happen if some tech-terrorist broadcasted a virus, relaying it through the cell towers,  and anyone using a cell phone had the hard drive of their brains stripped to the core programming of violent, animalistic survival.  Those on their cells when The Pulse, as it’s called in the book, is activated and they become raging, psychotic, murdeous beasts ripping the throats out of those around them with their teeth and tearing the limbs off people with their bare hands.  If you were witnessing this, your first instict would be to grab your cell phone and call someone, getting an earful of the mind-scrambling Pulse and going mad because of it.

This is what happens to Clayton Riddell on the afternoon of his life, after he’s sold his graphic novel series and has achieved sudden weath.  As he sits on a park bench reflecting on his turn of luck and enjoying a beautiful October afternoon in Boston, he observes a man in a business suit biting a dog’s ear and ripping it off the side of the screaming animal’s head.

Clay is able to survive the initial event and hook up with a few other “normies” and head north to Maine, where Clay’s estranged wife and his 11-year-old son John live.  Reuniting with John is the only thing on Clay’s mind.  Two things plague Riddell, though: One, the ever-present fear John had been on his own cell phone when it happened, and Two,  the “phoners” are evolving, gaining new and unusual powers.

When Clayton’s band of survivors kill a flock of the phoners, they find themselves public enemy number one and are driven to the place of their intended doom by The Raggedy Man, spokesman for the new world.  Can they survive?  Will Clayton find his son?  if he does, What will he find left of the boy?

Stephen King’s Cell is remeniscent of several dystopic/apocalyptic books and stories, including King’s Mist and Stand.  In Cell we find Mrs. Carmody reincarnated in “Bible Thumping Bertha” as they make the exodus out of Boston, and we see a version of Randall Flagg in The Raggedy Man.  I was also reminded of McCarthy’s The Roadby the interactions and relationships of the survivors.  The visciousness of the phoners (they are very much like zombies) made me think of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend.  Though not a dystopic, The way the book ends reminds me of The Kite Runner by Khaled Housseini.  Even with the similarities, and perhaps because of them, Cell is is a gripping page turner that you won’t be able to put down!

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4 Responses

  1. great review!
    I enjoyed this book, but wasnt too happy with the ending.

  2. It is an open ending, left for you to decide.

  3. Loved the book, read it some months ago. I agree, the ending is left for you to decide.
    I am now reading The Stand which brings to mind ‘Cell’ in the sense that the world as we know it has come to an end.

  4. ‘The Mist’ from King is also similar in the same sense, the world changes and is no longer the same…

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