Book #3 And It Just Gets Better!! *****
Stephen King's "The Waste Lands" is the third volume in the epic Dark
Tower series and every bit as good, if not better, than the two preceding
novels. The plot and character development improve with every page, and
the action and suspense are nonstop.
Gunslinger, Roland, and his two companions Susannah Dean, formerly the
duo-personality Odetta Susannah Holmes and Detta Walker, and Eddie Dean,
previously a drug addict and mule in New York City, at last begin their
quest for the Dark Tower. Both Susannah and Eddie are in training and well
on their way to becoming gunslingers. First, however, the threesome must
defeat Mir, the gigantic, insane cyborg bear, called Shardik by the Great
Old Ones. Mir guarded the Portal of the Bear, one of Twelve Portals which
form the endpoints of the Beams. There are six Beams running between the
Twelve Portals which mark the edges of Mid-World. The point where all
Beams cross is the nexus of all worlds. The three backtrack along Mir's
path and find the Beam, which should lead them to the center-point where
the Dark Tower lies.
One of the most important events in this book, and in the series, is the
entry of Jake, the boy, into the circle of questing companions. Jake was
introduced to the reader in Book One, "The Gunslinger." There had been a
great paradox surrounding Jake's existence - the paradox of shifting
realities. Had the boy died or was he still alive? Had he, in fact, ever
really appeared in Mid-Earth? This paradox was slowly driving both Roland,
in Mid-World, and Jake, back in New York City, insane. In a scene rich in
symbolism, Jake is reborn into Roland's world with Susannah as his
symbolic mother, Eddie as midwife and the Gunslinger as Jake's symbolic
father. The Drawing of the Three is at last complete and a fourth
companion is also added. Jake adopts a talking billy-bumbler. Billy-bumblers
resemble a combination of raccoon, badger and dog. This one is named Oy.
This magnificent Ka-tet, (King's word for a group of people drawn together
by fate), moves on the Path of the Beam toward the city of Lud, an urban
wasteland, inhabited by degenerate survivors of gang wars. Jake is
captured and miraculously survives his trek through the underground world
of Lud, and the acquaintanceship of some of the most unsavory characters
King has created yet. Now Blaine, the psychotic, suicidal monorail train
enters the picture to rescue the companions-in-arms from Lud. Rather than
carrying them to safety, the train takes them into further danger. Before
leaving NY, Jake had picked up two volumes in a local bookstore - one a
book of riddles and the other, a book called "Charlie the Choo-choo." He
was able to foresee the appearance of Blaine because of the train's
resemblance to Choo-Choo Charlie. Spooky!
"The Waste Lands" leave the four speeding towards their destination,
Topeka, Kansas, Mid-World, at 800 miles per hour on a train that won't
stop. The only chance for survival is Blaine's love of riddles. We are
left with a cliffhanger. Can someone come up with a riddle original enough
to halt the train and save their lives? See Book Four - "Wizard and
This third novel in the septet is rich in description of characters,
cityscapes, landscapes and creatures. The changing relationships between
the foursome, their growth as individuals and as a group, is really worth
mentioning. King is at his best here. Adventure-packed, the book moves
along at a fast clip. Characters who were introduced to the reader
previously, are now fleshed out and really become three-dimensional. The
level of suspense is dramatically increased. I am totally hooked on this
series. At this point, I don't care how King ends his epic . I just know
that he has taken me on a 1500 page ride, (approximately), so far and I
have loved every minute of it. Nothing that occurs in future books can
spoil what I have already read. Highest recommendations!!
Time-lapse photography book-style ***
There's something about conceptual, temporal art that seems to be a pervading
problem-- series novels, concept albums, time-lapse series of paintings, you
name it. You hit a point where you've just had something really exciting happen
at Point A. You've got a great idea for something exciting to happen at Point B.
And you've got this really big space in between (Side 3 of Pink Floyd's The
Wall, for example). How do you get from point A to point B without boring the
life out of your reader/listener/viewer/whatever?
There are two choices. Choice A is used by visual artists a whole lot: ignore
that span of time. Cut it out. Make it go away. Deus ex machina: "And then three
years passed." You get a more impressionist work, and you risk losing some of
your fan base, because they don't have the mental capacity to make the jump.
Choice B is used by almost everyone who writes books and/or music, and that is
the transitional piece. Queensryche's fabulous concept album _Operation
Mindcrime_ would be a perfect disc if not for the opening song on side two. Pink
Floyd... well, I've already gone there. Point is, there's a weak link in every
chain. The one book, one song, one whatever that contains a few useful tidbits
but otherwise could have been ten minutes or four hundred pages shorter. In the
present scenario, that book is The Waste Lands.
To be fair, given that this problem seems to be ubiquitous, King does some good
with it, using this five-hundred-plus page monstrosity to bring back some old
faces and acquaint us with some new ones (would it be a spoiler to tell you
we've got a new adversary here whom you know from another, non-Dark Tower book
or two?), drops a few more hints about the war that caused the world to move on,
introduces us to the author of that war, a man named Fannin/Fanon (mentioned in
Drawing of the Three as the leader of the opposing forces, and here given us as
The Ageless Stranger, who we were told early on will be the final obstacle to
Roland gaining the Tower), and gives us the latter half of the series'
equivalent of Walter in the Tick-Tock Man. Did that last paragraph confuse you?
It should have. The book probably will, too, although King gives all that to us
in a lot more words. He also gets us from point A to... well, about halfway to
point B (and the ending of this book will make you throw it across the room,
guaranteed-- it's such a shocker that King felt the need to reprint the last
eleven pages of The Wastelands as the prologue to Wizard and Glass!). We get to
know the characters we already know a little better. We see more full-color
illustrations (Dameron's just not right for this, Grant should have stuck with
Hale, whose work for DOT was the best in the series to date). We tie up a loose
end or two, but nothing really satisfying. We hope for a better book in Wizard
and Glass (and, for those of you following this thing through to the bitter end,
let me assure you that we get it). That being said, it's still not as bad as
some of King's early-career unreadable howlers like Firestarter. It's confusing,
it's pretty much plotless, but at least it's readable. The compulsiveness of a
series, by book III, rests quite a bit on how much you liked what came before.
And if DOT didn't hook you, you don't have a pulse.