Underground Reading: The Daffodil Girls by Peter Hawkins

Top 10: Stephen King Books

Running ManStephen King, Tom Clancy, a gummi T-Rex and now a little more Stephen King... it is officially Dinosaur Week at Pornokitsch.

Here are my picks for the Top 10 long-form, printed works by Stephen King. He's an infinitely better short story writer than a novelist, so they only get to count as part of a collection. And we're leaving his films for another day.

10. The Running Man (1982): More science fiction than horror, this is an oddly prophetic (a phrase repeated for my #1 pick) grimpunk adventure set in a cancer-ridden future obsessed with reality television. Infused with a compelling bitterness from start to finish.

9. Christine (1983): A combination of gory, visceral horror and a coming of age tale. Entertaining (and often silly) story of a car that will EAT YOU. Would've been much better as a short story, but unlike many of his other long works, isn't too bloated at novel length. 

8. Eyes of the Dragon (1987): King doesn't get enough credit for being ahead of the curve in his lone excursion into fantasy (I don't count The Dark Tower, but that's for another day). The Eyes of the Dragon is a fantasy setting with political maneuvering, flawed protagonists, no magic & an emphasis on human frailty. Sounds like something Gollancz would happily publish today with a cover blurb by Joe Abercrombie.

7. The Dead Zone (1979): God, I hated this book the first time I read it. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but the meandering biography of a self-loathing psychic wasn't what my adolescent self needed to read at the time. Now, I really rate this - again, it defies convention on how a protagonist should act and culminates in one of the most unusual, morally ambiguous climaxes in genre literature. 

6. Danse Macabre (1981): I suspect rating King's first chunk of nonfiction this high will piss off some folks, but Danse Macabre is a must-read for anyone that wants to understand how horror works. I'd even rate it over Lovecraft's Supernatural Horror in Literature, if only because King's prose is infinitely more accessible.

MIsery 5. Misery (1987): The mind-numbing, nightmare-inducing villain is a middle-aged fan. King has a few different books in which he uses writing as a vehicle (or metaphor) for fear - Misery is the best of these (The Dark Half is the worst, pretty much defining masturbatory clap-trap). The difficulty with Misery is that it is physically difficult to read. Much like Banks' Feersum Endjinn, King plays with the printed word. Ambitious, and a little bit arrogant, King pulls it off deftly, but that doesn't mean I'm reading it again any time soon.

4. The Long Walk (1979): More grimpunk, near-future sf. Teenage boys walk across New England. The last one standing gets their heart's desire. The other 99 die miserably, shot if they ever slow down. A bonkers premise (and one never explained) and a masterclass in horror. We don't need to know why this is happening, only that it is. The book is cover-to-cover tension with brilliant character development, a simple story and not an ounce of world-building. 

3. Night Shift (1978): King is great at one-twist horror (like Christine, above), and this comes out best in his short stories. Night Shift is a collection that answers the question, "What if X were lethal?" over and over again. Toy soldiers, quitting smoking, laundry equipment, corn - each of these gets a moment in the spotlight. At 700 pages, each of these would be goofy. At 12 pages, they're terrifying.

2. Different Seasons (1982): With the exception of the lackluster "The Breathing Method" (what if lamaze were lethal?), the novellas in this collection could each claim this lofty ranking on their own. "The Body" is a surprisingly tender-hearted nostalgia piece. "Apt Pupil" is its sinister mirror image - an exceedingly dark, middle-American coming of age story (shame it made a lousy movie). And, of course, "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" is simply magical. It all came together for King in that one (so much so, that he desperately tried to revisit it in The Green Mile, to everyone's lingering shame).

Rage 1. Rage (1977): Oddly prophetic again, this story of a disgruntled teen taking his classroom hostage captured adolescent frustration like Holden Caulfield never did. No random discourse about ducks, just a painfully-confused kid and a stolen gun. Rage is a classic example of "show, don't tell" - rather than monotonous internal discourse, we see the conflict and the frustration as it plays out. Truly scary without a hint of the supernatural involved, a lesson that King somehow lost as his career played out. Perhaps this is a lingering result of reading Rage during my own (trouble-free, but still hormonal) high school years, but I'm happy to go to bat for Rage being King's best.