Ghosts and Allegories

Joyland by Stephen King (2013): A melancholy coming-of-age story narrated by the late middle-aged protagonist in the present day, Joyland‘s main narrative is set in 1972 and focuses on three college students working the summer at the North Carolina amusement park that gives the novel its title.

While there are two ghosts, two psychics, and one serial killer in the novel, these elements often take a back-seat to King’s depiction of his protagonist’s struggles with love, loss, and a giant dog costume. It’s an enjoyable, low-key affair in line with other relatively recent King efforts that include Blockade Billy and The Colorado Kid, in which the genre elements often fade away behind the more realistic concerns of the text.

Indeed, the ghosts and psychics make me think of the Yeats poem “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” in the sense that King might be better off abandoning such elements entirely when he writes novels that are so much concerned with other things: the supernatural and the suspense tropes herein feel like props, taking up the space that might be better expended on straight-ahead, non-genre world and character creation instead. Recommended.

Blood and Fire: A Star Wolf Novel by David Gerrold (2003): The fourth Star Wolf novel is a humdinger of a ‘bottle show,’ as the crew is mostly confined to one of two starships as they seek to find a cure for a deadly plague of…Regulan bloodworms. Though they’re never referred to in that exact phrase, they are bloodworms and they are from Regula.

The novel began life as a script for a first-season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, for which Gerrold was contracted to work upon during its development and first season. The bloodworms were meant by Gerrold to be a metaphor for AIDS, with the episode exploring the stigma of the disease allegorically (as many Star Trek episodes did with many topics).

However, Gene Roddenberry ultimately turned it down (or perhaps his infamous late-life attorney did — the introduction and conclusion go into some detail on the behind-the-scenes shenanigans on TNG‘s first season that ultimately led Paramount to essentially freeze Gene out of all decision-making for the Trek franchise). The AIDS story, and a brief dialogue exchange that would have established that there were actually gay people in the 24th century and that they were serving on the Enterprise, were both scrapped (these two bits were separate — gayness had nothing to do with contracting Regulan bloodworms!).

As the Star Wolf series is Gerrold’s attempt to show how Star Trek could have been done much, much better, he reworked the rejected episode into this novel. And it’s a doozy, especially if you like technically specific science fiction that doesn’t skimp on characterization and social theorizing. Highly recommended.

The Arrow Book of Horror Stories: edited by Elizabeth Lee (Collected 1965): Enjoyable, very much traditional horror anthology of stories from the 19th and early 20th century. Classics include F. Marion Crawford’s “The Upper Berth”, H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”, and Bram Stoker’s “The Squaw.” For some reason, Lee includes two stories by several authors, making the anthology more idiosyncratic than representative. Recommended.

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