The author of countless novels and short stories, a ridiculous amount of which have been adapted to the big and small screens, King writes in a style that rivets many readers and employs a “can’t put it down” approach of telling his tales fast and furiously. Which is probably for the best, as some of his novels are – pardon the pun – King-sized, sometimes topping 1,000 pages (I’ve been known, on occasion, to use his mega-novel ‘Under the Dome’ to anchor my yacht so the servants can have a smoother time serving me whilst at sea).
Even though ‘Cell’ was adapted into a 2016 film – poorly – the focus for fans should certainly be the original written version. It’s his foray into the world of zombies, or more accurately, pseudo-zombies, as the monsters contained in this tale aren’t dead, per se. Things in the story start out innocently enough, as New England artist Clay Riddell is in Boston after having successfully pitched his latest comic-book deal to a company; while out on the street, however, Clay is witness to “The Pulse,” a signal sent out across the global cell phone network that causes everyone that had their phones to their ears to literally go crazy and begin attacked unaffected people.
As you might imagine, the story quickly spirals into madness, mayhem, and horror, and as the reader follows Clay on his desperate attempt to reunite with his young son in Maine, we are introduced to a myriad of characters and plot developments that are designed to alternatively shock, surprise, and engage the audience, and do so rather effectively.
‘Cell’ was released in 2006, well into the beginning of the “zombie craze” of the early 2000s. The story is still a great one, even if the creatures featured are more akin to the Rage Virus victims of ’28 Days Later’ instead of true-blue, dead and reanimated zombies. It feels like this book has been out for longer than 12 years, which I would attribute as a testament to the ability for King’s stories to get in your head and root themselves there. It’s one of the few books that has a plot so reliant on technology yet still feels like a relevant read even though it is a decade-plus old.
Although there are definitely some highly original concepts in this book, including the way that the creatures exhibit an odd mental evolution as the tale progresses, King himself has acknowledged that much of the inspiration for the narrative lies with stories and ideas from other authors and creators. In his Dedication at the front of the book, King thanks both Richard Matheson and George Romero, as there are elements of Matheson’s ‘I Am Legend’ as well as Romero’s ‘The Crazies’ and zombie films throughout ‘Cell.’ Indeed, Romero and King have worked together on more than one occasion, most notably on the feature films ‘Creepshow’ and ‘The Dark Half,’ so the connection is a natural one.
Since it’s not some non-existent virus that has suddenly changed the world, the things that happened in this story felt like it had a different level of believability for me. Add this to the fact that King definitely has command over showing different types of people – not all of his characters are pure-of-heart heroes, and some of them are downright evil – and you’ve got a tale that really highlights the realistic aspects and minimizes the leaps of faith the reader has to take in believing that a “techno-virus” could propagate and flourish over a cell phone network.
While not as monstrously-huge as many of King’s written works, at 355 pages ‘Cell’ still gives the reader plenty of bang for its buck. There are moments in the story where I felt that King’s usual tactic of giving detailed imagery actually became a detriment to the overall story, making certain sections of the tale feel a little too drawn-out for my taste. While I enjoyed the ending as it stands now, the author himself has said publicly that he has received many complaints about the nature of the tale’s conclusion, even going so far as to change it in the screenplay he has written for the long-languishing film version.
Packed with equal parts action, horror, and intriguing ideas, and featuring enough allusions and in-references to other King works to keep even the most die-hard fan busy for weeks, ‘Cell’ is a highly-enjoyable read from start to finish. It may not be for every zombie fan, but those who make the conscious choice to check this book out should easily be glad they did.