Okay, so what did everyone think of this month’s Book of the Month Club selections: Stephen King’s The Gunslinger (book one of the Dark Tower series) and Frank Herbert’s The White Plague? What’s that? You want me to go first? Alright. Let’s start with –

The Gunslinger

Let me preface my thoughts on this book by saying I think Stephen King is a fabulous writer. His books have been described as “compulsively readable” and I would wholeheartedly agree. That said, however, I found The Gunslinger a very difficult read – at times slow, at times purposely confusing, and, in general, lacking the trademark King characterization present in most everything else he has written. Granted, he was 19 at the time he wrote The Gunslinger and he had yet to develop into the master storyteller he is today, but what surprised me about this book was not a failing on the part of the writer to deliver an engaging read, but an apparent unwillingness to do so. The purpose of our protagonist’s quest is shrouded in mystery, some of the mystical developments downright incomprehensible. King’s work in the horror genre, despite its fantastical subject matter, has always felt grounded and that, in my opinion, is the reason for his broad appeal – he creates a world the reader can relate to and peoples it with characters they can relate with. In the case of The Gunslinger, I felt let down on both counts.

Several fans of the Dark Tower series warn that Book One is a tough slog, and King himself in the preface to my edition of the book readily admits that the series only really picks up in the third installment. I give King the benefit of the doubt and while I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another one of his books, I’m afraid it won’t be Book Two of the Dark Tower series.

The White Plague

I read the first 100 or so pages of this book in one sitting (Which may not sound like a big deal but the typeface in my edition of this book was tiny. Let’s put it this way – I could have finished Book Two of the Dark Tower series in the time it took me to read these 100 pages). The narrative hits the ground running with a horrifying terrorist act, a grieving victim left unhinged by the attack that killed his wife and children, and his horrific revenge on those he holds responsible: Ireland, England, and Libya. It isn’t long before this revenge, a plague that targets women, soon spreads to other parts of the globe, resulting in mass panics and attempts to contain the spread of the plague through a scorched earth strategy that leaves scores dead and whole cities destroyed. The world governments gather their best and brightest – a team of scientists who race against time to find a solution to an outbreak that threatens the very existence of humankind. It’s a spellbinding read, those first 100 or so pages are, and then things begin to slowly unravel. We hopscotch back and forth between different characters, some interesting, some not so much (ie. What the heck was going on with the papal mission?), and for reasons I’m still having a hard time understanding, the mastermind of the plague travels back to Ireland where, coincidences of coincidences, he meets up with the individual responsible for the death of his wife and children. They spend the back half of the novel journeying through a decimated Irish countryside with a priest and a young boy in a development that I can only describe as a let-down after those first 100 pages. It’s very well-written and the discussion of the bigger issues (relative guilt, what constitutes revenge) are food for thought, but at the end of the day, too many characters and too diffuse a storyline end up scuttling a very promising narrative.

Overall, beautifully written and thought-provoking, but somewhat dissatisfying given the promise of its superlative start.

Okay, so what did everyone else think?

By the way, to those of you still keeping track, less than 25 000 more visits to go before we hit the magic 750 000 and the lucky virtual dinner winner.

Oh, and to those who keep asking about making cookie deliveries – Carl Binder will be picketing at the Disney studios in Burbank, from 8:00am-11:00am in front of the Buena Vista gate. Please be respectful. In other words, no oatmeal cookies.

Finally – whoever left the link to that gaming petition. I can’t approve it because, quite frankly, I don’t understand it.

Today’s mailbag:

Gracey writes: “ Who’s office is the video game in? And why does it seem like you all hang out in the hallways so much??”

Answer: The video game is in the writers’ room to ensure we are never overly productive. And we hang out in the hallways a lot because there is one less office than there are producers so that we are forced into constant rotation, like playing a season-long game of musical chairs.

Aquarian writes: “If a waitperson asks if you want hot peppers, do you take Jalapenos, Habaneros, (other), or none?”

Answer: I’ll go habanero – and a glass of milk, please.

AMZ writes: “…have you ever had any funny line moments in scripts written by you and Paul Mullie?”

Answer: Er, I’m not sure I understand the question.

Chevron7 writes: “Do you hate my questions? Most of them never get answered. Do you hate me?”

Answer: I don’t know. Tell me a little about yourself.

Gatedialer writes: “Joe, have you ever read any of Max Brooks Zombie books?”

Answer: Read ‘em both and loved ‘em.

Kdvb1 writes: “Why do the Wraith have sharp teeth as they (and Iratus bugs) don’t chew food to eat? Can Wraith feed on animals instead of humans?”

Answer: They can chew food (ie. Condemned) but it can be argued that their sharp teeth are, like claws, an offensive/defensive holdover of their evolution. Also, they can feed on animals but they are hardly as satisfying. Why have cow hamburger when you can have human steak?

Michelle writes: “Regarding yesterday’s tee-shirt, I’d like to respond with: All Your Base Are Belong to Us. Seems fitting.”

Answer: I’ve gotta find a way to work this in to a future episode.

Emily writes: “Do you have any bets as to who will be this year’s Ultimate Survivor?”

Answer: Unless his teammates blindside him in the next two weeks, I think James has pretty much got it locked up.

Tenmongaku writes: “Is there somewhere in Japan that you haven’t been that you are particularly interested in visiting? If so, why?”

Answer: I’d like to visit an onsen.

Anonymous #1 writes: “Actually I was talking about the collateral damage suffered by your (increasingly tedious) planet of the week “primitives” who seem to be hoovered up at an alarming rate by the Wraith. The Wraith that were awakened in great numbers by ignorant, blundering invaders from another galaxy who just because Atlantis has something they want seem to think they have a right to a) take it b) hold it all costs c) continue to disrupt the balance of a galaxy they still know little about.”

Answer: The wraith were mistakenly awakened in Rising, while Dr. Weir as at the helm by the way, so the evidence you’ve supplied to support your argument would suggest that, under the diplomat’s command, the expedition screwed up in a big way. Also, I don’t see how adopting a more conciliatory approach toward the wraith would solve the problem. At this point, the expedition could either cut and run and abandon the humans of the Pegasus Galaxy (which is what you appear to be suggesting) or they could call in the proper reinforcements (the military) and try to deal with the threat. Also, the term “planet of the week” only applies if we actually visit a planet a week or, heck, one every three weeks.

Chez writes: “ Just a bit of trivia, Sean Williams loves Stargate – I’ve worked with him at the SA WORD festival, and I hope you don’t mind if I send him to check out your blog!”

Answer: By all means. And even if The Crooked Letter does come up short to The Princess Bride in the BOTM vote, I’ll be reading Sean’s book regardless.

Padawan Aneiki writes: “When you guys write an episode, do you write it already IN script form, or do you have to take the time to adapt what you’ve written INTO script form?”

Answer: We spin for a few days, then break the story (in one or two days). The outline is then written in about a week, after which the first draft if written in about two weeks. Subsequent rewrites take anywhere from a day to a full week.

Anonymous #1 writes: “I was wandering if you have a favorite scene or episode that you have written, since you joined the writing team in season four, for the character of Daniel?”

Answer: The Curse way back in season four.

MrsB108 writes: “Does the weight of all the dead inhabitants of the Pegasus Galaxy due to the Replicator base code have a profound effect on the characters for the rest of the season? Will they suffer for what they’ve done?”

Answer: They will come to face the consequences of all of their actions/mistakes.

Jmac9ky2k8 writes: “Again, thanks for your time and your support. You were very generous.”

Answer: No problem. As I said in the room, it’s tough, what with some 300 stories already in the can. And I’ll be sure to check out Kingyo.

Farscapefan writes: “Is Brad Wright going to shut Daniel/Vala fans/shippers up effectively erasing “Unending” events ?”

Answer: Nope. Although the end of Unending pretty much erased those events.

Elizabeth writes: “ Do you like eggnog (the non-alcoholic variety, of course)?”

Answer: Love it. I even made eggnog ice cream last year.

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