Dreamcatcher, by Stephen King

dreamcatcher-by-stephen-king coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: 2000
Reviewer Rating: onehalfstars
Book Review by Lynn Nicole Louis

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Stephen King has always generated mixed reactions for me. I think his best form is the short–he’s written some truly wonderful short stories and novellas. In my mind, his success with book length fiction has been somewhat spotty. Note that in this case I’m not defining success in terms of financial gain, but in how much I enjoyed the book.

The Stand is one of my all time favorites. Sure, it has it’s problems, but as far as end-of-the-world books goes, it’s top notch. Other King works have been less successful for me, and some (such as The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon or Gerald’s Game) were just downright bad.

Still, I must be infected at some level with the King virus, because when a new book comes out, I dutiful wait for the paperback and then buy it.

The premise for Dreamcatcher held a lot of potential: a gang of friends head out on a hunting trip just as an alien space ship crashes and releases an alien virus. These friends–and the fate of the world–are intertwined with a mentally challenged man named Duddits, with whom they formed a relationship with as boys. King takes a while to get the story moving, but that’s King. When you pick up a King book you know you’re holding something that’s twice as long as it needs to be (in most cases). Usually the extra wordage is interesting and not too much of a burden, but it’s rarely essential. But to complain about King’s verbosity is like complaining about Tabasco sauce being hot. When you pick up the bottle (or book), you know what you’re getting into.

Although I classified this book as science fiction, it’s really more of a fantasy/horror, chock-full of traditional science fiction/horror tropes: crash landed aliens, a government bent on destroying them, a psychotic government man who will stop at nothing to ‘do his duty’, an alien infection… well, you get the picture. Unfortunately, King doesn’t do anything new with these ideas; he doesn’t even do anything better.

As with all King’s work, there’s a strong element of mystique, of magic working behind the scenes through special people. Duddits, the retarded boy the friends have a strange connection with and the Dreamcatcher (though I never quite figured that one out), just to mention two.

The set-up is fertile, King’s characters are well drawn, the tension and plight are realized well enough, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance. All the ingredients are on the platter, ready to be mixed, cooked, and served.

But….

It just doesn’t taste that good. By the time I was half-way through the book, I was ready for it to be over. The final race-against-time chase scene drags on way, way too long. The bad government guy, Kurtz, a bible-spouting military psycho, is so psycho he’s almost a caricature. I had a hard time taking him seriously.

It’s trying to be a story about friendship and survival, but it’s worth noting that one of the main characters is recovering from a serious automobile accident, as was King at the time he wrote this. King’s anger about the event is easy to see; perhaps writing this book is one of his ways of coming to grips with what happened to him. But we all know that good truth doesn’t necessarily make good fiction. King’s… er, the character’s complaints, moans and gripes wore thin after a while.

Overall? My recommendation is to avoid this one unless you’re a King fan. It’s a long book, takes a big investment of time to read, and ultimately has a low return. There are a lot better alien invasion books out there.

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