What fun it must have been to be a Stephen King fan in the 1980s! Stephen King was releasing new material at an exponential rate (twenty-two books between 1980 and 1989, most of which were bestsellers), King films were coming out left and right, the man appeared on the cover of Time in 1986, and an explosion of criticism centered around this relatively new author erupted. In 1982, the first iteration of Douglas Winter’s The Art of Darkness proved a watershed moment in King study, catalyzing the entire King criticism movement. George Beahm released what proved to be the most accessible book for a King dilettante, The Stephen King Companion. Starmont House, a small publisher known for their innovative works of serious SF/Fantasy/Horror criticism, released no fewer than thirteen books on King.
Then things seemed to dry up. I say seemed to; King criticism has never really gone away. Many of the most important books on King – Spignesi’s The Stephen King Encyclopedia, for example, and Rocky Wood’s Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished – were still in the future. But many of the contemporary books seemed to focus on King’s more established work, or to focus on an overarching facet of King’s career, such as the Dark Tower series. Finding criticism of King’s recent work proves difficult; Twayne’s masterful United States Authors series gave up after Stephen King: The Second Decade … an unfortunate gap that only grows wider as King enters his fifth decade of publishing. The Internet has democratized criticism of King’s newest work, but the fact that anyone can publish a review online is a double-edged sword. For every diamond in the rough, there are a dozen blogs and forum posts that don’t even bother to spell the man’s name correctly.
How refreshing, then, to have a book like Bev Vincent’s Twenty-First Century King. Bev Vincent, author of the unprecedented Stephen King Illustrated Companion and the career-spanning exegesis The Road to the Dark Tower, has been publishing Stephen King criticism since the Internet was in its infancy. Now, happily, his criticism of King’s most recent decade-plus (2000-2012) is collected in this slim, accessible volume. Drawn from a variety of sources – including Onyx Reviews, Vincent’s News from the Dead Zone column in Cemetery Dance magazine, and FEARnet.com – and focusing almost entirely on King’s book-length work, Twenty-First Century King is a whirlwind of criticism. It’s breathtaking to see all these reviews in one place, and to comprehend the sweep of King’s output in this most recent decade.
It also works as a series of snapshots of time. Starting with King’s 2000 eBook experiment, Riding the Bullet, Vincent hasn’t excised much from his original review; thus, we are treated to the issues that Mac and WebTV (!) users had with downloading the story, back in the day. Happily, Vincent reviews the story rather than the method of publication (a practice King mused was not common later in Everything’s Eventual), and – without calling attention to it – underscores the fact that 2000 was wildly different than 2011 and 2012, when King released eBooks like Mile 81 and A Face In the Crowd, and readers were far more concerned with the stories than their delivery.
From there, Vincent delves into the decade, never tipping too far into scholarly discourse and never becoming a sycophant. It’s fascinating to read frank criticisms of a novel like Cell, while at the same time read wild praise about King’s landmark On Writing. Interestingly, the reviews grow longer as they march toward the present; along the way, Vincent grows more insightful and digs deeper into each book to find out why they tick. As interesting as it is to see the grand sweep of King’s books from 2000-2012, it’s just as exciting to watch Bev Vincent’s progress as a writer.
Hopefully heralding more books of this sort, Bev Vincent’s Twenty-First Century King is a terrific first step toward recognizing Stephen King’s current work, and placing it in its proper context.
Kevin Quigley is an author whose website, CharnelHouseSK.com, is one of the leading online sources for Stephen King news, reviews, and information. He has written several books on Stephen King for Cemetery Dance Publications, including Chart of Darkness, Blood In Your Ears, and Stephen King Limited, and co-wrote the upcoming Stephen King Illustrated Movie Trivia Book. His first novel, I’m On Fire, is forthcoming.