August 31, 2000

Move Over Spider, King's on the Web

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The Internet has recently caused significant revolutions in many entertainment industries. Thus, it is fitting that as book publishing expands its horizons onto the Web, it is the shock-meister himself, author Stephen King, leading the way.

Although Mr. King has always been an author famous for his ability to thrill, chill, and scare, critics have largely disregarded him even as fans snap up millions of copies of his books. This has only changed, ironically, as the “master of horror” has slowed his prodigious output of traditional books in favor of some more unique formats.

In less than a year, Mr. King has released an “e-book,” a collection of short stories available only on audiocasette, and currently, a second e-book, this one an epistolary novel being released in installments from Mr. King’s website.

Back in March, Mr. King first released Riding The Bullet, a 66-page novella that was only available in “e-book” format, available for download via websites like or Barnes&

The book can be downloaded for free in many cases, and in others for a fraction of the price of a physical book. This marked the first time that an established author has attempted to release a newly written book in this way.

The story itself is relatively simple, especially for an author who has often specialized in 700-plus page epics like The Stand. The narrative follows Alan Parker, a college student who has just learned that his mom, who is a hundred miles away, has suffered a stroke. Alan immediately packs a bag and hits the road, planning to hitchhike south through Maine until he reaches his tiny hometown, Harlow, where his mother is in the hospital.

But this is a King story, remember, so of course things don’t work out as planned.

Along the way, Alan’s hellish and surreal encounters with two drivers along Route 68 draw the reader into the heart of the plot. With his usual frank simplicity and attention to detail, King proficiently portrays the growing terror that Alan feels.

The plot gains momentum as Alan plummets in destiny’s hands towards a gut-wrenching climax that will have the reader wondering what he or she would do if placed in Alan’s situation. And, as you might expect from King, the ending is a 180-degree turn-around that will leave you contemplating this moving story long after you’ve turned, or browsed, the last page.

Though Riding The Bullet is overall a strong piece, it does not quite live up to the standards of Mr. King’s other works. He has always been at his best when he is weaving an epic plot with multiple characters and intersecting storylines, and it seems at times that this shorter work might be missing something.

The small cast of characters makes for a more introspective