I've felt strangely compelled--it came suddenly to me whilst wading through the surreal murk that is my current writing project--to discuss a Stephen King novel, one that I feel is, unfortunately, neglected in the King canon: "The Tommyknockers."
I will admit, I'm a fantasist, and my threshold for suspended disbelief may be a little higher than most, but I've heard and read a lot of negative things about "The Tommyknockers," complaints concerning its slow beginning and its lackluster ending and it being too detailed. Too detailed? To me, it is the rich details and all those different stories of all those interesting King characters (tons of them in a small town, just like "'Salem's Lot"), that make "The Tommyknockers" such a wonderful read. The beginning is slow, I think, to those that are too used to the fast-paced King novels (like "Firestarter"), or the cheap, in-your-face thrills of other horror writers (like Dean Koontz).
I've read a lot of King. I grew up with King. In many ways, he helped to shape the sort of writer I have become. In middle and high school, I devoured King like hot, bubbling pizza after a long day of digging trenches. I've grown out of him a little, feeling he lost his edge a bit after his accident, but I've read pretty much everything he's written from "Carrie" through the "Dark Tower" books. That's a lot of King.
Which is why, when I hear someone complain about "The Tommyknockers" not being one of King's best, I scoff (usually to myself, talking aloud in the shower later the clever things I wish I'd thought of at the time), and would argue that the darkness and depth of imagination in this piece makes it an exemplified work of fantasy. The scene early on where Gardner drunkenly rants at a stuffy cocktail party about the dangers of nuclear power, is masterfully done. The story involving Hilly and his magic show and Altair-4, is heart-wrenching and beautiful. The allusions to other King works are great fun for the King fanatic (Pennywise the clown makes a brief appearance; Jack, from "The Talisman," talks with a hungover Gardner on the beach by the Alhambra Inn; a minor character from "The Dead Zone" appears, as do brief references to "Firestarter" and "'Salem's Lot"). A very solid novel to come out of the "golden" age of King.
"The Tommyknockers" is an excellent allegorical tale of substance abuse, but also a wonderful work of dark fantasy.