Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Before they were famous

Number two in an occasional series.
An interpretation of Cthulhu in the sunken cit...Image via Wikipedia
Stephen King's first published story was "In a Half World of Terror" though he wanted it to be called "I was a Teenage Grave Robber". It first hit print in 1965 when it was serialised over three issues of a fanzine called Comics Review.

However, that went bust so only two parts were printed. The whole thing was published in 1966 in another fanzine called Stories of Suspense. There are a few copies of the story floating around the web. They are typed in versions as the spelling mistakes in the one I saw wouldn't have made it past any competent editor. I wanted to read it as I'm a fan and I'm curious about how he did in his early days as a writer. As I was with William Gibson.

As tales go, it's not bad. Pulpy, to be sure, but it's action-packed and moves along swiftly. His influences, mainly Lovecraft, are apparent from the name on the grave being robbed to that of the love interest. I'd guess there are a lot I've missed as I've not read too many other pulp writers.

It does have a rough-hewn feel to it as it is peppered with adverbs (I counted 15 including the glorious "stumblingly") and makes some of the mistakes of beginning writers. For instance, it's a first person POV story but one that does not convince. Events are reported not felt. Also nothing happens unless it is filtered through that main view. Plus it messes about timelines in ways that I've always been told to avoid. Maybe he was sure of doing well - as Strunk and White advise? Perhaps, he was 19 when it was published so might just have had the arrogance of youth. The prose is a bit lumpen and skirts the edge of cliche a bit too often. Do chins have corners? Maybe they do. Is the night like velvet? Perhaps it is.

Having said that there are some good details and some of the stylistic elements familiar from the later King are there in shadow form. It doesn't shy away from the nasty stuff and the beasties are a surprise. I was expecting the undead and didn't get it. It's recognisably by him.

I guess the key element that got it published is that it feels whole. All the parts work together. As well as being the love interest Vicki is obviously the good that Dan manages to rescue from his terrible experience. Plus she is the one that emphasises the terrible danger he is in as she has seen what grave robbing can do to a person. He saves her and she saves him. Neat.
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