Apr 9 2009 10:20am

Stephen King’s Next Epic: Under the Dome

Details have finally started emerging about Stephen King’s next novel, Under the Dome, which is complete at 1120 pages and set to publish November 10. The official plot synopsis runs like so:

On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester’s Mills, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener’s hand is severed as “the dome” comes down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from their families, and cars explode on impact. No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when—or if—it will go away.

Dale Barbara, Iraq vet and now a short-order cook, finds himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens—town newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician’s assistant at the hospital, a select-woman, and three brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at nothing—even murder—to hold the reins of power, and his son, who is keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry. But their main adversary is the Dome itself. Because time isn’t just short. It’s running out.

This post on the Guardian Book Blog (linked via Locus Online) summarizes most of the other info currently known—that the book is a second, more mature take on a story King tried several times to write back in the 1980s, and that it “deals with some of the same issues that The Stand does, but in a more allegorical way.” Elsewhere, King has described the story as concerning “how people behave when they are cut off from the society they’ve always belonged to.”

My reaction: this is a theme he’s dealt with before, and not just in The Stand (which was pretty darn allegorical itself). It reminds me most immediately of The Mist, in which a small town’s residents barricade themselves in a supermarket while the world outside fills with a mysterious and deadly fog. Inside that one building, a claustrophobic world-in-miniature, hierarchies and alliances formed and dissolved, old grudges simmered, new leaders rose, and society’s rules slowly gave way in the face of fear and madness. Under the Dome, of course, would take place on a much larger scale—but it does seem like the scale is significantly smaller than his two other epics of comparable size. The Stand ranged across America, and IT took place over two generations, with an ultimately cosmic mythological scope.

Nonetheless, Stephen King is an author who has more than earned our attention, and while I’m not convinced by the plot summary, I have the hope that there must be something special about a story with a strong enough hold on him to inspire 19 pounds worth of manuscript 25 years after the initial inspiration.

So what do you think? Does Stephen King have another great novel in him?

Bruce Baugh
1. BruceB
I see no reason to believe he doesn't. His work of the last decade includes some glorious pieces. I'm particularly attached to The Colorado Kid and From a Buick 8, with their shift from "here's a mystery, and here's its solution" to "this is about living with questions you can't get answered, and what you need to do anyway". Even his recent novels with some problems, like Cell, have had some thoroughly wonderful passages and characters.

Color me curious and hopeful.
Joshua Starr
2. JStarr
His work of the last decade includes some glorious pieces.

Hmm. I need to give From a Buick 8 another shot - when I first tried it, I got bored halfway through. I enjoyed Duma Key, though - great passages on art and creativity, and two excellent main characters in Edgar and Wireman. It was, oddly enough, the supernatural element in that book that felt least satisfying. Still, it reminded me a bit of a cross between Bag of Bones and Desperation, two King novels I really liked.
None of those got me the same way IT, The Stand, The Shining, etc, did, but perhaps that's a function of when I read them, not when King wrote them.
Sumana Harihareswara
3. brainwane
First The Mist, now this, then something that is basically The Peace War, then Spin?
Lane Bowen
4. Fizghoi
Anyone else reminded of The Simpson's Movie?
Torie Atkinson
5. Torie
Hmmm, faceless threat outside, ragtag team of people locked inside...sounds like a cheesy video game to me. I haven't loved (or even liked) a lot of his stuff in the past ten years, so I'm skeptical, particularly if this is an 1120 page novel. The Stand was brilliant, but it's time to let it go...
Christopher Key
6. Artanian
I've always said that Stephen King is a brilliant writer of short stories and novellas. He just takes a thousand pages to write them. This certainly looks like another example of that problem.
7. clovis
Didn't Clifford Simak write a novel with the same premise? I think it was called 'All Flesh is Grass' but I'm probably wrong. And of course, the opening of John Wyndham's 'The Midwich Cuckoos' (aka Village of the Damned).

Not read much King over the last few years, 'From a Buick 8' was the last I finished and liked. This one does sound a bit tired, I have to say. But could be wrong.
Fred Coppersmith
8. FCoppersmith
I'm not immediately inspired by the premise, which does feel like ground King has covered repeatedly (with mixed results) throughout his career. But a premise is not a book, and if nothing else King's certainly earned the benefit of the doubt.
Kage Baker
9. kagebaker
British author Jane Gaskell (wrote the "Atlan" high fantasy trilogy) used the same plot device forty years ago in "A Sweet Sweet Summer", but in that case it was England sealed off and its society breaking down.
Richard Fife
10. R.Fife
I honestly have read very little King, and after what happened with The Dark Tower, well, I can't say I'm about to invest myself in a King novel anytime soon. I cannot say I expect him to pull off a 1120 epic like his old work, especially after the forced feeling from the last, post-millenial King I've read.

I think he needs to go to left field and do more things like Dragon's Eyes. But that's just lil ol' pure fantasy me.
11. Sscorp99
I have read them all including his recent short story compilation and I can tell you this one will be, if not great, very good.
Duma Key was wonderful, Lisey's Story was great I dont see why the man cant continue writing great novels.
Eugene Myers
12. ecmyers
Admittedly, I haven't read a King novel in years, but I don't think I would start again with this one. It could be promising, depending on how the situation is explored with the characters. It reminds me a little of an episode from the new Outer Limits, which may have been based on a short story, where a neighborhood is transplanted entirely to a different planet.
Dayle McClintock
13. trinityvixen
@4: You beat me to it! I was like "Duh, all they have to do is ride a motorcycle really fast around the edges until they reach the top!"

From a Buick 8 wasn't awful. It was suitably creepy and the writing chugged along per its usual. I loved most of the collection Everything's Eventual. But I'm a fan of The Stand, so I'd rather he let that be and not try to knock-off his own work.

And can he PLEASE set something outside of Maine again? Half the fun I had out of Buick 8 was that it was SOMEWHERE ELSE.
Tudza White
14. tudzax1
City suddenly cut off from the rest of the world. Sounds like Dhalgren.
geoffrey h goodwin
15. ghg
What I find most interesting about King's retirement is that it seems to have him regrouping and struggling for an audience in a way I never would have predicted. He has gone from the most prolific and established writer in the world, someone who drifted away from the 70s creepfests with good characters to the 80s sprawlers about writing and the process of characterization, to near-universal works that appealed to the widest possible audience. In making that transition, he redefined the whole package, even if the King who wrote Danse Macrabe would be both jealous and suprised by the King of pre-retirement. In coming the long way he has, he had to keep driving forward and, whether it was pride or zeal, build toward ever-increasing shelf space. While I don't read him except for the short fiction at this point, I'm enjoying seeing what he tries to do now that both he and the world have changed. From a certain perspective, his ability to lead the industry allowed him to follow his imagination in a way that few can and it's fascinating to see this "post-retirement" work.
Nadine Brun
16. Danniebrown
I don't think I ever read a book with that kind of plot yet. I might have seen something on tv with this kind of plot though. (stargate sg1?)
I guess this could be interesting. Latest King book I reread was Rose Madder, and left me a bit unsatisfied especially with the fantasy ending. Duma Key looks a bit like that although it seems much more appealling to me and will probably my next King book.
I'm of those who think that the 'old' king books, Stand, the early dark tower books, the bachman books were much better than his more 'actual' work. (with the exception of Insomnia, one of my favorite)
But I'm being unfair, I just loved 'Blaze' not so long ago, but couldn't get into Lisey's Story. But it seems I find myself more and more unsatisfied with Kings books since the 'Bag of Bones' period.
But even a 'bad' King book is still a great book, he's a surprising guy and a great author.
And I'm sure he'll deliver another gem.
17. Jim Kosmicki
The Luna Brothers did something similar to this in their comic series titled "Girls." It was a decent series that focused on the sexual politics more than anything else, but that was what immediately came to mind when i read the synopsis.

i'm probably willing to give this a try simply because it's a story that he HAS wanted to tell for 20 years. I've not gotten the impression from King's work recently that he really HAD to write the books, just that he got an idea and did write them.
Julian Hall
18. Jules
It reminds me most immediately of The Mist, in which a small town’s residents barricade themselves in a supermarket while the world outside fills with a mysterious and deadly fog. Inside that one building, a claustrophobic world-in-miniature, hierarchies and alliances formed and dissolved, old grudges simmered, new leaders rose, and society’s rules slowly gave way in the face of fear and madness.

I haven't read The Mist, but that description reminds me of Maximum Overdrive. This is a story King likes a lot, clearly.
Joshua Starr
20. JStarr
@12: It does seem like a television episode style, "here's-the-plot-of-the-week" type of idea, which is why it's so weird to me that this is the one that went epic. It's very... obvious, for lack of a better word. King's best novels spin out far beyond their single sentence summaries ("man hired as caretaker of haunted hotel," "plague kills off 99.9% of Americans"), and this one will, too, but the one line summaries for most other books don't suggest a plot element as overpowering as this one seems. What I'm hoping for, of course, are extremely interesting characters and relationships, stuck in this little snow globe of a town and shaken up hard.

@15: What I find most interesting about King's retirement is that it seems to have him regrouping and struggling for an audience in a way I never would have predicted.

Interesting that you get that sense, because the sense I've gotten is that his post-Dark Tower novels involve writing exactly what he feels like at any given point, with no regard to increasing audience or "the market." And "retirement" would be expected to take the pressure off. The Dark Tower was, I think, something he felt like he needed to finish - but after that, each new release seems like the most recent result of his productive graphomania.

@13: Everything's Eventual was great, and I've enjoyed the stories I've flipped through in Just After Sunset, too. I often rolled my eyes in the past at people who said they only liked King's short stories, but I have definitely preferred his recent short fiction output to the novels.
Alan Stallings
21. astacvi

Thanks. You've encapsulated in two sentences what I've been trying to express for years. Evidently I have the same problem.
Jared Kardos
22. darkknightjared
I've found most of his newer novels to be rather "meh," (latest one I read being Lisey's Story) and agree that his recent short stories were far better. But, like someone else mentioned, even King's crappiest books are usually better then most of the stuff on the best-seller list at the time. So I'll probably give the book a borrow at the library, at the very least.
John Armstrong
23. JohnnyYen
My enjoyment of King began winding wound quite a few books ago - whether I became more discriminating or he got worse or a combination of the two, I can't say. I did at one point think, despite my own battles with editors, that it was not necessarily when a writer got big enough to banish them entirely. you could rip out every second page of some of those books and it would only improve them.
It also seemed that it took him longer and longer to get there, whether the story deserved it or not.

Duma Key, Bag of Bones were both enjoyable - Cell and Insomnia I thought were embarrassingly bad

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