THE GUNSLINGER (THE DARK TOWER, BOOK 1)
Begun by King while at college in 1970; serialized episodically in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1978-1981; printed in limited-editon hardcover, 1982: this King novelty at last achieves mass publication. King fans will find little to celebrate, however, in the derivative portentousness of this first volume in a threatened 3000-page epic western set in a blighted future world. Warmed-over sauce from Sergio Leone's classic spaghetti-western films is splashed all over this doughy tale. There's the gunslinger of the title, tall, strong and silent, and his evil nemesis, "the man in black"; there's the gunslinger's quest to track down and slay that villain; and there are the dust-swept towns he rides through, the lost boy he adopts as a sidekick, and the saloon-keeping wench he beds. The spice in this tired sauce, however, is pure King--fantastic and grandiose. For, as King reveals bit by bit, often in flashbacks, the man in black is a sorceror, able even to raise the dead, and the gunslinger the last of an aristocratic caste, keepers of "the High Speech" and of the few guns left in this nearly machineless, presumably post-nuclear-holocaust world. Moreover, bizarre turns sprout here like weeds--spellbound by the man in black, an entire town turns on the gunslinger, believing him the Antichrist and forcing him to massacre all souls; farther down the road, a band of "Slow Mutants" (irradiated humans?) attacks--and, as is King's wont, the central character is so obsessed as to brook no opposition, eventually sacrificing the little's boy's life to stay on the heels of his quarry. What's all this futuristic neo-Wagnerian posturing about? Something to do with a debt of honor, of course, vengeance for the death of the gunslinger's father and the dishonoring of his mother; and something to do with Tarot-wrapped pseudo-mystical prattle wherein beyond the gunslinger's yearning for the man in black lies his lust for "the Dark Tower"--where, as King concludes, the gunslinger "would some day come at dusk and approach, winding his horn, to do some unimaginable final battle." Heavy, real heavy--as sales undoubtedly will be too.