Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Different Track – Firestarter

Picked up Stephen King’s “Firestarter” for the first time. I’ve been doing my best over the years to read more of his older work, and I’ve found much of it very entertaining and some of it top notch stuff (“Salem’s Lot” was excellent). “Firestarter” has a lot of good things going for it, and I can recommend it as an above average work by the author.

What I found most interesting is that the novel really isn’t a horror story. It reminded me much more of something you’d find on “The X-files”. It follows a father and daughter on the run from a shadowy government agency that will stop at nothing to obtain them. The father has the ability to psychically persuade people to do his bidding, even going so far as to blind them by telling them “You’re blind”. This ability comes at a cost, doing damage to his brain with each use.

His daughter, Charlie, is more powerful, with the ability to start fires with her mind as well as move objects and even limited telepathy. But she’s only six and can barely control her powers. It becomes obvious early on that the government agents are really after Charlie, because of her potential. The kicker is that Charlie’s parents were both drugged in college by this same agency to test a chemical that would heighten brain activity. Once the scientists realized that not only had this change become permanent, but that it affected the parents genetic code – they see a million uses for this drug as a tool for national security.

The novel was written in the late 70’s and you can feel the disillusion with the government seeping out of every pore in the book. Watergate is mentioned numerous times, and one of the main villains, Rainbird, is a seriously deranged veteran of the Vietnam war. It puts a definite time stamp on the book, but one that could easily be moved to the conspiracy crazed days of the mid and late 90’s or the post 911 world. How eager would any government be to find a way to use these gifts to defend or attack as needed?

Not too long ago I listened to a pod cast that discussed how both the US and USSR experimented with mental abilities during the cold war. According to some, the USSR actually got a few telepaths and precogs to work for them. You can see how an interesting story can develop. I wonder how much of this research came up when King did his work on the book “Carrie”.

It reminded me how much my novels and stories are affected by the times in which they were written. My third novel dealt with virtual reality. Remember when that was all the rage in the late 90’s? Yeah me too. If I ever revisit that novel, I’m gonna have to update that part a bit, along with the references to dial up modems.

Ever read “Firestarter”? What did you think of it? Have you ever read a story that seemed very influenced by the time period it was written and wondered how it would have worked if it was written later or earlier? Have you found a past work you’ve written affected by the times it was written during?

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