The Stand is Stephen King’s classic post-apocalyptic (but perhaps not deserving of the label ‘dystopian’) tale with strong supernatural elements. Humanity is decimated by the accidental release of a United States government-created superflu when a military police officer (Charles Campion) reacts to the alarm by dashing off before the base goes on auto-lockdown. The government compounds things by going to great lengths to cover-up the existence of the superflu, its own role in its release, and the true seriousness of the threat it poses. However, given what we are told, humanity was screwed the minute Campion got off the base.
Many authors of post-apocalyptic novels either skip the catastrophic event entirely or begin well after its inception, but King devotes quite a bit of the book to following the spread of the superflu. King is a master at creating suspense by dropping relevant bits of future information. With the knowledge that the mortality rate will be 99.4%, the reader is delivered a series of punches in the gut as Campion makes it just far enough to infect a gas station full of people, the gas station owner’s state trooper brother tips him off about the impending quarantine (catching the superflu) shortly before writing tickets to motorists crossing Texas (transmitting the superflu), both government disease control centers are compromised, and a telltale cough is heard during an address by the president.
The superflu acts quickly so King’s main characters watch their loved ones come down with a nasty cold one week and are left utterly alone the next. King imbues a world of more unburied dead than living with an appropriate eeriness.
When the survivors of the superflu begin to reorganize, the story can get bogged down in sociological musings and committee meetings (as boring on paper as in real life). The climax is also a bit cheap. The second half of the book may not be as enjoyable as the first, but it is still a great ride. The Walking Dude is one of better villains I have encountered. We are kept in suspense over which characters may switch sides and defect to the dark side.
The Stand was originally published as a much shorter book. After establishing himself as a first-tier author, King was able to persuade his publisher to come out with an author’s preferred edition that restores most of what King had to originally cut. Dates were updated to reflect the later publication date and cultural references updated, but the result can be a bit jarring at times given this remains at its heart a 1970s book, although it does imbue a sense of nostalgia throughout the book. The re-added text turns The Stand into a 1,135 page doorstopper, but it reads like a much shorter book.
(Note: This review is of the uncut version, but it is of an older edition.)