I don’t read a lot of Steven King because I don’t read a lot of horror. It isn’t that I don’t like a good horror book on occasion, just not very often. Since 11/22/63 by Steven King isn’t really a horror novel, and several sights suggested it as the best science fiction of 2011 it seemed like a great story to read, especially with so much of the recent science fiction being of the depressing apocalyptic variety.
The story itself is, like many of the best Steven King stories, very simple on the surface. A man discovers a ‘rabbit hole’ that leads to 1958. You can enter that hole, look around and return easily, and no matter how long you are there only two minutes have passed and if you enter the hole again you return to the exact same moment and can relive the same events. You can even change things, but as soon as you return those changes disappear.
The man who shows him this ‘rabbit hole’ then suggests his plan. He should go into the past, live there until 11/22/63 and stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing Kennedy. The problem is that the past doesn’t want to be changed. It struggles against the actions of the time traveler.
From the beginning a few things seem clear. The time travel in this story isn’t really all that important, except to put the right person at the right time. The giant reset button set up in the first few pages will be used and there is more going on than you really see.
What makes this story, like almost everything Steven King writes, so interesting is that you actually care about the characters. This is vital to his style of writing. After all horror only works if you care about the people in the story because no one can create a monster bad enough that it will scare someone when they don’t care about the people it’s killing or, worse, are actively pulling for the monster kill obnoxious characters. This is generally a bit less important in science fiction, but it is always a good thing to have characters you care about, and characters that the writer also seems to care about, though a bit of the wind is taken out of that when the reset button is hovering over the story like a sword on a string, but even that is used very well.
It is easy to read this and recognize the style of Stephen King. Like most of his work this is rated R though a bit lighter than most of his work, in large part because most of it is set in the 1950’s. It also has some nods to other stories. Visiting Derry one town he hears a story of a clown that was killing children. There are likely other more subtle nods to other stories as well, though none as clear. So anyone who loves Stephen King should enjoy this book even if there isn’t all that much to be scared of in it.
On the other hand those who generally avoid horror could certainly use this as a great way to get the feel for Stephen King without the fear of killer dogs, ghosts or even curio shop owners getting too much in the way. The biggest horror in this story are Oswald, and a few other similar human characters and while they may be every bit as much monsters as those in other King novels they are certainly more familiar and something already dealt with. In fact the real drama isn’t in what they will do, because that is already known, but if they can be stopped. So if you want to check out Stephen King, this is a good place to start.
Overall I’d say this story is about a 4 out of 5 with the only real problems being that it drags a bit in the middle and I could see the ending very early, but even knowing where the story is going it is still mostly fun to get there and a bit of slowing down in the middle to explore the past is part of the reason that you read a story about time travel.