THE BLACKER, THE BLEAKER
STEPHEN KING — THE INSTITUTE — 2019
This is not Stephen King’s best book, because he never had a best-book. They are all different and all good in different ways and this one is both science fiction, mad scientist, crooked politician, secret global order, fear and fright of war, and above all children, many children, and by children, I mean most of them before puberty. And it is absolutely perverse because our world is still in many ways perverse. This being said, I can easily assert that this book brings us a new facet of Stephen King’s storytelling at least as strong as The Dead Zone, The Stand, and The Green Line, and you will recognize echoes to Carrie, Christine, and Firestarter, among many others.
The first part will feel slow maybe and not that eventful for quite a while, just things coming and people going, and events happening in a small town in South Carolina, all seen from the point of view of an ex-cop from Sarasota who has just resigned and decided to move on. To New York, he was saying, and I am afraid he is bound to stay in this tobacco and sweet potato giant garden that South Carolina is, with its soil slightly reddish. I have never been in Du Pray or South Carolina. I crossed it once. But I was not very far in Dunn North Carolina for long enough to enjoy that red earth and the fields of sweet potatoes, tobacco and other crops growing abundantly under the Carolinian climate. But this first part is going to give to the novel its real depth. So do not skip pages.
The book raises many questions about the present, the world we are living in, the world of “T***p . . . that big city dumbs**t. . . “ (page 543). Sorry for the stars but the word would be censored on any “decent” reviewing site. When you are dealing with political science fiction the reviewer, the critic cannot even dream of using the language of the author of the book under review because of Main Street decency, which is, in fact, Main Drag hypocrisy. The book intends to make us shiver with fright at the idea that for once in a long time a US President could decide to press on the red button.
The idea though is that after 1945 the winners of WWII decided secretly to set up a network of institutes in which they collected children with special mental and psychic capabilities that he calls BDNF or Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor. The idea is that if in a child you managed to completely neutralize the mind, this BDNF would be free to grow, for one, and to cause people to do what they do not want to, what they could not control. The objective is to join all the kids in that network at a same time and day and have them concentrate their BDNF onto the said character who would kill himself by suicide, rather easy, and better by a self-imposed accident on the street or wherever he or she would be and it would look like a plausible accident. The people chosen there are people who want to disrupt the world’s peace. The idea is that sacrificing a few ten thousand children to prevent wars that would kill several ten million children in one minute is worth having.
Stephen King sets the origin of this technique and technology in Germany under Hitler, which is slightly easy, but the winners after the war would have recuperated this procedure and implemented secretly in at least four corners of the world if not a dozen of such corners to neutralize dangerous people who could menace the equilibrium of the world after the war. The idea is grotesquely possible in twisted minds like the various political leaders we have had in the Western world since 1945, since after the defeat and death of Hitler. And of course, after 70 years of smooth functioning, people become sloppy. It is easy to abduct a child, kill all his family and have the child disappear without leaving the smallest trail behind. The objective being to find kids who have a strong BDNF potential, they necessarily recruit kids who are TK (telekinetic) or TP (telepathic). They are supposed to pick kids who are not too strong in those two departments of TK or TP, but sloppiness makes them one day recruit one child who is slightly telekinetic but extremely brilliant and intelligent, which enables him to bypass the security of the computers they are provided with, in the Institute. Sloppiness, because they do not track what the children are doing with these computers, both because they are overconfident about themselves (arrogance) and purely lazy or ignorant (incompetence). That would not have been enough if just next to this one, Luke, they had not brought a second one, Avery, who is highly telepathic, and he mates up, from the first moment he is in the Institute, with Luke.
The heavy treatment, in fact, torture with shots and other severe punishments or tests, has strange effects on some kids. Luke turns up telepathic and that enables him to communicate with Avery without anyone seeing it, and Avery becomes the invisible mind reader Luke needs to communicate with one charwoman or cleaning lady, and that will open up an escape route for Luke.
You can, of course, wonder if such things do exist, and you would be wrong to doubt it. Children have been used in many wars and even very recent ones, or even wars going on right now, and not only in Africa. Colombia, I was told yesterday, was a case on the FARC side. ISIS is another case, and it is still going on, turning children into perambulating bombs. In France the Resistance during the German occupation often recruited children definitely underage, at times under fifteen, to fight, or to be liaising “agents” if not saboteurs. The list is long and the way such movements, clandestine or officials (on the side of a government), recruit and use children, after mind washing and indoctrination, for their military operations is multifarious. ISIS recruited children from twelve onward and trained them to commit all sorts of torture and executions, including providing them with some prisoners for them to practice in real terms and real-time the handling of a throat-cutting knife.
But, will you say, the objectives of such movements go against universal values as if high school students in Hong Kong were old enough to break into buildings, to loot them and set them on fire. There is a whole discourse going on that it is enough to be young in order to be justified to commit any kind of crimes. Was the age of all Yellow Vests in France checked and were all those under 18 sent back home? Let me laugh. They are young so they are justified, aren’t they? Thousands of stores were looted and ransacked in Paris and other cities, hundreds if not thousands of cars were set aflame, and that happens too for New Year or some events of the sort, and quite a few of the participants were under 18, and quite a few people who were apprehended were under 18. No one knows really because they are not supposed to have their identity published.
So, I am afraid Stephen King is not only dealing with third world countries or Islamic movements, far from it. He is dealing with a new form of violence that is systematic, organized, anonymous, “spontaneous” meaning summoned by anonymous calls on social networks, and with only one objective: to disrupt, to destroy, to loot, to desecrate (and not only Jewish tombs, far from it). So, what can be done in such a situation? The Yellow Vest movement in France showed clearly that this “spontaneous” mobilization remained rather important for about four or five weeks and then went on with very average numbers of actual participants, and declined rather fast after three months, and it is unable to find any footing anymore. If such movements are not taken over by manipulating extreme movements, on the left or the right, or simply on the criminal side of our black-market economy, the movements peter out in no time. Otherwise, it lasts slightly longer.
And that’s the second thing Stephen King shows clearly. When such extreme events occur, reactions can be very fast to come. In Du Pray, within one hour the whole population was out with weapons to clean up the commando, and they did, even if five members of the Police force were killed, including the sheriff. And what’s more there are always some reluctant children in such enslaving situation as the Institute, or any institution that consider authoritarianism is good (think of slavery in the USA). Resistance starts from inside. But that takes a lot more time. You do not have a prison upheaval every week, and a prison upheaval is always defeated. That’s where Stephen King needed something more than plain resistance to constant bullying and inescapable systematic violence. It only becomes credible because of the special mental and psychic abilities he summons. Since these special abilities are brought into the picture by the Institute itself, it is credible that it may backfire. And the fact we are dealing with children and young teens makes it extremely empathetic, emotional. For once too these kids are clearly identified racially, though it could have been more detailed. But, yes, there is some clear diversity in gender and in color, including among the staff who are all veterans of some armed force or police force.
Then the end is, of course, cinematographic, a catastrophe film, one more, with a short section at the end trying to re-insert the few kids that managed to escape into society without too many questions asked. All the gorks, those who had lost all their mind and were reduced to pure BDNF brutal force, are killed in the collapse of the buildings, along with Avery who was obliged to stay because he was the one who was channeling the power of the gorks in order to lift up the building and destroy it. I regret one thing here. The survivors who are taken to Du Pray and then dispatched to family relatives, except Luke who has no direct relatives and stays with Tim and Wendy, two survivors of the Sheriff force in Du Pray and who organized and implemented the salvaging attack against the Institute, to try and find his life again as an over-intelligent intellect, these survivors did not have a special commemoration of Avery and the role he played, as if they tried to put things behind. I find on the other hand the confrontation with the lisping individual who was always presented from afar as the brain of the Institute enterprise rather artificial and not useful at all. He is not needed to tell the survivors they have to keep their mouths shut. That only enables Stephen King to introduce the next generation of mental and psychic manipulation, precognition, the ability to predict the future. Luke takes great pleasure to destroy the use of probabilities to predict the future, the Bernoulli distribution as he calls it, but something is missing. The Brenoulli distribution or theory is absurd to predict the future, even with Big Data, Deep Learning, and Artificial Intelligence, because that would mean the future would be probabilistically nothing but a copy-cat repetition of the past, and you have to be completely berserk to believe that history repeats itself. Never does it repeat itself, except in a metaphorical meaning which means nothing, because real life is not a metaphor. It is real life, that is to say, millions of parameters at stake and at play in an unpredictable situation.
History is a Brownian soup with billions of people all agitated and moving in all directions and colliding into one another constantly without any possibility to say who they are going to meet on the underground tomorrow morning. There might be one or two regulars but there will be a lot more irregulars and these could introduce all sorts of disruptions. But remember the basic idea: Big Date probabilities can only predict what results from the majority, at times vast majority, of available data collected on the only basis of what has happened in the past up to today included can take into account without fantasizing. Actually, T***p was elected because no one believed it was possible, based on decades and decades of history and thousands of Gallup polls, opinion polls, and other social investigative reports.
But the style of Stephen King is still there, full and complete and he brings up some formulas at times that are such punchlines that you smile and say thank you. “Great events turn on small hinges.” Twice page 9 and page 280. “What was round ha[s] no point” Page 20. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Page 25. “When you stare into it, it stares back at you.” Page 53. “Treat us right, and we’ll treat you right. . . Go along to get along.” Page 102. And finally, the one I prefer. “If you wet your pants, you must take a chance and dance it to France.” Page 125. Then look for more yourself. There are galore of them.
A great experience that may leave you emotionally moved if not disturbed but avoid PTSD (quoted once in the whole book). We are living in a PTSD time. We are born into it. We live through it and we die in it but we leave it behind for other survivors because we cannot take anything with us six feet under. And leave, on a USB key, in a safe deposit box in a bank vault, all you want the other survivors who are not dead when you die to share after your departure.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU