I actually got this book from the library after I saw Greene appear on The Big Bang Theory. Naturally, Sheldon Cooper made fun of him. I’d venture to say Greene is far smarter than Sheldon since he not only understands string theory, but he can make some aspects of it understandable to the layman. In other words, Greene has social skills.
That’s good because there were some concepts of this book that made me zone out. It’s a hazard the non-physicist must risk if he or she is to delve into such complex concepts as multiverses. What’s a multiverse?
Well, what we call the universe – all that there is – is not quite all that there is. There are, if string theory ever manages to wed relativity and quantum mechanics, parallel universes. Greene posits nine different theories of how this might be true. Which one is the right one? Greene suggests that all of them could be true, that one type of multiverse doesn’t preclude the existence of another.
It’s complex, and many of the theories are simply beyond the reach of anyone without at least a rudimentary grasp of advanced mathematics. But Greene keeps going, explaining how sometimes ego or shortsightedness gets in the way of solving the riddles of the universe, and how long it takes to move from one breakthrough in physics to the next. Newton and Einstein never intended their theories to be the end-all, be-all of how the universe works. And it becomes clear that, while we know vastly more now than we knew even ten years ago, we are decades from coming up with a single theory of everything. Even then, there will be a lot of work to do.
Stephen King’s second collection contains one of his classic novellas, The Mist, recently made into a movie. The Mist is particularly creepy because you don’t really see the monsters until it’s too late. But Skeleton Crew is more than just filler to justify putting The Mist into a Stephen King book. There are some hits and misses. “Here There Be Tygers” reads like it was written by a kid. The two Milkman stories fell rather flat as murderous milk man Spike Milligan spent more time throwing me out of the story than drawing me in. Set in the Pittsburgh area, the Milkman stories gave me the impression they were material that didn’t make it into Christine.
But there are a lot of hits, too. “The Jaunt” is classic pulp science fiction with a Twilight Zone twist. “The Raft,” your basic monster tale with four horny teenagers, has an unusual monster and a very dark ending. What impressed me was that “The Raft” was a lost story. The magazine that published the original went out of business, and King had lost the manuscript. The version here is recreated from memory, though at the time of the book’s original publication, King still has not found the original. “Gramma” was truly scary, and along with “The Monkey,” shows some of King’s unease with some aspects of his childhood. The collection ends, however, with a non-horror story called “The Reach,” which takes us up to the final day of the oldest resident of Goat Island, Maine, a woman who has never left the island since the day she was born and only does so when the Reach – the channel between the island and the coast of Maine – freezes completely over. It’s less a tragedy than a snapshot of a part of Maine most people don’t think about. It’s this isolated culture that also gives rise to King’s later novel, The Colorado Kid. Over all, I prefer King’s earlier short story collection, Night Shift, to this one, but Skeleton Crew does show King with a higher level of skill (with a couple of exceptions) than Night Shift. There was something raw about those stories. But if you can read these collections interchangeably, and the intro to the collection contains one of King’s snarkiest retorts to unsolicited advice from non-writers that every writer has to endure.
Plus, you’ll finally get to read “Survivor Type,” probably King’s most bizarre non-supernatural story, and find out why, good as it is, it was unpublishable until he did this collection. You’ll never hear the McDonald’s jingle the same way again.
Sherri, formerly known as Cherry, has drunk and slept her way through life, most recently in a mutually abusive relationship with Hank. Unfortunately, one of their fights resulted in Hank going to his eternal reward, prompting Sherry to change careers. She leaves the stripper pole behind for the exciting world of dry cleaning, wandering into Miami Purity Cleaners in Miami. There she meets Payne Mahoney, the handsome manager of the store. She also meets Brenda, Payne’s mother and quite possibly Mrs. Wolowitz’ evil twin. Brenda is a control freak who doesn’t like anyone getting close to her son, and yet that’s exactly what Sherry does with Payne. So when Brenda shows up drunk at the store one evening and gets into a shoving match with Sherry, well… Life gets easier for Payne.
Or does it? They decide to pretend Brenda drowned, which is easy enough to fake. Sherry moves in with Payne, and everything is hunky dory. For a while. Sherry is not exactly innocent, but Brenda, she eventually learns, was a monster. And then there’s her son, Payne, who becomes more and more remote and secretive over time, alternately blaming Sherry for Brenda’s death and pleading with her not to leave. With author Hendricks writing Sherry in the role of a James M. Cain protag, you know it’s going to come to a violent end. But how?