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    Riding the Bullet Story Review

    Stephen King has always told tales in which there are actually two stories going on. The first one, the one up-front, is the one that the book banners tend to fixate upon. This is the Stephen King who writes about werewolves and vampires and cars that come alive and kill. It's easy enough to harp upon that Stephen King. The supernatural isn't seen as "literary," regardless of the precedents set by Shakespeare and Dickens.

    But the second story, intrinsic to almost everything King has written, is what is happening beneath the surface: the subtext. Sure, It was about a monster that murdered children, but its true story lay in the coming-of-age of seven kids, and the adult world they would eventually inherit. This is where King excels, and why readers come back again and again. In the subtext, King explores vaguer and more universal issues such as faith, guilt, love, and loss. The horror stories involve themselves with events that transcend everyday life; the thematic strings that hold those stories together, though, are the exact representation of everyday life. Balancing these two elements has made King both the American Boogeyman, and the Spokesman for the Common People.

    In recent years, King has sought to weave both the text and the subtext closer together. In his more recent novels, Bag of Bones, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and the novel-as-anthology Hearts in Atlantis, King has brought his understanding of everyday people to the fore, blending the horror with the drama more readily than ever before. The new novella, "Riding the Bullet," perfects this new direction, understanding at once that there is no room for secret meanings here. What lurks beneath can no longer be hidden.

    This urgent tale begins with Alan Parker, a college student at the University of Maine. One day, he receives a phone call from home: a neighbor informs him that his mother has had a mild stroke. Panicked, Alan comes on the run, planning to hitchhike the one hundred twenty miles from Orono to Lewiston, Maine, where his mother might be dying. At this point, all Alan is concerned about is what will happen when he gets to the hospital. He doesn't stop to consider the journey ahead of him, and how his life will change because of it.

    To reveal too much of the actual story would be like cheating. "Riding the Bullet" is not exactly original, but in its particulars it becomes as engrossing as any of King's best fiction. I will say that on the way to Lewiston, Alan is asked to make a wish, and to make a decision. The wish comes true, but the outcome of his decision is more hazy. Alan believes that his decision is a matter of life or death, and perhaps that's true. But the ending of this taut tale leads one to believe that it is really a matter of guilt and responsibility. Do we really understand the sacrifices our parents have made for us, or do we focus on how they hurt and hindered? When it comes down to it, does Alan Parker care more about what his mother gave up for him to go to college, or how she smacked him on the back of the head once at an amusement park?

    Amid all this, King still manages to deliver one hell of a horror story. Written directly after the auto accident that nearly killed him in July of 1999, King must have had death and cars on the brain. Delivering a tale like this is a testament to King's dogged determination to keep writing, and keep digging. The term "riding the Bullet" refers to a ride in an amusement park in New Hampshire, the Bullet being an upside-down roller coaster that sends its passengers screaming into the air. In the story, Alan Parker once chose not to ride the Bullet, walking away from those terrified passengers flying through the air. Whether his choice was right or wrong - or, in the end, reversed - is ultimately up for the reader to decide.

    Stephen King, however, has chosen to continue riding the Bullet. And if this story is any indication, he doesn't appear to be stopping anytime soon.

    Riding the Bullet Publishing Review

    On March 14th, 2000, Simon and Schuster released the novella "Riding the Bullet" to the entire world at once. Well, maybe not the entire world. But it was available to everyone online. Except those who used Macs. Or those who had WebTV. Or those who didn't have credit cards.

    Stephen King has always tried to stay one step in front of the cutting edge. His idea to release The Green Mile in serial installments was revolutionary. Though the process had been implemented before, King took the idea into the mainstream. In rapid succession, he later released two new books on the same day (Desperation and The Regulators), and released a short story collection available on audio format only (Blood & Smoke.) Now, King has chosen to release 67 pages worth of brand new fiction to the world via the internet. The concept was relatively simple: go to the website selling the story (or one of its many affiliates), pay $2.50 by credit card, download the story onto your hard drive, and open it via Acrobat Reader or one of the free "e-book readers" available online. But though the concept itself was uncomplicated, how it played out in the real world became a source of controversy with King fans worldwide.

    The major sticking point was availability. Only those with personal computers (or handheld e-book readers), internet access, and credit cards could read this new story. Those without computers at all felt that King was betraying his "Constant Readers," fans who read everything King has written as soon as they can get their hands on it. Readers with Macs couldn't read the story either - the .pdf file the tale was formatted in couldn't be read by Mac software. Ironically, Stephen King himself is a staunch Mac user, and was dismayed by this unexpected bit of news. (At the time of this writing, King and Simon & Schuster are working on a solution to get the story to Mac users.) To add to the accessibility issues, when "Bullet" became available at 12:01 AM March 14th, Softlock, the company working with Simon & Schuster on the "Bullet" project, experienced a "King-sized jam." The server selling the book effectively locked up, preventing many people from even getting into the "e-store" for a few days. To combat this problem, Barnes and offered to take everyone's name and email you when the tale became available. I'm still waiting for my email.

    Which leads to the second controversy. B&N offered "Riding the Bullet" free the first day, causing many to wonder why they should have to pay for it at all. went one step further and offered it for free indefinitely, providing you also download the memory-eating Glassbook e-book reader for free. Softlock explained that they weren't trying to cheat readers out of their $2.50 by selling it on their site. B&N and Amazon are bookselling giants compared to the relatively tiny Softlock: deep and even total discounts are just a matter of course. It became a mirror of the real world; the bookselling superstores had the best discounts, so the Mom and Pop stores were left in the dust. The digital age didn't change such elemental truths.

    Even before the ebook was released, people expressed their displeasure at the concept. "Riding the Bullet" couldn't be printed out, which led many to dismiss the entire concept. "I don't want to sit at my computer screen and flip through virtual pages," was a major complaint, "I want to take a book on a train, or to bed, or in the bath." Not only was taking your computer into the bath inconvenient, it was also potentially lethal. Even those comfortable with the internet and computers complained: "I stare at a computer screen all day at work; what makes them think I want to go home and stare at it some more?"

    Which leads one to question: was this concept a bad idea? Yes and no. No, mainly because of the swiftness of publication. Stephen King completed "Riding the Bullet" fairly recently. If it were to appear in a magazine, fans might have to wait months or a year to read it, if at all. King does have a new short story collection on the horizon, but no one knows when that will appear. With "Bullet," King finished it, edited it, and had it ready for fans almost immediately. And the idea of King discovering new ways to publish is exciting, as well. Not only does he take chances in his fictional world, but also in the way it's delivered.

    Unfortunately, "Riding the Bullet" was a test case for Simon & Schuster, and all who are interested in the concept of e-books. All the bugs and mistakes are going to be evident in this release, the first mass-market e-book. But if Simon & Schuster really wanted to see if the public truly wanted e-books, they also should have released a print-version chap-book simultaneously. You can't have an acid without a base. If you release something in one format only, you're skewing your own odds.

    Is this, as King has asked, "the future of publishing?" No. E-books will be an alternative to printed books, much like books on tape are. Imagine, in the future, traveling to a musty used books store, looking for the first edition section. The shopkeeper points you to the back, and there, you discover rows and rows of … computer terminals.

    Now that's scary. Riding the Bullet FAQ & News

    MORE FAQS (3/15 update)

  • (Oct 22) Mick Garris, who directed the King films The Stand, Sleepwalkers and The Shining remake, has bought the rights to King's Riding the Bullet. The story on the purchase reveals that Garris wants to make this a feature-length film. I'm hopeful, but skeptical: how many King short stories (not novellas) have made their way successfully to the big screen? Exactly. We'll see how this turns out...

  • (Aug 23) The Japanese are releasing a limited edition of Riding the Bullet in book form on September 6th! The run will be limited to 2000 copies. Riding the Bullet Limited After these sell out, there will be a second version of the limited (neither will be signed by King.) These will be sold on the web at until November 6th. After that, a trade version of the book (the title will be blue instead of red) will be released and sold in stores.

  • Downloading: Yes, even I haven't been able to download this thing yet. After the rage passes (and it will), please consider that Simon & Schuster surpried Softlock with the story a week before its release. No one really counted on the numbers that the stoyy brought in. Everyone is working hard right now to get everyone a copy of this, so please be patient. (I understand it's hard. I threw some things at my moniter Monday night.)

  • Printing: It was Simon & Schuster's idea not to allow people to print this e-book. I belive this is a bad idea, and a little unfair. We bought the thing, we should be allowed to print. Please, everyone, write to S & S and explain your dissatisfaction with the printing issue.

  • Free at B & N and Amazon: You can't even blame S & S for this one. Amazon and B & N discount as much as they feel like. They wanted to push their e-book areas, and having a new King book available in this format was too good to pass up. Neither Softlock or Simon & Schuster (and certainly not King) tried to cheat you with this. B & N and Amazon, Big Corporate Giants both, did what they felt like. (Not saying it was a bad thing, but there's been some confusion.)

  • Mac users can't download it!: I could be a big ol' wiseacre and go into my rant about PCs v. Macs, but I won't. We know that King, a staunch Mac user himself, is distressed at this situation and the King poeple are trying to rectify this situation. More on this in the near future.

    (Old FAQs)

  • I don't understand this whole downloading thing. Help me!
    ->Okay, what you gotta do is download an e-book reader. An e-book reader is a program you put on your computer that will help you read the specific book program. It works similar to Word or Acrobat. You'll need to download a boook reader in order to read this novella, so I'd reccomend doing it before the 14th.

  • Where can I download a book reader from?
    ->Check out the Simon & Schuster "Riding the Bullet" site; they have a listing of places where you can download book readers and they're all free! If you're downloading from Charnel House, you need to have Adobe Acrobat. if you don't have acrobat, you can download it FREE -->HERE!

  • Can I print out "Riding the Bullet"?
    Unfortunately, no. But don't worry, kids: I'm doing my best to get Simon & Schuster to change their mind, if not about RTB, but about future King ebook projects. If you want to help rectify the "non-printing" problem, write to Simon & Schuster and let them know what you think!

  • Will "Riding the Bullet" ever be available in a regular book?
    We don't yet know. All we're sure on right now is that "Riding the Bullet" is an e-book exclusive, and it's only $2.50 to own. yes, I know it's cooler to have a King book, but think of this like you would having a King magazine appearance. It's still pretty cool!

  • When can I buy "RTB" from Charnel House"?
    Starting at 12:01, March 14th, EVERY "RIDING THE BULLET" GRAPHIC will become a link to buy the book. That means any ads you see on my site referring to "Riding the Bullet" can be clicked on. This will bring you to the site selling "Riding the Bullet" for $2.50.

    What do you need to read "RTB" once you purchase and download it?
    I've decided to go with the head company that is distributing the ebook, Softlock. If you're going to be downloading the ebook through Charnel House, all you need is Adobe Acrobat. Most PCs already have a version of Acrobat; if you don't, you can download it FREE -->HERE!!!.

  • How much will "Riding the Bullet" cost me?
    ->a scant $2.50. Not bad, huh?

  • I know that this stuff is a little confusing, so please: if you have ANY questions not covered on this or the "Riding the Bullet"-centric page, email me.

    Riding the Bullet Links

  • Official Riding the Bullet Site

  • Softlock, Official Distributor of "Riding the Bullet"

  • Adobe Acrobat FREE download

    Riding the Bullet Press Release


    Riding the Bullet Available Worldwide on March 14th to eBook and PC Users

    New York, March 8, 2000 - Simon & Schuster announced today that a new story by best-selling author Stephen King will appear exclusively as an eBook on March 14th (12:01 AM EST). Riding the Bullet, a story described by King as "a ghost story in the grand manner," will go directly to readers electronically, who will pay $2.50 for the 16,000-word story. The story will be a co-publication between Scribner and Philtrum Press, Kingıs own press, and electronically published through Simon & Schuster Online. The announcement was made by Jack Romanos, President & Chief Operating Officer of Simon & Schuster, Inc., and Susan Moldow, Vice President and Publisher of Scribner.

    "Riding the Bullet is yet another example of how Stephen King and Simon & Schuster continue to embrace new possibilities in every facet of their relationship," said Romanos. "This innovative publication strategy takes the eBook from the realm of novelty and directly into the very mainstream of todayıs culture. And it reaffirms the publisher-author relationship at a moment when it is fashionable to predict its demise."

    "What an exciting opportunity this is for both us and the author," said Moldow. "From the issue of adapting traditional book design to an e-friendly format to creating instant alliances for making the story available to as many of our customers as possible, Riding the Bullet is an exceptionally apt title for this leap into the digital future." The concept of an original eBook was presented to Scribner by Ralph Vicinanza, Kingıs longtime agent for foreign rights. He also initiated Kingıs innovative 6-part book serial of The Green Mile.

    "I'm curious to see what sort of response there is and whether or not this is the future," said King, who wrote Riding the Bullet shortly after his near-fatal accident in June 1999. King has since written several works. Riding the Bullet is his first work to go directly to readers via eBook. The distribution of Riding the Bullet as an eBook bypasses the traditional yearlong publishing cycle. "What's exciting is that we are able to go from Stephen King's computer to the reader in a fraction of the print-book publishing arc," said Kate Tentler, Vice President and Publisher of Simon & Schuster Online. "And, we can offer this wonderful story to readers in whichever electronic format they are comfortable with: on an eBook device, a handheld Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), or on a computer."

    EBook vendors participating to date include: Glassbook, Inc., netLibrary, Nuvomedia Inc.ıs Rocket eBook,, SoftBook Press, and provides a complete technology and service solution that will enable any retailer or bookseller with a website, whether simple or sophisticated, to sell Riding the Bullet.

    Stephen King is the author of more than thirty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. Among his most recent are Hearts in Atlantis, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, The Green Mile, and the audio-only release, Blood and Smoke. In August, Pocket Books will release the paperback edition of Hearts in Atlantis, followed by the October publication from Scribner of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Information about Stephen King and his writing can be found at the official King website:

    In support of Riding the Bullet, Simon & Schuster and Scribner marketing activities, including press releases, review copies, newsletter and consumer bulletins, and business-to-business promotional materials will be produced and transmitted electronically. An excerpt from Riding the Bullet can be read at

    Mibrary Announces Finalists for the Inaugural Alan Kay Award for eBook Innovation
    Winner to be Announced at Book Tech West Conference

    by Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa

    NEW YORK, Nov. 21 /PRNewswire/ -- Mibrary, the roaming digital library software company, today announced the finalists for the company's first annual award recognizing the largest contributor to the advancement and popularization of electronic books. The winner of the will be announced prior to the keynote address at the BookTech West 2000 conference in San Francisco on December 11. Mibrary's award is named for Dr. Alan Kay, widely considered to be a founding father of the eBook.

    The finalists, from which the winner of the Alan Kay Award for eBook Innovation will be chosen, include:

    * Stephen King's Philtrum Press: For the tremendous exposure he gave to the electronic book format through the release of his best-seller "Riding The Bullet", as well as publishing his newest novel, "The Plant" exclusively in electronic installments.

    * Gemstar (NASDAQ:GMST): For the company's development and licensing of two of the most popular dedicated electronic reading devices, the REB 1100 and the REB 1200.

    * Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT): For the company's Microsoft Reader and ClearType technologies, which brought ebooks to over 1 million consumers in the past six months alone.

    "It is a great honor to be mentioned in connection with this award," said author Stephen King. "The e-book revolution has been one of the most exciting things to happen to me in the last two or three years, and I am delighted to think that I have had even a small part to play in changing the way the culture reads and expanding the market place for good books."

    The winner of this annual award will be selected by popular vote at the Mibrary Web site Final balloting to determine the winner will conclude at midnight on Friday, December 1st.

    The winner will receive the Steuben Pillar Crystal created by noted designer David Dowler. In addition, Mibrary will make a $5,000 contribution in the name of the winner to the Association of American Publishers' "Get Caught Reading" program. "The future of publishing -- both electronic and print -- depends on how well we capture the imagination of a new generation of readers, and that's what 'Get Caught Reading' is all about," Pat Schroeder, president and CEO of the American Association of Publishers said at the outset of the voting. "We're delighted that Mibrary has made support of 'Get Caught Reading' an integral part of this new award that recognizes special contributions to the development of eBooks."

    "We're excited to see who will eventually be named the winner of Mibrary's first Alan Kay Award for eBook Innovation," said James Alexander, Chief Executive Officer of Mibrary. "Each of the three finalists have contributed immensely to popularizing the ebook and proving that it is a viable route for the publishing industry."

    About Mibrary

    Mibrary provides roaming digital library software and infrastructure delivering convenience and portability for consumers while giving online retailers an automated, outsourced option for delivering high customer satisfaction at a reasonable cost. The Company's hosted application and deployed infrastructure are built around its patent- pending Mibrary KeyChain(TM) technology. Mibrary KeyChain is a pervasive computing solution that helps consumers manage their entire digital content collections in one place while providing access to this content anytime, anywhere through tethered or wireless devices. Mibrary and Mibrary KeyChain are trademarks of Inc. Visit for more information about the company.

    Riding the Bullet

    I've never told anyone this story, and never thought I would -- not because I was afraid of being disbelieved, exactly, but because I was ashamed...and because it was mine. I've always felt that telling it would cheapen both me and the story itself, make it smaller and more mundane, no more than a camp counselor's ghost story told before lights-out. I think I was also afraid that if I told it, heard it with my own ears, I might start to disbelieve it myself. But since my mother died I haven't been able to sleep very well. I doze off and then snap back again, wide awake and shivering. Leaving the bedside lamp on helps, but not as much as you might think. There are so many more shadows at night, have you ever noticed that? Even with a light on there are so many shadows. The long ones could be the shadows of anything, you think.

    Anything at all.

    I was a junior at the University of Maine when Mrs. McCurdy called about ma. My father died when I was too young to remember him and I was an only child, so it was just Alan and Jean Parker against the world. Mrs. McCurdy, who lived just up the road, called at the apartment I shared with three other guys. She had gotten the number off the magnetic minder-board ma kept on her fridge.

    "'Twas a stroke," she said in that long and drawling Yankee accent of hers. "Happened at the restaurant. But don't you go flyin off all half-cocked. Doctor says it wa'ant too bad. She's awake and she's talkin."

    "Yeah, but is she making sense?" I asked. I was trying to sound calm, even amused, but my heart was beating fast and the living room suddenly felt too warm. I had the apartment all to myself; it was Wednesday, and both my roomies had classes all day.

    "Oh, ayuh. First thing she said was for me to call you but not to scare you. That's pretty sensible, wouldn't you say?"

    "Yeah." But of course I was scared. When someone calls and tells you your mother's been taken from work to the hospital in an ambulance, how else are you supposed to feel?

    "She said for you to stay right there and mind your schoolin until the weekend. She said you could come then, if you didn't have too much studyin t'do."

    Sure, I thought. Fat chance. I'd just stay here in this ratty, beer-smelling apartment while my mother lay in a hospital bed a hundred miles south, maybe dying.

    "She's still a young woman, your ma," Mrs. McCurdy said. "It's just that she's let herself get awful heavy these last few years, and she's got the hypertension. Plus the cigarettes. She's goin to have to give up the smokes."

    I doubted if she would, though, stroke or no stroke, and about that I was right -- my mother loved her smokes. I thanked Mrs. McCurdy for calling.

    "First thing I did when I got home," she said. "So when are you coming, Alan? Sad'dy?" There was a sly note in her voice that suggested she knew better.

    I looked out the window at a perfect afternoon in October: bright blue New England sky over trees that were shaking down their yellow leaves onto Mill Street. Then I glanced at my watch. Twenty past three. I'd just been on my way out to my four o'clock philosophy seminar when the phone rang.

    "You kidding?" I asked. "I'll be there tonight."

    Her laughter was dry and a little cracked around the edges -- Mrs. McCurdy was a great one to talk about giving up the cigarettes, her and her Winstons. "Good boy! You'll go straight to the hospital, won't you, then drive out to the house?"

    "I guess so, yeah," I said. I saw no sense in telling Mrs. McCurdy that there was something wrong with the transmission of my old car, and it wasn't going anywhere but the driveway for the foreseeable future. I'd hitchhike down to Lewiston, then out to our little house in Harlow if it wasn't too late. If it was, I'd snooze in one of the hospital lounges. It wouldn't be the first time I'd ridden my thumb home from school. Or slept sitting up with my head leaning against a Coke machine, for that matter.

    "I'll make sure the key's under the red wheelbarrow," she said. "You know where I mean, don't you?"

    "Sure." My mother kept an old red wheelbarrow by the door to the back shed; in the summer it foamed with flowers. Thinking of it for some reason brought Mrs. McCurdy's news home to me as a true fact: my mother was in the hospital, the little house in Harlow where I'd grown up was going to be dark tonight -- there was no one there to turn on the lights after the sun went down. Mrs. McCurdy could say she was young, but when you're just twenty-one yourself, forty-eight seems ancient.

    "Be careful, Alan. Don't speed."

    My speed, of course, would be up to whoever I hooked a ride with, and I personally hoped that whoever it was would go like hell. As far as I was concerned, I couldn't get to Central Maine Medical Center fast enough. Still, there was no sense worrying Mrs. McCurdy.

    "I won't. Thanks."

    "Welcome," she said. "Your ma's going to be just fine. And won't she be some happy to see you."

    I hung up, then scribbled a note saying what had happened and where I was going. I asked Hector Passmore, the more responsible of my roommates, to call my adviser and ask him to tell my instructors what was up so I wouldn't get whacked for cutting -- two or three of my teachers were real bears about that. Then I stuffed a change of clothes into my backpack, added my dog-eared copy of Introduction to Philosophy, and headed out. I dropped the course the following week, although I had been doing quite well in it. The way I looked at the world changed that night, changed quite a lot, and nothing in my philosophy textbook seemed to fit the changes. I came to understand that there are things underneath, you see -- underneath -- and no book can explain what they are. I think that sometimes it's best to just forget those things are there. If you can, that is.

    Copyright İ 2000 by Stephen King