Kemper's Reviews > The Tommyknockers

The Tommyknockers by Stephen King
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it was ok
bookshelves: sci-fi, horror, aliens, 2016-reread, uncle-stevie

I mean, The Tommyknockers is an awful book. That was the last one I wrote before I cleaned up my act. And I've thought about it a lot lately and said to myself, "There's really a good book in here, underneath all the sort of spurious energy that cocaine provides, and I ought to go back." The book is about 700 pages long, and I'm thinking, "There's probably a good 350-page novel in there."

- Stephen King in a Rolling Stone interview.

You got that right, Uncle Stevie.

Bobbi Anderson is a writer living outside a small Maine town who trips over a hunk of metal sticking out of the ground while walking in the woods with her dog. She finds herself strangely compelled to dig it up, and she soon realizes that she’s stumbled across a flying saucer that has been buried for thousands of years.

Bobbi’s friend Jim Gardner is a poet with a love of booze and a deep hatred of nuclear power. After going on an epic bender Gardner visits Bobbi and finds that she has worked herself ragged and lost several teeth while digging up the ship. She’s also started making all sorts of home improvements like fixing her aging water heater up with what appears to be a fusion reactor. Bobbi convinces Gardner that they need to excavate the ship themselves, and he agrees to help. But the ship’s influence grows as it is unearthed to the point where the nearby townsfolk also start spitting teeth and coming up with clever ideas of their own.

The King quote I led with really sums up this book. There’s an intriguing idea at the heart of it and some nice character stuff particularly when it comes to Gardner. However, its coke-fueled writing is so evident that you expect to see leftover powder and dried blood spots from King’s nose on every page. There’s just too many tangents that go in useless directions, and it really gets out of control when he starts telling all the stories happening in the nearby town of Haven.

Detailing the takeover of the population of a small town via snapshots of the locals is something King does well in other books like Salem’s Lot, but he could never draw the line here between relevant character details and useless information. In fact, it almost seems at times like he was starting different novels. One has a beloved civic leader coming to suspect that there is something very wrong happening and doing her best to hold out from it. Another has a reporter starting to unravel the mystery of what happens in Haven, but since all he is doing is uncovering what we already know his whole thread is pretty much useless anyhow so learning all about his relationship with his passive aggressive mother is especially pointless.

King also has problems in dealing with things logically from a plot standpoint. He prefers vague supernatural threats that he can routinely increase or reduce the powers of as needed, but when he has to put physical rules to them things fly apart. Here he can’t even nail down exactly how the Tommyknockers are transforming the people. It’s definitely a gas that seems to come off the skin of the ship as it’s exposed. That’s a good concept (Although why aliens would coat the outside of their ship with something that would spread on contact with Earth air is a valid question.) but the ship also exudes something akin to electromagnetism that effects electronics and radio waves.

You could make the argument that there’s no reason it can’t be pumping out both gas and some weird alien radiation. Which is true, but it gets messy when it comes exactly which thing is doing what, and King practically broke his back trying to draw parallels to the TK ship and nuclear reactors so that theme is clear. However, Gardner is immune to the Tommyknocker transformation because he has a metal plate in his head so that seems to indicate that it isn’t caused by the gas, but it is repeatedly shown that others can avoid its effects by not breathing the air. It just isn't consistent at all. There is also a whopper of a continuity error right at the heart of this that shows that King wasn’t thinking through the details. (view spoiler)

He also didn’t think through the implications of including the usual Easter eggs to his other works. The town of Derry exists here along with a direct reference to IT as well as other books, and that seems harmless enough at first. However, the end of this one would literally be the biggest story in human history. So that means the Stephen King universe should include it and the aftermath, but it doesn’t. Yeah, yeah, I know. The Dark Tower has many levels, blah, blah, blah. You can believe that if you want, but it increasingly feels to me that the references aren't so much clever winks to reader as they are lazy tricks that undermine the story King is trying to tell at the moment.

Plus, Stephen King just plain sucks at writing about aliens. He proved it again in Dreamcatcher, and if you read that whole interview I linked to you’ll see that he also doesn’t like that one much either and blames the Oxycontin he was on following being struck by a car. So that’s two bad books about evil aliens he wrote under the influence. I’m sensing a trend here.

Aside from the drugs though there’s an element of King’s personal outlook that makes him trying to do an alien invasion story problematic. Like a lot of Baby Boomers he has a general distrust of the guvment, and Uncle Stevie’s distaste is so strong that he just can’t imagine them doing the right thing. He also has some anti-tech tendencies and doesn’t think much of science. (The Stand is a prime example of this.) So the aliens are evil, but he also doesn’t think you could trust anyone in authority or with scientific expertise to do anything about them. That’s when King’s anti-establishment nature is at war with his own plot. It's like his alien stories are trying to be both E.T. and The Thing at the same time, and it just doesn't work like that.

For example, we get a long conversation when Bobbi (Who is part-Tommyknocker at this point.) is trying to convince Gardner that they can’t call ‘the Dallas police’, and that’s a big point that wins him over because he’s an anti-nuke protestor who doesn’t trust the powers that be with an alien ship. So that means that an alien influenced western writer and a drunken poet who shot his own wife are supposed to be the ones we trust to deal with the discovery of aliens? And yeah, I get that this is a con job to get Gardner to help dig up the ship, but that thread of thinking that the Feds would somehow be even worse than murderous aliens runs through this and Dreamcatcher in defiance of internal plot logic.

I mean, do we really believe that some idiot would be so distrustful of government agencies and science as well as have such a strong belief in crazy conspiracy theories that he would shun the system and instead choose to side with a hideous monster in human form who is telling him nothing but lies? Oh….. Never mind.
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Reading Progress

September 22, 2007 – Shelved
November 21, 2016 – Started Reading
December 8, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-30 of 30 (30 new)

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Trudi This ocelot thinks you should reconsider your two star rating. Heh heh.




Kemper I'm offended that you posted the picture of that graceful animal in association with this book.


Anthony Vacca Isn't there a flying vending machine at one point?


message 4: by Dan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan Schwent I'll cancel my Tommyknockers reread


Kemper Anthony wrote: "Isn't there a flying vending machine at one point?"

Yes. Also a killer vacuum cleaner and a flying smoke detector.

"Cocaine is a helluva drug."
- Rick James


Kemper Dan wrote: "I'll cancel my Tommyknockers reread"

Probably a wise decision.


Cody | codysbookshelf Weirdly enough, this is one of my favorite King novels. Excellent review!


Kemper Cody wrote: "Weirdly enough, this is one of my favorite King novels. Excellent review!"

Thanks! There's enough of a good idea here that I get why some King fans love it, but it just doesn't do it for me at all.


message 9: by Noah (new)

Noah Nichols Extra points due to you linking the full interview! #RhymeTime


Trudi I feel sorry for any person who fails to derive unfettered glee from a killer vacuum cleaner and a flying vending machine!!! Glorious!

Ah well, I was not expecting you to suddenly change your mind now and see through the book's coke-fuelled frantic energy and manic tangents to its epic awesome gooey centre. You know I love this one to pieces and it sucks me in every time.

But I think we can both be right, and not have to duel. I wouldn't want someone throwing away his ... shot. That's just embarrassing when that happens.


Kemper Noah wrote: "Extra points due to you linking the full interview! #RhymeTime"

I did my best.
Unlike the rest.


Kemper Trudi wrote: "I feel sorry for any person who fails to derive unfettered glee from a killer vacuum cleaner and a flying vending machine!!! Glorious!..."

I guess we know what you're on now. *sniff*


Kemper Trudi wrote: ""

That's a great selfie!


Lauren This may at least win the award for "Stephen King novel I remember only the most random details of": drunk Jim Gardener talking about nuclear power, Neiboldt Street poem that I did not like, Bobbi researching her Western, creepy rhyming chant, looks like radiation, and somebody's sister has a giant dildo. All else is darkness.

That said, you're stronger than me, because that initial ocelot picture Trudi posted makes me want to go back and give this four stars. It's so cute.


Kemper Lauren wrote: "This may at least win the award for "Stephen King novel I remember only the most random details of": drunk Jim Gardener talking about nuclear power, Neiboldt Street poem that I did not like, Bobbi ..."

Random weird bits of this always stuck with me too. Like I've thought of Bobbi's fusion heater every time I've seen a water heater or had to wait for running water to warm up, but I'd forgotten whole swaths of the rest of it.

If you think that the ocelot picture could change your mind then just try re-reading it again. That'll bring you back to reality in a hurry.


message 17: by Anthony (last edited Dec 09, 2016 03:51PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Anthony Vacca Bobbi's sister and her dildo habits are a detail that I remember vividly as well. A crucial passage that further deepens the artistry of the novel's themes and overarching metaphors. A lot like the cetalogy chapters in Moby Dick.


message 18: by Brandon (new)

Brandon Plus, Stephen King just plain sucks at writing about aliens.

(view spoiler)


Kemper Brandon wrote: "Plus, Stephen King just plain sucks at writing about aliens.

[spoilers removed]"


Yeah, I was thinking of that one, too.


message 20: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Lee If aliens came to us and said "Send us your finest writer so he/she can chronicle our dying civilization, and pass along all of our accumulated wisdom to you", I wouldn't send them Stephen King. I'd send them that 50 Shade of Grey chick. Just to screw with the aliens.


Bradley Funny review! And while I can't specifically refute any of your points, I'm still egging myself on to do a re-read of the novel. I'm too curious to see how such a novel could influence me so heavily and yet be utter garbage. :)

Then again, after seeing people go about with sparkly vampires and mainstream bondage novels, I might need to reclassify myself as "part of the trash". :) Thanks for your review!


Kemper Ellen wrote: "I'd send them that 50 Shade of Grey chick. Just to screw with the aliens. ..."

And that is how Earth/Andromeda War started....


Kemper Brad wrote: "Funny review! And while I can't specifically refute any of your points, I'm still egging myself on to do a re-read of the novel. I'm too curious to see how such a novel could influence me so heavil..."

Thanks. And this is kind of weird one because while I think it's just downright bad it's also not without appeal. Like a couple of us have noted in the other comments, it's got some weird bits that really stick in the mind. And I did like Gardner as a very flawed character. If the coke hadn't gotten the upper hand, and he kept this story boiled down to Bobbi and Gardner digging up the ship I really think it might have been something.


Bradley :) Again, I can't deny any of these points. :) I personally just reveled in all the ideas and the crazy and kinda ignored the plot problems. :)

I was 13. I just loved the aliens and the horror and the great curses. :)


message 25: by Kemper (last edited Dec 13, 2016 08:10AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kemper Brad wrote: ":) Again, I can't deny any of these points. :) I personally just reveled in all the ideas and the crazy and kinda ignored the plot problems. :)

To paraphrase my favorite podcast: It's OK to like a book.

Hopefully I haven't sucked the joy out of it for people like you who enjoy it.


Lindsay Fouts I loved the story, and parts of it were just. so. good.


Lindsay Lane I was thinking the same thing. The book is too drawn out and is pretty shitty as a result.


message 28: by Jon (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jon North Totally agree with your review on this. I thought the start of the book with Bobbi and Gardner was great, but it completely fell apart for me when he started introducing the rest of the town. The stories of the characters felt disjointed to me and it felt like I was reading a different book. I just found myself wanting to get back to what was happening at Bobbi's place.


message 29: by MissySue (new)

MissySue Hanson Echoing the implications that some have already made - I'd take any SK crazy drug-fueled rambling over The Girl On The Train, 50 Shades, yada yada yada. SK's dribble on drugs is still literary genius compared to those types of books.


Jingizu Just reread the Tommyknockers for the first time in many years. I'll stick with my 3 stars, as the concept is good and some parts are great reading.

However I must agree with your review. Showing all the towns people and the reporter and the state police guys, just too much. SK should have trimmed that down completely and stuck with the main story.

A big incongruity to me, as an unashamed lover of IT, is that Tommyknockers is in 1988, two years after the Losers defeated IT and large parts of Derry were destroyed. Yet in 1988, two years later, people are constantly in Derry, the hospital etc. etc. And why would Ev hear all that ominous creaking in the pipes in Derry when IT was defeated (although possibly not dead)?


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