Ah, Stephen King. I am one of his Constant Readers. I used to rely on him for great novels and stories, but he's veered into hit-or-miss territory, with the misses coming more frequently than the hits. King's last short story collection was like that, but when he did hit it just right ("N."), it made up for all the other lackluster stories.
King put a small foreword at the start of each story, telling a little about how he came up with the story. I like seeing how different people approach the creative process, so I enjoyed these little behind-the-curtain glimpses.
"Mile 81" -- I didn't re-read this one. I read it earlier this year as an e-book, and thought it was one of King's more pointless stories. In a short foreword to the collection, King suggests that the stories reprinted here have been changed somewhat, but I thought so little of the first read that I didn't see the point in subjecting myself to it again. You can read that review here if you'd like.
"Premium Harmony" -- King notes in the foreword to this story that it came about after reading a lot of Raymond Chandler. That's an author I haven't read, so I can't speak to how well King imitates that style, but I didn't see the point to this story. It was perfectly readable (King!), but nothing special.
"Batman and Robin Have an Altercation" -- Finally, a story with a point! It wound up being a little too neat and tidy for my tastes, and probably wrapped up too quickly, but it had an interesting narrative. It was sad and poignant.
"The Dune" -- This story is reminiscent of old Richard Matheson stories. That's certainly a good thing, even if King can't quite reach the summit that Matheson reached so often.
"Bad Little Kid" -- It's interesting how King's horror has developed over the years. What started with Carrie and The Shining became something a little more cerebral, and less explained. "Bad Little Kid" is a good example of that latter kind of story. It's very easy to get wrapped up in this jailhouse confessional story.
"A Death" -- This is an unassuming story about someone accused of murder. What makes it special, though, is how King clearly and distinctly sets in the Old West without writing about shootouts, saloons, and the Pony Express. His setting skills are deft.
"The Bone Church" -- King writes poetry. I sort of forgot about that. Poetry doesn't do much for me. Despite this one being more narrative than poetry, I still didn't get a good sense of it.
"Morality" -- King released a book five years ago called Blockade Billy. It included a bonus story called "Morality". Why include a story that's already been printed in one of your collections? I didn't re-read this, but I did read and review Blockade Billy several years back.
"Afterlife" -- Here we have an interesting look at the afterlife through King's eyes. I'm not sure that I'd call it thought-provoking, but it was a little humorous to see his take on Purgatory.
"Ur" -- This is another story where I'm a little peeved that it's in the collection at all, since I was under the impression that this was an OMGKINDLEEXCLUSIVE. I read it earlier this year after buying it as an ebook, and didn't think enough of it to re-read it, despite the fact that it's been updated to reflect newer technology. You can see my original thoughts about it here, if you choose.
"Herman Wouk Is Still Alive" -- The tie to Wouk is tenuous, but two of the characters in the story are poets. Though, the story really isn't about them. This story is kinda weird. And depressing as hell.
"Under the Weather" -- This story, however, is a nice inclusion. It was an additional story included in the paperback printing of Full Dark, No Stars. I don't like cheap tactics to get folks to buy a book more than once, so being able to read it here is nice. It's a nice story that hearkens back to what you might find in Skeleton Crew, even if the ending telegraphs itself about four pages from the end.
"Blockade Billy" -- See my comments on "Morality", above. I didn't re-read this, either.
"Mister Yummy" -- King writes a lot about old age. I get it -- you write what you know, and he's in his late sixties, and has survived a pretty near-death experience. Also, this is the second story in this collection to feature Alzheimer's.
"Tommy" -- More poetry. I still don't get it.
"The Little Green God of Agony" -- King channels his own rehabilitation after his accident here, but puts his own little twist on it. It seems to end a little too abruptly, but it was an interesting read.
"That Bus Is Another World" -- Most of the stories in this collection feel more like vignettes than actual stories. This is another one. I'm always amazed at how well King can pull the reader in to one of his stories without much visible effort.
"Obits" -- This reads a little bit like earlier King, especially "Word Processor of the Gods". This one isn't quite as hokey as its predecessor, and it's certainly darker, but it still doesn't quite reach what he used to do.
"Drunken Fireworks" -- This story, for me, is the big winner of the book. It doesn't presume to be anything deep or meaningful, but that might be why it works so well. It's a humorous look at a fireworks battle that goes on for three years, and it has a solid start, middle, and finish, complete with some palpable tension over how it's going to end. I'm not sure it's worth the entire collection, but it's a great story.
"Summer Thunder" -- King also has a knack for poignancy, which exists in all of his stories, but is present in some more than others. This is one where it's much more present.
So, I'm a little bummed that four out of the twenty stories -- a full 20% of the stories, and 1/3 of the entire length of the book -- were material I'd already read. I wouldn't feel as ticked about the two e-books if I hadn't been led to believe that they were e-exclusives, but why he included the stuff that had already been anthologized is beyond me. The writing in the stories is clear and compelling, as always, but there weren't any stories that made me say, "This is the King I remember." As I've said in previous reviews, you just can't go back to what you used to do.