I remember when The Simpsons first aired on Fox. (Yes, I am old.) I remember that the show was entertaining and fun, and I remember some of the shows being tightly written and more profound than I had expected. Then, at some point far into the show's life, it all changed. The shows still had funny moments, but they ceased being individual stories. The episodes would start on one tangent, lead to another, and then wind up somewhere completely different from where they began, with little evidence of a trail that led from beginning to end. It was like the writers just stopped caring, and went with quantity over quality when it came to the show.
Stephen King has followed that same trajectory with me, and Mile 81 is a perfect example of how lackadaisical his style has become with me. The story starts off with one character, but then he introduces another and another, until we have a big cast of characters and one mysterious antagonist. This time it's a car that eats people. King has a fascination with cars -- Christine and From a Buick 8, for example -- but this time it's a nondescript thing that clearly doesn't belong in our universe.
King still has an annoying habit of giving away too much as he tells the tale, like when one driver chooses to pull off the road to attend to the situation, King says, "That was the last choice he would ever make." I mean, really? Way to take all the tension out of the story, dude. He seems to do this all the time now.
Also, what's with Rachel? She's six years old, but thinks and talks like she's twice that age. I mean, precocious is precocious, sure, but King is giving us savant-level thinking in a character who shouldn't be able to think like that. And the language she thinks in is far above her age.
Finally, there's the ending, which is so stupid it made me groan. I've always suspected that King writes off the cuff, with no real idea of where he's going with his stories, and the bool-hunts from Lisey's Story suggested I was right. I later learned that he's noted this in interviews, and while I still find King to be readable, I find his stories feel like they're written off the cuff. Cujo and Misery were perfect stories, but his later stuff is so convoluted that I feel like I need flowcharts to figure out how he put it all together.
The other thing that I find odd about this story is the weird product placement that takes place. Near the end of the story, King appears to shill for Words with Friends and AT&T. Ur was like that too with its obvious shilling of the Kindle, but in that case, it was to be expected; the story was written for the Kindle, after all. Here, it seems oddly specific and out of place, which makes me think King is just including this because Zynga and AT&T paid him big bucks to mention them by name. Whether or not it's true, it's how it felt when I came across that point in the story.
Oh, and speaking of shilling, King takes time to do a little of his own, referencing both American Vampire and Christine over the course of the story. When he referenced himself in Thinner, it was cool, because when that was published, no one knew Bachman was King, but now it's just ridiculous. Still, this is the guy who included a version of himself in The Dark Tower, so I shouldn't be surprised.
Included in this e-book is an excerpt from 11/22/63, which makes me think this story was written just as a means of promoting the novel. The novel, though, was fascinating and engaging, while Mile 81 was dull and pointless. I'm starting to think that Stephen King e-books would be best avoided. This one was worse than Ur.