The Dark Tower Volume VI: Song of Susannah by Stephen King (2003) 544 p.
I did not have high hopes for this one. It’s about Susannah’s demon baby, it largely takes place in Earth, and it’s the one where the characters come face to face with Stephen King. How the mighty have fallen. Now, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but that’s not quite the same as being good.
I mentioned in my review for Wolves of the Calla that what I hate about the Dark Tower series (and what King loves) is all the numerology/comosology/fate/destiny/hallucinations/mystic bullshit. That’s present in Song of Susannah in spades, along with the series’ other huge problems: bloat, and the impression that King is making it up as he goes. There is waaaaay too much detail in his prose. Early on in the chapter, as Roland’s gang prepares to give chase to Mia through the magical doorway in the Calla, there are endless pages describing the local Manni cult setting up all their mystic pendulums and starting the ritual. Who gives a shit? Get to the point.
Later on, we have a gunfight between Roland and Eddie and the same mafia goons they killed in The Drawing of the Three – because apparently they’re in the real world now, but weren’t before. We also see Eddie getting shocked when he finds out that “in this world” Co-Op City is in the Bronx, not Brooklyn, because King fucked that up back in ’87 and decided to integrate it into the story. We also find out that Susannah’s baby is not a demon’s, but Roland’s, because Roland fucked the same demon in The Gunslinger and it took his seed and passed it to her… and it’s also the Crimson King’s baby, somehow. And I still don’t get what the fuck Mia is – first she was meant to be one of Susannah’s many alternate personalities, always tiring to read about, but now she’s some kind of demon that was turned into a human by the low men in a scientific outpost? Who can somehow possess Susannah’s body and make her grow legs? I don’t know what the fuck’s going on anymore, Steve. That’s what happens when you have a mortality crisis after a car accident and scramble to write three books in two years.
There’s also a bizarrely racist section where Susannah stumbles through a hotel full of Japanese tourists, overflowing with Asian stereotypes and phoentic Engrish. I don’t know what the fuck that was about.
Having said that, the part where Roland and Eddie meet Stephen King wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. He’s not in control of them: he’s confused and terrified and totally out of his element. Ideally he never would have taken the characters back into the real world at all, let alone put himself in the story, but if it had to happen this is probably the best way to go about it. Song of Susannah is easily the lowest point of the series so far, but it’s not (quite) terrible. I think it just emphasises the worst aspects of the Dark Tower series and features none of its good aspects.
Something I noticed, incidentally, was that I couldn’t stand the chapters set in Maine (where King goes about his typical New England wankfest – we’re a long way from cyborg bears, people) and the chapters set in New York City, because to me New York City is as mystical and fantastic as Roland’s world. This gave rise to another thought: other than his fantasy and sci-fi stuff that’s not set on Earth at all, has King ever written so much as a single scene set outside the continental United States?