Cell is an apocalyptic horror novel published by American author Stephen King in January 2006. The plot concerns a New England artist struggling to reunite with his young son after a mysterious signal broadcast over the global cell-phone network turns masses of his fellow humans into zombies.
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A role in the story was offered to the winner of a charity auction
sponsored by eBay
"One (and only one) character name in a novel called CELL,
which is now in work and which will appear in either 2006 or
2007. Buyer should be aware that CELL is a violent piece of
work, which comes complete with zombies set in motion by bad cell phone signals that destroy the brain. Like cheap whiskey, it's very nasty and extremely satisfying. Character can be male or female, but a buyer who wants to die must in this case be female. In any case, I'll require physical description of auction winner, including any nickname (can be made up, I don't give a rip)."
Other authors like Peter Straub also participated in the online auction, selling roles in their upcoming books. The King auction ran between September 8 and 18, 2005 and the winner, a Ft. Lauderdale woman named Pam Alexander, paid over $20,000. Ms. Alexander gave the honor as a gift to her brother Ray Huizenga; his name was given to one of the zombie-slaughtering "flock killers" in the story, a construction worker who specializes in explosives, but then later commits suicide in the aid of the "flock killers" escape.
The book generally received good reviews from critics. Publishers Weekly
described it as "a glib, technophobic but compelling look at the end of civilization" and full of "jaunty and witty" sociological observations . Stephen King scholar Bev Vincent
said "It's a dark, gritty, pessimistic novel in many ways and stands in stark contrast to the fundamental optimism of The Stand
- The book makes reference to "the panic rat", which is a motif in King's work to showcase fear as an imaginary creature feeding away at the thoughts of the lead character. Clayton experiences this continually throughout the book in fear of his son's fate. This was previously mentioned in Gerald's Game, in which the lead female character Jessie Burlingame experiences the panic bug as she's handcuffed to a bed.
- The enigmatic reference "Dodge had a good time, too", made by a traveler when "Lawrence Welk and his champagne music makers" can be heard playing Baby Elephant Walk, is a reference to Dodge Division of the Chrysler Corporation. It was The Lawrence Welk Show's in-studio sponsor early on, and was later replaced by Geritol.
- The concept of an auditory signal that can destroy a person's brain is very similar to the concepts put forth in Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. King also references Stephenson in the book, when the character of Jordan calls him "a god".
- The Raggedy Man is the name of a poem by the American poet James Whitcomb Riley.
- The book is co-dedicated to film director George A. Romero and sci-fi/horror writer Richard Matheson. Romero has worked with King on numerous occasions, including Creepshow and the feature film version of The Dark Half, and is most famous for his "Living Dead" horror movies, which feature swarms of zombies overwhelming human civilization; Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead are both directly mentioned in Cell — although the effects of The Pulse more closely resemble the effects of the bioweapon in Romero's 1973 film The Crazies, in that phoners are not dead and that they indiscriminately attack each other and normals, unlike Romero's ghouls who exclusively attack the living. In much the same vein as Cell, Matheson's novel I Am Legend depicts a lone "normal" waging a grim post-apocalyptic battle against an army of hideously-altered former humans.
- In the story, King makes a reference to Juniper Hill (a mental hospital), which he has used in other stories as well, such as It.
- Clay's son goes to a middle school in Chamberlain, Maine, which is the town where King's novel Carrie was set.
- As is typical of King's novels, several elements of the Cell reference King's The Dark Tower series. A "half-constructed kiddie ride" at Kashwak is named Charlie the Choo-Choo, which is also the name of a plot-important children's book in The Dark Tower series. Also, the graphic novel that Clay sells prior to the Pulse is called Dark Wanderer, a story (as his wife puts it) involving "apocalypse cowboys." The story, and its characters, are likely a reference to the Dark Tower series and the gunslingers of King's apocalyptic fantasy world. Most notably, the protagonist of Clay's novel is named Ray Damon, who shares the initials of Roland Deschain, the hero of The Dark Tower Series. King frequently creates alter-egos of repeated characters with identical initials, such as Randall Flagg. There is also a reacurring motif, in which many of King's villains are linked in one way or another: The Raggedy Man wears a red hooded garment, which mirrors one of the many forms of the Crimson King, whom is the main antagonist of the Dark Tower series. The Raggedy Man wears a Harvard sweatshirt; Harvard's sports teams and daily newspaper are both nicknamed Crimson, another allusion to the Crimson King.
- The town of Kashwak is said to be somewhere in the vicinity of the unincorporated township of TR-90 - the setting for King's earlier novel Bag of Bones .
- In the story, the Head's vegetable garden is called the 'Victory Garden', the same name as was given to the vegetable garden at Hetton House in King's Blaze. This was also a common name given to gardens grown by people during the Second World War. They were intended as a way for people on the home front to help by growing as much of their own food as they could rather than buying it, thus helping to alleviate demand for food back home and increase supplies for the war effort.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
On March 8, 2006, Ain't It Cool News announced that Dimension Films have bought the film rights to the book and will produce a film directed by Eli Roth (Hostel, Cabin Fever) for a 2009 release.
Says Roth about his approach to the film:
I... love that book. Such a smart take on the zombie movie. I am so psyched to do it. I think you can really do almost a cross between the Dawn of the Dead remake with a 'Roland Emmerich' approach (for lack of a better reference) where you show it happening all over the world. When the pulse hits, I wanna see it hit EVERYWHERE. In restaurants, in movie theaters, at sports events, all the places that people drive you crazy when they're talking on their cell phones. I see total armageddon. People going crazy killing each other - everyone at once - all over the world. Cars smashing into each other, people getting stabbed, throats getting ripped out. The one thing I always wanted to see in zombie movies is the actual moment the plague hits, and not just in one spot, but everywhere. You usually get flashes of it happening around the world on news broadcasts, but you never actually get to experience it happening everywhere. Then as the phone crazies start to change and mutate, the story gets pared down to a story about human survival in the post-apocalyptic world ruled by phone crazies. I'm so excited, I wish the script was ready right now so I could start production. But it'll get written (or at least a draft will) while I'm doing Hostel 2, and then I can go right into it. It should feel like an ultra-violent event movie.
On June 15, 2007, Eli Roth posted in his MySpace blog that he will not be directing Cell "anytime soon", as he plans to spend the rest of this year writing other projects.