The Waste Lands by Stephen King
The Waste Lands is the third novel in Stephen King's The Dark Tower series. This installment picks up soon after the events of the second novel and wastes no time getting rolling. The confrontation with a giant cyborg bear early on sets the tone for this novel. Initially, King focuses on three characters: Roland, the Gunslinger, and his companions Eddie, and Susannah, Roland's gunslingers in training. The three companions have been living in the woods, training, and recuperating from their adventures in the last book. Roland appears to be slowly losing his mind. His mind is torn between two realities, one where he let a young boy named Jake fall to his death, and another where the boy Jake still lives and is alive in New York City. (Time Travel and parallel worlds is crazy like that.)
However, thanks to the confrontation with Shardik, the massive cyborg bear, they discover one of the "beams" a barely visible ethereal beam that supposedly helps hold the world together and also leads to the Dark Tower, which is located in the center of the world. Given that finding the Dark Tower is their main quest, Roland and his pals start to follow the beam.
Meanwhile, in our world, the boy Jake, who is inadvertently causing Roland to lose his mind, is also going insane. He can clearly remember dying, but he is still alive, and now he's obsessed with finding a door that will lead him back to Roland's world. To get there he needs a key, and help/guidance from Eddie, (yes the same Eddie), and he needs to find the right door. While Jake is looking for the right portal, Roland, Eddie and Susannah are working to create a portal so that they can bring Jake across to their world. The entire scene of Jake's crossing is fantastic. King blends fantasy and horror elements and together they make the scene a standout part of the book.
Stephen King is one of my favorite authors, so my opinion may be a bit biased, but after reading the first three books, I really think the Dark Tower series is fantastic. It has elements of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and good ol' westerns...only the best, coolest elements from those genres too. The Waste Lands is a book that is always moving forward. Roland and his companions are constantly striving towards the Dark Tower, and while it might be easy for these books to come across as boring quest-style fantasy, it never felt that way to me. King works diligently at developing his characters, and moving the plot forward.
One thing I love about the Dark Tower books is that there are very little rules governing Roland's world. While in other alternate world stories, this could be really frustrating, I think it is one of the great qualities of the series. You truly never know what is around the corner for Roland and his companions, anything can happen to them, and chances are it will be a really shitty experience for them. King is willing to do all types of terrible things to his characters, and to me it is nice to know that there is no chance they will make it to the Dark Tower unscathed or unchanged.
Perhaps it is our shared homeland, Maine, but I feel like I connect very strongly to King's work. His characters come easily to life in my mind's eye, and his settings feel familiar to me. It could be that we share the same micro-culture and have had similar experiences; King lives about an hour from where I was born, and lived for 21 years. Whatever it is, when I open up a novel by Stephen King, whether it be a Dark Tower book, or something else, I am usually blown away. The Waste Lands was no exception. It kicked ass. It melds genres, and successfully incorporates cyborg bears, demon sex, a house that has a taste for human flesh, and a highly intelligent, yet loony, A.I. train named Blaine. So, yeah, awesome. Read it.