Last week, we snaked our way through the underbelly of the city of Lud. This week, we meet Blaine the Mono and find out why Blaine is such a pain.
Thank you for joining me on a journey of Stephen King’s The Waste Lands (1991), the 3rd book in The Dark Tower series. We just finished our journey across the beach in The Drawing of the Three, drawing Eddie and Susannah Dean into Roland's world and ending the pitiful life of Jack Mort. Eddie is off heroin, and Susannah's previously split mind has merged into one—but Roland Deschain is troubled. It seems by killing Jack Mort and allowing Jake Chambers to live, he has created a paradox … and it's tearing his mind apart. What's next for this new ka-tet? Will Roland be able to rectify this butterfly effect? Join us as we make our way into The Waste Lands!
*Remember: While this is a reread, please avoid spoilers in the comments. The point is to get there together!
This book's chapters set up nicely, so the plan is to read a chapter a week (about 100 pages) and meet here at our usual time (Tuesday at 12 p.m. ET) to discuss major themes, motifs, and reactions. Make sure to bookmark the HQ page for the schedule and links to all of the chapter discussions as they go live! This week, we meet Blaine the Mono and find out why Blaine is such a pain as he speeds our gunslingers out of the horrifying city of Lud. Join us in the comments for a discussion of Part VI of The Waste Lands: BOOK TWO LUD: A HEAP OF BROKEN IMAGES, Chapter VI: “Riddle and Waste Lands”!
BOOK TWO LUD: A HEAP OF BROKEN IMAGES
VI. Riddle and Waste Lands
We left our heroes trapped at the railway station with the maniacal machine known as Blaine the Mono offering them safe passage away from Lud—a city that’s about to be biologically wiped out—if they can solve a riddle that holds the combination to unlock the gate. Staring at a diamond-shaped keypad with numbers 1-100, Susannah asks Roland to help her remember the voice of her father. He hypnotizes her with a spinning cartridge, and Detta comes forth instructing them to ignore all the even numbers on the keypad and to concentrate solely on the primes. With seconds to spare, Jake suggests they are in reverse, beginning at 97, which does the trick.
Small gripe here, but doesn’t it seem coincidences are abounding? I’m all in for the mystical mind reading and premonitions, but that Susannah via Detta has the knowledge of mathematics and that Jake remembers the pump primes backward with mere seconds to spare—isn’t that a little too convenient?
Inside the locomotive there’s an ice sculpture resembling Roland, apparently created by Blaine, to which I ask: how, pray tell? Susannah’s wheelchair was left behind in all the commotion, though there’s barely time to register the oops because Blaine is like a moving Star Trek holodeck with the ability to make himself “disappear,” giving the illusion of them hovering over the ground. Though the magical journey can’t erase the horror of Lud’s human genocide:
The purple cloud began to catch up with the stragglers—mostly old people who were unable to run. They fell down, clawing at their throats and screaming soundlessly, the instant the gas touched them. Jake saw an agonized face staring up at him in disbelief as they passed over, saw the eyesockets suddenly fill up with blood, and closed his eyes.
Blaine informs them that the trip to Topeka—following the path of the beam—is 8 hours and 45 minutes at a staggering seven-thousand-mile distance. Since Blaine hasn’t covered these tracks in at least a decade, Eddie asks a good but dumb question: what happens if part of the rail system is missing? “SEE YOU LATER, ALLIGATOR. AFTER A WHILE CROCODILE, DON’T FORGET TO WRITE,” Blaine snarks.
The nightmarish waste lands they are traveling through contain “misshapen flying things” resembling pterodactyls that reminds Susannah of Tolkien’s Cracks of Doom. Creatures bearing likeness to neither human nor animals move about with molten lava spewing here and there. Hell basically.
Making conversation, Blaine reveals how he came to be:
“AT SOME POINT THEY FORGOT THAT THE VOICE OF THE MONO WAS ALSO THE VOICE OF THE COMPUTER. NOT LONG AFTER THAT THEY FORGOT I WAS A SERVANT AND BEGAN BELIEVING I WAS A GOD. SINCE I WAS BUILT TO SERVE, I FULFILLED THEIR REQUIREMENTS AND BECAME WHAT THEY WANTED—A GOD DISPENSING BOTH FAVOR AND PUNISHMENT ACCORDING TO WHIM … OR RANDOM-ACCESS MEMORY, IF YOU PREFER.”
Blaine asks for a riddle and is sharply rebuked by Roland. Blaine immediately threatens them with destruction, but Roland calls the machine’s bluff. Kinda reminds me (speaking of Trek) of a standard Captain James T. Kirk bluff, and, sure enough, it works because Blaine is curious why the gunslinger would risk death.
Roland says the machine has been rude, for which Blaine apologizes, but Roland also adds Blaine has been stupid, which is not so forgivable. Specifically, the machine wants riddles but offers no reward to the gunslingers but death, which makes no sense.
Roland reminisces about the Fair-Day of his youth where contestants would be asked riddles until only one winner was standing and that champion would take home the largest goose in Barony. Roland challenges Blaine; if they can stump him with a riddle, they will be allowed to go free. If not, they will be killed. Blaine accepts with an ominous, “CAST YOUR NETS, WANDERERS! TRY ME WITH YOUR QUESTIONS, AND LET THE CONTEST BEGIN.”
Overtly familiar storytelling pitting mankind vs. machine. A bit stale, but the horrific images of the waste lands and memories of Roland’s youth nicely bring the book to a close. Though, back in 1991, there would be another six years until the events on the train were answered. Lucky for us, we get the answers next week when we meet back here for the first part of Wizard and Glass.
What did you think of the end of The Waste Lands? Head to the comments and start/join the conversation!
*Remember: Be careful with your comments—NO SPOILERS! We will be moderating the comments and deleting anything we feel is a spoiler, so pause before you post and make sure you're not ruining it for someone else.
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David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.