Just finished this Stephen King story from a couple of years ago. It was moderately entertaining, and I liked the cell phone = zombies premise, but it felt awfully thin for an entire novel. I think he could comfortably have eliminated the less interesting secondary characters, and cut out huge sections where not very much happens, and had a killer novella.
Also, it has one device that bugs me : the character who offers a theory about what’s going on, and then his theory is treated as correct by the other characters and more or less by the events of the novel itself, even though this character (I’ll call him the Van Helsing*) has absolutely no reason to know anything whatsoever about it. This bugged me in The Cell because a large part of what kept me interested in reading was the “what’s really going on?” question. And I didn’t get a satisfactory answer to that.
The whole question of how you tell readers what’s going on is really important in fantastical fiction, but there are no easy answers for how to do it. Too little information can leave them unsatisfied and confused, but too much information is often worse. A lot of fantastical premises only work if you don’t examine them too closely. And then there’s the Van Helsing problem.
Van Helsings are extremely tempting, because they make the explication process soooo eaaaasy. But they can be an authorial crutch. And, if you give them too much power, they can make your world seem artificial — after all, how much about what’s going on does any one person in real life know?
*In case you have not read Dracula, you will understand this reference if you go read it now. Except it’s kind of a long book. So I will explain: in Dracula, Van Helsing is extremely pedantic on the subject of vampires as well as other things. He is the primary source for what the other characters in the novel think they know about vampires, and I think there’s considerable evidence that he’s off his nut, so everything he says has to be evaluated in light of that. Also, he speaks pedantically about things he believes but can’t possibly know: the state of the vampire soul, for example. Dracula is a much more interesting novel if you assume that there are areas where Van Helsing doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but it’s his nature to keep talking anyway.
However, the usual interpretation of Dracula — the one that informs most of the movies — is that Van Helsing knows exactly what he’s talking about. So, I call the character who Explains it All to You the Van Helsing.