BOOK REVIEW: Stories From The Twilight Zone by Rod Serling

This is a book review cross-posted from my Goodreads account. 🙂

I realize that I’m going to need to put “REVIEW IN PROGRESS” on my Goodreads account while I write these bad boys up.  It took me a week to write (& re-write, & re-write, & re-write) this review, during which it looked like I wasn’t reading anything on Goodreads.  I’m still figuring out how to deal with this, so it’s a trial & error process.  ANYWAYS…

I found this book in my hometown’s train station where there’s a “take a book, leave a book” carousel.  I enjoy random books.  They give me a little thrill.

Back on topic!  Rod Serling created The Twilight Zone &, later, re-wrote some of the episodes in prose form, which is how this book came to be!  I looked up Serling in order to write that one little sentence, but that completely changed how I interpreted the stories I just finished reading.

Apparently, Hollywood referred to Serling as the “angry young man” because his political & professional lives were inseparable.  His thoughts on war, racism, & (especially later) censorship – sponsors were both censors & editors of early television – shaped his work.  When sponsors continually erased the social & political statements from his work, Serling decided to make his own show.

&, thus, The Twilight Zone was born.  Rod Serling figured – correctly – that he could tuck his “controversial” opinions into a science fiction show without much fanfare.

I thought these six stories were simple, kind of boring, stories that probably played better to early TV audiences than to someone reading them more than 50 years later.  Knowing a little bit more about the author & how he wanted to include social & political comments in his stories, I saw the messages a little more clearly.

To be honest, it wasn’t that hard to find the underlying messages.  I thought they were spelled out too directly, which probably led me to overlook their importance.  Again, perhaps they were shocking to early audiences, but not so much to me in 2016.

The Mighty Casey encourages us to think what makes a person human.  Serling implies (correctly, in my mind) that compassion is an inherent human trait while “competitiveness, drive, & ego” are learned behaviors.

Escape Clause touches on how a lack of moderation in life – either too careful or too wild – leads to trouble.  You’re either going to be stuck in the house, terrified of the outside world, or you’ll keep trying to top your previous extreme activity & you’re going to be bored.  Here, Serling also depicts the first of two long-suffering, verbally abused, wives that appear in Stories From The Twilight Zone.  I’ll give my thoughts on them later.

The next story, Walking Distance, touched me on a deep, personal level.  I feel like it would touch a lot of people for the same reason…  I imagine that most of us have looked at our lives at some point & thought, “I wish I could be a kid again.”

The social implications are pretty obvious for this story:  We can never go back.  Even if we got the chance that Martin Sloan got in Walking Distance, life wouldn’t be the same as it was when we were kids.  We bring the experiences & perspectives of our adult selves back with us, & they color the childhood for which we long with adult worries.

The Fever features the second long-suffering wife that I mentioned earlier.  In my opinion, Serling captures how & why an addict lashes out at his loved ones when the “low” hits.  He can’t take out his anger on what he sees as the cause of his frustration – in this case, the slot machine.  So Franklin, a man who already treats his wife badly just for wanting more out of life than making his meals & listening to his opinions, lashes out at his wife, Flora.  Honestly, I wish the author hadn’t spelled it out so directly.

This story also shows a man hung up on the “immorality” of legalized gambling & infuriated by the idea of wasting even a nickel become what he hated.  This, again, reminds me of Escape Clause, where the character goes from one extreme (rigid, uptight, afraid to live a little) to the other (sloppy, compulsive, courting death).

Where Is Everybody is only 26 pages long, but it seemed much longer.  It’s possible that Serling wanted to emphasize the solitude & monotony of being endlessly alone.  Unfortunately, it came across as boring.

It does, however, make the reader think about the worries the military might have with lengthy space travel missions.  It also shows the lengths they are prepared to go to make sure their soldiers are ready.

The final story, The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street, makes an amazing commentary on human nature.  How Serling shows people, once close & friendly, turning on one another at the first sign of distress is spooky because of how true it seems given today’s current events.

The aliens at the end of the story represent any people who might seek to wreak havoc on another – through fear, confusion, & the ease with which humanity turn on one another in those situations.  Much like we see with our current political season, the neighbors in this story are driven to hurt one another by the prospect that one of them is an “other.”  It really makes me think about politicians’ desire to create an “us versus them” fear & how it affects the “them” population.

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