Cell (novel)

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
First edition cover
Written by: Stephen King
Central Theme:
Synopsis: When a signal transmitted via cell-phone turns users into bloodthirsty monsters, a father travels across the country in search of his son.
Genre(s): Horror
First published: January 24, 2006
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God's in His heaven, the stock market's riding high, and the world goes on uncaring.

That is, until the Pulse strikes.

All those who use their cellphone are instantly devolved into rabid, mindless creatures that kill everyone and everything around them, using whatever means necessary to inflict damage. The "Phoners", as they're called, kill billions within seconds.

When the Pulse hits, struggling artist Clay is in Boston, having just landed a lucrative deal for his graphic novel. Fleeing the burning city with new friends Tom and Alice, he hopes to return home to Maine to find out what became of his estranged wife and their young son. En route, the surviving Phoners begin displaying (even more) alarming changes in behavior..

Written by Stephen King and published in 2006. A film adaptation was in Development Hell since 2006, Eli Roth being involved until he left the production in 2009. The film was released ten years later in 2016, starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, and with a script co-written by Stephen King.

Tropes used in Cell (novel) include:
  • All Psychology Is Freudian - The Phoners and their violence.
  • Angrish - After going insane, the Phoners speak in a guttural, angry, growling language. A more perfect example comes from later Phoners, who speak a corrupted, angry variety of English.
  • Arc Words - "Insane", "KASHAWAK = NO-FO", and "DON'T TOUCH!" for the latter half of the book.
  • Author Tract - A fat Holier Than Thou bible-thumper accosts the original group as they flee Boston. Clay punches her and Tom gives her a speech.
  • Brown Note - The Pulse, which drives anyone who hears it insane.
  • Cell Phone - Obviously.
  • Cool Car - There are people who go out of their way to pick up the coolest deserted cars they can and drive them short distances. Clay finds the aftermath of such a race: disemboweled after crashing his Lambo.
  • Cool Old Guy - The Academy head. Tom, later on.
  • Contest Winner Cameo - A man won an auction to have a major character in the novel named after him, then gave it to a friend - the character in question shows up late in the novel, traveling with another group of Maine-bound survivors. In something of a Take That, he kills himself, but he does it to save the group. MASSIVELY. Clay realized the man had rigged explosives in their vehicle to use in case of emergency and then shot himself to avoid the Phoners from over-hearing telepathically. Clay uses the rigged bus to destroy the Phoner convention.
    • Note that for better or for worse, the character almost certainly bears zero resemblance to his Real Life namesake.
  • Teenagers Are Innocent - Alice is scared, timid, and kind. Then some teenagers, who had harassed the group earlier, smack her with a brick, damaging her face and hemorrhaging her brain. Same goes for Jordan.
  • Crazy Survivalist - Tom's neighbor, who has a house full of guns, illegal cop-killer ammo, and supplies, but isn't home when he needs them most.
  • Driven to Suicide - The hotel clerk kills himself after Clay, Alice, and Tom leave. Clay goes back and finds that he has hung himself.
    • The wife of Tom's survivalist neighbor also kills herself after being forced to kill her daughter. Another victim of the Pulse is found to have died from swallowing jagged shards of glass.
  • Dying as Yourself - Ray killing himself.
  • Eagle Land - Invoked when Clay, Tom, and Alice break into a redneck home - it contains a gun vault complete with a very illegal machine gun and ammo. Which prove to not be examples of Schrödinger's Gun.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep" - The Raggedy Man/The President Of Harvard.
  • Eye Scream - How the Head dies.
  • Laughing Mad - Alice is able to hold herself together until the group reaches Tom's house, then has a hysterical breakdown. She recovers. She does it again when the group kills their first flock.
  • Fate Worse Than Death - More like fate worse than death, then death. The two thugs who killed Alice are forced to crucify each other, fully aware of what they're doing, for violating the Phoners' demand to not touch an "untouchable".
  • Genius Bruiser - Subverted with the President of Harvard. The apparent leader of a lare group of Phoners is really just the (figurative) spokesman for their Hive Mind. He isn't any more intelligent than any of the other zombies, except for speaking Latin.
  • Genre Savvy - The main characters all did their homework in the field of common sense. They don't take stupid, unnecessary risks or put their necks on the line. Too bad the game changes completely halfway through the book...
  • The Heartless - The Phoners are people who have had all but their negative emotions and desires stripped away.
  • Hive Mind - The Phoners develop flocking behavior, acquiring a telepathic group consciousness. They eventually start trying to change other humans.
  • Identity Amnesia - A minor character near the beginning of the book receives an indirect dose of the Pulse from her friend's cell phone conversation, which is still enough to make her forget who she is, where she is, or that she shouldn't run into lampposts.
  • It Got Worse - The book starts off with a traditional zombie apocalypse. Then, slowly, things begin to change for the worse. The zombies begin to develop a Hive Mind, with different Flocks popping up wherever there are a lot of them. Eventually, they become the dominant species on Earth. Then, things start to get worse for them, after an odd turn of events which basically ends with a human computer virus.
  • It's Raining Men - Or at least pieces of them. The effect of setting off explosions in crowds of Phoners. The first example gets Clay's group marked by evolved Phoners. The second kills the horde of evolved Phoners that are about to execute them.
  • Kill the Cutie - Alice, of course.
  • Ludicrous Gibs - When Clay activates the rigged bus, it sends body parts raining on them. It also makes sure the Raggedy Man is really dead - his empty hoodie, with a hole where the heart should be, lands on top of a ride's ticket booth.
  • 90% of Your Brain - After the initial blast of crazy wiped out the higher reasoning of anyone talking on their cell phones at the time of the disaster the Phoners who survive the chaos begin to regain some of their abilities, along with some entirely new ones. The characters develop a theory in-Universe that they are using parts of their brains which had been dormant before.
  • No Ending - When Clay finds Johnny, he tries to fix him by giving him a second dose of the Pulse. The book ends just as he puts the phone to his son's ear. Lampshaded by King in his afterword, in which he thinks it wouldn't be right to fully show the effects.
  • Not Using the Z Word - Phoners. Of course, they're not really zombies.
    • Lampshaded by the main characters actually discussing the fact that they're not calling them zombies.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You - After Clay & Co blow up a mass of sleeping Phoners, they are declared "untouchables" and made to report for a ceremonial execution by the appointed head of phoners, a man in a Harvard hoodie.
  • Psychic Powers - The Phoners eventually develop these, a few days after being Pulsed. They communicate through telepathy, telekinesis, and the ability to levitate so that that they can get over cars stalled on the roads.
  • Schrödinger's Gun - When the main characters decide to stay at Tom's house early in the book, Alice finds a boombox sitting in the closet. They debate turning it on to see if they can pick up any radio stations, even though there is a risk of the Pulse being on the radio waves, too. In the end, neither they nor the reader ever find out what would have happened if they had decided to go through with it.
  • Shout-Out - There are a lot of references to the work of George A. Romero, and he is directly acknowledged in Stephen King's note at the beginning of the book.
    • Additionally, Clay's graphic novel contains a character called "The Dark Wanderer", whose initials are R.D., and a wizard called Flack. Does This Remind You Of Anything?
  • Slasher Smile - The President of Harvard is always smiling an unsettling grin. The protagonists even imagine he died smiling that smile of his, finding one piece of his Harvard sweater to read HAR.
  • Spear Carrier - Several characters, as the protagonists travel to Maine, literally pass in the night and exchange tidbits of info, such as New Hampshire closing its borders and some changes in Phoner behavior.
  • Strawman Political - The crazy old lady who the group runs into leaving Boston.
  • Technically Living Zombie - The Phoners, but only in the beginning.
  • Title Drop - Near the end of the book, when the Clay and the other Flock killers are imprisoned at the Northern Counties Expo, Clay passes the time by 'drawing' comics in his mind. The one he works on is called Cell.
  • Too Dumb to Live - When Clay separates from the group, he observes a Corvette and another Cool Car racing on the wreck-cluttered highway. Needless to say, one of the cars crashes, disembowelling its occupant spectacularly..
  • Traumatic Toggle: In the final moments of the book, Clay attempts to invoke this trope with Johnny, hoping to fix him by giving him a second dose of the Pulse. The book ends before we can find out if it worked.
  • Voice of the Legion - The Raggedy Man is the representative of a large flock, and is able to use other people as his voice (since he is unable to speak on his own). He does this with almost all of the main characters at one point or another, including with Alice, while she is dying on the side of road after being attacked by Gunner.
  • Word of God - King confirmed on his website that things turned out alright for Clay's son, Johnny.
  • Zombie Gait - The Phoners don't use a classic zombie shuffle until the first hive-minds are made.
  • Zombie Apocalypse - On a massive scale.
  • Zombie Infectee - Played with. Evolved Phoners have been "infecting" non-Phoners by placing signs directing desperate survivors to no-coverage areas, and infect them with a corrupt version of the Signal. Clay finds his son in such a state, but at the point the boy was infected, the Signal was corrupt enough to render the victim relatively harmless. It's possible they can be reverted with another dose of The Signal; which is what Clay prepares to test as the book ends.