Text Mining: Firestarter

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Firestarter: another classic King tale of a troubled young girl who develops strange psychic powers and uses them to literally burn people alive. Charlie and her dad are chased by a mysterious U.S. alphabet agency bent on weaponizing the intersection of science and paranormal research. Half the book is the chase; the other half is the catch, and that combination makes for some interesting results, as we’ll see.

The stats:

MIN: -237

MAX: 28

MEDIAN: -1

MEAN: -5.734

Just as a quick aside, the min/max values themselves aren’t going to show much in the end, as a lot of it depends on length of chapters and how King divides them up (or in cases how I divide them up, like when there are no traditional chapter breaks. I include them for the sake of completion but they’re not neatly comparable across texts. The median is a little more useful but the mean value will likely be the most useful statistic that comes out of the NRC sentiment analysis.

So, Firestarter looks like this:

FirestarterSoundwave

Notice the values on the Y axis. Negative scores range down to -1000, although only on a couple of occasions. There are two bombs dropped in terms of emotional sentiment in this book, and, interestingly, not a lot of major activity for large parts of the book.

There’s some mild activity right at the beginning, as we go in media res to Andy and Charlie’s first escape from the Shop. Then there’s nothing until the early 30s when the showdown at the farm happens. Then the twin bombs, without much between or after them.

FirestarterDistro

In fact, 90% of the book is ranged between 50 and -50, which is pretty calm overall.

FirestarterNegative

Based on where most distribution tends to fall, these are the peaks. Note there is movement along the line but it remains within a definite range, briefly going down in a very minor way in 31 and 37 – the former where we meet psychotic antagonist John Redbird, and the latter where Charlie blows the shit out of the Shop men who’ve come to the farm to abduct her.

In fact, except for 53 and 66, it keeps an even keel. 53 and 66, incidentally, hit those peaks because they are a lot longer – all the big action happens in them. 53 is where Charlie and her dad finally get picked up by the Shop. 66 is where everyone confronts each other and the Shop gets ripped apart and Charlie’s dad finally finishes the job of dying.

This who pattern is interesting because of a Goodreads review I came across. GR user Councillor panned it with a one-star rating and his thoughts on it can be summed up like this:

“Firestarter was one of the most boring, long-stretched, boring, uninspiring, badly-written and – did I mention this already? – boring novels I have read for a long time.”

At one point he bemoans the idea that there is nothing to sink yourself into for 350 pages and guess what? The sentiment analysis bears this out. There are a number of stretches of this book where nothing happens, emotionally speaking. The line graph above shows what looks more like a slow slog than anything else.

Look, I liked Firestarter, but there’s definitely a whole lot of nothing going on for long parts of it. When it hits, it hits hard, but a lot of it is Charlie being a scared kid and Andy trying to soothe her while worrying about blowing out his brain, intentionally or accidentally.

FirestarterSmoothLine

The smooth line graph shows this quite well, I feel. From 0 until about 50 or so there’s nothing going on in terms of an up or down movement in sentiment. That’s 62.5% of the book. Councillor is really on to something here: unlike a lot of other King books, this one looks stretched out, staid, and not very interesting if examining it solely on a statistical basis. Some objective empirical evidence to support a feeling about a book is always a result of interest.

To cap it off, here are the word contribution scores:

FirestarterWordContri

 

 

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