The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands (1991) by Stephen King
Thanks to Stephen King, I will never be able to look again at lobsters or trains with equanimity. But this Dark Tower series sure is a wild ride, and I plan to see it through to the end.
The Waste Lands picks up with the cyborg-bear (cy-bear?) that we previously met, but it is mostly concerned with the following two plot-lines: Jake finding his way into Mid-World, and the ka-tet (Roland of Gilead, Eddie Dean, Susanna Dean, Jake, and the billy-bumbler Oy) entering the decaying city of Lud and finding a crazed train named Blaine.
It is in this volume that the group of gunslingers is solidified, and their quest for the Dark Tower moves into a new phase. We learn that there are six "beams" that hold the world together and that the Dark Tower is at their intersection. Something is wrong, however, either with the Tower or the beams, and the world(s) is(are) falling apart.
King ramps up the tension and suspense throughout, patiently exploring each character's reaction to the often bewildering and/or terrifying events in which they are involved. Each member of the ka-tet brings something useful to the group and helps it advance toward the Tower, even though no one dares to wonder what they'll find if they ever arrive.
For me, the most fascinating aspect of this third volume is the intersection of run-down technology and madness. Mental doubling occurs often, in which one person/thing holds two, often conflicting, voices in his/her/its mind. Both Jake and Roland must hold on to shreds of their sanity after their encounter in the first volume inexplicably differs from that in the current one. Only when Jake enters Roland's place and time does the contradiction resolve itself. Susannah is the product of Odetta and Detta's personalities merging (somewhat), though Detta can still emerge when necessary. Even the train has two conflicting voices/personalities (Blaine and Little Blaine).
I'm going to go out on a limb here and speculate that the Dark Tower is some sort of alien machine and a minor technical problem has thrown the universe (which it keeps in balance) off balance. Hence all of the doubling and paradoxes.
Well, I'm looking forward to the fourth volume. Who knows what King will ruin for me next :-P