Monday, June 29, 2015
Humanity's swan song
Written back in the mid-1980's, Robert R. McCammon's Swan Song is a big ol' apocalyptic thriller in the vein of Stephen King's The Stand. It has a lot to offer and I'm glad I finally got to it. The apocalypse here is the thing that everyone was afraid of back then (and probably should still be afraid of today): nuclear war with the Russians.
The first large chunk of the book very effectively dramatizes the lead up and eventual launch of the missiles. All scary stuff. The huge middle section follows a bunch of survivors as they try to continue being survivors in the immediate aftermath of the nuclear exchange. For many of the characters, it's not immediately clear if they're going to be good characters or bad characters in the wake of the war, which is a plus. And soon things become even more interesting when magic and the supernatural are thrown into the mix. The last part of the book covers the clash of very different interests to decide who will chart the course of the remnants of humanity.
In some ways the book feels like a watered down The Stand, doing what The Stand did but in less ambitious ways. But in other ways it is very much its own thing, like in the way the story uses its supernatural elements to 1) develop and deliver an ecological message (that only rarely gets preachy), and 2) fuel an almost dreamlike plot development that results in many of the characters ultimately developing a new outward appearance based on their true inner beauty or ugliness, via a weird skin condition dubbed Jacob's Mask. That part of the book reminded me of the first Captain America movie, where the super soldier formula made Steve Rogers fit, healthy, and handsome, while it made the Red Skull look like, well, the Red Skull. But Swan Song did that sort of thing first!
Swan Song is a long book and audiobook (I experienced the book on audio, via a fairly new production offered by Audible.com), but I think most people who are into these types of epic stories that combine gritty realism with fantasy elements will find it enjoyable and worth their time. I certainly enjoyed it well enough.