Subterranean Press, out now
Two years after the Earth is devastated as the battleground between two warring alien races, a young boy may hold the key to bringing things to a close…
Those of us who have been fans of Rick McCammon’s work for many years will have lapped up his two great earlier novels, Stinger – about an alien on Earth – and Swan Song, about a post-apocalyptic society. Both these books are referenced on the cover to The Border, McCammon’s first full-length foray into science fiction for many decades. The short form of this review for those who read and enjoyed those novels is – get out there and buy this book now, because it’s an excellent continuation of the McCammon brand of SF. And, more importantly, it’s a great novel.
For those who perhaps only know McCammon from his Matthew Corbett historical tales (which have been gaining a more fantastical bent as they’ve progressed), or from his horror stories, you need only know that all the skills of storytelling and characterisation within those books can be found here. The action sequences and the wealth of ideas on display are breathtaking.
McCammon creates a believable society here on Earth – oddly, despite what we’ve been told recently would happen in the wake of such devastation, cannibalism isn’t the first recourse! – with some people finding strength within themselves they never believed they possessed, and others crumbling before the vista of never-ending despair and hardship. There’s a drip-drip of constant suicides in the background as the war progresses with no sign of any end or salvation for humanity and some succumb to the darkness; others retreat into a fantasy land where victory is achievable. Some have been chosen by the battling creatures to be used as weapons; one has been chosen for something far more important.
The aliens are sometimes painted in broad strokes, other times we are in their point of view. This trait becomes more obvious as the book progresses: one of the key characters is Ethan, a young boy who is possessed by something belonging to neither side but is inimical to both – and it’s his journey, and that of those who accompany him, that we follow. It’s a journey across country, as well as across the human condition – by the end it’s Ethan’s humanity that counts for much.
McCammon’s style draws you in: Ethan functions as a mirror on humanity and there are some observations that will stop you in your tracks (one on the purpose of human communication brought me to a halt for a couple of minutes). Hope drives many of the characters forward, and despite the preponderance of bleakness that’s described in The Border, that’s the theme at its heart, and one that ensures that you come away from one of McCammon’s finest novels with a lighter heart.
Verdict: A great novel that uses all the “alien invasion” tropes in a very different manner from expected. 10/10