Subterranean Press, 2015, 441 pages
World Fantasy Award-winning, best-selling author Robert McCammon makes a triumphant return to the epic horror and apocalyptic tone reminiscent of his books Swan Song and Stinger in this gripping new novel, The Border, a saga of an Earth devastated by a war between two marauding alien civilizations.
But it is not just the living ships of the monstrous Gorgons or the motion-blurred shock troops of the armored Cyphers that endanger the holdouts in the human bastion of Panther Ridge. The world itself has turned against the handful of survivors, as one by one they succumb to despair and suicide or, even worse, are transformed by otherworldly pollution into hideous Gray Men, cannibalistic mutants driven by insatiable hunger. Into these desperate circumstances comes an amnesiac teenaged boy who names himself Ethan - a boy who must overcome mistrust and suspicion to master unknowable powers that may prove to be the last hope for humanity's salvation. Those same powers make Ethan a threat to the warring aliens, long used to fearing only each other, and thrust him and his comrades into ever more perilous circumstances.
A major new novel from the unparalleled imagination of Robert McCammon, this dark epic of survival will both thrill listeners and make them fall in love with his work all over again.
Robert McCammon has been writing big cheesy doorstoppers since the 70s, and I really liked Swan Song despite its cheesiness. But though I am always down for an alien invasion story, The Border just seemed to be an attempt to rework the tropes he's familiar with into what's hot in the genre today.
When two alien races - the Cypher and the Gorgons - who have been fighting an interstellar war of extermination for generations, arrive on Earth, they effectively destroy human civilization in short order, and as the book starts, the survivors are mostly scrambling around in the wastelands left by alien battles, trying to hide from the latest skirmish, while weird alien techno-parasites transform terrestrial life into even worse things.
A young man fleeing one such battle arrives at a small stronghold of survivors, with no memories of who he is or where he came from. However, he is filled with a strong and inexplicable purpose, and soon demonstrates weird powers as well. His fellow survivors, obviously suspicious that he might be an alien himself (not unreasonable when the aliens include shapeshifters), are eventually persuaded to join his vague quest across North America to save the world.
This is a fairly stock Chosen One narrative, with lots of alien battles, weird powers, and climactic moments of unleashed special abilities and trump cards. McCammon seems very fond of redemption stories and tales of the human spirit rising up to prevail against all odds, and so there's lots of that in this story. A former televangelist huckster-turned-alien-collaborator has his moment to redeem himself, the President of what's left of the United States, whose mind has been broken, gets to give an inspiring speech ala Independence Day, and Ethan, the amnesiac teenager with super-special powers to save the world, has a fairly predictable messianic path to tread.
The Border was entertaining, but in a very low-brow, derivative way. Despite being a recent publication, it reads more like an alien war epic written in the 70s. Fun but forgettable. 6/10.
Also by Robert McCammon: My reviews of Swan Song and Speaks the Nightbird.
My complete list of book reviews.