I came really late to the game as far as Robert McCammon is concerned. I read my first novel of his, Mystery Walk, at the beginning of this year and have since read six of his books, including The Border. So I'm still a relatively new fan, but this book made me want to continue the journey into his other works I haven't read yet.
The Border -- out now from Subterranean Press! -- is a 441-page epic about two alien species, the Gorgons and Cyphers, fighting for territory with Earth on the border. The story begins two years after the battle began and Earth is a war-stricken, apocalyptic version of its former self. Humans have either been turned by the aliens into murderous creatures, committed suicide, or died of multiple other causes. The rare few who are still around and in their right minds are holed up in shelters and underground -- anywhere they can be safe from utter destruction. It's a grim and depressing world, not unlike the world described in McCammon's 1987 hit Swan Song. Unlike that older novel, however, the destruction here is not caused by humans but instead by forces utterly beyond our comprehension, thus making the situation even scarier. The humans here have no control over their situation -- they are merely tools for the aliens' use.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I knew I would like it because I've yet to read a bad Robert McCammon novel, but I wasn't expecting to like it as much as I did -- it might even be up there with Mystery Walk as my favorite. The author mixes horror and sci-fi splendidly here, proving that just because he's been writing mostly historical fiction as of late he ain't scared to put a fright into his readers every now and again. Some scenes simply got under my skin and lodged themselves there, and I don't think I'll be getting them out for a long time.
Anyone who's read any reviews of mine know character is very important to me. A book can move as slow as molasses and plot points can make not a lick of sense, but if the story is populated with fully-formed folks I can identify with or at least enjoy reading about, I'm mostly good. As usual, McCammon definitely comes through in this regard, creating a wide variety of characters and making us care for all of them -- Ethan Gaines, the boy on a mission he doesn't fully understand; Olivia, the woman in charge of the group who must stay strong despite constantly grieving the death of her husband; Dave, a man mourning his wife and wondering if his kids survived the attacks; President Beale, the sitting U.S. president unhinged from reality; Jefferson Jericho, the corrupt television evangelist called to a greater purpose, et cetera. Each character is full of color and life, doubts and fears. I rooted for all of them, and the death of some of them truly tugged at my heart-strings.
Robert McCammon's latest novel is a blast. It delivers on every front, and I could have read it in a day or two if I hadn't wanted so desperately to savor the experience. It's a scary and memorable ride, and one the reader won't soon forget after turning the final page.