Earlier this month, Biff Bam Pop!’s own Marie Gilbert wrote about Stephen King’s apocalyptic opus, The Stand. That is one of my favorite books, and its comparison to another book got me interested in the works of another king of suspense, and his magnum opus of the world after a terrible disaster. After the jump, I’ll tell you about Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon.
Decades ago, discussing King’s The Stand with my librarian sister, she referred me to Swan Song. After this book, I would go back and read all of McCammon’s previous work, and devour each new novel as it came out. He became one of my favorite authors, able to dance through many different genres, yet rival both King and Clive Barker when it came to horror.
McCammon was born and raised in Alabama, a heritage that would prove noteworthy in later novels Gone South and Boy’s Life, two of his best in my opinion. In the brief years he was actively writing, he put out over a dozen novels of varying genre, but mostly horror, sometimes fantasy or science fiction, including tales of vampires, demons, aliens, werewolves, and even a sequel to The Fall of the House of Usher.
For various reasons, and much to the chagrin of his fans, McCammon retired in the early 1990s. He returned recently to the writing scene and now has a release out called The Five, the story of a struggling rock band.
1987’s Swan Song is the epic tale of post nuclear war America, how the survivors fared, and the new terror that awaits them in this world. We follow each of them – the ex-wrestler called Black Frankenstein; Sister Creep, the homeless woman who lived through nuclear assault by hiding in a NY subway tunnel, Roland, the gamer son of survivalists holed up in a mountain retreat, and the young empathic girl Swan, who just might be the key to saving the human race.
Circumstances bring them all together under the threat of a new nuclear exchange, while a demon walks the earth, stalking them. He is called the Man with the Scarlet Eye, the Man of Many Faces, but he may well be The Devil. Despite the vibe that this may be a tale of desolation, loss, and ruin, end of the world notwithstanding, Swan Song is also a story of hope for all mankind.
When my big sister hipped me to McCammon’s Swan Song, she did give me a warning. She said it was the same kind of book thematically, only the author tended to do horrible things to his characters. I soon found out what she was talking about. In some cases, death would have been better. McCammon is definitely a believer in the old writing prompt – What is the worst that could happen? Do it. Man, does he ever. King was kind to his characters in The Stand comparatively.
The similarities are there. Both books are about survivors at the end of the world, in one a pandemic, in the other nuclear war. Both books feature casts of dozens, all each with their own intertwined stories. Both feature an incalculable evil countered by good. And both books are quite lengthy.
Beyond that, Swan Song and The Stand are two different animals. King and McCammon, while they might sit beside each other on the book shelf have completely different styles of storytelling, and disparate ways of getting there. That said, if you like The Stand, you will definitely dig Swan Song.