After finishing up that Alastair Reynolds novella, I was in the mood for something different. And when the Subpress ARC of Robert McCammon's The Border showed up in my mailbox, the premise immediately piqued my curiosity and I knew that this was the next book I'd read. I really enjoyed McCammon's The Five a few years back, so I was keen to give his newest work a shot.
Here's the blurb:
World Fantasy award-winning, bestselling 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 readers and make them fall in love with his work all over again.
The premise of this tale feels a bit clichéd at first, what with the post-apocalyptic setting of our world having been devastated by an alien invasion. Planet Earth lies at the border between the territories of two warring species whose conflict is rapidly bringing mankind on the brink of extinction. That's the aspect which differentiate The Border from the panoply of dystopian and post-apocalyptic zombie/vampire novels on the market today. Still, early on, this one does indeed feel like déjà vu. Yet as the story progresses, you realize that the author has more than a few surprises up his sleeve.
In addition, one of the best facets regarding The Border is that it defies the usual genre labels. It's not just a science fiction tale. It's a mashup of scifi, horror, dark fantasy, and thriller. Being so disparate in style and grim in tone keeps you on your toes, as you never really know what will happen next. It's sort of a mix between H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, Stephen King's The Stand, and Max Brooks' World War Z.
What makes this tale work is the characterization. Robert McCammon came up with a great cast of three-dimensional men and women. The more the plot moves forward, the more the author manages to flesh them out. It all begins with Ethan, a young boy with no memories of who he is, sporting injuries that should have killed him. He narrowly escapes death during an alien attack and his being rescued by a group of survivors will set him on a path that could lead to humanity's salvation, or to its utter destruction. I particularly enjoyed how McCammon gave us glimpses of the characters' past in order to give them more depth. Although Ethan takes center stage throughout the novel, the story would never have been as good and entertaining without a supporting cast comprised of memorable people like Dave, Jefferson Jericho, Dr. John Douglas, Olivia, or Nikki. They all remain true to themselves, for better or worse.
The Border is a fast-paced affair, almost like a blockbuster movie. There is something decidedly cinematic about its structure and its rhythm, and I wonder if it was ever meant to be a movie script before it became a novel. At times thrilling and at times poignant, it is also a fun, high-octane read. It sure looks as though the author had a ball writing this one!
The ending sort of comes out of left field and is totally unpredictable until you reach the very last chapter. Some readers might find that off-putting, but it does cap off the book in an original fashion. All in all, The Border is an enjoyable and compelling read that should satisfy genre lovers looking for something special, something different.