Is now published on Strange Fictions:
McCammon’s Swan Song: A review
Everyone dies, except us–or those characters who are our surrogates. One particularly gruesome ending has fallen out of favor–World War III with its mushroom clouds and the President in the War Room agonizing on whether or not to take the Ruskies with us into that bad night of a nuclear winter. He always does.
Because the world is different now from the world of the mid-eighties when McCammon wrote Swan’s Song, what limited appeal this novel possessed has all but evaporated. I’m a boomer and all boomers relate to the fear of global nuclear war; we grew up with it. McCammon renders the nuclear nightmare in vivid detail, focusing on characters struggling to free themselves from environments that saved their lives but now threaten to become tombs.
One particular bit of irony is a survivalist enclave dug into a mountain.
There’s a gym, a movie theater, apartments, etc. and as always happens–the best laid plans fall flat. A whole mountain collapsing on you–take that survivalists. No control of your fate–all luck of the draw. Unlike Stephen King’s The Stand, another end-of-the world scenario, we’re not invested in McCammon’s characters. I think that’s because he devotes so much of the novel to showing us how devastating an all out nuclear war would be, not just to humans, but to everything.
It’s hard to say who the protagonist is– I guess it would be Swan–a young girl who can talk to plants.
It is Swan who will save the world by giving pep talks to trees, grass, crops etc, spreading seeds and re-growing where ever she goes–a kind of “Swannie Appleseed.” Sorry, I couldn’t resist. The antagonist, similar to The Stand’s Randall Flagg is a devil with a small “d.”
The devil keeps whining about how it’s now “his” party and he gets to decide what happens, which is everybody and everything dies.
I kept wondering–if he gets his way, what will he do for entertainment when everyone is gone. Of course he doesn’t win–Swan has his number and puts him in his place. This novel was long–way too long–over 800 pages. McCammon could have carved out at least two hundred pages of that fruit and nut ingredient necessary to every apocalypse mix–the military mad men, the crazies and the religious zealots. The battle scenes were detailed and endless.
In terms of characters–there’s lots of pat psychoanalysis but not much in the way of real people to care about. Like King’s The Stand, McCammon’s Swan Song indicates he doesn’t care a lot for the military or much in the way of government.
I know McCammon can write–I read Boy’s Life years ago and it was such a pleasure. I intend to read some of his other novels and expect I’ll enjoy them. One thing–I’m glad that threat of a nuclear winter is diminishing. On top of everything, there would be nothing to eat–unless of course you’re a zombie.
Since I first posted this review, I have read several books by Robert McCammon. What an amazing body of work! I particularly liked the premise of The Border, the way he used setting and culture in Stinger and I loved his Matthew Corbett mysteries, set in the New York of the 18th Century. Fascinating! I look forward to the next installment.
Aztec Autumn: A review
The novel AZTEC, as I remember it, was so vivid, the world of the exotic Aztec culture, mystical, sensual and incredibly blood-thirsty, so fascinating that though I remember few details, I remember my reaction–mesmerized. AZTEC AUTUMN begins with the death of Mixtli–the half-blind narrator of AZTEC, who tells his life-story to the Spanish clergy. Carlos, the Spanish king, wants an account of the Aztecs, who, in the view of Spain, are a sinful pagan culture.
Declared a heretic, Mixtli burns at the stake–a public execution witnessed by an eighteen-year-old Aztec, Tenamaxtli.
Visiting the City of Mexico with his uncle and mother, Tenamaxtli watches the old man’s death, which both fascinates and repulses him. When his uncle reveals that the executed man, Mixtli was Tenamaxtli’s father, Tenamaxtli vows revenge. He searches for a way to strike the Spanish invaders–making them pay for the brutal enslavement and exploitation of the Azteca. Tenamaxtli learns Spanish from the Christian monks and during this segment, Jennings describes the intricate caste system based on race, created by the intermarriage and mingling of European, African and Indian people.
After learning the language of the conquistadors, Tenamaxtli sets out on a journey to unite the tribes and drive out the Spanish.
The journey involves a lot of sex and violence and along the way we do learn some history as well as the different customs of the various tribes. While this is interesting, the point of the narrative often loses focus. In addition, Tenamaxtli often proves to be as heartless as the Spanish–not only with the invaders but with his fellow Azteca. The thing I most missed in this sequel was the element of mysticism and sense of the supernatural. Jennings does attempt to bring this in, for example with the Yaki woman who seethes with hate, causes mischief, and talks about herself in third person, claiming no man can resist her. Tenamaxtli has news for her. She’s not the boss of him and she proves to be an empty plot line.
I found AZTEC AUTUMN mildly interesting but not compelling.
It was a disappointment after the marvelous AZTEC. However, if you love historical novels and exotic cultures, you might enjoy spending some time with Tenamaxtli–an Azteca who fought against the tide of history.