As much as I loved Swan Song by Robert McCammon, I usually refer to it as “The Stand” lite. That is not meant as a criticism. The books are very similar, both in size, story, tone, and are pretty close in enjoyability. They each boast lots and lots of characters, and stories that are surprisingly fun for taking place in a miserable wasteland bereft of hope and happiness. But it’s Halloween, and who’s looking for hope and comfort right now? Let’s talk about that Swan Song book.
Plot summary of Swan Song
Take The Stand by Stephen King. Replace the super-duper-plague that wiped everyone out with a nuclear war of the largest possible scale. Now make the characters just slightly more cartoonish. You may keep your demented teenager but only change his name, swap Randall Flagg for a shapeshifter who wants to get his hands on a weird glowing bauble, and swap Mother Abigail for a young girl named Swan, who can put a stop to all the nonsense if she can only have the weird glowing bauble thingy.
The bad people, post-apocalypse, become worse. The new dystopia allows them to indulge their worst impulses. The good people all rally around slogans like “cheer up” and “It could be worse.” Just kidding. It couldn’t be worse, especially given the amount of mutants running around.
Now, I have made it sound like a terrible derivative of King’s book. It’s not. It’s a wonderful story and I enjoyed every page of it. It was my first introduction to McCammon’s work. The reason why I choose to think of it as an homage to The Stand (my book review), versus a copy, is that it is so well-written. I believe McCammon had fun writing this book, not that he hammered something out to get some of that nightmare-future action that everyone was lovin’ so much. Because face it, we fans of dystopian literature are never going to be in the majority.
It’s easy to spot a cynical rip-off of a book. Swan Song is not one of them. It is going to be very, very familiar to anyone who read The Stand, but most horror fiction is familiar in many ways, no matter what. How many things can go wrong? How many ways can people die? Only so many.
But what changes are the characters. I’m happy to meet characters I enjoy and see how they deal with horrors that have already been written about a zillion times. And the characters in Swan Song are great. I especially laughed at the ex-professional wrestler named “Black Frankenstein.”
For me, what separates the horror worth reading from the horrors that should never be published is whether I believe the author enjoyed it.
I think Mr. McCammon had fun here, and that’s why I had so much fun with this book.