Reed’s Retro Recommendation Corner: Swan Song by Robert McCammon

 As I sit and watch the news of Russia’s war against Ukraine and the continuing split in political ideology that is overtaking the United States, I turned to an older fiction novel that came out right around the same time as Stephen King’s Misery. Apocalypse novels sometimes bring us hope, and Robert McCammon’s Swan Song is definitely about new beginnings and terrible endings. 

Ahh, the era of book covers with plot points. 

I am really surprised I haven’t picked up this book before, but it seems oddly fortuitous and perhaps a little prophetic. In it, nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union (this book came out in 1987) has become a reality. There is a very tense moment in the beginning where the president is faced with a terrible decision, one I hope we never have to see made. The book follows a few characters, listed as follows: Sister, a homeless woman whose ability to survive seems almost uncanny; Josh Hutchins, a gentle giant who has a professional wrestling career on the small circuit, usually as a villain; Swan, a young girl with the ability to grow gardens that rival any professional botanist; Colonel Macklin and Roland Croninger, two survivors from a poorly built bunker; and someone who doesn’t really have a name, who spreads paranoia and pain wherever he goes. The story follows these characters as the bombs drop and in the aftermath of a civilization trying to recover. 

It sounds strange, but sometimes reading about the end of the world can give you hope for the future. Even when things get horrible and human nature gets down to its worst, there is always a little ray of hope. For this novel, it’s Swan’s ability to give life to land that should be dead. To grow crops at near impossible rates to feed people who have been scrabbling on the edge of starvation. In another of my favorite post-apocalyptic novels, The Stand, it’s the birth of a child who doesn’t immediately contract the deadly flu virus that has killed off most of the world and the rebuilding of Boulder, Colorado. In both novels, there is good and evil working against each other to either save or damn the remaining vestiges of humanity. 

I’d like to think that if the world really does end, that good will win out. That people will survive and won’t completely become the worst that we could be. Maybe that’s my eternal optimist speaking, but reading McCammon and King, I definitely feel like there might be hope for us after all. 

Remember, when the last page has been turned and the epilogue has been read, I will be here with another book suggestion, should you need it.