Swan Song By Robert McCammon
|Book Name||Swan Song|
|Item Weight||1.08 pounds|
|Product Dimensions||4.13 x 1.9 x 7.5 inches|
|Publisher||Pocket Books (July 26, 2016)|
|Best Sellers Rank||#9,853 in Books|
|#244 in Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction|
|#309 in Supernatural Thrillers|
|#613 in Horror Literature & Fiction|
The novel begins with nuclear war breaking out between the submarine fleets of the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The President, wracked with guilt over his role in the carnage, prepares to input a series of codes into a computer for the activation of an unknown device known only as “Talons”. Seconds before the activation process can be completed, a burning Greyhound bus, sent flying by the shock waves of the nuclear blasts below, smashes through the Airborne Command Post and causes it to crash. The novel follows three groups of characters in the aftermath of the war.
After his car breaks down at a Kansas gas station, wrestler Josh Hutchins meets a 9-year-old girl named Sue Wanda (Swan) and her mother. The three take cover in the gas station’s basement along with the clerk, PawPaw, after missiles are launched from hidden silos nearby. Meanwhile, 13-year-old Roland Croninger is taken by his parents to Blue Dome Mountain, a survivalist fallout shelter run by Colonel James “Jimbo” Macklin.
An off-course Minuteman missile detonates nearby, severely damaging Blue Dome. Finally, in New York City, a homeless woman named Sister Creep wanders through the ruins, discovering a mysterious glass ring. She encounters an antagonistic shapeshifting being called “The Man With The Scarlet Eye”, and finds herself dodging him on her subsequent travels.
In Kansas, Swan’s mother and PawPaw both die, but not before PawPaw tells Josh to “protect the Child”. Soon after, Josh notices that there is grass growing where Swan slept in their shelter, realizing that she has special powers. They soon meet Leona Skelton, a psychic whose husband, Davy, is dying of radiation poisoning. Leona reads Swan’s future with tarot cards and predicts that she is going to face the Devil. After Davy dies, Leona joins their group. The three later come across a strangely well-lit and well-stocked K-Mart, which turns out to be a trap laid by escaped inmates from a nearby mental hospital. After a fatally wounded Leona sacrifice herself to allow Josh and Swan to escape, the pair find an abandoned circus train and befriend Rusty, an ex-rodeo rider/clown.
At Blue Dome, Roland is recruited into rescuing Macklin from a life-threatening situation. Finally, Macklin faces an armed revolt by a former follower, Schorr, which includes Roland’s parents. Macklin and Roland kill the insurgents and escape the compound, traveling south to Salt Lake, Utah. There, the duo secures a deal to join a survivor community led by an individual called The Fat Man. Soon afterward, however, Roland kills The Fat Man when the latter attempts to drug and rape him. Macklin and Roland subsequently take over the community.
After they leave New York through the Holland Tunnel, all but one of Sister’s survivor group is massacred by The Man With the Scarlet Eye. Sister escapes west, where she is rescued from a wolf attack by Paul Thorsen, a divorced ex-professor turned mountain man. Sister and Paul spend the next seven years crisscrossing the irradiated wasteland of postwar America, following visions Sister sees through the glass ring. In that time, both of them – as well as the other principal characters – eventually develop “Job’s Mask”, a gradual tumor-like disfigurement which covers the head in fleshy tissue.
In seven years, Macklin and Roland forge their group into the Army of Excellence (AOE), which expands east and raids settlements for supplies. Roland has assumed leadership of the AOE, with Macklin serving as a figurehead. They decide to take the AOE to West Virginia’s Warwick Mountain upon hearing from a torture subject, Brother Timothy, that another army is heading there. Brother Timothy claims that God sheltered him at Warwick Mountain and he has a silver key, a phrase, and a black box that could destroy the world. Meanwhile, Sister and Paul meet Hugh Ryan, an alcoholic former doctor who lost his leg to an AOE attack years prior. Hugh convinces Sister to let him join her and Paul. Later they meet a group of orphans led by 17-year-old Robin Oates and earn the orphans’ trust after the glass ring helps Hugh successfully perform surgery on a young boy.
Swan, Josh, and Rusty, performing as traveling entertainers, stop at a house in the middle of an orchard where all the trees save for one has been cut down. The couple in the house explained that the one tree was special and that they just didn’t have the heart to cut down. Swan places her hands on the tree and is shocked to feel it is still alive. She uses her powers to “wake up” the tree, causing it to be covered with blossoms the next morning. The Man with the Scarlet Eye finds out about Swan and decides that she is a threat to him, traveling to her group’s next stop at the settlement of Mary’s Rest. There, he nearly kills an incapacitated Swan, but Rusty interferes and is fatally burned as a result.
Upon arriving in Mary’s Rest with Paul, Sister realizes that the ring has been leading her to Swan. When Swan touches the ring, she sees a vision of land covered with plants, orchards, fruit, and flowers, realizing this is her life’s goal. The vision causes Swan’s Job’s Mask to break up and fall off, revealing a beautiful woman with fiery red hair. Other people’s Job’s Masks are also healed. Josh becomes close with a local woman, Glory, and her son Aaron. Swan and Robin begin to fall in love. Aaron figures out how to use the dowsing rod, Crybaby, and it indicates a source of fresh untainted water. The man with the apple tree drives into town with a truckload of ripe apples and tosses them to a happy crowd. Swan and the residents of Mary’s Rest decide to plant an apple orchard to go along with the cornfield, which sprung up almost overnight and is growing vigorously.
The Man with the Scarlet Eye introduces himself as “Friend” to the Army of Excellence and diverts them to Mary’s Rest with promises of freshwater and Swan’s ability to grow food. They strike the town. Many residents, including Paul, are killed, and the AOE take Josh, Sister, Swan, Robin, and others captive. Swan and Sister are brought to Macklin, whose Mask has fallen off to reveal a hideous death’s head.
The friend tries to get the location of the glass ring from Sister but is powerless to get past her mental guards. Even under threat of the torture of her friends, Swan refuses to do anything for the AOE. She and Sister are thrown in with Sheila. Robin and Josh are kept as leverage on Swan and the AOE continues towards Warwick Mountain.
Several weeks later, the AOE runs out of supplies and a much-reduced army arrives at Warwick Mountain. Croninger’s Job’s Mask reveals a twisted horror which he continues to hide under bandages. He shifts his allegiance to Friend. Brother Timothy guides Sister, Swan, Friend, Macklin, and Croninger to “God’s” bunker. Sister notices God’s cufflinks and recognizes him as the former President of the United States, who survived the crash, yet has now gone insane.
The bunker is revealed to house “Talons,” also known as the Tactical Long Range Nuclear Sanitizer. It’s a doomsday weapon which, when activated will launch a final barrage of nuclear weapons from two orbital missile platforms onto the Earth’s icecaps. This will cause the Earth’s poles to shift while simultaneously flooding the world over with melted ice, completely destroying all life on Earth. The President has been waiting for any indication that the world is going to be ruled by good or evil.
Seeing that evil appears to have won, the President activates Talons, much to the delight of Friend, who sees this as an opportunity to destroy the world, and Swan, once and for all. A friend then kills the President to prevent him from deactivating the launch sequence, gloats about the situation, reveals his true face, tells Roland “I have always walked alone” and leaves, likely to find a place to watch the destruction. Sister fights with Croninger, who shoots her and almost shoots Swan before being attacked by a conscience-stricken Macklin. They take each other down. Swan figures out the deactivation sequence and disarms the launch computer. She and Sister are rescued by Josh and Robin, who broke out of captivity shortly after the AOE arrived at Warwick Mountain.
They leave the bunker, securing it behind them and throwing away the key. Mortally wounded, Sister notices her shadow and begs to be taken where she can see the sun. Josh, Swan, and Robin take her to a clearing where they watch the end of the nuclear winter as the clouds break up and the sun comes out. Sister tells Swan to work fast to wake up the earth. She then dies. Swan, Josh, and Robin bury her and ascend down the mountain. They find the AOE in chaos and are there encountered once more by Friend who has taken the form of an AOE officer. Swan gives him the severed replacement hand of Colonel Macklin and says that she forgives him for his actions as without him they would never have found Talons or been able to stop worldwide destruction.
Enraged, Friend orders the AOE to kill her but upon viewing Macklin’s hand, they realize that the Colonel is dead and begin to crowd and attack Friend in a bid to claim the hand for themselves and become the leader of the AOE. Josh, Swan, and Robin drop in a truck with Sheila and a few other RL’s and soldiers while a pack of wolves descends from the mountain and surrounds the AOE camp. They come over a farmer and his family planting seeds that offer them hospitality. Josh tells Swan that she needs to start her work here, but he is going ahead to Mary’s Rest. He arrives at the welcoming arms of Glory and Aaron.
The story ends with humanity struggling back toward civilization, building settlements, and restoring order. The armies of violence become disorganized and dissolve away. News of Swan’s ability to wake up the Earth is spread throughout the land almost as if it were legend. Settlements begin to trade again and contact is restored with peoples even as far away as Russia. Humanity now dedicates itself to passing on the most important lesson learned from the nuclear holocaust, “never again [to repeat it]!” Swan and Robin eventually make it to Mary’s Rest and have twins named Joshua and Sister. Swan continues her work by healing the land, fostering cooperation, and bringing hope to humankind.
The story follows the individual journeys of several major characters, combining them at the climax:
- Sue Wanda Prescott, or Swan, the eponymous young woman who has an empathic ability with plant life, allowing her to accelerate the growth of or resurrect dead plants through physical contact.
- Josh Hutchins, an African-American wrestler stage-named Black Frankenstein, and later the Masked Mephisto. He’s Swan’s protector and father-figure throughout the book.
- Sister Creep, later simply referred to as “Sister”, a formerly deranged “bag lady” who survived a nuclear attack on New York City deep underground in the New York City Subway system. The guardian of the glass ring and late surrogate mother to Swan.
- Colonel Macklin, a survivalist and former U.S. Air Force P.O.W. contracted by investors to oversee a mountain bunker, inside of which he survives during the nuclear attack.
- Roland Croninger, a young boy brought to Macklin’s mountain bunker by his parents. Through horrendous circumstances, and while under Macklin’s tutelage, Roland transforms from an innocent child into a cold-blooded killer who lives to serve Macklin, and later ‘Friend’.
- The Man with the Scarlet Eye, Friend, Doyle Holland, or The Man of Many Faces, an incarnation of demonic evil (allusions to the Devil). He is seen throughout the book as being a creature of chaos. He has the ability to shape-shift, manipulation, mind control, super strength, and the ability to control animals. It’s suggested that he caused the nuclear war and other acts of terrorism for his own amusement. He sees the glass ring that Sister carries, and Swan, as cruelties because they bring hope.
“A broad, compelling story… a long, satisfying look at hell and salvation.”, Publishers Weekly
“Distinctive and engrossing… McCammon combines gritty realism with magic… you’ll wish there were more [of SWAN SONG]”, Rave Reviews
“A chilling vision that keeps you turning pages to the shocking end.” — John Saul