The Border (2015) by Robert McCammon

border_10_hcThe Border is Robert McCammon‘s long-anticipated return to the balls-to-the-wall horror of such classics as Swan Song (1987). Unfortunately, the balls are missing, the wall is crumbling and the result is a poor copy of that earlier (far superior) novel.

There’s not a whole lot of originality in The Border. The plotline is pretty much lifted wholesale from Swan Song, with a supernaturally gifted youngster leading a ragtag pack of survivors to a US president hiding in a mountain base. But instead of a nuclear war, it’s an alien war that has devastated the planet. That ingenious difference probably comes from any number of alien invasion movies, video games and TV shows, with Falling Skies being perhaps the most obvious one.

Even overlooking the secondhand premise it’s hard to enjoy the novel; the storytelling drags, forcefully, like the novel had no literary editor at all (some typos and a constant, annoying use of dot dot dot also imply that some quality control was surrendered in the making of this novel). The beginning is alright, but an overlong alien sex sequence (!) segues into a long, interminable bus ride which takes just forever, with basically no breaks in between. I mean, couldn’t there have been at least some attempt to flesh out the world in which these characters live.

Besides the miracle kid Ethan who finds himself turning into a Silver Surfer, only the television evangelist Jefferson Jericho is sketched out in any significant detail; he’s the only character worthy of the title “character” in the novel, the others being basically cardboard stand-ins. The aliens are alien, and particularly one-note creations at that, with a (not at all surprisingly) silly Terminator-like mandroid Vope being the most memorable one, besides the penis-milking alien queen (really can’t get that alien sex sequence out of my mind, sorry).

The single positive thing about the novel and its remarkably undeveloped world are the mutants, the feral Gray Men, who for some reason or other keep attacking the live ones (one assumes it’s because their kind always do that in movies). There’re some moments approaching horror in these scenes, but it’s all by the numbers with no surprises, and of course they all fizzle out and it’s back to the bloody bus and a deus ex machina ending. One almost wishes someone had pushed the reset button much, much earlier.

The other saving grace of the novel is its relatively short length and some semblance of readibility (meaning it’s not the worst horror novel I’ve read, not by far; but I guess that just says something about how many truly crappy horror novels there are). At 400+ pages The Border is mercifully over fairly quickly – and it’s still hefty enough that it can be used as a doorstop or a paper weight. Small mercies, eh?

Skip this one and pick up Swan Song.

** (2/5)

Available now in multiple formats from Subterranean Press. Visit the author’s site and check out his far superior earlier books! Even the fairly recent I Travel by Night kicks some serious butt.

The Devils of D-Day by Graham Masterton

devilsWar is hell in Graham Masterton‘s The Devils of D-Day (1979), a wonderfully succinct novel about demons taking part in the invasion of Normandy. Coming a year after James Herbert‘s The Spear, a novel which similarly mixed the war with the occult, The Devils of D-Day turns the old adage of nazi black magic on its head by putting the devils into US Army tanks.

30 years after the event an American cartographer stumbles on one of the notorious black tanks on a roadside in a picturesque French village. And apparently the driver is still inside the sealed tank. For years the demon has caused occasional mischief, such as spoiling the milk and causing eggs to rot, not to mention killing some people. Can’t have such things in our pastoral village, now can we? After receiving some nudging from the demon, the American decides to release the village from its pestering scourge.

With the help of a local priest a bag of dusty demon bones is recovered from the tank. But before the bones can be properly exorcised, the demon gains its true form and guts the priest and forces the American and a local farmgirl to take it to its twelve brothers, so they can call up their master, a properly demonic devil, Adramelech. And off they go, in search of the other devils of D-Day.

The search proceeds without a hitch, quickly resulting in a traditional good vs. evil smackdown in a secret government facility in central London where warmongers are trying to come up with ways to use the demons as a relatively low-cost weapon. After all the demons don’t demand a payment in money, just blood.

The short novel clocks in at a nice 180 pages; there are no subplots, no flashbacks or jumps in time. The novel begins with the main character and doggedly follows him until the finale in London several days later. The writing is effective and to the point, there’s no unnecessary rambling. None of the characters are fleshed out in any way, but then again, this isn’t that kind of a novel. It’s supposed to be cheesy fun and cheesy fun it is, literary quality be damned.

An early work by the profilic Masterton, The Devils of D-Day also bears all the hallmarks of late 70s, early 80s horror. It’s unabashedly, traditionally Satanic; Slayer‘s early eighties albums would provide a great soundtrack if a movie version was ever made. The names of angels and demons are batted about with great abandon, and while in France you can and should of course have a priest called Father Anton, living near a town called Le Vey (sic). Satanic spells are also cast frequently, sometimes through a recording device (similar to Evil Dead movies many years later). In a note at the beginning, the author even warns not to mess around with this stuff because it’s all real. As said previously, the cheese is strong in this one. The demons themselves are cartoonish, mocking, perverse little creatures that are more childish than truly frightening.

However, the novel is serious about the war, and even shows sympathy for the common German soldiers butchered by the American demons. According to the novel, the powers-that-be have utilised the demons in wars throughout history, with the demons only too happy to oblige. It’s not too far-fetched to see the demons as weapons of mass destruction similar to chemical weapons or the nuclear bomb, the latter being something that was especially prevalent in the late 70s and early 80s culture. Somebody human is always behind the button, whether that button releases demons – or something worse.

*** (3/5)