Saturday, December 9, 2017

Swan Song

     Carrying on my quest to see which science fiction writers got closer to predicting the end of the world, while the threat of another catastrophic war hangs over the world. I see some writers still hope that King Arthur is still sleeping in a hill somewhere and will rise up and smite our enemies. Or Jesus. Wittekind. Siegfried. Someone. Aliens. Anyone?
     It might not be fair to call Swan Song a science fiction novel since it is labelled 'fiction' or 'horror' but I think of any novel about a post-nuclear world as 'science fiction'. It may be easily called fantasy since the main character Sue Wanda (Swan) has magical powers as does Sister who is looking for her. One can infer from this that women will be the agents (as givers of life) that will regenerate the devastated world. The character of the man with the scarlet eye is too easily identified with the devil, especially with the flies that come out of his mouth, but this is not the Christian world of A Canticle for Leibowitz. Swan can only be a Gaia figure with Josh and Robin as her Corn Kings. One cannot regenerate the world without one's male counterpart. This makes the man with the scarlet eye something far more primordial than Lucifer. Tolkien's Sauron leaps to mind with a description like that especially knowing that Tolkien based his novels on older heathen tales.
     There is always the assumption that there will be people who will want more than everybody else and will use violence to assert themselves. In a post apocalyptic world, survival will depend so much on mutual co-operation, I would think or hope that violent despots (the Negans of the world) would not arise so quickly. Some people would survive who are authority figures and people would rally around them as we are accustomed now to a certain social structure. One problem with any post apocalyptic world, is most authors ignore the fact that gasoline has a shelf life. In a world like The Walking Dead or Swan Song, people would not be driving around two years later, if only for the reason that the gasoline would not be useable anymore. So large scale movements like in Swan Song with tanks and trucks would not be possible or the type of battles that the Army of Excellence engages in to feed its members. Trebuchet, anyone?
    The book was published in 1987, two years before the Berlin Wall came down, but even then the Soviet Union was coming apart and the Cold War was winding down. It seems too easy to blame tensions between the U.S. and Russia for the use of nuclear weapons; especially when one considers nuclear proliferation and the ideologies that some nuclear countries subscribe to. Even in '87 North Korea was a problem and the world had seen the rise of radical Islam. Globalization has contributed a great deal to social and political instability, income inequality and mass migration. Few authors predicted this; perhaps science fiction(or fantasy) writers tend to be conservative in their views. With the exception of labour unions, few wanted to go against the free trade mantra. Nobody predicted a president like Donald Trump. And, there can be no mistake, someone like Trump was elected because large numbers of the American electorate have been disenfranchised and voted this way in protest.  Will he cause the end of the world? Hard to say. I still think we have a ways to go - 2020, if Professor Turchin's cliodynamics are reliable.
       So what did McCammon get right? I do not think you can approach the novel this way. It is very doubtful that this was intended as a predictor of the future. It seems rather that it is monomyth of the hero's quest in a modern setting and with female heroines.

Next up is Nevil Shute's On the Beach.

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