Dust jacket and interior illustrations for the limited and lettered editions by David Ho.
World Fantasy award-winning, bestselling author Robert McCammon makes a triumphant return to the epic horror and apocalyptic tone reminiscent of his books Swan Song and Stinger in this gripping new novel, The Border, a saga of an Earth devastated by a war between two marauding alien civilizations.
But it is not just the living ships of the monstrous Gorgons or the motion-blurred shock troops of the armored Cyphers that endanger the holdouts in the human bastion of Panther Ridge. The world itself has turned against the handful of survivors, as one by one they succumb to despair and suicide or, even worse, are transformed by otherworldly pollution into hideous Gray Men, cannibalistic mutants driven by insatiable hunger. Into these desperate circumstances comes an amnesiac teenaged boy who names himself Ethan—a boy who must overcome mistrust and suspicion to master unknowable powers that may prove to be the last hope for humanity's salvation. Those same powers make Ethan a threat to the warring aliens, long used to fearing only each other, and thrust him and his comrades into ever more perilous circumstances.
A major new novel from the unparalleled imagination of Robert McCammon, this dark epic of survival will both thrill readers and make them fall in love with his work all over again.
The limited and lettered editions will feature:
- An exclusive wraparound dust jacket
- Custom slipcase or traycase (as appropriate)
- An original afterword by Robert McCammon
- Several full page interior illustrations not in the trade hardcover
- The trade edition dust jacket as a frontispiece
Limited: 500 signed numbered copies, bound in leather, housed in a custom slipcase
Lettered: 52 signed copies, bound in leather, housed in a custom traycase
Trade: Fully cloth bound hardcover edition
From Publishers Weekly (Starred Review):
“Genre-busting author McCammon (The River of Souls) pulls out all the stops for this exhilarating alien-invasion epic, which harkens back to his 1987 blockbuster, Swan Song. The spectacular opening introduces an amnesiac teenage boy who abruptly becomes aware of himself in a full-tilt sprint through a post-apocalyptic battlefield, with wounds that should have killed him, and knowledge and abilities he doesn’t understand…This story blends the gripping horror and action of McCammon’s earliest novels with the empathy of his more recent work, making it one of his finest.”
“One of McCammon's great achievements in this novel is the horrifying sense he conveys of humanity reduced to the equivalent of so many ants in a field, being stomped on by warring combatants. The scenes of battle between the two armies and the firepower and weapons they yield are spectacular and vivid.”
From Elitist Book Reviews:
“I’ve been dying to talk to someone about this book…The Border is something special. It has that old-school McCammon Horror vibe to it, but even more refined and focused.”
The boy who was running ran into the rain.
He came suddenly into its stinging shower. Within seconds it became a small storm of torment, like the fierce prick of a hundred hot needles. He looked back as he ran and saw through the moving haze the tops of mountains explode in the distance. He saw chunks of rock as big as buildings fly into the diseased air, crash back upon the earth and crack into tumbling fragments. Above the mountains flickered the electric blue lightning that put terror into the heart of the bravest man and made the weaker man fall to his knees.
The boy kept running, into the rain.
The field was wide and long. The field was barren. Its mud began to pull at the boy’s shoes. He was wearing dirty Pumas, once white. He couldn’t remember where they had come from, or when he’d put them on. He couldn’t remember where his dirty jeans had come from, or his grimy dark red shirt that had a missing right sleeve. He couldn’t remember much at all.
He knew, though, that he had to run. And he had to hope he would live through this day.
For though his memory flapped like a tattered flag, he knew what was behind him. He knew he was in Colorado. He knew why the mountains, as old as time, were being torn to jagged pieces. He knew what the blue lightning was, and why soon there would be pulses of red flame floating up from tortured earth to angry sky. They were fighting there. They had found another border to contest. And between them, they would destroy it all.
He ran on, breathing hard, and sweating in the sultry air, as the rain began to hammer down.
The mud took him. It got his shoes and made him stumble and down he went into its embrace. It was sticky and hot and got on his face and up his nose. Dark with mud, he struggled up to his knees. Through the curtains of rain, he saw the movements on both sides of him, to left and right in the wide barren field, and he knew one army was on the march.
The boy flattened himself in his muddy pool. He lay like the dead, though his heart was very much alive in its pounding and twisting on a root of terror. He wished he could cover himself with the mud, that he could sink into it and be protected by its darkness, but he lay still and curled up like an infant just out of the womb and stunned by life itself.
He had seen them before. Somewhere. His mind was wrecked. His mind had crashed into some event that had left him half-brainless and groping for memory. But to left and right he saw the blurred smears of their presence as they moved across the field like swirls of gray smoke, like formless but deadly ghosts.
He lay still, his hands gripped into the earth as if in fear of being flung into nothingness.
And suddenly he realized one of them had stopped its advance, and in stopping its body caught up with itself and took form, and suddenly one of them was standing only a few feet to his left and was staring at him.
The boy couldn’t help but stare back, his face freighted with mud. There was no protection to be found here. There was no protection to be found anywhere. The boy’s blue eyes stared into the black featureless slope of the creature’s face, or mask or helmet or whatever it might be. The creature was thin to the point of skeletal, its body about seven feet tall. It was similar to the human body in that it had two arms and two legs. Black-gloved hands with ten fingers. Black boots on human-shaped feet. Whether this was a construction or a real thing born from egg or womb, the boy did not know and could not guess. The black skin-tight suit showed no inch of flesh, and small veins laced the suit carrying rushes of dark fluid. The creature did not seem to be breathing.
The creature held a weapon. It was black also, but it looked fleshy. It had two barrels, and was connected to the body by the fluid-carrying veins.
The weapon was held down at the creature’s side, but aimed at the boy. A finger was on a spiky pod that might be a trigger.
The boy knew his death was very close.
A vibration keened the air. It was felt rather than heard, and it made the hairs on the back of the boy’s neck ripple. It made his skin crawl and his scalp of unruly brown hair tighten, for he knew what was to come without knowing how he knew.
The creature looked behind it, and upward. Other creatures halted their blurred, ghostly motion and became solid. They too looked upward and their weapons raised in unison toward the enemy.
Then the boy heard it, through the noise of falling rain. He turned his head and angled his face up into the downpour, and through the low yellow clouds came the thing that made a noise like the quiet movement of gears in a fine wristwatch or the soft ticking of a time bomb.
It was huge, two hundred feet across in a triangle shape, and mottled with colors like the hide of a prehistoric predator: brown, yellow, and black. It was as thin as a razor and had no ports nor openings. It was all muscle. It glided forward with what the boy thought was an awesome and nearly silent power. Yellow tendrils of disturbed air flowed back from the flared wingtips, and four electric-blue orbs the size of manhole covers pulsed at its belly. As the craft continued to advance slowly and almost silently, one of the creatures on the ground fired its weapon. A double gout of flame that was not exactly flame, but had something white-hot at the center of its two scorching red trails, shot up toward the craft. Before it reached meat or metal—whatever the craft was made of—a blue spark erupted and snuffed out the flames and its two centers of destruction as easily as damp fingers on a matchhead.
Instantly, as the boy watched and shivered in spite of his frozen posture, the creatures turned their weapons on the craft and began to fire…faster and faster, the gouts of alien flame flaring up in dazzling incandescent ropes, hundreds of them, all to be extinguished by the leaping and sizzling blue spark.
The boy knew, without knowing how he knew. His mind echoed with things he could not exactly hear nor understand. He seemed to have come a long way from where he’d started, though where that had been he did not remember.
But he knew this, though he could not remember his own name or where he’d been running from or to or where his parents were: The creatures with the weapons…soldiers of the Cyphers.
The craft above…piloted by the Gorgons.
Names humans had given them. Their real names unknown. Their silence impenetrable.
The blue spark jumped and danced, puttting out the white-hot flames with almost dismissive ease. The rain poured down and the yellow clouds swirled. The Cypher soldiers began to lower their ineffective weapons and vibrate again into blurs, and suddenly the boy was alone in the muddy field. The monstrous craft floated above him, its blue orbs pulsing. He felt as small as an insect on a windshield, about to be smashed into pulp. He was about to jump up and run again, as far as he could get in this mud and downpour, and then the craft drifted on past him and he felt its force diminish as it gained speed. In his mouth there was the taste of mud and something like the tang of running the tongue across rusted metal. He heard a sharp sizzling noise—bacon in a frying pan—and turning his head in the direction of the parting craft he saw bolts of electric-blue energy striking out from the vehicle’s underside. Small explosions—bursts of black matter—showed hits on the Cypher soldiers even as they blurred themselves into near-invisibility.
The boy decided it was time to get up and run some more, in another direction.
He staggered to his feet and fled across the field, away from the battle. The rain struck his head and shoulders and the mud tried to pull him down. He fell to his knees once, but when he got up he vowed he would not fall again.
Onward through the rain and across the mud he ran, toward a yellow mist that hung across the horizon. He passed and leaped over smoking craters that held things at their bottoms that were burnt black and twisted like old tree roots. The breath was rasping hard in his lungs, which pained him as if they’d been punched by heavy fists; he coughed up a spool of red blood and kept going.
From the mist before him appeared a dozen or more Cypher soldiers, all thin and black-garbed in material that was not of this earth. They all held the weapons that seemed to be growing from their bodies, and they all wore the black featureless masks that might have been the faces of robots, for all the boy knew. Before he could change direction he was aware of something coming at him from behind with a metallic noise like piano wires being plucked in a high register. He veered to the left and dove into a fresh crater, while above him incandescent blue spheres of tight fire skimmed over his refuge at tremendous speed and tore into the Cyphers, spinning out whips that looked to be made of flaming barbed-wire. The boy crawled up to the crater’s edge to see the Cyphers being ripped to pieces by this new weapon, and though some of the Cyphers shot down a few of the fireballs with their own energy weapons or blurred away into the mist the battle was over in a matter of seconds. Twitching arms and legs lay upon the black-splattered battlefield and the fireballs like burning eyes powered on into the yellow mist beyond, seeking more victims.
A movement in the crater with him caught the boy’s attention. He felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck, and his heart pounded.
Across from him, a faceless mud-splattered Cypher soldier was reaching for its energy gun, which had been torn off its veins and lay shrivelled like dying flesh a few feet away. The black-gloved hands scrabbled to regain the diminished weapon, but could not quite reach it since some other encounter had nearly cut the creature in half. The legs were still twitching, the boots pushing futilely against the ravaged earth. In the body cavity glistened black intestines streaked with yellow and red like the bodies of the grasshoppers the boy remembered, yet did not know how he remembered. He smelled an acrid odor akin to the smell of the liquid the grasshoppers shot out upon rough fingers. Only this was maybe twice as strong. The Cypher lay in a pool of it. The creature still struggled to reach the weapon, but the severed body would not obey.
The boy spoke, in a voice he’d never heard before.
“I thought you were supposed to be so tough,” he said.
The faceless creature continued its struggle for the weapon. The boy got up in a crouch, mindful of other soldiers or flying things that might take his head off, and dared to touch the energy gun. It had a sticky feel, like rubber left out too long under a burning sun. The veins had ceased to pump fluid. The weapon was crumpling and collapsing inward on itself even as he watched. The Cypher soldier’s spidery hand reached for his ankle, and he feared the grip because he had the quick mental image of being paralyzed with pain. Avoiding the soldier’s hand, he stood up and ran again because he knew that sitting still in one place too long was death.
He also knew that he wanted to live. Knew that he needed to live, and so he’d better find himself a place of shelter before it was too late.
As he ran the rain thrashed into his face. From his pressured lungs he began to cough and spit up more threads of blood. He asked himself who he was and where he had come from, but to those questions only returned blankness. He had no memory beyond running across this field, as if his mind had been turned off and then on again by a jittery hand on a lightswitch. Father? Mother? Home? Brother or sister? Nothing, not even the shadow of a shadow.
He was hurting. His lungs, heart and stomach, yes, but his bones too. He felt rearranged. He felt as if in that weird old song about the thigh bone being connected to the kneebone and all that shit, his thigh bone was connected to his collarbone and his kneebone to his buttbone. Something about him was messed up, but he was good to run. For now, that was enough.
A monstrous triangular shape moved above him. He looked up and saw the massive Gorgon craft, mottled like a prehistorical reptile, gliding from the ugly yellow clouds. It was still firing its electric-blue bolts of energy to hit unseen figures on the ground. It was oblivious to him; he was nothing, worth not even a spark of destruction.
Suddenly the bright blue bolts began to flare out to left and right, seeking other targets. The Gorgon craft might have given a shiver of dread, and in another few seconds the boy saw why.
From both sides came thin ebony missiles maybe twenty feet in length. There were ten of them, moving fast and silently. Four of them were hit by the bolts and exploded into flying black ribbons, but the remaining six grew claws and teeth as they pierced the meat of the Gorgon ship, and forming into shapes like voracious, glistening spiders, they began to rapidly eat and tear their way through the mottled hide.
Six more of the hungry missiles came at the ship, launched from somewhere beyond sight. Two were shot down, the other four became ebony spider-shapes that winnowed themselves into the alien flesh, if it could be called that. Chunks of the Gorgon ship began to fall away, revealing an interior of purplish-red meat veined with what looked like hexagonal corridors. The missile-spiders continued to claw and chew, faster and faster, as the blue bolts fired crazily in every direction. The boy dodged as an energy bolt sizzled the earth maybe forty feet to his right, but he couldn’t pull his gaze away from the hideous feast and the death of a giant.
Surely the Gorgon ship was dying. Its bulk shivered and writhed as the Cypher spiders penetrated deeper into the heart of the mystery. Dark red liquid was pouring out from a dozen wounds. Pieces of the craft fell to the earth and yet still writhed and convulsed. The machine screamed. There was a high-pitched sound that seemed to the boy a cross between fingernails on a blackboard and the sinister rattling of a timber viper. He had to put his hands to his ears, to block the noise out before it overcame him and made his knees buckle. A huge chunk of the craft fell away, spiralling fountains of the dark liquid. Within the cavity, the black spider-shapes were feasting, ripping through the alien meat and the inner corridors with claws and fangs that the boy thought could likely tear through concrete and metal. The Gorgon ship pitched to the right, spilling its insides in great falling sheets of liquid and fleshy pieces the Cypher-spiders had not fully consumed.
The machine-scream went on and on, as the ship crashed down upon the earth. The spiders swarmed over the twitching hide. The boy turned and fled.
Where there was any safety anymore, he didn’t know. The ear-piercing noise ceased. Score one for the Cyphers, he thought. He ran through the yellow mist and onward, and suddenly found broken concrete under his feet.
He was in a parking lot. Around him in the thickened air were the rusted and weather-beaten hulks of eight abandoned vehicles. The rain had ceased. Puddles of water filled cracks and craters. A long building of red bricks stood before him, with not an unshattered window remaining. To the left was a sagging goalpost and the weeds of a football field. The bleachers had collapsed. A sign had stayed up in the parking lot, valiant in its declaration of a message from the past.
ethan gaines high school read the permanent black letters. And below those, the moveable red ones: Senior Pl y A ril 4-6 ‘The Ch ngeling’
The boy saw blurs approaching from his left, across the football field. A few of the Cypher soldiers stopped and regained their bodily forms for a few seconds before they sped up again. He thought there might be forty or fifty of them, coming like a dark wave. He started to run to the right, but even as the impulse hit him he knew he wouldn’t have time to escape; they would be on him too soon.
He slid to the concrete and under a smashed pickup truck that used to be black but was now more red with rust and still had a Denver Broncos decal on the remains of the broken rear window.
Dark blurs entered the parking lot. The Cypher soldiers were on the move, from somewhere to somewhere. The boy pressed himself against the cracked concrete. If any of them sensed him here…
Something was coming.
The boy felt it, in a shiver of his skin. He smelled some form of pulsing power in the tainted air. From his hiding place he saw the legs of several of the soldiers materialize, as they stood motionless; they too were feeling this yet-unknown approach.
There was silence but for the dripping of water from the car hulks. Then something passed overhead with a noise like a whisper of wind, and there was a bright flash of blue light that lit up the parking lot and made the boy squint and then whatever it was had gone.
The boy waited, blinking. Spots spun before his eyes. Some of the soldiers blurred out again, while others remained in cautious and stationary—and maybe stunned—visibility.
Above the boy, the pickup truck moved.
It gave a shudder that made its rusted seams groan, and the boy heard that same groaning of metal echo across the parking lot, and suddenly the underside of the pickup was changing from metal to red and brown scales, and its moldy tires were changing into stubby scaled legs from which grew red spikes tipped with gleaming black.
He realized the pickup truck was coming to life.
In a matter of seconds a breathing belly was over his head. He saw the shape over him broaden and thicken, with a noise that was a combination of bones slipping into sockets and metal crackling as it formed itself into flesh.
With a burst of panic he rolled out from under the thing, and found himself on his knees amid what was now not a parking lot of abandoned vehicles but a menagerie of creatures from the darkest depth of nightmares.
The boy realized that whatever had passed over and released its energy beam in its eye-stunning blue burst had the power to create life. And the life it had created here, from the rusted and abandoned hulks, were either born from real creatures of the Gorgons’ domain, or from the imagination of an alien warlord. Bulky, muscular shapes began to rise up from the concrete. The boy was in their midst, among their clawed feet and legs that seethed with red and black spikes. Horned heads with multiple eyes and gaping mouths scanned the battleground, as the Cypher soldiers opened fire. The red coils of otherworldly flame flailed out, striking and burning the newborn and monstrous flesh. The creatures that were hit roared and yowled, shaking the earth, and others rushed forward with tremendous speed upon the soldiers. As the boy watched in stunned horror while the Gorgon creations struck left and right with spiked arms and claws into the mass of soldiers, he noted that one of the thickly-muscled beasts had a Denver Broncos decal on the reddish scales at juncture of shoulders and neck. It appeared to be just underneath the armored flesh, like the faded remnant of an earthly tattoo.
The soldiers fired their weapons, scaled flesh burned and smoking, the creatures crushed and tore apart and trampled the long slim figures in their black uniforms, and intestines that smelled of grasshopper juice flew through the air and splattered where they hit. One monster’s triple-horned head with six deepset crimson eyes burst into flame from a Cypher weapon, and the creature rampaged around the parking lot blindly striking out as its craggy face melted like gray wax. The Cyphers were being overwhelmed and crushed beneath the monsters, and some blurred away but a few remained standing their ground and firing into the beasts until they too were ripped to dripping shreds. Some on all fours and some on two legs, the creatures began to give pursuit after the retreating soldiers. Three dying Gorgon beasts lay on the concrete being eaten up by the Cypher flames, and they shrieked and beat futilely at the alien fire and tried to rise up from their impending deaths. One got to its knees, its burning triangular head on a thick stalk of a neck turned, and its ebony eyes found the boy, who crawled backwards away from the thing even as the eyes burned out, the flames rippled across its scales and spikes and it fell back upon the concrete with a gasp of life released.
The boy got up, staggering, and ran again.
- David Ho
- Robert McCammon
- 456 pages
- United States
- Out of Print