First published back in April of 1988, US author Robert McCammon’s released his eagerly anticipated sci-fi horror novel ‘Stinger’ following on from the enormous success of his epic post-apocalyptic novel ‘Swan Song’ (1987).
In the dusty West Texas town of Inferno, the dwindling inhabitants of the dying town have little option but to move away or else watch the once prosperous copper mine town, gradually die away. With no hope of any new work, no potential prospects, and ultimately no future, Inferno is teetering over the edge of death; to be nothing but a dried up ghost time before long.
For local vet Jessie Hammond and her husband Tom Hammond, life had recently taken on a particularly steep decline. With Tom working as a teacher at the local highschool, the unsurprising announcement of the school’s impending closure brings the Hammond family’s future within Inferno cut short. Along with their two children, teenaged Ray and his six-year-old sister Stevie, the family will soon need to uproot their lives and move elsewhere, where they can start up their lives once again.
Meanwhile, the local Sheriff, Ed Vance, is taking what he can within the dying embers of the town; accepting hush money from Mack Cade whose motor vehicle chop-shop is still able to bring in enough money to keep it ticking over.
With any hope for a future in Inferno now pretty much over, two warring street gangs have found a new energy in their rivalry. Amongst the plummeting despair of the dying town, the rival gangs ‘The Renegades’ led by Cody Lockett and ‘The Rattlers’ led by Rick Jurado, continue with their unrelenting war, protecting what they deem to be their territory at all costs – even with the land now wasting away to almost nothing.
However, whilst the Hammond family are out in their truck, a fiery ball comes hurtling down from the sky, and before impacting the land, a small piece flies off from its main body and crashes into their engine of Jessie’s truck. Looking heavenwards, the family see a group of unmarked helicopters flying overhead in the wake of the strange object.
Stranded on the roadside in the burning Texas heat, young Stevie Hammond looks into the mangled carcass of the truck’s engine, finding a curious black ball lodged inside. A strange solid black ball that silently calls to the six-year-old girl. And upon her handling the perfectly formed ball, the connection between the two entities is made. Far beyond Stevie’s understanding, she is now compelled to take the ball away with her. To keep it safe and protect it. Unknowing of what it truly is that she holds.
However, after the family return to their home and Stevie is finally alone with the black ball, its true identity is finally revealed to her. Inside the ball, an alien is hiding away. And it now needs to inhabit Stevie’s body.
Meanwhile, a second object comes hurtling down from the sky; colliding with the Earth right on top of Mack Cade’s illegal chop-shop. And inside this second vessel is the ‘Stinger’. An inter-galactic bounty hunter that is after Daufin – the alien that arrived in the strange black ball which crashed down into the Hammond’s truck.
The bounty hunter instantly erects a gigantic protective dome that spans over the entire town. Under this strange translucent force field, nothing can enter or escape. The inhabitants of Inferno are now trapped. But the relentless Stinger has plenty more cunning tricks up its sleeve. And it is willing to use them all in order to finally capture Daufin.
The hunt is on in the confines of Inferno. And before the day is out there will be bloodshed and war across the dusty dead streets of this dying town...
McCammon’s B-Movie style sci-fi-cum-horror crossover is one of those novels that really encapsulates the 80’s over-the-top storylines, where any degree of a plausible plot is shoved to the side in the face of exaggerated characters, rival gangs, grotesque bounty hunter aliens and an all-singing-all-dancing “Go America” feelgood-factor.
It starts out gritty, insomuch as the dusty desert backdrop of this dying is bleak and utterly depressive. The various characters that McCammon introduces are each given miniature backstories along with their own personal woes, which all ultimately come back to the drawn-out-death of the town.
The Hammond family take the immediate front seat in the unveiling storyline, with the first vessel from space (containing the alien that names itself as Daufin), clashing into their truck, and from there, infiltrating the body of young Stevie Hammond. At first this ‘Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers’ (1956) style of premise feels a little too clichéd and overworked, but the possession is only the first in a long line of events to take place, which together make for one hell of a maniacal rollercoaster of a ride.
McCammon’s B-Movie-esque characters fulfil every possible cliché going, with each character having their own cross to bear and their own emotional investment in Inferno. Yeah, they’re all colourful, predictable and cartoonish in their exaggerated personas. From Cody Lockett’s drunken and no-good-father, Curt Lockett, to the Pride-Of-America US Air Force Colonel Rhodes. It’s got the lot…and then some!
But what do you get when the story is fabricated from so many crazy and clichéd B-Movie characters along with so many outrageously over-the-top sci-fi elements? Well first and foremost, in the case of ‘Stinger’, you get one hell of an energetic and entertaining read. And credit where credit’s due - McCammon doesn’t hold back for one second in grabbing hold of every sci-fi/horror cliché and stuffing it into the melee of wacky madness.
The rival gang war between ‘The Renegades’ and ‘The Rattlers’ is one such highly entertaining (but utterly over-the-top) 80’s cliché. Indeed, the whole delinquent gang war is delivered in a particularly loveable ‘Class Of Nuke ‘em High’ (1986), ‘Mad Max’ (1979) and ‘Doomsday’ (2008) kind of exaggerated fashion. But of course, now there is a worse threat out there, so we all know what needs to be done. Oh yes, they’ll come together with an apprehensive brotherly hug, and then as one, fight the real evil that has taken over Inferno.
And there’s more. Oh good god is there more. As previously mentioned, each and every one of the characters has their own personal nemesis to fight against. McCammon’s box-ticking during the early planning stages really comes into its own here, with each clichéd character facing their own personal demons head-on, in an equally 80’s clichéd manner. But who cares if its predictability and unoriginality makes the novel a little laughable in places. That’s the language of the B-Movie. And it’s all the more enjoyable for these exact qualities.
‘Stinger’ is a novel to read with a grin rather than a face of horror. It’s not exactly adventurous or ground-breakingly original. But it’s a thoroughly entreating horror/sci-fi romp nevertheless.
The tale runs for a total of 576 pages.
© DLS Reviews