By Robert R. McCammon
Inferno, Texas is a western Texas town on hard times and nearly dead. The copper mine has played out and people are leaving. The remaining inhabitants, already isolated by geography, are going to find themselves cut off from the rest of the world.
A small spaceship crashes in Inferno and its lone occupant takes possession of the body of a six year old girl. Little Stevie Hammond is now Daufin, an alien fugitive from a faraway planet.
Shortly after Daufin’s arrival, another ship arrives. It lands at a large automotive chop shop at the edge of town. Daufin tells the Hammonds and the military men who have arrived in Inferno that the ship is inhabited by Stinger, a bounty hunter from space pursuing her.
One night, a riot breaks out at a local arcade when the white gang and the Hispanic gang who war constantly in Inferno decide to fight. Stinger makes his presence known, destroying many of the buildings and houses in Inferno. He starts taking possession of many of the town’s inhabitants, asking about Daufin’s location. To keep his quarry from fleeing, Stinger places a force field around the town.
Daufin tells the people of Inferno that Stinger will take her and he and his race will return to take over Earth and imprison its residents. As various creatures move through Inferno, killing and destroying in pursuit of his quarry, Daufin, joined by Stevie’s parents, an Air Force Colonel, and the town drunk, use Stinger’s own underground tunnels to make their way to his ship where he controls his minions. Meanwhile, the leaders of the two warring gangs join forces to see to the safety of the town’s residents.
After capturing a couple Inferno residents, Stinger decides to return to his home planet with them as his bounty instead, promising to return to take over the planet. Daufin and her group race against time to get to the ship and destroy Stinger so that Daufin can return Stevie Hammond’s body to her and use the ship to get home.
I’ve seen it written in a couple reviews that the story contained in Stinger is very much like a B-movie. I wholeheartedly concur with this analysis. It has the charm of a B-movie with stereotypical – yet endearing characters. It has the simple, moralistic story of a B-movie. It has space aliens and the race against time to save humanity. The only thing missing is the grainy photography and the horrible audio.
The characters in Stinger are indeed one dimensional and each fits the stereotype of the roll they are supposed to play. The town drunk is a tragic figure who finds redemption. The gang leaders are actually intelligent, caring individuals who play the roles society has dictated for them. The Air Force Colonel is efficient and a natural leader. The sheriff is a fat coward. There is not one character in Stinger that is remarkable or outside the norm.
The plot is just as straight forward as one would expect from an 1:15 minute movie. There is the subplot of the gang rivalry and McCammon feints at other subplots such as the old widow whose husband has hidden a fortune somewhere in the town, the sinister chop shop owner who dominates the local economy, and a few others. But none are really developed and are woven in only to introduce peripheral characters.
With one dimensional characters and a one dimensional story, Stinger is still a charming novel. How? McCammon is a great storyteller. While coming in at almost 600 pages, it certainly could have been shorter. But McCammon keeps the action moving and, with the whole story unfolding over a 24 hour period, there are just a few slow moments. It moves just like a B-grade, 1950s sci-fi flick.
My chief criticism of Stinger is, McCammon did not take full advantage of the force field and the feeling of claustrophobia – than feeling of isolation – that is so effectively employed by great horror writers. Yes, the force field is there and McCammon provides a wonderful description of it. There is some action involving the force field when it first arrives. But McCammon never really uses it to create a mood of confinement. This would have added another dimension to the novel.
This was my first reading of Stinger since Stephen King published Under the Dome. McCammon is often compared to King – sometimes unfairly – by reviewers including me. When reviewing McCammon, the reviewer will often look to a comparable King work for comparison. In this instance, McCammon was first, but King did it better. King uses his dome to create that feeling of isolation and confinement. That is the prevailing theme in Under the Dome. I wish McCammon had given us just a little more of this mood.
Stinger is what I call a Gummy Bear novel. There’s not much there that is intellectually nutritious and you certainly would not want to confine yourself to a steady diet of books Like Stinger. But, every once in a while, when you find a tasty one, there’s no sin in indulging your literary sweet tooth and enjoying it for what it is. Stinger is a fun book.