Thursday, June 26, 2014

Last Rangers #01 - Last Rangers

This is not to be confused with another post-apocalyptic series called 'Last Ranger'. This is an entirely different series, publisher and author. "The Last Rangers", by Jake Davis, was released in 1992 via Berkley and is the first of a trilogy. I was intrigued by the cover and the promise of Texas Rangers fighting gangs in the year 2035.

This one weighs in at 180 pages and unfortunately has at least a half dozen storylines that are sporadic and amorphous in their presentation. By page 150, I still had no idea what the book was about. There aren't any Texas Rangers at this point, no clear villains or crimes and absolutely no setup. This is a big 'ole pile of poo-poo. 

The first 50 pages were extremely frustrating because it presented a cage full of prisoners being deposited on the door step of an underground fortress. The author painstakingly provides page after page on each criminal in the cage and what they did leading up to the capture. Who the frig cares? One would think this is important going forward...but it's not. This whole concept is quickly abandoned along with the fortress setting and prisoners. Why was this even included?

The next 100 pages jumps around to a group of criminals meeting about some sort of plan they have to destroy something somewhere. I never could decipher what was going on and why they were attempting to create destruction. By page 150, we are introduced to a machine called Bird Dog as its travels through the desert doing something unknown with a prostitute named Rita. I have no Earthly idea why Bird Dog is important and why he is battling a gang in rural areas of Texas. Rita serves no purpose. The book ends with Bird Dog, a lawman named Amos Smith and Rita blowing up the original group of criminals that had their purposeless meeting around page 100. 

I seriously think Jake Davis threw together six or seven ideas he had about machines and locale and just used "The Last Rangers" as a sketch book to present the ideas to paper. It encroaches on 'Transformers' but fails to deliver anything that is remotely sane or even uniform. "The Last Rangers" is absolutely abysmal and there will be no future reviews of the next two entries in the series. I could barely get through this one.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Survival 2000 #03 - Frozen Fire

After the rousing success of Deathlands, publisher Gold Eagle jumped into the post-apocalyptic arena again with Survival 2000. It was a three-book series released in 1991 and penned by journeyman author Laurence James (Deathlands, Apache). The series focuses on a father and son duo, David and Lee, as they trek across the Pacific Northwest after devastating meteors destroy most of civilization. The series debut, Blood Quest, introduced the series premise and migrated the action from California to Montana. The subsequent entry, Renegade War, found the duo battling a bully and the obligatory marauders that always remain prevalent in this type of fiction. Frozen Fire is the series finale and I'm hoping Laurence James can rebound from delivering a rather flat second installment. 

By book three, I've come to realize that the series is exactly what the title entails – survival. I love that aspect of the writing style but would still love to see some villains appear to provide some more human opposition. Obviously, the first two entries had the occasional gunfight and plenty of firearm jargon, but the central concept has always been the journey. This final chapter is no different as we see Dave, Lee and Zera move further north in their chase. A few firefights are thrown in along the way but I found they were anti-climatic and forced into the narrative instead of a natural progression. Hell, a portion of this book has Dave trying to find a dentist to fix his mouth. 

Frozen Fire wasn't exactly the edge-of-your-seat action that Gold Eagle typically publishes. Once the final showdown came, roughly nine pages from the end, it was a brief struggle that led to an abrupt closure. I can't help but think of the Wasteworld series and it's watered down narrative splashed over four books – some good, some really bad. Overall, Survival 2000 was just average...nothing more, nothing less. One can certainly survive without it.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Survival 2000 #02 - Renegade War

Survival 2000 was a short-lived, three-book series of post-apocalyptic novels released by Gold Eagle in 1991. Seasoned author Laurence James wrote the series under the pseudonym James McPhee. In the book's opening installment, Blood Quest, readers learn that the Earth was nearly destroyed by asteroids in 2025. The book's protagonists, father and son team David and Lee, are pursuing family members that escaped California's demise by retreating east to Montana. The series next chapter, Renegade War, seamlessly picks up where the previous installment ended. 

In Renegade War, heroes David and Lee are chasing after a villain named Sheever and his brutish horsemen to reclaim their family. Joining the trip is David's girlfriend Zera and a doctor named Keyle. Much like the previous book, James centers most of the action on simply getting from point A to point B with a few excursions thrown in. Here we have a grizzly attack, a whorehouse shootout and...well not much else really. But, the whorehouse shootout was riveting. 

Unlike the first book, Renegade War fails to have an exciting climax and left me wondering if half of this book could have been tacked onto the third book of the series or just left out completely. It's not a great series entry and felt rather unnecessary overall. I can only hope that the series finale, Frozen Fire, can recapture what Laurence James got right with the debut.

Buy a copy of the first book HERE

Survival 2000 #01 - Blood Quest

Arriving rather late in the post-apocalyptic genre of men's action-adventure, Survival 2000 was a three-book series published by Gold Eagle (The Executioner, Track) in 1991. The house name used was James McPhee but the series was actually authored by journeyman Laurence James (Deathlands, Apache). The series debut was titled Blood Quest.

The premise is introduced by explaining to readers that Earth that has been shattered by an asteroid in the year 2050. Why isn't it called 'Survival 2050'? Civilization is left in ruins and we see the typical bandits, rovers and rogue Army sadists attempting to market their brand of Hell on Earth. These are all obligatory genre tropes of doomsday fiction. The paperback warrior is a former accountant named David Rand who is surviving by backpacking the wasteland with his sixteen year old son Lee and pit-bull Melmoth. The two have a quest that they reach David's wife and two daughters in California. It's the age-old monomyth of a heroic journey to fulfill a quest.

Like the title implies, Blood Quest is simply the trek the two take to reach California. Once there they discover that most of the state is now swimming in the Pacific. With a few clues, they find that their family may still be alive in a small town in Montana. As the two journey through a brutal nuclear winter they battle cannibals, animals and the elements. James is a rather technical author when it comes to firearms and all of these stories describe, in painful detail, every caliber bullet and make of weapon being used against assailants. By page 100 this becomes an infuriating staple of James' literary approach to the book. 

Considering this is the first entry in the book, it wasn't a huge surprise to find the action lacking the first half. James invests his time setting up the series premise and delivers a solid second-half narrative with a bit more action and a hectic, but not rushed, finale. I was enthralled enough with the quest to buy the remaining two books of the series. If you like survival, action oriented fiction, you should love Blood Quest.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, June 16, 2014

Swampmaster #01 - Swampmaster

The 'Swampmaster' series consisted of three books all written by Jake Spencer (real name Jerome Preisler). This one was released by Diamond Books in 1992. From the synopsis and look of the cover one would think this is a hybrid of Native American western stuff super imposed over a 'Doomsday Warrior' sort of nuclear wasteland. No, not really. In fact, the cover and synopsis is really just a farce.

It turns out John Firecloud has been raised by his Seminole father Charlie and taught the way of the warrior complete with martial arts training and archery. Remember all of those kung-fu movies about Seminole Indians in Florida? I don't. Charlie also raised Firecloud's white brother Bill Coonan, a man who shows up early in the book and never makes another appearance until the last page. I'm not sure what purpose his role was here but it seems rather clear that Coonan has a good role in the second book. America has been nuked ,and what is left isn't described as the typically battle scarred wasteland that traditionally paints these landscapes. Instead, this America has its share of marauders and mutants but it just seems few and far between. In fact, Firecloud's village is actually growing crops and eating some semblance of a normal diet. 

The book introduces us to the new regime of America, a faction called The National Front. This government is made up of sadists and racists and wages war with the Free States or territories that have ceased from The National Front union. Early on we catch a glimpse of Firecloud using a compound bow to take out a helicopter of baddies hellbent on rape and debauchery. Using just his feet, hands, bow and the occasional firearm he quickly disposes of seven heavily armed men...and what amounts to be an Apache helicopter. This guy is the king of my kickball team. Soon, Firecloud is at the bedside of his licorice eating father who passes on some spiritual nonsense about leadership. He passes away and now, apparently, Firecloud has turned the corner and officially become....Swampmaster. 

I'm reading this sort of paperback adventure trash to get barrel chested warriors doing battle with hunchbacked radiated ogres. Instead, this story involves a planned bombing in Atlanta that will bring chaos to The National Front and the Free States. We get pages upon pages of babbling nonsense about the planned bombing, who is carrying the briefcase, where it is being dropped at and somebody in a car accident. At one point I questioned whether Swampmaster was going to make another appearance and if his Seminole Kung-Fu fighting was just all talk. 

Around the 120 page mark Swampmaster is introduced to the bombing exhibit through a third party; a female swat team member and her two martial arts dwarfs. Really? The three approach Swampmaster in the midst of his capture by a horny female mutant called Itchy Peg and her two inbred brothers. Swampmaster takes a beating and then is in the process of being raped and boob smothered by Peg when the dwarfs show up to lend a hand. From there they form a plan that involves going up the Florida coast to hijack a train full of carnival oddities so they can fetch a pilot there that can fly the Apache helicopter that was left behind in chapter two. I'm not making this up. 

Once they get Zeno and he agrees to jump in as pilot they hatch another plan that involves Swampmaster boating to a fort on the water in St. Augustine, climbing barehanded up a thirty foot wall to C4 a jail cell and rescue a scientist that apparently is key to the survival of the Free States. He does all of this in the midst of missiles, bullets and a horde of baddies that spend their spare time eating faces and sewing extra limbs on their captives. Swampmaster defeats them all and rescues Zeno. Along the way we find that the baddies are still alive and they want Swampmaster dead...and they will use his brother as a pawn. Boom. Story sequel coming.

"Swampmaster" is 232 pages of absolute nonsense. You and I love this stuff simply because it is over the top fun. Three fourths of this book is utter nonsense about planting a bomb in Atlanta and has no real connection at all with what Swampmaster is doing in the Everglades or the train full of carnival performers. Very little action, a ridiculous hero and bad guys that are middle of the road. I'm avoiding the other two books in this series and I'm begging - no pleading - for you to do the same.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Last Ranger #03 - Madman's Mansion

"The Madman's Mansion" is the third entry of this post-apocalyptic series of bullets and bravado. This was released in 1986 via Popular Library among the hysteria of the pending nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Those of you that have read my previous blog entries have already read my review of the first two books of this series. The premise is pretty simple - Stone was trained by his now deceased father, a highly experienced US Army Ranger. Stone's mother died in a post-nuclear battle with marauders and his sister was kidnapped. Stone was left with a pit bull named Excalibur, enough firepower and ammo to take out North Korea and a purpose to locate his sister. Along with the guns, martial arts training and "survival" education is a motorcyle that is armed with missiles. 'Streethawk', anyone?

I really enjoyed the first two issues of the series. "Madman's Mansion" is a continuation of the story that book two, "Savage Stronghold", presented. Stone's sister April has been kidnapped by a wheelchair bound dwarf and taken to a Colorado ski-resort that is filled with baddies. These aren't just your normal 'Mad Max'' hooligans, instead these are the baddest of the bad that are up to all kinds of tom foolery. This resort is filled with sex, bondage, slaves, drugs, gambling and gladiator bouts.

The beginning of the book gives us a worn out Stone on his way back to his secret mountainside fortress to sleep, eat and reload. From there, he travels by motorcycle through back roads of Colorado wilderness on a trek to the ski resort. He stops for the night in a small town and engages in the obligatory game of cards that results in a few dead cheaters and a friendship with a traveling salesman named Kennedy. He explains to Kennedy that he is going to the resort and of course Kennedy is going there too. Apparently this traveling vagabond puts on a Christmas show in the resort every year and he can get Stone inside using a disguise. I am just guessing here...but baddies that are engaging in gambling, snorting and humping debauchery probably won't take the time to watch Mr. Kennedy's Christmas play...but maybe that is just foolish thinking. 

Once inside Stone penetrates a blonde bombshell in Chapter Fifteen and finds his sister being sold into sex slavery. He bids on her and wins but soon the disguise fails and the dwarf captures Stone. He then forces our hero into a water filled dungeon filled with snakes, giant roaches and killer rats. Conan couldn't escape this kind of nonsense, but Stone manages to free himself. The book comes to an abrupt end as Stone is left with a truckload of whores while Kennedy and April are somewhere in the vast wilderness waiting for Stone to rescue them in book four.

Jan Stacy is clearly having a ton of fun writing this stuff. His enjoyment absolutely conveys to the reader. "The Madman's Mansion" is the perfect example of why this sub-genre of action and adventure is so appealing. This post-nuke style is wide open and allows the author complete freedom to just run wild with it. No rules, regulations or restraints. This book is an absolute blast.