William W. Johnstone was a prolific author that wrote across multiple genres in the 80s and 90s. While known mostly for westerns in his Last Mountain Man series, and it's many offshoots, the author created a long line of post-apocalyptic books called Out of the Ashes. The series ran 35 books and was spun-off into one additional series called The Last Rebel that managed one book release before Johnstone's passing. The thriving Johnstone estate, which continues to release monthly titles through a revolving door of authors, chose not to pursue any further entries in the series.
The first book of the series, aptly titled Out of the Ashes, was released in 1983 by Zebra. The series had a tremendous following and surely this debut entry was a runaway hit for Zebra considering series longevity. In it, the end of the world begins with a treacherous double-cross within the Washington D.C. brass. The political upheaval eventually turns to force and nuclear bombs begin falling like rain. Most of the US's most populated cities are decimated. However, 5,000 militia were privy to intelligence and prepared for the inevitable bombing. After the dust settles, they emerge from hiding and become a force known as The Rebels. In an effort to become a right-winged government superpower, they learn that the default new president, Logan, declares that the “new” America adopt military socialism. The Rebels then become true Rebels by fighting back against President Logan's new regime and his ruthless aggression.
The series protagonist is Ben Raines, a Vietnam War veteran who later went on to be a mercenary in Africa and did a lot of wetwork. Afterwards, he retired to Louisiana where he slouched on Scotch and wrote a bunch of pulp fiction. Ironically, on the day the bombs fell, Raines ends up getting stung by yellow jackets and falls down with an allergic reaction. This saves him somehow from the nuclear attack. When he wakes up several days later he realizes the apocalypse occurred. The author then spends pages and pages on Raines traveling the country writing notes about doomsday while getting laid a lot. Eventually, Ben becomes involved with the Rebels and decides to lead the forces against President Logan.
Unlike Johnstone's western series', Out of the Ashes is incredibly graphic. There's an abundance of torture, rape and sadistic villains threatening to sodomize any resistance. The over-the-top sex reminded me of David Alexander's Phoenix series. I think it was just there for shock value and didn't necessarily expand the story or develop characters. Needless to say, I'm not a fan of this book. About halfway through the novel I pondered what made this series sell and how it could have possibly attracted so many consumers. The political maneuvering and counter intelligence devoured most of the book's narrative. In terms of action, only the last 15-pages were worthy.
The end result – Out of the Ashes was simply out of ideas.
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