Laurence James (as James Axler) takes over full-time for the second entry in the post-apocalyptic series ‘Deathlands’. “Red Holocaust” was released in September of 1986, 90-days from the release of series debut “Pilgrimage to Hell”. This series is a conglomerate of science-fiction and post-nuke elements, neatly wrapped in a jacket of men’s action adventure tales. It’s a unique series, and with that comes an abundance of cheers and jeers from genre fans. I could fall in the middle as a borderline fan, but I’ve only fully digested the first two books. There’s plenty to unpack in the series with over 120 volumes making up this epic storyline.
“Red Holocaust” picks up from the end results of the first book. Ryan and the crew are emerging from a redoubt location they entered somewhere in the pacific northwest. They quickly find they are in a large stone chamber that houses cameras and speakers. While not directly threatened at this early junction, the group find they are in a precarious position. Soon, a mysterious voice comes on known as “The Keeper”. This voice commands they lay down weapons and exit the chamber or they will be gassed. The group is hesitant but continue through the exit. This redoubt is in the northern most point of Alaska and sits underground in a 70-mile long bunker. The author describes it as a large shopping mall complete with store fronts, supplies and endless media. This underground fortress is solely maintained by an old man, The Keeper, and his two wives Lori and Rachel. The three pose no immediate threat and allow Ryan and company to stay at the bunker as long as they like. The group rearms themselves using one of the shops. Ryan and Krysty take the time for lovemaking while the others rest up, watch old movies and reacquaint themselves into a regular lifestyle – as short as it may be.
Meanwhile, an army of Russians have moved into the Bering Strait area and are attempting to cross over into Alaska. These “Narodniki” (translated to proponents of Russian propaganda) are on a track to the US hoping that history books are correct. They feel that America is still firmly intact after the war, housing beautiful women, skyscrapers, large cities and immense wealth. The group is led by an imbecile named Uchitel and his brother. The author poses them as vile terrorists and makes their trek a primary piece of the book. The Narodniki take over small villages, rape everyone and engage in atrocious forms of torture and punishment. While this is happening, another group of Russian fundamentalists are in pursuit of the Narodniki – although we never really learn why. This army is led by Major Zimyanin and pieces of their trek is shown to the reader – albeit far less interesting.
At one point, Ryan is warned to never leave the bunker due to mutants prowling the outer walls. Obviously, he dismisses said warnings and journeys out only to be attacked immediately. Later, Ryan and Krysty find that there may be a pile of dead bodies inside the bunker and The Keeper and Rachel could be more dangerous than the initial observations. After leaving the armory (and seeing a crucified baby), the team is assaulted by The Keeper and Rachel and saved by an early warning from Lori. The group escape the bunker only to run into the Narodniki savages. The team is captured in a wild finale that features a nuclear bomb, Russian armies and a small earthquake. In what could be a future formula, the team “solves the crisis” and enters the redoubt once again. Book three will ultimately show the next destination and adventure.
From a development perspective, “Red Holocaust” provides plenty of thought provoking entertainment that sets more of the series’ mythology. We learn that Doc’s real name is Theophilus Tanner and that the redoubts can technically be time traveling portals. Doc explains that the government was perfecting the process but continually would lose travelers or pieces of the subjects each time they attempted forward or future travel. This book also thins out the herd a little by killing off a few members of Ryan’s team. We started with over 30…now we are down to a half-dozen. More importantly, the reader provides a lot of details regarding Krysty and her mutant powers. She has hair that can move and grasp things at her will while also allowing her incredible strength by calling on Mother Earth. I’m sure this will be expanded as we get further into the series. Next up is “Neutron Solstice” as the action moves into the deep south.