U.K. author *Laurence James has become a regular staple here at Paperback Warrior. I’ve covered a host of his novels ranging from the ‘Apache’ western series to his popular post-apocalyptic runs on ‘Deathlands’ and ‘Survival 2000’. The “Piccadilly Cowboy” had a knack for science-fiction and the post-nuke formula, evident as early as 1983 with the four-book series ‘Wasteworld’. It’s debut, “Aftermath”, was released in the U.K. by the Granada publishing house under one of James’ many house names, James Barton. Collaborating with Granada is popular British artist Richard Clifton-Dey (Blue Oyster Cult, Ray Bradbury). The talented painter showcases a barren, dismal “wasteworld”, accenting hero Matthew Chance’s post-apocalyptic struggle perfectly. With rather large print at 128 pages, this is two-hours…spent.
Like any post-nuke worth its salt, “Aftermath” curtain jerks with a paragraph explaining Afghanistan was invaded, the US took the banana countries and a war was fought over Cuba. The breaking point was an invasion into Libya as the parts of the world experienced oil shortages. The bombs went up and down…and now most of the world is riddled with radiation, disease and devastation. Marine Air Corps pilot Matthew Chance was fighting in a campaign over the Crozet Islands in the Indian Ocean when the nukes exchanged. Apparently, the bombs really had no effect on Matthew or the surrounding area. Surviving the ordeal, he somehow ends up in Mexico (told to the reader through a verbal exchange with a mutant) where very little devastation has occurred. Other than the air bases, Mexico has very little radiation or physical stress. As charming as it sounds, Matthew has to get to Texas to find his ex-wife and their two children.
The book’s opening chapters has Matthew washing up on a shore in New Orleans. He’s somehow sunk a cigarette boat in the gulf with kilos of cocaine and gallons of fuel. His bartering goods are ultimately destroyed and the only possession he can carry to shore is a fighting knife. This quickly comes in handy as Matthew fights off a gang of deadly, feral cats to prove his validity. Soon, he’s exploring the city only to find New Orleans is now ran by a voodoo priest named Amos. The African Americans have actually enslaved the white survivors and now serve as labor and enforcement for “king” Amos. After seeing Caucasians being buried alive, pale-faced Matthew quickly runs for safety. He runs into a swarm of 7-foot hunchback ogres and mutant, rabid dogs. His only safety is in the sewers where he befriends a female mutant named Alice Adams. In a wacky scene we learn Alice can only communicate by ESP and she’s a permanent resident – her mutant deformity is that she is bloated to a supersized blob of lethargic fat. With that size comes great stress – she can’t fit through the sewer exits.
Alice offers to aid Matthew in his journey to Texas (how?) if he will simply go kill Amos. Matthew makes a failed attempt only to be awarded with the obligatory jail time. Amos forces Matthew to shoot a few white prisoners while requiring him to fly a Cobra helicopter into the bayou to kill an army of Cajun opposition. It’s utterly ridiculous, made even more convoluted by an insane decision on the part of Matthew to blow the helicopter up. Why not just fly the damn thing to Texas and save the family? Instead, Matthew wastes an entire helicopter fighting rabid dogs and mutants near the sewer entrance. In the book’s finale, Matthew, now teaming with the very mutants he was fighting, attempts to exchange Amos for some Cajun prisoners.
I loved the brief backstory on Matthew and the mono myth creation. This really set the book up well, and despite our hero fighting cats, he’s introduced as a likable guy. The chase scenes within the brothel and wine cellar were very effective and bordered on horror’s penchant for dark spaces and hypertension. I found James really ahead of the game with an early style of writing in describing residency. A lot of the zombie fiction of the 00s would depict characters entering homes and finding dead bodies. I always found that part of zombie fiction entertaining…although oddly anonymous and thought provoking. Here, Matthew enters a number of homes and finds the same scenario. Often, he simply drags the bodies into a room or piles them up downstairs. I thought this was a unique aspect considering the time of release – 1983. By the middle of the book James’ throws the baby out with the bath water. Alice Adams is absolutely bizarre and the vile villain is dull and lifeless. Where the book’s beginning made Matthew interesting and somewhat respectable…the closing chapters are studies in character erosion. The book’s cover painting and slim design makes it collectible…but I would never read this again.
* Justin Marriott of Paperback Fanatic, Sleazy Reader, Men of Violence, etc. suggests that this book may have been written by a different Piccadilly Cowboy in Angus Wells. He cites two different sources for pegging Wells as the author. First was an interview he did with crime writer James Harvey, who had worked with Wells and James on prior work. Second is the fact that Laurence James excludes 'Wasteworld' from his bibliography submitted to Paperback Parade.