Monday, April 23, 2018

Endworld #01 - The Fox Run

Very early in his career, David Robbins wrote a 500-page epic, set a hundred years after World War III. He submitted the manuscript, and the publisher proposed dividing it up into segments: each segment would be a separate book in a new series. With mouths to feed at home, and eager to please the publisher, Robbins re-wrote his epic and padded it out to four volumes, and thus his 'Endworld' saga was born.

That was great news for Robbins, but it’s a mixed blessing for the reader. The first book in the series, “THE FOX RUN”, is 255 pages long but it’s like a dollar-menu hamburger, 50% meat and 50% fat. 

The meat is in the basics of Endworld. A community of survivors lives in a huge walled compound in what used to be Minnesota, where they’re safe from the mutant wild animals that roam everywhere. Our protagonist, Blade, heads a three-man security force which ventures outside from time to time to hunt food. There’s quite a bit of good material about the origins of the compound, the ways the survivors’ society differs from ours, and so forth. Eventually, it’s time for a plot, so raiders from an unknown settlement swoop in and kidnap some women, and our three heroes set out to rescue them. All of this stuff is pretty good, and the climactic confrontation is terrific. 

But the fat is larded through absolutely everything. There are endless conversations in which nothing very meaningful is communicated. Details about life in the compound are explained at great length, including a lot of stuff that isn’t very interesting and really doesn’t matter. The introduction of a solar-powered Hummer-like vehicle consumes a staggering number of pointless pages. The extraneous material isn’t necessarily boring, but the pace of the novel is pretty draggy as a result. Robbins is one of my favorite action/adventure writers, and ordinarily I breeze right through his books, but this one tried my patience.

There’s another key shortcoming, which is that the leading characters aren’t very three-dimensional. If Robbins had to pad out the book, I wish he’d have done it by giving us extra background and insights that would have made the characters more human and more sympathetic. I was never able to really identify with any of them, and in fact one or two of them are a little annoying. Oddly, our heroes are so sheltered and innocent that they can’t imagine why the burly interlopers have run off with the women in the first place.

To be clear, though, this isn’t a bad book. It dawdles around on the way to where it’s going, but that’s a lot better than a book that has nowhere to go at all, wasting your time with hundreds of pages about nothing. There’s a lot of potential here, and I’ll be very surprised if the later volumes aren’t up to Robbins’ usual high standard. 

As post-apocalypse epics go, this one is pretty realistic but also relatively tame. Even before the bloody climax there’s a pretty fair amount of gun and knife action, especially once the greasy invaders show up. But while other series (like 'Doomsday Warrior' and 'Phoenix') have so much berserk sex and gory splatter in them that I’d better hide them from my wife, “THE FOX RUN” is strictly PG-13.