Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Richard Blade #26 - City of the Living Dead

The Richard Blade series was published under house name “Jeffrey Lord” and ran for 37 English-language installments between 1969 and 1984. Lyle Kenyon Engel’s Book Creations, Inc. launched the series in which an operative from Britain’s MI6 is transported via government technology into “Dimension X” where he inevitably wages battles and gets laid among different primitive and advanced societies. Every book ends with Blade beaming back to the U.K. with knowledge or technology meant to benefit the British empire. It’s basically James Bond meets Conan.

It’s hard to give this series a full-throated endorsement as the books are mostly pretty bad and rather cheesy. Despite that, I’ve read a handful and found myself enjoying them in a guilty-pleasure sorta way. After Manning Lee Stokes stopped authoring the series, other writers took over the formula including a science fiction writer named Roland J. Green who later wrote a handful of Conan books in the 80s and 90s. I randomly picked Richard Blade #26: “City of the Living Dead” from 1978 to give Green’s work a fair hearing.

As with all the books in the series, the novel opens with Richard Blade in an MI6 bunker far below the Tower of London while scientist Lord Leighton straps the electrodes to his skin that hurl Blade into Dimension X for the 26th time using a new device called “a computer.” The first chapter of every Blade paperback does a nice job of getting the reader up to speed and very few of the storylines carry forward from book to book. The upshot is that the series can be read in any order.

After a false start, Blade awakens in Dimension X. The cool thing about this realm is that it’s different every time, so the authors of the series usually start with a fairly blank canvass upon which they build their story for our hero. This iteration of Dimension X initially reminded me of Mongolia around the time of Genghis Khan - marauding primitive armies lead by warlords plundering peaceful villages for women and food while accompanied by unearthly monsters. Blade rescues a voluptuous female prisoner named Twana from the marauders, and she becomes his first graphic sex partner and tour guide through this strange world. Conveniently, the inhabitants of Dimension X all speak English to Blade’s ears.

Blade and Twana find an urban community surrounded by a giant wall (think “Game of Thrones”). Rumors shared by Twana are that the city beyond the wall is guarded by giant mechanical killer robots. To Blade, these legends hint at an advance society behind the wall in stark contrast to the hordes of savages living on the outside.

I won’t spoil what’s on the other side of the wall for you (the back cover gives away too many cool plot points), but suffice it to say that it’s pretty inventive. The science fiction “City of Peace” inside the walls was a nice contrast to the fantasy world on the outside. Coincidently, the central dilemma in the city thematically reminded me a bit of Pixar’s “Wall-E.” You can decide if that’s a good thing. 

I found myself enjoying Green’s imaginative writing and plotting way more than the early installments of the series by Stokes. I recognize this bucks the conventional wisdom regarding the Richard Blade adventures, but “City of the Living Dead” is my favorite among those I’ve read. The author finds a nice mid-point between the family-friendly entertainment of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ ‘John Carter of Mars’ books and the repugnant misogyny of John Norman’s ‘Gor’ series with lots of fun action and bloodshed along the way. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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