John Shirley is a dynamic author who is mostly known for his science-fiction, fantasy and media tie-in novels. His 1999 horror collection, “Black Butterflies”, won coveted Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild awards. As John Cutter, Shirley wrote the 11-volume vigilante series 'The Specialist' and eight volumes of the post-apocalyptic series 'Traveler'. Book five, “Road War”, was released in 1985 by Dell and could be the best that the 'Traveler' series' has to offer.
At the end of the fourth book, “To Kill a Shadow”, the series mythos of Traveler fighting Vallone/Black Rider reached its conclusion (for now). The novel's climax had Traveler meet another road warrior named Link and the two formed an uneasy alliance. The opening pages of “Road War” features the two survivors racing across the Nevada desert in the Meat Wagon (a fortified van). When they hit the dusty town of Dirt, the premise of this installment is unveiled.
In a wild and wooly bar aptly called The Fallout Shelter, an old deranged miner hops up on the bar and starts throwing out maps. The reason? He's growing senile, hates all of the bikers and gangs and wants to see all of them kill each other. The maps spark a treasure hunt for the old man's loot. With that much gold, Traveler and Link know they can buy a lot of supplies for their roaming.
In what would be a visual feast on the big screen, Traveler and Link race across the desert fighting warring factions of Road Wasps (female biker psychos), Road Rats (male biker psychos), Glory Boys (fake military) and mutant cannibals. Our Travelers use the Meat Wagon (with The Stooges on full blast) as a battering ram, consistently running and gunning through waves of hostile forces on a quest to arrive at “X Marks the Spot”. From fighting off man eating villagers to a showdown in an old mining town, the book's locations are just as big as the characters.
While a thrill-ride, easily pleasing fans of post-apocalyptic novels, “Road War” is reminiscent of the similar series 'The Last Ranger'. The first four Traveler novels lacked the characters, action and romance of 'The Last Ranger', but by book five it seems like Shirley has righted the ship. Gone is the metaphysical aspects that drowned the last book, replaced by high-powered barbarian road carnage that one would expect from the book's title. This is one of the better books of the post-apocalyptic genre.
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