Paperback Warrior has covered a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction paperbacks of the 1980s. Series installments in the 'Deathlands', 'Out of the Ashes', 'The Last Ranger', 'Outrider' and 'Wasteworld' to name a few. One of the longest running post-apocalyptic series was 'The Survivalist' by Jerry Ahern and his wife Sharon. It was originally published by Zebra from 1981-1993 and consisted of twenty-nine total books. In a 2010 interview with Survival Weekly, Jerry Ahern described the series as one long soap opera, a giant novel of around two million words. Since Jerry's death in 2012, Sharon has collaborated with mystery-thriller author Bob Anderson to write and publish an additional seven novels between 2013-2019. The entire series has been made available at an affordable digital price.
The series debut, 'Total War', introduces readers to John Rourke, his wife Sarah and their two children. As a former medical student, Rourke dropped out of college and joined the military. As a career soldier, Rourke later joined the CIA in their Counter Terrorism division. Now, Rourke spends his time training survival and fighting techniques globally. In the book's opening act, John departs the family's Georgia home on a business trip to Canada. It's during this time that WWIII takes place.
The book's first half is a slow-burn with a dozen characters, including the U.S. President, positioning pawns to defend Pakistan from the Soviet Union. During the increased tension, U.S. and Soviet subs come to blows and the chain reaction has 60% of America dead. The U.S. President's delay on launching nuclear missiles left most of the American military defeated but still destroying 40% of the Soviet Union's population and devastating their industrial complexes.
Once the elaborate, and plodding, chess match is over, 'Total War' shifts into the traditional post-apocalyptic formula. With John aboard a passenger jet, the pilots become blinded and John is forced down in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Across the country, Sarah and the kids are dealing with looters and marauders who quickly attack their residence. After a number of skirmishes and fighting, John and an unlikely ally face an army of savage bikers. Faced with insurmountable odds, John fights for the opportunity to gain enough supplies and fuel to start the long journey back to Georgia to locate his family.
Doomsday series titles such as 'Phoenix', 'Roadblaster', 'Swampmaster', 'Outrider' and 'The Last Ranger' all have familiar threads – brutal motorcyle gangs and an obligatory quest for the protagonist to find a loved one. This mono-myth is a common one and is often placed in extreme scenarios like nuclear war and zombie outbreaks. In the case of the 'Survivalist' debut, the familiar formula actually works quite well. I read the book in one sitting and was extremely pleased that the Ahern shifted the novel's premise from political power plays to a rugged, hardened action story complete with characters that were engaging. While the tale is well-told, the storytelling technique was outstanding if you simply suspend disbelief.
While I've been critical of Ahern’s other work (I'm pointing at you 'Track'), I'm glad I was able to find enjoyment with this series. I'm looking forward to reading more installments and encourage you to seek out these affordable digital reprints. If you love panic and hysteria, you'll find this is a real treat.
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