Monday, April 30, 2018

The Lost Traveler

Author Steve Wilson has written a number of non-fiction books about motorcycles. In 1978 he launched a trilogy of motorcycle mystery fiction loosely titled 'Jack the Dealer' - “Dealer's Move” (1978), “Dealer's War” (1980), Dealer's Wheels (1982). The novel that he's mostly associated with is an unusual hybrid of science-fiction, western and biker action known as “The Lost Traveler”. Originally published in 1977, it has been reprinted numerous times with different artwork (at one point the additional title of “Holocaust Angels”) including various accolades commending the author and story. In 2013 a Kindle version was released by Dr. Cicero Books that contained the complete novel and an interview with the author. My review is based on the original 1977 version...because I only want one copy of this thing.

I'm prefacing this review with two important reminders: One, I don't particularly care for science-fiction. Two, I really dislike what I refer to as “military campaign” fiction. This book incorporates both of those elements, enveloping the story's more pleasant coming of age nostalgia with too much “land grab conquering”. It's really disappointing because I really loved a fourth of this novel. Which leads me to think fans of the previously mentioned genres might really like it entirely. I didn't and that's okay. The book has plenty of admirers and at some point I'm sure Wilson has enjoyed some form of monetary success from it.

Like any post-apocalyptic formula, this novel begins with the big bang. Countries nuke the Hell out of each other, releasing bombs, drugs an chemicals in an all-consuming effort to destroy each other. This event is aptly titled BLAM. This offensive lottery is summarized in the opening pages, outlining how California's biker gang, Hell's Angels, just happened to run into the US President's convoy and join him as a gritty, beer-toting security force. As preposterous as it sounds, it really makes sense – the Angels aren't that intoxicated by the drugs and chemicals due to their over excessive indulgence through the 60s and 70s. The president embraces their culture and adopts the Hell's Angels into the head of state. The Angels and what's left of the US government create a massive sanctuary known as The Fief (an idea held in fief for the unborn and the future) in the San Joaquin Valley. Like most of the 80s doomsday yarns, this one sets up two warring factions – The Fief (California and it's slave camps, farms, tyranny) and it's neighboring, equally violent gang called Peregrine Gypsies, which have their own enforcer biker gang called The Gypsies. Fast forward 200+ years.

Like Robert Tine's (Richard Harding) later series 'Outrider', this novel showcases the warring factions in cardinal points. The South (Texas and the Gulf Coast) is controlling oil and petrol (a cherished commodity when using motorcycles as military) and that cartel is on a trade basis with The Gypsies, who control the East. A pipeline is considered too vulnerable for the preying nomads, so there is a Juice Route created for tankers to run 'n gun. The North isn't really mentioned much other than it's frosty and an undesirable location for anyone. The point to all this is that essentially Hell's Angels are the good guys and we are introduced to the central character Long Range.

Long Range is our young, coming of age hero that's accepting the monomyth invitation. This journey puts Long Range on the Juice Route into the East to grab a Professor Sangria. He has a green thumb and can miraculously grow crops in the charred landscape known as Dead Lands. He's the only guy that can do this, making him one of the most important men on the planet and a reason for gruesome warfare between the factions. Joining Long Range is a spry young adventurer named Milt and Long Range's nemesis Belial, who is fresh off of running a willing gang bang on the girl Long Range is fond of. Snooze you lose. Leading the charge is a truck driver named The Barrel, who will drive the boys and bikes deep into the East and let them off to run 'n gun to Sangria. It's these middle chapters that are outrageously fun.

The trio race through Gypsies, firing and fighting through various obstacles before being captured and imprisoned in an East labor camp. Along the way Long Range gives it up to a young Native American named Rita, whom he vows to love eternally after a few romps in the hay. The closing chapters of “the good part” puts Long Range in the company of a tribe of Lakotas, who are simply doing their own thing in a central, neutral area that isn't influenced or bribed by the surrounding gangs. It's here that the book stagnates into long bouts of Native American transcending wisdom about prophecies and impending battles. It's pages and pages of this nonsense that becomes so convoluted in its own message – just deeming Long Range as a Brave Doomsday Warrior, the hero of the day, the forthcoming savior of mankind...yada yada yada. I didn't need endless scriptures from guys like Black Horse Rider. From this point it only gets worse, trolling the most boring aspects of military campaigns and land grabs from the perspective of a Colonel Crocker baddie. 

What's really interesting about this novel, again released in 1977, is its impact on the doomsday fiction of the 80s. This book's “Dead Lands” could easily be a catch-all for the long-running 'Deathlands' series. The prior mention to Tine's 'Outrider' taking some liberties with the story's navigation, or the way Wilson writes Native American allies into the story in much the same way as Ryder Syvertsen wrote it in 'The Last Ranger' series (as Craig Sargent). Long Range's own appearance is similar to what Robert Kirkman injected into 'The Walking Dead' character Daryl Dixon (biker wielding crossbow). Beyond it's endurance as a post-apocalyptic catalyst, the book melds various cultures into a euphoric, stoner vibe that speaks volumes of the 70s - “You're Okay, I'm Okay”. The opening chapters of this narrative is a drugged out reverie, blurring the boundaries of fantasy fiction in some wacky biker mythology. It's narcotized to oblivion and back again, from free loving group orgies to Medicine Man puffiness to a weird God-like semblance to the finale – a far out gaze at Long Range Jesus. It's benumbing, all of it. Lost in the shuffle is a consistent plot that makes the uber-important prophecies that impacting. 

Mesmerizing? Yes. 
Entertaining. Luke-Warm Yes. 
Memorable? Get back to me in ten years.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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