Showing posts with label Laurence James. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Laurence James. Show all posts

Friday, February 10, 2023

Deathlands #07 - Dectra Chain

Let's talk about Deathlands. So far, the series has been solid except for the mediocre fourth installment, Crater Lake. I can chalk that up to, “everyone has a bad night”, even paperback warrior Laurence James. But, James rebounded in a big way with the series' turning point, Homeward Bound, and subsequent post-apocalyptic western Pony Soldiers. I was really looking forward to this seventh novel to see where we go from here in terms of location and quality. Dectra Train was published by Gold Eagle in 1988 and remains available as a Graphic Audio Book wherever quality 80s over-the-top, post-apocalyptic literature is offered. 

After the stint in the American southwest, Ryan and the gang enter the redoubt and make the leap. Their jarred landing puts them in another redoubt that appears as if it was just utilized by someone or something. I would imagine this little plot sprinkle will re-surface in a future installment. It's like a Quantum Leap episode where Sam discovers another leaper. 

Inside the redoubt, the group's newest member, the Apache shaman Man Whose Eyes Sees No More, receives his simpler name of Donfil More, inspired by his favorite rock duo, The Everly Brothers. The group emerges from the redoubt and find a barrage of water and a mutant. After contending with the obstacles, the heroes make a raft and battle a great white shark. It turns out that the group have arrived at a seaside area of what once was the state of Maine. The author perhaps adds in a bit of his literary influences by having the group discover a road sign that lists Jerusalem's Lot (the Stephen King fictional town; Salem's Lot) and Miskatonic University (H.P. Lovecraft lore). Total freakout coolness moment. 

On with the show, Ryan leads his band of travelers to a coastal village called Claggartville. The town works in the whaling industry and have a variety of ships and crews, the largest being the Salvation captained by a hideous, sadistic woman named Pyra Quadde. The narrative leads to Ryan and Donfil placed in shackles aboard the Salvation performing hard labor. It's a typical prison-break styled story as the heroic duo attempt to survive their harsh environment while planning an escape. Meanwhile, the rest of the gang are planning to set sail to find Ryan in their hijacked boat. 

Dectra Chain is a total blast. It's like a combination of Lovecraft and Moby Dick in the smooth, velvety afterglow of a destructive mushroom cloud. I like the fact that each of the heroes had a small part to play, including Doc's unwavering voice of wisdom, which isn't completely lost in the violence and gunfire. Some could argue that this is just another nautical adventure with all of the familiar tropes, and there is some truth to that, but having these memorable Deathlands characters fighting it out on the high seas was really clever. I loved the plot development, the bad guys (and girls), the locale, and the journey through Maine in autumn. Overall, another solid installment in what is slowly becoming one of my favorite series titles of all-time.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Deathlands #06 - Pony Soldiers

Laurence James wrote a number of successful western titles like Crow, Apache and Gunslinger in the 1970s and 1980s. His violent narration provided a raw and gravelly texture to the monomyth threads of western vengeance. From that aspect, I was curious to read the author's combination of post-apocalyptic and western genres with Deathlands' sixth installment Pony Soldiers, originally published by Gold Eagle in May of 1988. 

In the last installment of the series, Homeward Bound, the original tale of Ryan Cawdor was revealed, including the final details of that story arc. After the action stopped in Virginia, the band returned to the northeast to enter the New York redoubt. Like prior novels, the heroes battle mutants before making a jump through the gate and return to a familiar place - the Alaskan redoubt featured in the series second entry Red Holocaust. In these opening chapters, Jak is hurt by a mutant animal.

Instead of staying in the Alaska location, the group choose to pursue another adventure and re-entered the redoubt. This time, they emerge in a hot, dusty desert somewhere in what was originally the southwest United States. After seeing corpses of 1800's U.S. Cavalry soldiers, Doc becomes concerned that the group has somehow made a leap back through time to the late nineteenth century. Thankfully, we realize that isn't the case. Instead, the heroes fall into a familiar scenario - warlike factions fighting for territory, supplies and superiority.

In a rather clever twist, the heroes, including the dying Jak, face off against "Pony Soldiers" led by a blonde haired maniac that may or may not be the historically famous General George C. Custer. During a firefight, Cawdor and the group are assisted by a tribe of Apache warriors led by Cuchillo Oro. Cawdor discovers that the Pony Soldiers could be involved with an old enemy, Cort Strasser. Together, the Apache warriors and the Cawdor group combine their forces to destroy the deranged and often sadistic Pony Soldiers.

As I mentioned earlier, James has a lot of fun with this book and turns it into a violent western novel similar to the titles he was writing in the 1970s. Macabre torture devices, dissection, crucifixions and the usual assortment of barbaric crimes used throughout this novel are all staples of his 1970s style of writing. In fact, fellow British author Terry Harknett’s hero Edge is quoted as a legend in the region. In addition, the name Cuchillo Oro may be familiar to fans of the Apache series from James. In this series, which began in 1974, Cuchillo Oro is the hero's name, an Apache warrior who carries a shiny golden dagger. The Cuchillo Oro in this episode of Deathlands is not the same hero as the Apache series, however the names suggest that the two are related.

Pony Soldiers advance the overall storyline and provides a number of action-packed sequences that capture the same essence and quality the series typically possesses. There's a new character that joins the group at the end of the novel and an establishment that Cort Strasser may appear as a main villain again. Overall, another solid entry into the series and further proof that Laurence James really turned the corner with Homeward Bound. This was an enjoyable reading experience.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Deathlands #05 - Homeward Bound

In January 1988, the Deathlands series continued with the fifth instalment, Homeward Bound. It was written by Laurence James, an English author who contributed to the first 33 novels in the series. In previous instalments, this basic group of six heroes was defined, including the complex role of leader Ryan Cawdor. After Neutron Solstice, the third volume of the series, a sky-level origin is explained concerning Ryan's childhood home and the existing family. As the title suggests, Homeward Bound is a real origin story with Ryan returning to his former home town to settle some old debts.

After the events of the previous novel, Crater Lake, the heroes enter the redoubt (like a teleportation chamber) and eventually emerge in northern New York. After quickly recovering supplies and weapons, the heroes begin a long voyage along the northeast coast. To match the typical action pattern of the series, this trek involves battles with bandits and mutants on the Mohawk and Hudson River. James' spends brief moments, allowing readers to absorb the loss and devastation of historical places as the characters pass New York City's destroyed Twin Towers (eerily prophetic), the Statue of Liberty and even a brief explanation of America's Civil War battles. 

After the long coastal voyage, the heroic group arrives at Virginia's Front Royal. Ryan starts explaining some of his past to the group, including his relationship with his brother Harvey. He was the second of three sons born to Titus and Cynthia Cawdor. Ryan's mom passed away one year after he was born. When Harvey was 14, he murdered his brother Morgan and then attempted to kill Ryan. In the violent exchange, Ryan lost one eye and was given a horrible scar on his cheek. Ryan managed to escape and Harvey eventually murdered their father.

After a number of exciting chases and shootouts, the group finds a mysterious man named Nathan Freeman leading a patrol on the outskirts of a village called Sherville. This is where Ryan begins to recognize Nathan as part of the family of his past. The group discusses the Baron Harvey's brutal dictatorship over Front Royal, complete with an "orchard" of decomposing bodies that failed to comply with Harvey's strictly enforced rules. Ryan also finds out that Harvey has an evil wife and a sadistic mutated son. The plan of attack is to just waltz around Front Royal as traders hoping to infiltrate the kingdom to strategize an attack. Needless to say, things are going very badly for the group in the second half of the book as Ryan and his friends are held prisoner for a "most dangerous game" hunting exhibit.

I was only lukewarm about this series after reading the first four novels. I enjoyed the debut, Pilgrimage to Hell, but found it a little confusing and fragmented, partly due to being written by James after original author Christopher Lowder's departure. The second volume, Red Holocaust, was a more definite plot with an exciting premiss of Ryan fighting the Soviet Union in Alaska. The subsequent Neutron Solstice and Crater Lake weren't particularly memorable and became very predictable. 

Homeward Bound is by far the best entry in the series thus far. It marks a milestone in Deathlands with so many events from the past and the near future having an important impact on these characters. The action sequences, dialogue and expansive second half were gripping, violent and often humorous. The chase segments at the end were phenomenal and the threesome of villains was interesting enough to keep them from being just one-dimensional characters. All in all, it was absolutely a solid novel and that gives me great hope for the next installments. I think James really turned the corner here and I'm expecting nothing but great things moving forward.

Note - This novel was the premise for the SyFy channel's 2003 film. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Caleb Thorn #01 - The First Shot

With a wide variety of pen names under his belt, Laurence James was a British author who wrote a ton of violent paperback original series titles set in the American West (Edge, Apache) as well as in a post-apocalyptic USA (Deathlands, Wasteworld). In 1978, James authored a four-book series of bloody Civil War adventures using the pen name L.J. Coburn starring Union soldier Caleb Thorn and his team of misfit irregulars kicking Confederate ass. The series is available today as super-cheap ebooks, and the first installment is titled The First Shot.

The year is 1861 and the U.S. Civil War is in its infancy. Caleb Thorn is a cocky, 21 year-old northerner from a wealthy Washington, DC family. He’s engaged to a psychotic young southerner named Rachel who gets off on whipping her slaves to death on trumped-up sexual assault charges. The fact that Caleb routinely kills his rivals in duels is a plus for his blood-thirsty fiancĂ©.

As the war between the states intensifies, Caleb is mostly a disinterested observer. He eventually kills rebels with a flourish for recreation but cares nothing of the freedom and well-being of enslaved blacks. In fact, other than bloodlust, it’s hard to put a finger on what motivates Caleb. He’s not a particularly likable protagonist, and you need to be comfortable with this fact before setting on the road with such and imperfect - and at times loathsome - character. If you can accept Caleb on his own terms, the reader gets to have a front seat as Caleb bears witness to the Battle of Bull Run and other significant moments of the war’s early days.

Eventually, Caleb suffers a personal tragedy that crystallizes his hate for Confederate soldiers. He is placed in a Union infantry unit unattached to any regiment giving him the freedom to kill rebs when he encounters them without any wartime red tape. The men of Caleb’s unit are all of poor character released from a death row stockade to ride with Caleb. It’s a less-than-magnificent group of seven killers and criminals assembled for a brief mission to end this novel and set up the action for the rest of the series.

In addition to several scenes of shocking violence, the author wove in some bizarre and head-scratching details into this debut. For example, it’s implied that Caleb has an ongoing sexual relationship with his own mother. There are other non-familial sex scenes in the novel with other partners that are every bit as graphic as an edition of the Longarm series of adult westerns.

Overall, The First Shot is a darn fine series debut, and I’m very excited to dive into subsequent installments. If you liked the Civil War flashbacks in the Edge series, you’ll feel right at home with Caleb Thorn.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, March 13, 2020

Wasteworld #04 - My Way

With 1984's “My Way”, the four-book 'Wasteworld' series comes to an abrupt end. Authored by a combination of Laurence James and Angus Wells, this post-apocalyptic series centered on U.S. military veteran Matthew Chance and his perilous endeavors to reach his ex-wife and kids in Utah. Beginning in New Orleans, each book showcases Chance's road to survival through warlords, mutants and dictators in the same manner that popular doomsday series titles 'The Survivalist', 'Doomsday Warrior' and 'The Last Ranger' also did.

In the ‘Wasteworld’ third installment, “Angels”, Chance had seemingly met his match with a vicious gang of Hell's Angels bikers. Thankfully, a female Apache warrior named Kathi saved the day in the book's grandiose finale. “My Way” is a seamless continuation as Kathi and Chance head north into Nevada. After a couple of quick run 'n gun battles, Kathi's part of the narrative concludes and Chance arrives in Las Vegas to begin another adventure.

After meeting a nice mechanic and his hospitable family, Chance learns that Vegas is now controlled by two brothers, Al and Tony Clementi. Like a 1950s crime-noir paperback, the two brothers control the city's gambling venues and drinking halls. When they target the mechanic's young daughter, Chance is thrust into a war with a doomsday crime syndicate. After killing Al, Tony's faction declares war on Chance. While that narrative comes to fruition, a side-story develops with three bounty hunters from Texas hunting Chance through the Vegas rubble.

Despite the book's exciting premise, “My Way” fails to deliver a pleasant reading experience. Far too often the authors digress from the narrative to explain a minor character's history or to inform readers of an outlaw's infamous history. For example, there's a whole segment on Billy the Kid. While the action was enthralling, I felt it was misplaced and untimely. When key scenes required gunplay, the reader was served dialogue. But when a descriptive scene analysis is required, the characters just shoot it all to Hell.

While publisher Granada probably had a limited circulation (UK and New Zealand only), the sales numbers just didn't produce a commercially-successful series. Unfortunately, “My Way” wasn’t written as a series finale, so invested readers aren't provided a proper conclusion to Matthew Chance's epic struggle. This novel's poor execution ensured that interest in a proper ending likely dwindled among readers. Looking at the series as a whole, the first and fourth books were lukewarm while the second and third installments were very enjoyable. Having read the Wasteworld saga once, I'm not terribly interested in ever reading it again. It might be worth the time and effort to track down the series, but there are certainly far better books to pursue.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Wasteworld #03 - Angels

Laurence James and Angus Wells were both prolific UK authors that were at the core of the Piccadilly Cowboys group of western, action and science-fiction writers. The four-book series entitled 'Wasteworld' launched in 1983 to capitalize on the nuclear hysteria of the 1980s. It's a post-apocalyptic series written by James, Wells, or a combination of both. While the verdict is still out on who actually authored the series, it was certainly a great run of action-adventure titles. After a rough start with the debut, I enjoyed the subsequent novel “Resurrection” immensely. Does the third book capture that same enjoyment?

1984's “Angels” begins with hero Matthew Chance gathering supplies to continue his journey to Salt Lake City. His wife and kids are residing in a spiritual encampment, and Chance has traveled from New Orleans to Texas throughout the course of the first two books to free them. Still in Texas, Chance has now met up with a scraggly scavenger and his snarling dog. After an intense encounter, the two agree to work together to secure a souped up Dodge Charger across town. Unfortunately, its guarded by the Nightpeople (think of those sand creatures from Star Wars). I won't ruin the fun for you, but the authors inject some terror into this car heist.

However, the bulk of the narrative revolves around a sadistic group of Hell's Angels bikers and their ill-will towards Chance. Like a twisted scene from David Alexander's 'Phoenix' series, the bikers force Chance into a motocross nightmare featuring spikes, chains, traps and guns. It's an exhilarating sequence that propels Chance into another adventure that reaches fruition by the book's finale. I was surprised to find that “Angels” climaxes in a cliff-hanger requiring top dollar for the fourth and last paperback of the series.

I've ran the gauntlet of 80s post-apocalypse paperbacks like 'Swampmaster', 'Phoenix', 'Roadblaster', 'Deathlands', 'Survival 2000', 'Last Ranger', etc. I'd say I've enjoyed this series more than any of them. You will too.

Note – Wells/James inserts a reference to Cuchillo, an Apache warrior that starred in the 'Apache' series of 1970s westerns penned by a combination of Laurence James, Terry Harknett and John Harvey. This mirrors the cameo appearance that Cuchillo makes in James' 'Deathlands' series. Wild!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Wasteworld #02 - Resurrection

The men's action-adventure genre of the 1980s was a license to print money capitalizing on Cold War hysteria. Pop-culture was consistently buzzing with what was conceived as an inevitable nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Films like “The Road Warrior” and “Mad Max” proved to be catalysts spurning the post-apocalyptic movement that eventually would permeate men's action fiction. With series' like 'Doomsday Warrior', 'Deathlands' and 'Out of the Ashes', the genre spiked by the mid-80s and created a number of shorter series titles and stand-alone novels.

U.K. authors Laurence James and Angus Wells were members of the “Piccadilly Cowboys”, a faction of British writers that concentrated on violent western titles including 'Apache', 'Adam Steele' and 'Edge'. James was a tremendous contributor to the post-apocalyptic genre as well, penning a number of 'Deathlands' novels as well as a trilogy called 'Survival 2000'. Teaming with U.K. publishing house Granada, and his contemporary Angus Wells, James launched a four-book series called 'Wasteworld' in 1983 that featured vivid artwork from acclaimed illustrator Richard Clifton-Dey (Blue Oyster Cult, Ray Bradbury).

The second entry, “Resurrection”, features survivor Matthew Chance driving a worn-out Daitsu through rural Texas. Readers were first introduced to Chance in the series debut “Aftermath”, where Chance's background as United States Marine Corps pilot led to a subsequent post-nuke campaign in the Crozet Islands in the Indian Ocean. Making his way through Mexico, Chance was shipwrecked in New Orleans on a quest to find his ex-wife and family. After disposing of a defacto dictator and liberating a tunnel of mutants, “Resurrection” picks up seamlessly from those events.

The book's opening scenes pits the wiry Chance against a gigantic mutant spider. The harrowing fight is a tantalizing suggestion that this book may be an improvement over the series' disappointing debut. After the spider fight, Chance finds himself in what remains of Austin, now a fortified, smaller city ran by Chance's brutish former father-in-law, Garth Chambers. The survivor settlement is now ruled by Chambers and features only two classes – military and prisoner.

The plot of “Resurrection” solidifies when Chambers imprisons Chance leading to their ironic twists-of-fate; Chambers needs Chance as a pilot in servitude, and Chance needs the whereabouts of Chambers' daughter and grandchildren. In an unlikely alliance, Chance is forced to work with Chambers until he can learn the location of his family. That brings the book's rowdy finale into view – the inevitable showdown between the two forces. However, to avoid the elementary premise, the authors introduce a mutant army called The Nightmen that will be forced to choose sides. Ultimately, a bomb shelter housing a lone prospector named Fairweather proves to be the key in Chance's fight.

Unlike the debut, “Resurrection” is an explosive action-adventure that meets the needs of avid post-apocalyptic fiction fans. High-octane car chases, gunfights with bandits, mutant insects and two charismatic forces enhance this ordinary “bully versus drifter” western archetype. In terms of genre quality, it ranks up there with the best of 'The Last Ranger' books and equals the chaotic enjoyment of the 'Traveler' series.  These used books are expensive and difficult to find, but based on this entry, it might be a worthy investment.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Apache #02 - Knife in the Night

'Apache' was a gritty 1970s western series created by the U.K.'s Piccadilly Cowboy group. Mainly, the series was written by Terry Harknett and Laurence James, with both authors alternating entries. Later, Harknett departed and John Harvey took over his place. Overall, there were 27 novels total and all credited to house name William M. James. “Knife in the Night” was released by Pinnacle in 1974, penned by Laurence James, and appealed to fans of the more modern violent westerns like 'Edge'. It's packed to the gills with brutality, rape and bloodshed, yet none of it is over utilized to be a hindrance to the story. 

“Knife in the Night” picks right up with the closing of the series debut, “The First Death”. Our hero, Cuchillo, has fled from Fort Davidson after his wife and baby are killed by the US Army, led by the despicable Captain Pinner. Those events were prefaced by Cuchillo being accused of stealing an ornamental dagger from Pinner. After torturing Cuchillo and removing some fingers, the violence escalated with more attacks and the fiery finale that found Pinner and the group repelling and killing the Apache raid and leaving Cuchillo on the run at the Arizona and Mexican border.

Cuchillo watches helplessly as a Mexican raiding party wipes out most of Fort Buchanan, leaving the women raped and killed and most of the soldiers dismembered and scalped. The Army will believe it was the Apaches that committed the atrocities, continuing the hunt and massacre of the few remaining braves that Cuchillo considers his tribe. In one atmospheric chapter, Cuchillo hunts and kills all 14 Mexicans on a rainy night in the mountains. This smooth, calculated effort is masterfully penned by Harknett, increasing the tension to the breaking point without committing to an onslaught. It's one of the best scenes I've read in a long time. 

The remainder of the book has the Apaches raiding Fort Davidson (again) while Pinner is off buying steer. They systematically torture and kill (bordering on sadism) while Cuchillo attempts to free his life-long friend, white man John Hedges. The book sets up another confrontation between Cuchillo and Pinner, but in an effort to continue the series mythos, it will need to spill over into the next book (and maybe the next 24?). Overall, another quality U.K. western from those talented Piccadilly Cowboys. Next is “Duel to the Death”.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Deathlands #03 - Neutron Solstice

Gold Eagle released “Neutron Solstice” in March of 1987. The novel is the third installment in the long running post-apocalyptic series 'Deathlands' and is penned by Laurence James (as James Axler). The last book, “Red Holocaust”, had our magnificent seven entering a redoubt in Alaska, with the last page promising that the exit would be hot. Thus the stage is set for this book, “Neutron Solstice”, which has it's location in the balmy swamps of Louisiana.

At 254-pages, this book could have shaved 50+ pages off. Aside from a few firefights, it's lacking any forward pacing or substantial plot development. Instead, it methodically sets up exploration, locations and the familiar “kidnap and torture” premise that's overly utilized. Voodoo themes, telekinesis and even the walking dead are par for the course for any destructive fantasy set on the bayou, yet even those factors don't elevate the book to an enjoyable pace. The end result finds this one average at best.

The story has Ryan and his crew facing a squad of bullies led by the tall, crippled Baron Tourment (get it?). He has a physic mutation and fears that his kingdom will fall to a man with one eye – Ryan. The Baron is camped in a Best Western hotel with troops and a lieutenant named Mephisto. Across the village at Holiday Inn lies our heroes, now six after losing a member. There's endless scouting and planning, that ultimately leads to Krysty and Lori being captured and used as rape bait. Ryan's team aligns with a ragtag group of survivors led by Jak Lauren, an albino teenager that has a knack for killing. The finale is entertaining but highly predictable. 

Embedded in the narrative is some backstory on Ryan. His home is in Front Royal, VA and he escaped death at the hands of his evil brother Harvey. This sinister sibling killed Ryan's older brother Morgan and is also the culprit behind Ryan's missing eye. Harvey also sired a child with his father's wife. It's messy and will eventually be expanded in the fifth novel “Homeward Bound”. In between is the fourth title, "Crater Lake". I'm on it.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Wasteworld #01 - Aftermath

U.K. author *Laurence James has become a regular staple here at Paperback Warrior. I’ve covered a host of his novels ranging from the ‘Apache’ western series to his popular post-apocalyptic runs on ‘Deathlands’ and ‘Survival 2000’. The “Piccadilly Cowboy” had a knack for science-fiction and the post-nuke formula, evident as early as 1983 with the four-book series ‘Wasteworld’. It’s debut, “Aftermath”, was released in the U.K. by the Granada publishing house under one of James’ many house names, James Barton. Collaborating with Granada is popular British artist Richard Clifton-Dey (Blue Oyster Cult, Ray Bradbury). The talented painter showcases a barren, dismal “wasteworld”, accenting hero Matthew Chance’s post-apocalyptic struggle perfectly. With rather large print at 128 pages, this is two-hours…spent.

Like any post-nuke worth its salt, “Aftermath” curtain jerks with a paragraph explaining Afghanistan was invaded, the US took the banana countries and a war was fought over Cuba. The breaking point was an invasion into Libya as the parts of the world experienced oil shortages. The bombs went up and down…and now most of the world is riddled with radiation, disease and devastation. Marine Air Corps pilot Matthew Chance was fighting in a campaign over the Crozet Islands in the Indian Ocean when the nukes exchanged. Apparently, the bombs really had no effect on Matthew or the surrounding area. Surviving the ordeal, he somehow ends up in Mexico (told to the reader through a verbal exchange with a mutant) where very little devastation has occurred. Other than the air bases, Mexico has very little radiation or physical stress. As charming as it sounds, Matthew has to get to Texas to find his ex-wife and their two children.

The book’s opening chapters has Matthew washing up on a shore in New Orleans. He’s somehow sunk a cigarette boat in the gulf with kilos of cocaine and gallons of fuel. His bartering goods are ultimately destroyed and the only possession he can carry to shore is a fighting knife. This quickly comes in handy as Matthew fights off a gang of deadly, feral cats to prove his validity. Soon, he’s exploring the city only to find New Orleans is now ran by a voodoo priest named Amos. The African Americans have actually enslaved the white survivors and now serve as labor and enforcement for “king” Amos. After seeing Caucasians being buried alive, pale-faced Matthew quickly runs for safety. He runs into a swarm of 7-foot hunchback ogres and mutant, rabid dogs. His only safety is in the sewers where he befriends a female mutant named Alice Adams. In a wacky scene we learn Alice can only communicate by ESP and she’s a permanent resident – her mutant deformity is that she is bloated to a supersized blob of lethargic fat. With that size comes great stress – she can’t fit through the sewer exits.

Alice offers to aid Matthew in his journey to Texas (how?) if he will simply go kill Amos. Matthew makes a failed attempt only to be awarded with the obligatory jail time. Amos forces Matthew to shoot a few white prisoners while requiring him to fly a Cobra helicopter into the bayou to kill an army of Cajun opposition. It’s utterly ridiculous, made even more convoluted by an insane decision on the part of Matthew to blow the helicopter up. Why not just fly the damn thing to Texas and save the family? Instead, Matthew wastes an entire helicopter fighting rabid dogs and mutants near the sewer entrance. In the book’s finale, Matthew, now teaming with the very mutants he was fighting, attempts to exchange Amos for some Cajun prisoners.

I loved the brief backstory on Matthew and the mono myth creation. This really set the book up well, and despite our hero fighting cats, he’s introduced as a likable guy. The chase scenes within the brothel and wine cellar were very effective and bordered on horror’s penchant for dark spaces and hypertension. I found James really ahead of the game with an early style of writing in describing residency. A lot of the zombie fiction of the 00s would depict characters entering homes and finding dead bodies. I always found that part of zombie fiction entertaining…although oddly anonymous and thought provoking. Here, Matthew enters a number of homes and finds the same scenario. Often, he simply drags the bodies into a room or piles them up downstairs. I thought this was a unique aspect considering the time of release – 1983. By the middle of the book James’ throws the baby out with the bath water. Alice Adams is absolutely bizarre and the vile villain is dull and lifeless. Where the book’s beginning made Matthew interesting and somewhat respectable…the closing chapters are studies in character erosion. The book’s cover painting and slim design makes it collectible…but I would never read this again.

* Justin Marriott of Paperback Fanatic, Sleazy Reader, Men of Violence, etc. suggests that this book may have been written by a different Piccadilly Cowboy in Angus Wells. He cites two different sources for pegging Wells as the author. First was an interview he did with crime writer James Harvey, who had worked with Wells and James on prior work. Second is the fact that Laurence James excludes 'Wasteworld' from his bibliography submitted to Paperback Parade. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Deathlands #02 - Red Holocaust

Laurence James (as James Axler) takes over full-time for the second entry in the post-apocalyptic series ‘Deathlands’. “Red Holocaust” was released in September of 1986, 90-days from the release of series debut “Pilgrimage to Hell”. This series is a conglomerate of science-fiction and post-nuke elements, neatly wrapped in a jacket of men’s action adventure tales. It’s a unique series, and with that comes an abundance of cheers and jeers from genre fans. I could fall in the middle as a borderline fan, but I’ve only fully digested the first two books. There’s plenty to unpack in the series with over 120 volumes making up this epic storyline.

“Red Holocaust” picks up from the end results of the first book. Ryan and the crew are emerging from a redoubt location they entered somewhere in the pacific northwest. They quickly find they are in a large stone chamber that houses cameras and speakers. While not directly threatened at this early junction, the group find they are in a precarious position. Soon, a mysterious voice comes on known as “The Keeper”. This voice commands they lay down weapons and exit the chamber or they will be gassed. The group is hesitant but continue through the exit. This redoubt is in the northern most point of Alaska and sits underground in a 70-mile long bunker. The author describes it as a large shopping mall complete with store fronts, supplies and endless media. This underground fortress is solely maintained by an old man, The Keeper, and his two wives Lori and Rachel. The three pose no immediate threat and allow Ryan and company to stay at the bunker as long as they like. The group rearms themselves using one of the shops. Ryan and Krysty take the time for lovemaking while the others rest up, watch old movies and reacquaint themselves into a regular lifestyle – as short as it may be.

Meanwhile, an army of Russians have moved into the Bering Strait area and are attempting to cross over into Alaska. These “Narodniki” (translated to proponents of Russian propaganda) are on a track to the US hoping that history books are correct. They feel that America is still firmly intact after the war, housing beautiful women, skyscrapers, large cities and immense wealth. The group is led by an imbecile named Uchitel and his brother. The author poses them as vile terrorists and makes their trek a primary piece of the book. The Narodniki take over small villages, rape everyone and engage in atrocious forms of torture and punishment. While this is happening, another group of Russian fundamentalists are in pursuit of the Narodniki – although we never really learn why. This army is led by Major Zimyanin and pieces of their trek is shown to the reader – albeit far less interesting.

At one point, Ryan is warned to never leave the bunker due to mutants prowling the outer walls. Obviously, he dismisses said warnings and journeys out only to be attacked immediately. Later, Ryan and Krysty find that there may be a pile of dead bodies inside the bunker and The Keeper and Rachel could be more dangerous than the initial observations. After leaving the armory (and seeing a crucified baby), the team is assaulted by The Keeper and Rachel and saved by an early warning from Lori. The group escape the bunker only to run into the Narodniki savages. The team is captured in a wild finale that features a nuclear bomb, Russian armies and a small earthquake. In what could be a future formula, the team “solves the crisis” and enters the redoubt once again. Book three will ultimately show the next destination and adventure.

From a development perspective, “Red Holocaust” provides plenty of thought provoking entertainment that sets more of the series’ mythology. We learn that Doc’s real name is Theophilus Tanner and that the redoubts can technically be time traveling portals. Doc explains that the government was perfecting the process but continually would lose travelers or pieces of the subjects each time they attempted forward or future travel. This book also thins out the herd a little by killing off a few members of Ryan’s team. We started with over 30…now we are down to a half-dozen. More importantly, the reader provides a lot of details regarding Krysty and her mutant powers. She has hair that can move and grasp things at her will while also allowing her incredible strength by calling on Mother Earth. I’m sure this will be expanded as we get further into the series. Next up is “Neutron Solstice” as the action moves into the deep south.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Deathlands #01 - Pilgrimage to Hell

‘Deathlands’ is yet another series that has periodically slipped through my hands over the years. The covers were always inviting, promising an entertaining trip through post-nuke America. For whatever reason, I just never bothered purchasing or reading any of them. Now, as I get further and further through westerns, crime and apocalyptic styled yarns (and yawns), I’m revisiting the books that just never made the cut initially. Thus ‘Pilgrimage to Hell’, the first book of the series and my first taste of this long-running, highly recommended series. 

The series was introduced in January, 1986 by publishing giant Gold Eagle. It has run for 130 books as well as an ill-conceived SyFy film. The concept was created by U.K. author Christopher Lowder, a talent that contributed to science fiction and adventure stories for the likes of ‘The House of Hammer’, ‘2000 A.D.’ and ‘Thunder and Lion’. Lowder worked on the series’ first entry, ‘Pilgrimage to Hell’, but had to stop writing it due to an illness. This led to Lowder arguably writing the first ¾ of the novel before conceding the book, and a majority of the series, to fellow British writer Laurence James. James was a member of the “Piccadilly Cowboys” and wrote 12-14 novels a year under various pen-names. Before working on the ‘Deathlands’ series, James had contributed to motorcycle, Viking, science fiction and post-apocalyptic novels.

The book’s opening pages presents a detailed history of how Earth was ravaged by a nuclear exchange in 2001. It’s lengthy (on paper almost 20 pages), and documents a ton of information that I thought I might need to remember…but it turns out none of it even matters other than Earth has changed significantly due to bombs and radiation (yes, it’s the inevitable Soviet-US fiery transaction). Geography consists of various hot and cold spots with dark clouds that seemingly burn the sky. Mutants, sickness and plagues take over and cull the weak, resulting in decades of famine and death. The opening chapter puts us in 2101, 100 years removed from the big bang and roughly two to three generations after the civilization that we know. The end result is a barren wasteland that resembles some sort of alien landscape than the Earth that we all know and love. Mutants, telepaths, warriors and Barons (leaders) populate what was once the US, ruling small villages and towns and recreating the shambles of what life once was despite the “nuclear winter” effects. It’s medieval, putting this book and series more in line with the fantasy genre than the typical post-nuke adventure. 

No disrespect to Lowder, but his writing style for the first half of the book is very restless. About 100 pages in I was seriously questioning my decision to read this and if I had enough focus to retain much of the information presented. There is a lot to unpack after several chapters, including multiple characters that could be major or minor characters early on. At one point I couldn’t keep track of which character was saying the dialogue and how they were related to the group. The book’s opening half centers around a telepathic mutant named Kurt who is assisting a group of bandits. They are attempting a journey north into a frosty wasteland known as The Darks. It’s here that a fabled treasure of supplies and wealth exists…yet no one has ever returned from the area safely. As soon as the group enter the area…tentacles and claws emerge from the fog and they are seemingly killed off.

From that point we are then introduced to a mysterious guy named Trader and his motorized convoy as they travel to the ville of Mocsin. Trader runs three large trucks (what I would think of as armored tractor trailers) and about 40 men and women - including his comrade, and series main star, Ryan Cawdor. This group are legendary traders and travelers and do business with the Baron Jordan Teauge, a notoriously bad man that has quite the reputation for raping, killing and stealing. The group is attacked by mutants led by a character named Scale before eventually rescuing another series mainstay, the beautiful Krysty Wroth (I told you there were a ton of characters). The convoy engages in road combat and run ‘n gun with a host of baddies including mutants named Stickies (they literally pull flesh from bones on contact) and Teauge’s rogue baddie Cort Strasser. Eventually, the convoy arrives near Mocsin where the book settles into a groove at the halfway point.

Lowder finishes off his portion of the book with a bit of western styled storytelling. Ryan, Krysty and company are captured by the now crooked Strasser and Teauge. During their capture, they meet an interesting character named Doc Tanner who may, or may not be, from another time period all together. He speaks in Victoria era broken sentences, but seems to know more about The Darks than anyone else. The gang breaks free of Strasser and eventually reunites with Trader and the convoy. More skirmishes and gunfights occur as the group attempts to escape Strasser and an army of mutants. Along the way we learn Trader is dying, Ryan is in love with Krysty and the whole group is embarking on a trip to The Darks to learn the secrets or seal their fate.

In what is essentially the whole premise of the book, the gang fractures off into a main cast of just eight characters as they learn that “redoubts” exist all over the country. Think of these as teleportation stations that allow them to jump all over the country in seconds. We assume that they somehow lead to time travel based on Doc’s misplacement in 2101…but future volumes will address that (I hope). The book finishes on a cliffhanger that promises a second book will continue the current storyline. 

The book’s much more focused and arranged with James writing the last fourth and I’m glad that we slimmed down on the number of characters. While the first half was a bit messy, I’m a bit sympathetic with Lowder’s monumental undertaking. He had a lot of ground to cover, a huge storyline to introduce and just under a few hundred pages to accomplish the feat. While I’m sorry he couldn’t finish his effort, James really comes in and makes it his own. I’m looking forward to more of this series. Science fiction, fantasy, action adventure? Really it is all three with a slight nod to Lovecraft horror. This was a surprising concept that definitely puts ‘Deathlands’ outside of the typical post-nuke novels of the 80s and early 90s.

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Sunday, December 3, 2017

Apache #01 - The First Death

I had been reading up on the U.K. westerns of the 70s and stumbled on a series entitled ‘Apache’. Further reading brought me up to speed on a familiar name in western fiction – Piccadilly Cowboys. This group consisted of writers Terry Harknett, Kenneth Bulmer, Mike Linaker, Angus Wells, Laurence James, Fred Nolan and John Harvey (if not more). Collectively, they wrote a ton of westerns and individually contributed to science fiction and men’s action adventure genres. ‘Apache’ was a bit of a snowball effect resulting from the tremendous success of the violent western series ‘Edge’. According to the excellent blog "Western Fiction Review", ‘Edge’ was published by George Gilman, a pseudonym for authors Terry Harknett and Laurence James. Harknett (under the name William M. James) wrote the debut ‘Apache’ novel “The First Death”, released in February, 1974 through Pinnacle. The series would run from 1974 through 1984 – 27 books written by Harknett and John Harvey (later). Thankfully, I was able to track down an Ebook copy of “The First Death” using a nifty online library –

Although the year is never mentioned, the book is set somewhere around 1861. There is a mentioning of a possible rebellion against the Union in the East, thus the beginnings of the U.S. Civil War. The book begins with Lieutenant Pinner riding troops into an Apache rancheria in the Arizona Territory of the Department of New Mexico. He’s looking for a Native American that he suspects stole his prized golden dagger, a cherished gift from his father. Pinner is a royal dick and routinely takes his aggression out on what is now a peaceful tribe of Apache. Their chief, Black Horse, allows Pinner’s troops to run through the tepees searching for the dagger, putting aside frustration and pride for the greater good. 18-year old brave Cuchillo sees the invasion from a rock outcropping and races in to protect his wife Chipeta and his newborn son. In a shocking early revelation, Cuchillo produces the dagger from inside of his shirt. Pinner and the troops take Cuchillo back to nearby Fort Davidson for trial. Pinner asks his superior, Major Anson, to execute Cuchillo, but the leader suggests removing Cuchillo’s index finger as a suitable punishment. Pinner, in a prime asshat move, actually removes two fingers in a disturbing and graphic scene.

Harknett introduces a solid backstory outlining Cuchillo’s place in the tribe, a feud with fellow brave White Dog and his friendship with the white John Hedges, whom has educated Cuchillo with English culture. Cuchillo provides a valid explanation as to why he had Pinner’s dagger, and later, tangles with the violent father-son due of Nathan and Armstrong Ford – two pivotal characters in the book’s ultimate plotline. Cuchillo attempts to settle the dagger transaction, only to run afoul of the Fords, killing one of them. Before he can return back to the rancheria, the cavalry arrests Cuchillo’s wife and retains his son until the brave returns to Fort Davidson to confess and ultimately hang. This puts Cuchillo in the worst situation – trading his own life for his wife and son’s.

The book’s violent finale has Fort Davidson’s scum run the rape train on Cuchillo’s wife. It’s a brutal scene, but done with just enough detail to paint the revenge scenario facing Cuchillo and the reader. It’s tough to read, but isn’t a grizzly, squeamish scene. I’m glad the author held back a bit…enough is enough with the cruelty. The climatic ending is a shocker, but a mandatory finale to set up the long running series. I’ve got to have book two…right now.

I’ve read a ton of western fiction but I’m going to put ‘Apache’ in the upper echelon. It’s a quick read at under 200 pages, with just enough violence and a good mystery to saturate the book’s contents. I’m hoping this series will expand on the Cuchillo and Pinner conflict while also furthering the development of White Dog’s feud. I can’t say enough good things about this book. Based on this debut, ‘Apache’ looks like a winning formula. 

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Survival 2000 #03 - Frozen Fire

After the rousing success of Deathlands, publisher Gold Eagle jumped into the post-apocalyptic arena again with Survival 2000. It was a three-book series released in 1991 and penned by journeyman author Laurence James (Deathlands, Apache). The series focuses on a father and son duo, David and Lee, as they trek across the Pacific Northwest after devastating meteors destroy most of civilization. The series debut, Blood Quest, introduced the series premise and migrated the action from California to Montana. The subsequent entry, Renegade War, found the duo battling a bully and the obligatory marauders that always remain prevalent in this type of fiction. Frozen Fire is the series finale and I'm hoping Laurence James can rebound from delivering a rather flat second installment. 

By book three, I've come to realize that the series is exactly what the title entails – survival. I love that aspect of the writing style but would still love to see some villains appear to provide some more human opposition. Obviously, the first two entries had the occasional gunfight and plenty of firearm jargon, but the central concept has always been the journey. This final chapter is no different as we see Dave, Lee and Zera move further north in their chase. A few firefights are thrown in along the way but I found they were anti-climatic and forced into the narrative instead of a natural progression. Hell, a portion of this book has Dave trying to find a dentist to fix his mouth. 

Frozen Fire wasn't exactly the edge-of-your-seat action that Gold Eagle typically publishes. Once the final showdown came, roughly nine pages from the end, it was a brief struggle that led to an abrupt closure. I can't help but think of the Wasteworld series and it's watered down narrative splashed over four books – some good, some really bad. Overall, Survival 2000 was just average...nothing more, nothing less. One can certainly survive without it.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Survival 2000 #02 - Renegade War

Survival 2000 was a short-lived, three-book series of post-apocalyptic novels released by Gold Eagle in 1991. Seasoned author Laurence James wrote the series under the pseudonym James McPhee. In the book's opening installment, Blood Quest, readers learn that the Earth was nearly destroyed by asteroids in 2025. The book's protagonists, father and son team David and Lee, are pursuing family members that escaped California's demise by retreating east to Montana. The series next chapter, Renegade War, seamlessly picks up where the previous installment ended. 

In Renegade War, heroes David and Lee are chasing after a villain named Sheever and his brutish horsemen to reclaim their family. Joining the trip is David's girlfriend Zera and a doctor named Keyle. Much like the previous book, James centers most of the action on simply getting from point A to point B with a few excursions thrown in. Here we have a grizzly attack, a whorehouse shootout and...well not much else really. But, the whorehouse shootout was riveting. 

Unlike the first book, Renegade War fails to have an exciting climax and left me wondering if half of this book could have been tacked onto the third book of the series or just left out completely. It's not a great series entry and felt rather unnecessary overall. I can only hope that the series finale, Frozen Fire, can recapture what Laurence James got right with the debut.

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Survival 2000 #01 - Blood Quest

Arriving rather late in the post-apocalyptic genre of men's action-adventure, Survival 2000 was a three-book series published by Gold Eagle (The Executioner, Track) in 1991. The house name used was James McPhee but the series was actually authored by journeyman Laurence James (Deathlands, Apache). The series debut was titled Blood Quest.

The premise is introduced by explaining to readers that Earth that has been shattered by an asteroid in the year 2050. Why isn't it called 'Survival 2050'? Civilization is left in ruins and we see the typical bandits, rovers and rogue Army sadists attempting to market their brand of Hell on Earth. These are all obligatory genre tropes of doomsday fiction. The paperback warrior is a former accountant named David Rand who is surviving by backpacking the wasteland with his sixteen year old son Lee and pit-bull Melmoth. The two have a quest that they reach David's wife and two daughters in California. It's the age-old monomyth of a heroic journey to fulfill a quest.

Like the title implies, Blood Quest is simply the trek the two take to reach California. Once there they discover that most of the state is now swimming in the Pacific. With a few clues, they find that their family may still be alive in a small town in Montana. As the two journey through a brutal nuclear winter they battle cannibals, animals and the elements. James is a rather technical author when it comes to firearms and all of these stories describe, in painful detail, every caliber bullet and make of weapon being used against assailants. By page 100 this becomes an infuriating staple of James' literary approach to the book. 

Considering this is the first entry in the book, it wasn't a huge surprise to find the action lacking the first half. James invests his time setting up the series premise and delivers a solid second-half narrative with a bit more action and a hectic, but not rushed, finale. I was enthralled enough with the quest to buy the remaining two books of the series. If you like survival, action oriented fiction, you should love Blood Quest.

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