Showing posts with label Post Apocalypse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Post Apocalypse. Show all posts

Monday, May 8, 2023

Firebrats #02 - Survivors

Lots of married couples find it hard to live with each other. Some detest spending long periods of the day with their partner for life. Imagine going to work with your wife every day? Thankfully, Scott and Barbara Siegel aren't one of those couples. In fact, their marriage is so strong that it supported both of them living, loving, and working side-by-side. Beginning in the early 1980s, both Barbara and Scott Siegel authored books together under numerous franchises like G.I. Joe, Transformers, Dragonlance, Star Trek, and Dark Forces. The majority of their literary work is the young adult genre.

For years I've hunted for a four-book series by the Siegels titled Fire Brats. It's an odd title, but a familiar scenario. Two Americans attempt to live and survive in the aftermath of a devastating nuclear bomb attack. The books were published between 1987-1988 by Archway, a subsidiary of Pocket Books. At the time of publishing, the paperback market was ripe with post-apocalyptic titles like The Survivalist, Deathlands, and Doomsday Warrior. I've never seen a copy of any of these books out in the wild. The books are scarce, which drives up the second-hand costs. I've seen these novels fetch up to $50 on Ebay. But, has the last three series installments available to read online.

Skipping a series debut is typically frowned upon in this household, but in this case it was necessary. Jumping into Survivors, the second installment, I quickly get the gist of the series. Matt (male) and Dani (female) are teenagers that grew up in the small town of Fair Oaks. From what I gather through the characters' brief reflections, the United States was nuked by an unknown country and now its major cities and metropolis areas are piles of rubble. Dani and Matt were able to seek shelter underground, and as Survivors begin, they emerge four days later on a journey west. Apparently Dani's parents were killed, but Matt's family may still be alive in California, thus the series will follow their trek through the wastelands.

The two characters spend a night in an abandoned Burger King (in what may be Colorado), and then attempt to cross a large river on a homemade raft. The raft disintegrates and the two are briefly thrust into the raging river to become separated. Eventually, the two reunite and journey into the wilderness and find a cabin that is fully stocked with weeks of food. The place even has running water, farm animals, books, and a fireplace. This is paradise for Matt and Dani, so they decide to stay for a while.

The cabin's owner is an old man named Ordway, who surprises the kids with a pointed shotgun. He has dealt with a lot of bad guys since the bombs fell, so he immediately thinks these teens are out to rob and murder him. After marching the duo outside for an execution, Matt is able to fight the old guy. As a result, the kids wrestle his gun away and Ordway breaks a leg. After explaining they mean no harm, and that they thought the cabin was abandoned, Ordway loosens up and makes a deal with the kids. He'll train them on what they will need to know to survive in this new world. They will help him around the house for a few weeks until his leg heals. 

At 155 pages, Survivors mostly spends the bulk of the book on the two kids interacting with Ordway to learn how to make weapons, hunt, and what to eat in the forest (who knew you could eat tree bark?). The book's last 50ish pages introduces a small band of mean scavengers looking to capture/rape Dani and claim the house. The finale has the kids using slingshots and bows to defend the cabin while Ordway attempts to fend off the attackers with a broken shotgun. 

Despite being juvenile fiction, I found Survivors to be a lot of fun. It reminded me of the first Survivalist novel with the prepping techniques and education, but the quest and action is reminiscent of Survival 2000. Dani, Matt, and Ordway possess endearing qualities that make them lovable. The introduction of the bad guys was inevitable, and the final fight and pursuit was engaging and well-written. While the book lagged a little in the middle, it was a good intermission to prepare for a rowdy end. 

I look forward to reading the rest of the series and I'm grateful that someone took the opportunity to scan most of the books. They are long out of print and very few libraries or book stores carry them in their current catalogs. If you love the 1980s post-apocalyptic stuff, then Fire Brats is sure to please. In a similar fashion, you might also enjoy the dystopian 1980s series U.S.S.A., which seems to be equally hard to find and expensive. has at least one of the series' three books.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, April 28, 2023

The Rest Must Die

Kendell Foster Crossen (1910-1981) was a popular author that created and wrote the crime-fiction series Milo March and the pulp superhero Green Lama. He contributed to a number of genres, including radio scripts for series titles like The Saint and Mystery Theater. Crossen used a variety of pseudonyms like M.E. Chaber, Clay Richards, Christopher Monig, and Bennett Barley. I am a huge fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, so I was attracted to Crossen's The Rest Must Die. It was published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1959 under the pen name Richard Foster. 

The author introduces readers to a handful of characters in the opening pages of the book. The locale is New York City and the two main protagonists are Bob, an advertising agency for Chaber, Crossen, and Monig (get it?), and a longshoreman named Joe. These are the guys you want on your team when a nuclear bomb wipes out the entire city. Conveniently, Bob and Joe, who don't know each other yet, each head to subway stations when they hear the siren wail of a bomb warning.

Inside Penn Station and 53rd Street Station, the survivors huddle together and listen to the ominous sounds of seven nuclear bombs pound the city into dust. Thankfully, Bob, Joe, and a dozen other survivors possess the wherewithal to understand that nothing above ground exists and that their only hope of survival lies in organizing roughly 3,000 people into small groups, each assigned to a group leader. 

The book's first half, roughly 90 pages, was mesmerizing as survivors traveled the subway on foot gathering supplies from the basements of pharmacies and department stores. Like any good post-apocalyptic novel, the true terror is humanity itself. It only takes a couple of days before people begin to spiral into savage depths of greed. The groups begin to war with each other, but the biggest threat is a mobster and a cop who team-up, oddly enough, to create a faction loaded with a supply of guns the mob had kept in a hidden underground locker. It's up to Bob and Joe to hunt down the faction's members and eliminate them. 

As you can imagine, I loved this book. It really has everything a good doomsday novel needs to be memorable and exciting. The bombs, fallout, radiation, rationing, dividing, conquering, it's all right here in these 200 pages. The novel still remains relevant today with many of the survivors dividing based on preconceived notions of stereotypes and former jobs. Bob is quick to notify everyone that whoever they were in a former life no longer matters. Despairingly, he reminds the survivors that they are now simply subway residents with no family and no home. By minimizing, Bob is able to calm most of the surviving population. It was so elementary, but a brilliant reminder that life resets often. The book's not-too-preachy message is that there's never an ending, only a reset and continuation. Sort of like Jeff Goldblum's Jurassic Park mantra - "Life Finds a Way". 

The Rest Must Die is an easy recommendation for anyone that loves post-apocalyptic fiction. It's a realistic look at how humanity is quick to turn on each other when the chips are down. But, the author laces the message with a lot of action and excitement. It simply doesn't get much better than this.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

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.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Dark December

According to Wikipedia, Alfred Coppel, real name Jose de Arana-Marini Coppel (1921-2002), served as a fighter pilot in the United States Army Air Forces during WWII. The Oakland author then began a prolific writing career using pseudonyms like Alfred Coppel, Robert Cham Gilman, and A.C. Marin while writing for pulp magazines. Coppel is mostly known for science-fiction, but he also authored action-adventure and espionage. He transitioned into full-length original novels, including his bestseller, Thirty-Four East, about the Arab-Israeli conflict. My first experience with the author is his post-apocalyptic novel Dark December, published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1960. 

U.S. Major Kenneth Gavin spent WWIII in an underground bunker in Alaska. From that safe and secure location, Gavin was a “missile-man”, a launch pad operator in charge of firing nuclear warheads at the Soviet Union and other foreign enemies. After two long years of global destruction between warring countries, the military, and ordinary life, has crumbled. Sensing no real purpose to the missile launches, Gavin is released from his service in Alaska.

It is Gavin's intention to travel south into San Francisco to finally reunite with his wife and daughter. It has been months since he had spoken with them and he just wants to return home. But, the journey won't be easy. Most of the population has descended into anarchy, with diseases, malnutrition, and radiation being catalysts for humankind's ruin. There is still a military presence available, so Gavin aligns with a military patrol led by Major Collingwood, an arrogant, mentally unstable superior that feels right at home within the destruction and chaos. When Gavin witnesses Collingwood ordering a group of bandits to be executed, the two come to a disagreement. The end result – Collingwood swears he will murder Gavin. 

Escaping from Collingwood, Gavin meets up with a young woman and a boy and the three form a partnership to travel safely through California. Unfortunately, they run into a fanatical group of teenagers that have a penchant for torture and depravity. When Gavin discovers they have a Soviet pilot locked in a shed, he learns just how dark and sadistic civilization has become.

Alfred Coppel does everything right in his nightmarish look at a bombed out America. It's the traditional monomyth featuring the lone hero on a quest through a perilous landscape, essentially the oldest storytelling formula. Coppel's examination of humankind's descent into sadism and nearly Neanderthal behavior is the book's real strength. Gavin is the unconventional hero, a man who has seemingly killed millions with the press of a button, but now can't cope with the idea of taking another life. His journey through the wasteland, as a pacifist, is really a unique twist on what would otherwise be an “all guns blazing” survival tale like the numbered men's action-adventure titles that would arrive 20+ years later – The Survivalist, Deathlands, The Last Ranger, Phoenix, etc. Coppel's writing is more insulated, concentrating on human psychosis or the boundaries of sanity when threatened with extinction. It's smart.

If you enjoy post-apocalyptic novels, then this is an easy recommendation. But, if you enjoy books ranging from Lord of the Flies to novellas like Heart of Darkness, then this should be an appealing, disturbingly entertaining read as well. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Whiteout #01 - The Snow

Flint Maxwell is an Ohio native and author of horror and fantasy titles. He's authored a post-apocalyptic series called Jack Zombie, co-wrote the Midwest Magic Chronicles novels, and contributed to the short-story collection 25 Gates of Hell featuring horror authors like Brian Keene. The author's own short-story collection, The Bitter Cold, was published in 2018. My first experience with the author is his 2020 five book series of post-apocalyptic novels, Whiteout. I'm starting with the series debut, The Snow, published in multiple formats by Dark Void Press.

Through first-person perspective, readers are introduced to Grady Miller, an Ohio firefighter that experienced a harrowing tragedy that left a little boy dead. Trying to recover from the trauma, Grady pals around with his two childhood friends, Stone and Jonas. The three buddies want to celebrate July 4th in tradition in a lakeside cabin at fictional Prism Lake. The festivities of drinking beer and telling stories is fun for the trio, and the author conveys their friendship and inner-loyalty to the printed page quite well. However, “The Three Musketeers” are about to experience outright horror.

The three awaken to find that it's snowing. On the fourth of July. In Ohio. Once the snow starts falling, it never stops. The friends soon learn that the radio stations and internet are out and soon the power begins to fade. As a blizzard soaks the landscape, the three also learn that their fears, the things that trouble them the most, are becoming real things outside. The dead kid begins calling to Grady from the snow. Dark figures are seen in the distance. Spiders as large as cars start crawling. It's a nightmare scenario. But, is it any good?

For the most part I enjoyed the book for what it was. This is clearly the origin tale, and it ends right when the action begins to escalate. The setup was appropriate, the characters introduced, and doomsday ushered in to create the backbone of the series. I found it to be truly scary at times, but for the most part it's just gloomy and depressing. Like most post-apocalyptic tales, the team-building is a necessity and the survivors have to possess some sort of past tragedy to overcome in the post-apocalypse. It suspiciously reminded me of Christopher Golden's more superior novel Snowblind, which has nearly the same concept.

I plan on reading the next installment soon. I found The Snow to be enjoyable enough to warrant an extended look at the series. Flint Maxwell is creative, has a plan, and forms the story well. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Friday, July 29, 2022

The Deadly Deep

Jon Messmann created and authored the long-running adult western series The Trailsman. He authored series titles like The Revenger and Jefferson Boone: Handyman. He also wrote novels in genres like gothic, romance, and espionage. At the height of the Jaws frenzy, Messmann authored an aquatic horror novel called The Deadly Deep. It was published by Signet in 1976. 

The book stars a journalist named Aran, who specializes in complex scientific discoveries. He has a unique talent of describing these highly intelligent theories and results in an easily understandable language for casual readers. This talent has led to Aran being a notable journalist and literary awards winner. But, Aran is about to take on his most difficult writing assignment – chronicling the end of the world. 

Across the globe, the fishing and tourism industry is suffering serious setbacks due to violent deaths in oceans and rivers. The cases range from people swallowed by whales, consumed by lobsters, or severely bitten by an array of historically docile fish. There is no central location for the occurrences, although Aran specializes his research in the American Northeast. There are a number of controversial theories from professionals in various lines of work, but no one has the answer. Does Aran?

What I really loved about The Deadly Deep was the very last page. It closed a chapter of my life that I never want to remember. I believed Messmann was the invincible wordsmith, a literary hero of epic proportions. But, this novel proves he was less than perfect, which is totally acceptable considering the amount of novels he cranked out year after year. 

In 220 pages of plodding, directionless writing, Messmann places his protagonist on the phone with various authorities agreeing or disagreeing with numerous theories on aquatic animals and trends. There are attacks sprinkled throughout the narrative, but these characters are never properly introduced, so their dismemberment by crabs doesn't have much meaning. At one point I expected some hero to jump in and save the day, but the whole novel is just endless discussions about sea life. 

The Deadly Deep is deep boredom. Don't waste your time. This one is nothing short of awful. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, July 25, 2022

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 98

Gil Brewer is a fixture of mid-20th century crime-fiction, and on this episode, Eric and Tom discuss his life and career. Tom tells listeners about a new collection of short-stories by Robert Colby and Eric highlights the career of crime-noir writer James M. Fox. Reviews include a post-apocalyptic novel that was the basis for the 1979 film Ravagers and a Manning Lee Stokes classic. Listen on any podcast app, or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 98: Gil Brewer" on Spreaker.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

House of Stairs

William Sleator (1945-2011) was a Harvard graduate that authored science-fiction and young adult novels from 1970 through 2011. I wasn't aware of his literary work, but was happy to discover House of Stairs at a local used bookstore. It was originally published by Avon in 1974 and has since been reprinted numerous times in multiple formats.

The book consists of five sixteen-year old kids being taken from various orphanages and state institutions and placed in a seemingly endless world of stairs. There are no walls or rails, just platforms connected by stairs that lead in different directions to more stairs. The first to arrive is Peter, blindfolded and shoved from an elevator into this stairway nightmare. Inside the maze, he finds a girl named Lola. Together, the duo stumbles upon another stairway resident, a girl named Blossom. She has found a small, disc-shaped machine that releases a small food pellet each time she sticks out her tongue.

The three are later joined by Abigail and Oliver, and collectively the five of them share a small backstory of how they came to arrive in the maze. Like any novel that places ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, alliances are formed and enemies are made. In this case, Lola and Peter form a partnership and attempt to exist “upstairs” away from the others. The motivation for alienation is that the food machine changes its preferences on when to deliver the pellets. As the hours morph into days, the group soon becomes starved and forced to abuse each other in order for the food pellets to be delivered. You see, physical and verbal abuse awards the group with food while kindness and generosity produces starvation. The horror!

At 156 pages, House of Stairs is a brisk, macabre little novel that says so much about humanity's will to survive. It was interesting to watch the deterioration of human kindness when pushed to the breaking point physically and emotionally. With the idea that time isn't a factor, a rescue isn't feasible, and escape is impossible, these kids spiral into madness and depravity. It's a young adult novel, but there are some violent scenes and sadistic overtones.

I enjoyed this book a lot and found the central mystery as a propulsive, consistent plot development. I will say it is a bit dated with some situations and the ending left me a bit underwhelmed. If you love survival horror like The Mist or The Ruins, then House of Stairs should provide just enough literary terror to quench your thirst. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Path to Savagery

According to Mystery File, Robert Edmond Alter authored over 40 stories for magazines and digests like Mike Shayne, Man from UNCLE, Argosy, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and Manhunt. He wrote two novels that were published by Fawcett Gold Medal, Swamp Sister in 1961 and Carny Kill in 1966. Both of those were reprinted by Black Lizard in 1993. We reviewed Swamp Sister in 2020 and it failed to impress us, but we went back to the well again with Alter’s novel Path to Savagery. It was published posthumously by Avon in 1969, three years after Alter's death. The post-apocalyptic novel was adapted into the 1979 Sony Pictures film The Ravagers starring Ernest Borgnine and Richard Harris. 

The book is set about 20 years after a global nuclear war. What's left are large swaths of wilderness, packs of wild dogs, and large cities that have mostly been ransacked. On the coasts, some of these cities are now marshy islands due to excessive flooding from broken seawalls. Civilization now exists in three classes. Flockers guard their food, water, and weapons and exist in packs. Neanderthalers are your common savages that use barbarism on a quest for dominance. The Loners are guys like Falk, the book's protagonist, that simply exist as troubadours scouring the countryside for supplies in an effort to live a peaceful existence. But, Falk packs a .45 and a Thompson submachine gun in case things get hairy. 

The first thing you need to know is that Path to Savagery is nearly awesome. It begins and ends with total awesomeness. What's in the middle is just plain 'ole great. Alter's pace is sometimes sluggish, but at 174 pages he spends productive time on characterization, something that was not afforded to him writing shorts. His descriptions were so vivid and real. For example, in the book's opening pages, Falk finds a dark, cavernous mansion that's been ransacked and abandoned. Bad guys follow him inside, hoping for a quick and quiet kill. Alter's descriptions of Falk fighting the enemy in the dark mansion's bedrooms and hallway were exhilarating. I loved that Falk couldn't see his attacker's faces until they were illuminated by his gun's muzzle flashes. 

Falk moves through the bogs and brambles and stumbles upon a woman named Faina, which he buys for the night using spare tobacco. Faina becomes a supporting character and surprises Falk when he reaches a flooded coastal city. In what becomes the book's central location, Falk and Faina find a large, multilevel department store. The store has different sections like sporting goods, housewares, furniture, camping, clothing, etc. This large department store becomes a hunting ground when Falk and Faina discover it is occupied by a large band of Flockers. 

Without spoiling too much of the story, Falk and the leader of the Flockers, a strong, combative man named Rann, enter a contest of survival. Each of them enters the department store naked without weapons. Once inside the enormous store, they can use anything they find as a weapon to hunt and kill their opponent. Falk and Rann's battle will determine the winner of the tribe's sexiest woman. Falk has a prior connection with the lady, so his efforts to kill Rann are elevated. Rann is fighting to hold his place as tribal leader. 

Needless to say, the idea of living in an abandoned shopping mall is a neat one. Alter makes fun use of this combat arena and adds in some surprising elements that add a dose of horror to the narrative. There is a crime-fiction ingredient as well when Rann conspires with another Flocker to secretly murder someone. The book's premise borders on both science-fiction and post-apocalyptic, making this alternate version of Earth a pretty scary place. 

Despite reading tons of doomsday fiction, and viewing an equal assortment of genre films, I was thoroughly pleased with the book's innovation and ideas. Alter really had a great thing going and I can't help but think this would have been a series if he would have lived long enough to tell it. Unfortunately, Path to Savagery is all we have of this great concept. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Tender is the Flesh

Augustine Bazterrica is an Argentinean writer of novels and short stories. Her second novel, Tender is the Flesh, earned literary prominence in her country. The 2020 Dystopian work has received international praise as a powerful, stunning look at capitalism and industrialized farming. After being encouraged by a friend, I borrowed her copy to check it out.

In the future, animals have been contaminated by a deadly virus. Due to the health risks, most of the world's animal populations have been destroyed. Due to lack of animals, cannibalism has become legal. Body farms have been created that raise humans in the same way that cattle are raised today. These humans (called heads) are raised to consume, so they have no intelligence beyond the walls of the cage. Their vocal cords are removed and based on ethnicity, race, age and gender, humans are packaged into categories and sold. Human meat (known as special meat) is then bought by processing plants (slaughterhouses) where the entire organism is used for food or manufacturing. 

Marcos is a second generation employee of the meat processing industry. He acts as an account executive for "meat runs" where he reviews processes and procurement. After experiencing the loss of a child, Marcos goes into a deep depression and his wife moves out. This loss evokes empathy for the people who are slaughtered. Most of the author's narrative is devoted to Marcos contemplating the whole meat industry and its negative impact on mankind. 

After Marcos is gifted a woman, high human grade, he begins to look after her. Naming her Jasmine, Marcos develops an illegal relationship with her that results in a pregnancy. If the law finds out he had sexual intercourse with a "head," he will be slaughtered. In order to keep the relationship and pregnancy a secret, Marcos hides Jasmine from his home and starts a process of resigning from his work. Complicating matters is the death of his elderly father and a strained relationship with his nagging sister. 

Tender is the Flesh is inspired by several novels. In many ways it resembles the 1953 dystopia novel by Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451. In this book, the protagonist begins to question the government's strict rules and the importance of free will. Other influences range from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) and the 1973 film Soylent Green, which was loosely based on Harry Harrison's 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room!. More recently, the Japanese anime The Promised Neverland, originally released in 2019, is close to the premise of the story.

As much as I wanted to like Tender is the Flesh, I found it too reliant on graphic torture and death. The central story of Marcos becoming an enlightened citizen was lost in the dense atmosphere of dismemberment and gore. Frequently, the author details the human slaughterhouse, the processes, and additional bi-products of this savage society. In disturbing scenes, Bazterrica describes the brutal torture of puppies and the raping of an adolescent girl. These scenes exist merely for shock value and reminded me of the insane carnage of Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door (1989).

I appreciated the social warnings and the clear criticism of animal cruelty, corporate greed and capitalism. There are positive takeaways, but it requires a strong stomach and the ability to distance yourself from the violence. I found it distasteful and over the top. Read at your own discretion. 

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

Friday, July 2, 2021

The Survivalist #03 - The Quest

Jerry Ahern's The Survivalist is one of the most popular post-apocalyptic titles of the 1980s. The literary series lasted between 1981 and 1991, totaling 29 volumes. In 2013, the series began new installments authored by Bob Anderson and Sharon Ahern. After reading the first two volumes, I like the character of John Rourke a lot. I'm compelled to learn more about his journey through Soviet-occupied America. This third novel, The Quest, was published by Zebra in 1981 and features Rourke in his home state of Georgia. 

There are a number of scenarios that weave together in The Quest. After arriving in Georgia, Rourke leaves Rubinstein at his survival retreat as he explores the area in search of Sarah and the children. After a brief skirmish, Rourke receives a proposal from a former fellow soldier named Bradley. He asks Rourke if he is willing to help find a NASA scientist. In exchange, Bradley will send a correspondence through the resistance network inquiring where Sarah is.

During this time, KGB commander Vladmir Karamatsov visits his wife Natalia in Chicago. In the series second installment, a friendship was formed between Natalia and Rourke. Karamatsov knows this and starts physically and verbally abusing Natalia. In her defense, she injures Karamatsov and runs away from the house. Later, Natalia's father, General Ishmael Varakov, learns of Karamatsov's attack. Varakov wants to get in touch with Rourke, an enemy of the state, to kill Karamatsov. His reward will be complete liberty to him and his family.

By all accounts, Rourke is an extremely busy character in The Quest. By assisting Bradley, Rourke becomes involved in a local resistance operation that eventually loses. Through his exchange with Varakov, the last exciting chapters of the book relate Rourke's mission to kill Varakov.

This series installment is important because it introduces the Eden Project storyline. This will become a major consideration in the series in the future. The involvement of NASA before the nuclear attack, the ultimate goal of the project and its end result constitute a large part of the future narrative. But for now, The Survivalist is a lot of fun and this is just another great chapter in the long storyline. I would recommend you read them in numerical order.

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

Monday, June 28, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 91

Episode 91 is a special Father's Day episode! Eric and his father, Chris discuss the life and literary works of William W. Johnstone. We delve deep into Johnstone's prolific career, determine the identity of J.A. Johnstone and examine the publishing mysteries surrounding the Johnstone name after his death. The two discuss The Last Mountain Man, Rig Warrior, Out of the Ashes, Matt Jensen, The Eagles and so much more. Tom calls in with commentary on Johnstone's contemporary thrillers like Stand Your Ground and Black Friday. Listen on any podcast app, or download directly HERE 

Donate to the show HERE

Listen to "Episode 91 Draft" on Spreaker.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Damnation Alley

Roger Zelazny (1937-1995) was a Hugo/Nebula award-winning science-fiction and fantasy author. His most noteworthy achievements are the first ten novels of his acclaimed Chronicles of Amber series, published between 1970-1991 and his 1968 post-apocalyptic novel Damnation Alley. The book has been reprinted numerous times and was loosely adapted to film in 1977 starring George Peppard and Jan-Michael Vincent.

In Damnation Alley, the Earth as we know it no longer exists. Decades before, a nuclear war decimated the planet and what's remains is a mere shell of what life originally resembled. In the skies, hurricane-strength winds prevent any form of air travel. The atmosphere is a swirling belt of dust and garbage set into eternal propulsion by the howling winds. The radiation has mutated animals and insects and what remains of America is a fractured ruling class divided into regions.

The book stars a former Hell's Angel biker named Hell Tanner. He's a ruthless anti-hero who was abandoned by his father as an infant. His mother died in his early childhood and Tanner was passed around from home to home until he found a permanent residence within the ranks of the Hell's Angels. When readers first meet Tanner, he's racing his Harley Davidson through the twisting roads of San Diego. His pursuers, the Nation of California's law enforcement, have warrants for his arrest. After successfully outrunning the cops, his day ends with a roadblock and a busted bike.

While in police custody, Tanner is offered a unique proposition. His criminal record of killing three people and resisting arrest, will be wiped clean if he can successfully deliver an antivirus to the city of Boston. The trip across the country has rarely been completed due to the nearly insurmountable odds. With the journey consisting of raging storms, mutants, biker gangs, road bandits and plague, the pathway is referred to as Damnation Alley. Between prison or the road, Tanner chooses to suit up and drive a sophisticated vehicle across the country in hopes of delivering the much-needed medicine and winning his own freedom.

This book would have made more of a personal impact if I read it at the time of its original publication. While its unfair to Zelazny, his post-apocalyptic action tale was used as a blueprint by numerous authors to write better versions of this book. Damnation Alley isn't terrible, but it's a slow burn that never reaches the roaring blaze I had hoped for. Much of the book is simply Tanner driving, eating and sleeping. Every few pages he shoots a giant bat or kills some bikers, but these are just bumps along the road to what is otherwise an unexciting plot. Tanner isn't a likable character by any means, and often I asked myself if I really cared about his success. Other than a partner named Greg, who is quickly written out of the narrative, there aren't many admirable characters. The lack of action, character development or dynamic story were detrimental to the reading experience. However, high praise is still warranted due to what Zelazny created.

Damnation Alley, in both book and film form, are very influential to the post-apocalyptic genre of men's action-adventure novels. There's no question that it inspired a number of commercially successful titles.

- The vehicle that Tanner is driving is similar to what authors Ed Naha and John Shirley conceived with their 1984 series Traveler. Through Traveler's 13-book series, the protagonist drives a fortified van deemed “The Meat Wagon.” While it lacked the sophisticated wizardry showcased in Damnation Alley, the use of van portholes and machine guns to anonymously eliminate potential threats mirrors Zelazny's approach.

- Again, the idea of the “all-terrain fortified vehicle” can be found in the debut of Deathlands, a 138-book series of post-apocalyptic adventures. Series hero Ryan Cawdor is on board a trio of armored tractor-trailer trucks that are equipped with cameras, mounted cannons, numerous guns. Like Tanner, Cawdor and company use the safety of the vehicle as a sort of road residence.

- There is no doubt that Zelazny's conception of a fragmented America can be found within a number of series titles like The Last Ranger, Doomsday Warrior, Out of the Ashes and Endworld. But, perhaps the most similar is Robert Tine's 1984 five-book series Outrider. In it, the former United States is now divided into ruling class sections that surround a metropolis. Like Tanner, the series stars a lone-wolf named Bonner as he navigates the post-apocalypse in a jacked-up dune-buggy equipped with weapons.

- In 1977's post-apocalyptic novel The Lost Traveler, authored by Steve Wilson, a biker hero named Long Range roams a nuked-out wasteland. Like the aforementioned titles, this one also includes a fragmented America and disputes between warring clans. Where Damnation Alley sort of condemns the Hell's Angels, Wilson pulls no punches as he makes the famed biker gang a ruthless and criminal government body.

- In 1984's Angels, the third installment of the four-book series Wasteworld, hero Matthew Chance is pitted against a gang of post-apocalyptic Hell's Angels.

While Zelazny's concept of Damnation Alley is mostly an original, innovative take on doomsday, it does come with a borrowed idea. In 1959's We Who Survived, author Sterling Noel places his heroes in a fortified, all-terrain vehicle that is used for defense, housing and drilling through a post-apocalyptic America ravaged by an eternal ice-storm. Perhaps Zelazny was influenced by Noel's conception of “road warriors” surviving doomsday by using an advanced, nearly indestructible vehicle? I'd suspect so.

Buy a copy of this influential book HERE

Friday, October 16, 2020

Swampmaster: A Paperback Warrior Primer

In the late 1990s, author Jerome Preisler became a prominent contributor to the Tom Clancy spy-world of espionage and covert thrillers. Penning eight Powerplays titles using the Clancy brand, Preisler also wrote television tie-in novels in the CSI, Homicide and NCIS series. Preisler also authored the movie adaptations for Last Man Standing and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. Before adding “NY Times Bestselling Author” to his name, he authored two early 1990s horror novels for Leisure, The Awakening and The Pact. But, nothing could quite compare to the three-book post-apocalyptic series that Preisler wrote under the pseudonym Jake Spencer. 

Swampmaster, billed as the “first in the mega-mayhem action series!”, consisted of three post-apocalyptic paperbacks written by Preisler and published by Diamond. Considering the timing of publication - all three novels released in 1992 - the post-apocalyptic pop-culture phenomenon had likely evaporated. With successful titles like Out of the Ashes, The Last Ranger and The Survivalist finding a loyal 80s fanbase, the 1990s began a decline in sales and readers. Nevertheless, the publisher and/or Jerome Preisler pursued the post-apocalyptic genre with this short-lived series. 

The series opener explains that America was nuked and what's left are marauders, mutants and a new government called The National Front. Opposing the sadists, racists and warmongers of The National Front is the Free States, territories that have succeeded from the government's tyrannical union. In one of the Free States, a swampy area in southern Florida, resides series hero John Firecloud. He's a Seminole, trained in the ways of the warrior by his father Charlie. Firecloud is proficient with archery and martial arts, two much-needed assets in this doomsday environment.

After Firecloud's village is attacked, Firecloud himself destroys an Apache helicopter with an arrow and disposes of seven heavily armed men. As his father is dying, he passes on a message of leadership to Firecloud, who will now be known as the impressive Swampmaster. Whatever that means. But instead of Swampmaster fighting hunchbacked, radiated ogres, motorcycle psychos and the number one villain of the book, The National Front, the author provides 120+ pages of a planned bombing in Atlanta. 

There are pages and pages of nonsense about a bomb in a briefcase, who's got the briefcase and a car accident victim. The novel's final chapters has Swampmaster team with two kung-fu dwarfs and a former female swat team member to fight a female mutant called Itchy Peg and her two inbred brothers. After Swampmaster is nearly boob-smothered by Itchy Peg and subsequently saved by the dwarfs, the foursome travel north to hijack a train full of carnival oddities so they can fetch a pilot that can fly an Apache helicopter. The end result has Swampmaster swimming through a bay to climb a fort in St. Augustine, Florida to liberate a scientist that potentially can aid the Free States. 232-pages of dull, unexplained trash-fiction that unfortunately leads to a sequel. 

A few months later, Hell on Earth arrives. This second installment begins with Swampmaster and his acrobatic dwarfs fighting a convoy of National Front troopers. There's a hilarious scene where the dwarfs handspring across the battlefield to draw fire away from Swampmaster. While this is happening, the author introduces a carload of mutants dressed as clowns that are slave mercenaries for the government. It is this sort of stuff that carries Swampmaster into the realms of the ridiculous. I'm not sure if it propels the action or unintentionally serves as a distraction.

The bulk of the narrative has The National Front creating a new military compound off of Long Pine Key in the Gulf Coast of Florida. It is here where they plan on utilizing remote control mutants as soldiers under the tutelage of a vile villain named Groll (who plays video games called Hitler's Legacy and Auschwitz). Of course Swampmaster wants to stop the remote control mutants and put an end to Groll's dastardly deeds. The finale has a captured Swampmaster forced into gladiator combat against a seven-foot tall mutant controlled by Groll remotely. While certainly not top-tier literary fiction, Hell on Earth was somewhat enjoyable and an increase in quality compared to the horrific series debut. 

The series third and final installment, Unholy Alliance, reverses any momentum that Preisler had with the prior novel. Instead, what serves as the series finale is arguably on par with the Roadblaster series written by Paul Hofrichter. In other words, it's a cesspool of literature that should come with a warning label akin to this: Contents inside may put you at risk of blindness, erectile dysfunction and lethargic bouts of coma-like fatigue. Contact your physician or nearest urgent care if you read past page 10. 

The set-up is that warring factions – The National Front and Free States – converge on an abandoned Disneyworld to duke it out. It's a fascinating concept, bad guys running around the most famous amusement park in the world while a war party featuring acrobatic dwarfs and a Seminole warrior are attempting to stop them. Just for giggles, the author throws in eight-pages of a savage black bear fighting a doomsday cowboy while a gladiator game ensues with motorcyclists mowing down human heads while a drooling, wheelchair-bound madman watches from Cinderella's Castle. 

How on Earth can you screw this up? It's an amazing, awe-inspiring premise that Jerome Preisler just shits away! It's like Peter North showing up on the set and having no idea where to put it. This should be an easy one, but instead the reader is subjected to pages and pages of gun porn, mindless conversations about Cuban cartels, pointless backstories on meaningless characters that become decapitated in just a few pages. 

This is absolute garbage. If garbage was alive and had a waste can that it put its own garbage in, this book would be the filth-ridden wallpaper adorning the can's inner aluminum shell. 

Thankfully, this series was trash-canned, thrown onto the back walls of garage sales worldwide, finding solace in its mere obscurity. Who is this lone hero Swampmaster? He's John Firecloud and he'll rain on your Macy's parade every single Thanksgiving. He's the guy who hid the chocolate bunny on Easter and told you asparagus tastes great. He only left you a quarter for pulling that bloody stump of a tooth out of your pink gums and John Firecloud is the guy who crapped in the work toilet and left it there to dissolve knowing you'd see it and never unsee it. 

You know what? Jerome Preisler did all of that too when he introduced the world to Swampmaster.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

We Who Survived

Modern publishers like Wildside Press, Cutting Edge and Armchair Fiction have been busy preserving the literary works of Sterling Noel (1903-1984). The author's knack for espionage and crime-fiction saturates his body of work, evident with novels like I Killed Stalin (1951), Prelude to Murder (1959), I See Red (1955) and Few Die Well (1953). It was with great interest that I acquired his post-apocalyptic, science-fiction novel We Who Survived. It was originally published by Avon in 1959 and was reprinted for modern audiences by Wildside Press in 2017.

The 160-page novel is divided into two parts, Book I: The Storm and Book 2: The Escape. The division marks a significant turning point within the book’s narrative. The first-half is essentially a massive snowstorm, which I'll explain in a bit. As expected, it begins by introducing the characters, their place in time and the extreme circumstances that place these characters in peril. The second-half delivers as advertised, the eventual escape where the action is propelled to match the “will to survive.” Both sections are good, but action-adventure fans may enjoy the closing chapters more.

Noel's protagonist, scientist and former missile commander Vic Savage, conveys to readers that the Earth was rocked by third and fourth World Wars. The conflicts utilized nuclear weapons and most of what we know now as the United States is fragmented into districts or complexes such as St. Louis Complex or Roanoke Complex that encompass a significant amount of surrounding territory. Two to three states conceivably are absorbed into new complexes or districts. Likewise, new countries are formed, including The Republic of North America where Savage lives. The book takes place in the year 2203, with the opening pages forecasting a snowstorm for Savage and the rest of Earth's inhabitants.

The Earth has entered the first stages of an unexpected cosmic dust cloud that is freezing the atmosphere. When the snow begins its slow descent, Savage, under harsh criticism, predicts that the snowfall won't stop for 72-years. The temperatures will plunge, ranging from thirty-two degrees in the early stages to a deadly eighty-degrees below zero. Due to the water vapors in the upper atmosphere decreasing, they will eventually vanish completely, removing all of Earth's heat. This deadly combination will result in massive storms that erode the east and west coasts of North America leading to flooding, gale-force winds, snow drifts over 200-feet and the inevitable death of billions of people.

The opening book, The Storm, has Savage collaborate with a number of key scientists and their families to stockpile a Missouri farm complex called Harrow. With engineers, fusion scientists, medical personnel and a support staff, the group begins fortifying Harrow for the inevitable storm. Eventually, Savage’s prediction rings true and their complex is buried in 100 feet of snow. The bulk of the first-half is spent on the characters interacting with each other, establishing rules and regulations and building tunnels with ventilation to service themselves for the remainder of their lives. Eventually, the group begins to fragment into factions, feuding with one another to disrupt the everyday boredom. Savage, and his team, decide to leave the complex after a number of long, lonesome months. The goal is to head to the equator where temperatures may be warmer.

The Escape, the book's second-half, finds Savage and the team driving a large vehicle holding 30 people. All of the vehicles of 2203 run on fusion reactors, so the author throws a bit of a curve-ball at the characters. They must create "prehistoric" rubber tires for the vehicle and build snow mobiles complete with welding-torch styled hand tools that melt the snow and ice that would otherwise block their travel. But, like most post-apocalyptic novels, it isn't the extreme conditions that kill – it's the people.

While not a riveting, action-packed spectacle, We Who Survived is a serviceable post-apocalyptic novel that introduces some new elements to the genre. The snowfall, harrowing frost and the ice-tunnels are new to me. While The Coming Global Superstorm, authored by Whitley Strieber and Art Bell, contains many of the same scenarios, it was written and published in 1999. We Who Survived was unique at the time, and still is. 

Sterling Noel tended to write about nuclear reactors and nuclear energy in his spy novels, and he predicts the use of fusion reactors for everyday use. Furthermore, he predicts Facebook 40+ years ahead of it's conception. In an early scene, Savage and his girlfriend decide to be married. But, instead of the traditional wedding, the two appear in front of their computer’s camera and post a photo of themselves with a subtitle explaining they were getting married. They then post it to their friends and family through an app or device called DW-Three. Brilliant.

There could be some social context running through the novel. Noel's idea of characters ascending to the upper-surface could run parallel to the idea of a corporate ladder. Or, we all want to gaze down on everyone else, establish our own personal kingdom and be the envy of spectators. There are the unfortunate civilians trapped below and more fortunate, wealthy people “liberated” at the top. This idea of social class would eliminate the middle, leaving lower and upper class only. It could be a stretch, but I think Noel had more to say other than “Here is a catastrophe.” The shifting of wealth is significant. Savage and his group can ride free on the upper-surface because they have the money to plan ahead. Moreover, they have the ability to utilize expensive government equipment and the resources to own a huge farm. The lowly New York shopkeepers all freeze to death or drown in the ensuing flood.

We Who Survived isn't a gem you have to own. There are better post-apocalyptic books, but I think this paperback was really ahead of its time for 1959. It's a revealing look at our civilization and the fragile state of our planet. The social context is thick and illustrated by a characters that represent societal archetypes. The end result is an intriguing novel where the author, through his protagonist, warns us that the storm is coming.

Or, is it already here?

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Doomsday Warrior #01 - Doomsday Warrior

Jan Stacy (The Last Ranger) and Ryder Syvertsen (C.A.D.S.) originally met in the 1960s at Washington Square Park in New York City. Caught up in the beatnik cultural movement, the lifelong friends began swapping story and book ideas as well as songs. After working together on two non-fiction novels, Great Book of Movie Monsters (1983) and Great Book of Movie Villains (1984), the two collaborated on a post-apocalyptic series titled Doomsday Warrior under the pseudonym of Ryder Stacy. The series was published by Zebra and ran for a total of 19 installments between 1984 through 1991. The first four novels, Doomsday Warrior, Red America, The Last American and Bloody America were authored by both Stacy and Syvertsen. The remainder of the series was penned solely by Syvertsen. My review is for the series' debut, Doomsday Warrior.

The first installment is set in the year of 2089 where most of the world is either controlled by the Soviet Union or in a widely contested battle with the communist country. Most of the U.S. was decimated by nuclear bombs and the survivors maintain a meager living either as slaves or wretched scavengers that have succumbed to radiation's side-effects. With the nuclear attack occurring in 1984, the book's characters are all second to third generation survivors, a unique approach that mirrors another popular doomsday series, Deathlands.

The series stars Ted Rockson, an action-oriented adventurer that leads an American resistance group called the American Free Cities. While most of the U.S. is controlled and enslaved by the Soviet Union, underground cities still remain that are free and liberated from communist control. Rockson resides in Century City, an expansive free society that exists under a section of Colorado's Rocky Mountains (similar to Jan Stacy's character Martin Stone in The Last Ranger). Rockson's role is to lead reconnaissance patrols on missions to discover new supplies, weapons and enemy patrols. It's during one of these missions that readers are first introduced to Rockson and his Firefighter Team.

After blowing up a large bridge and a number of Soviet personnel carriers, Rockson's team comes under heavy fire from communist forces. After numerous casualties, the team retreats back to Century City to formulate a new plan of attack. The intense battle is reported back to three Soviet leaders – Killov, Zhabnov and Vassily. The trio, who compete for political power, begin an expeditionary patrol to find more resistance fighters. After locating a few underground cities, the Soviets are able to capture a number of American prisoners. Using an advanced technology called a Mind Breaker, the Soviets are able to pull pertinent information from American prisoners. Soon, the captives begin revealing locations of more underground cities that the Soviets hope to nuke.

The first 189 pages of Doomsday Warrior is clearly a debut novel that focuses on Rockson's attempts to break into a Soviet stronghold in Denver to rescue prisoners. His mission is to retrieve the captives, destroy the Mind Breaker units and prevent the Soviets from gaining the location of Century City. It's a riveting, explosive narrative that rivals and exceeds most of the 1980s post-apocalyptic novels (Wasteworld, Deathlands, Survivalist, Phoenix, Outrider, etc.). While that was enjoyable, the logic behind the book's second half is puzzling.

It is immediately clear that a new book begins at page 189. At 347 total pages, one would think Zebra would have capitalized on this and released the book's second half as second installment. These books were retailing for $2.95 each, essentially Zebra would have been doubling their money from avid consumers. Regardless of the publisher's marketing strategy, Doomsday Warrior's second narrative explores Rockson's attempts to locate a technologically advanced race in America's Pacific Northwest region.

The narrative begins with an expeditionary unit returning to Century City to report a strange mutant male they found near the Pacific coast line. This area remains vastly unexplored and the team was surprised to find people, evolved animals and a swath of jungle and wilderness that remains nearly intact despite the Soviet Union's devastating nuclear attack. Rockson, hoping to journey even further than the former team, recruits three men to assist him in exploring this new, untapped resource.

Stacy and Syvertsen really hit their stride in this second story arc. The narrative finds the crew battling mutant monsters, deadly quicksand, Soviet KGB forces and mutant, Neanderthal men. The team's exploration of a shopping mall was extremely enjoyable with just the right amount of humor to keep me laughing throughout. While the military style tactics utilized in the book's opening narrative are missing, Doomsday Warrior's second half is surprisingly far superior. The epic adventure, fast-paced writing, character development and action was absolutely top-notch.

The Doomsday Warrior series is off to a tremendous start with this rock-solid debut installment. As the series continues, I understand the quality begins to decline. However, knowing what the future holds for the series doesn't spoil the fun of this early volume. If you read nothing else by Stacy or Syvertsen, at least sample this novel. I think it represents everything that fans and readers loved about 1980s post-apocalyptic pop-culture. Recommended.

Buy a copy of Doomsday Warrior HERE