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Thursday, July 4, 2013

PHOENIX #01 - DARK MESSIAH

David Alexander. This guy wrote one of the most over-the-top gore drenched series to grace the aisles of "Men's Action Adventure". I recently got his crowning achievement with four of the five books of "Phoenix", a post apocalyptic series he created in the 80s. Book one is horrifically titled "Dark Messiah", released in 1987 via Leisure Books. 

The series shows us a nuked out 1989 America courtesy of those damn Soviets...again! ("Red Dawn", "Road Blaster", "Last Ranger"). Our hero is...catch this...MAGNUS TRENCH. I would never be late delivering a pizza to MAGNUS TRENCH. Badassery. Being an 80s action vehicle the prerequisite is that MAGNUS TRENCH is a Vietnam veteran who knows how to manhandle any weapons or flashlights. He now lives the life of the wealthy as a corporate white collar family man. He happens to be in San Francisco when he watches the mushroom clouds. These aren't the Super Mario mushrooms here kids. The big one. Ka-Boomy. He somehow finds shelter in a cave and survives the inferno because caves are great fallout shelters. Three days later he comes out to examine the wreckage and deems himself a new hero named PHOENIX! Let's forget about his wife and kids back home because apparently this guy did.

He journeys down into San Francisco and finds that a new regime has taken over led by an insane Christian. Apparently this guy has infiltrated the US government, had the president killed and sparked the nuclear war that destroyed America. His Jesus goon cult is called SCORF and in three days time has established authority in the big cities. In just a little under a week the entire country has been nuked, then sprayed with a chemical plague that transforms the survivors into mutant monsters called Contams. Of course in the midst of this is a street gang (shocking!) called the Pagans that interact with SCORF and have a mutual interest in raping and pillaging humanity. I can see the bumper sticker now - Join Us Now For Raping!


The survivors of the plague are called Immunes because the chemical plague doesn't affect them. SCORF runs a few dozen military units that holds all sorts of Contams, Immunes and survivors. These are basically just deathcamps where it's fun to push citizens into pits containing drugged out horny Contams. 

Alexander doesn't hold anything back and can flip an innocent onto all fours faster than a rat finding a cheeto. In it's most trashy element the Contams ravage the survivors, thrusting huge radioactive organs into their pit prey. Whoa! Forget nuclear winter and sickness...the biggest threat in the post apocalypse is being sodomized by a mutant ding-dong.

In one ridiculous early scene we see Phoenix drive a jeep through the wreckage of San Fran then stop to poke around a bit. Why!?! He goes into a burned out factory and sees gang members ... get this ... dressed in leather chaps with their penises and butts exposed. So in just a little under a week humanity has dwindled down to a bunch of horny Rob Halfords running around with cod pieces? I wouldn't even be out of milk in less than a week but by God humanity is a sex ravaged wreck! The gang have a couple of survivors pinned down and as Phoenix watches they annihilate one with a flamethrower (these are just laying around). Again, as our hero looks on the female survivor is forced into a buttram. After watching the scene Phoenix rescues the girl and finds that her name is...September Song. Right. It just so happens that she is part of a huge group of survivors out of a safe house. She leads Phoenix there and he sets up a command post to make "commando" runs on SCORF bases. These are just exercises of action fiction that go absolutely nowhere.

Here's the issue with Phoenix and David Alexander. The author can't decide his hero's name so throughout the book he deems him Trench or Phoenix...whichever fits the scene. Secondly Alexander spends entire pages describing weapons. Not just the size or sounds of the gun but down to the most agonizing detail. For example Badass Number One may be holding a MAC11 380 SMG shooting .45 ACPs hung low on his right hip in a speed rig. WTF! In every single firefight the battle slows to a crawl so Alexander can identify every single weapon in the room and what type of holster or sling it is in or out of. He then rambles on about the velocity of the bullets before cutting to "the .45 ACP blasted through the skull creating brain salad". Really? Why did it take a half page to tell me about the pistol just so I can get to "brain salad"? 


Alexander has very little knowledge of the English language aside from guns. Instead of describing goons he simply deems them "Badass One, Two, Three, etc.". Vaginas are pussies and penises are "throbbin' organs". Often our hero drives around randomly in search of something to do and more times than not there is no clear reason why he does any of these things. If Phoenix is missing his wife and family back home, and carefully considering if they are alive or dead, why does he nail a hot Asian a few times in this book? No hesitation whatsoever or thoughts of adultery. Beyond that the author makes Phoenix a combination of Incredible Hulk and Rambo, often able to crush skulls simply by squeezing heads. Must be a pain wiping his ass so carefully. Oh and Phoenix uses his own "Street Fighter" antics. He is seen using punches like Drunk Monkey, Black Fist Tiger and the Scorpion Sting Backfist while somersaulting all over the place.

At least the synoposis is actually fitting:

"Phoenix was a survivor, a man who had honed his bloody skills in the stinking junbles of Vietnam, an expert with every type of weapon, a master at hand-to-hand combat. Battling nature gone insane and men driven mad by total destruction, he forged his way across what was left of the US, driven by hatred and thirsting for revenge against the Dark Messiah".

I can't imagine four more books of this non-sense but I owe it to you to at least give them a try. These aren't as horrible as "Roadblaster" but certainly not entertaining. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone, even the most die hard Mack Bolan fans. If you want a decent run at post-apocalyptic sort of fiction try Simon Clark's "Bloodcrazy" or David Moody's "Dog Blood" albeit both are leaning more towards horror than action.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

ROADBLASTER #01 - HELL RIDE

"Roadblaster". 

There are plenty of trashy men's action novels out there. Hundreds...maybe thousands. 

None compare to the absolute horror of "Roadblaster".

I have been reading books for over thirty years now and this is by far the worst piece of trash I've had the pleasure of reading. I plan on buying copies of this book and sending it out as gifts to my buddies. It is one of those strange things in life that is so abysmal that it is laugh out loud funny. Thank God for "Roadblaster". Thank you Paul Hofrichter...better known as the voice of "he who creates the horror".

"Roadblaster" book one is called "Hell Ride". It's filth was released to the masses in 1987 via Leisure's "Adventure" line. I believe there are a total of four books in the series and I am searching high and low for the other three. The author is Paul Hofrichter and I'm sure that isn't a house name but it damn well should be.

Of course the series is yet another 80s entry in the "Soviets nuked America" formula ("The Last Ranger", "Out Of The Ashes", "Phoenix"). This one was supposed to center around a one word hero named STACK and his mechanical abilities. 

Huh? 

80s action heroes need guns, bullets and babes. Stack has none of these. In fact Stack has no skills whatsoever, runs from action and is a complete loser. But more on that in a minute.

Let's start with the cover. It shows us some sort of science fiction/fantasy scenes of a hero in some sort of shoulder padded cloak complete with a gold coin badge and bullet belt.That hero is not in this book. There are no cloaks, shoulder pads, bullet belts or gold coin badges. Our hero Stack...the Roadblaster...has jeans and a t-shirt and his gold coin badge is a taxi driver's license. Yes. He drives a taxi.

The motorcycle gang on the cover wearing cloaks, American Gladiator apparel and battle helmets is NOT in this book. Our criminals are your normal Mel's Bar & Grill variety that shoot pool, chase broads and happen to ride motorcycles. 

There is a B-52 bomber on the cover and oddly that IS in this book.

The book begins with a guy named Stack. He is in northern California doing a little hunting on vacation. His wife and three kids are in New York holding down the fort while he is trampling about. From a mountain side Stack witnesses the mushroom clouds of doom and realizes the Soviets have nuked most of California. Oddly enough he doesn't panic...certainly the idea of his family being killed by bombs had to cross his mind but instead he makes his way into Fresno picking up a few survivors along the way. 

Okay so now that this is established the book completely switches gears and now tells us all about a small Airforce team flying over the Pacific in a B-52 with nukes ready to drop on the Soviet Union. They have engine trouble and are forced to land in California with a belly full of armed death. After sixty plus pages of Stack's story we now get fifty pages of B-52 engine failure. Where the Hell is this Roadblaster versus motorcycle psychos alluded to in the synopsis?

Oddly the next introduction we get...as if we needed another...is about a motorcycle gang that just happens to be cruising around looking for a town to take over. I am not making this up...the gang is called The Bloodsuckers and the member names are:

Black Doughnut
The Viking
San Quentin Sal
Billy Bullshit
Ivan The Terrible
Zoyas
Rokmer

The Bloodsuckers get about twenty pages or so before we switch back to Stack. He picks up a fifteen year old girl named Rayisa and literally just drives to a small town for food and shelter. He hangs out in his van...eats, sleeps and makes mindless chatter with the band of survivors. You know...heroes named Stack do these kinds of things in action adventure novels.

In one of the most ridiculous scenes I have ever encountered in my life...The Bloodsuckers decide that the small town of Vista Royale is perfect for an orgy. They roll into town and start shooting the town up. After attacking a small grocery store they kidnap a woman....WARNING....and force her into giving them oral sex as they stand in line. Soon she gets a stomach ache and pukes which then ends the shenanigans and the porno clip pauses for a tissue break.

The small band of survivors decide they will go out and rescue the small town and rid them of The Bloodsuckers. They go to Stack and tell him about the situation and that basically The Bloodsuckers are running a train on Vista Royale's women and they need to be stopped. They ask if he can join them. His response?

"No thanks. I've had a day and night I won't forget if I live to be a hundred. Good luck with everything."

Good luck with everything?!? A town is being raped in post apocalyptic Hell and this guy is going back to his van to lay down? WTF? His wife and kids are possibly dead in New York and he is taking catnaps down by the river?!?!

So needless to say the survivors pounce on the town, get annihilated and retreat back to the safe zone. They return to town and stir Stack into saying this to the Sheriff...

"Sorry about what happened. I took a nap in my van, but all the commotion as your people came back into town woke me. What I want to say is that if you need my help in the future feel free to call on me".

Priceless man. Just priceless.

At one point one of the survivor's asked Stack if he knows anything about nuclear radiation cures. His response...

"I'm no doctor. Maybe home remedies. I don't know."

Home remedies for radiation sickness? Really. Really?

We read a few more vile aspects of The Bloodsucker's reign in Vista Royale. Apparently only twenty-four hours removed from a nuclear war the only thing to do is to take over a small town and have pizza, beer and sex in various houses on Main Street. The gang fight a little with each other but none can really speak in complete sentences and resemble something more akin to "Hills Have Eyes" than the roving motorcycle gang they should be. 

The survivors in the mountain decide Stack of all people will lead their next attempt at reclaiming the town. Apparently his naps in the van and ridiculous dialogue is enough to render him the only capable leader. Oh and this awesome conversation...

Sheriff: "Have you got weapons?"

Stack: "A Savage 99F hunting rifle that holds a five-bullet clip plus additional ammunition and various knives."

That spark of wisdom leads the Sheriff to ask:

"Have you had commando training?"

Stack says "I was in the National Guard and took commando courses".

What in God's name are commando courses? Is there some branch of our military that teaches Commando? Speaks Commando? Performs Commando? What is a Commando Course?!?!?

Okay so because of Stack's great commando skills he leads the assault and loses fifteen year old Rayisa to the gang. As he prowls around from house to house he sees his new "daughter" figure stripped naked and being whipped to oblivion with a leather strap. In her cries of pain she stops to ask the gang why they are whipping her and "she has never been whipped like this before". As if whipping a fifteen year old girl's bare back and buttocks spread eagle is just a NORMAL Friday night. But this whipping is something really different. What does Stack do? He watches the damn thing and does nothing.

Soon the gang turn Rayisa over and put her on her knees to do you know what. Apparently this sort of behavior is too much for Stack to take so he pulls out his hunting rifle and...WARNING...actually shoots a gang member's penis off as it is halfway in Rayisa's mouth. NO JOKE...OH MY GOD! He does this from a window twenty yards away.

He must have learned this in his commando courses.

Soon the battle spreads out and the motorcycle gang finds out a B-52 filled with nukes is just a few miles away. If they can get their hands on the nukes then they can have sex with most of the country's survivors. In a final battle scene Stack really does nothing, asks for a lot of assistance from the town and survivors and eventually lets two of the gang members escape. 

Wow...all of that came from this back cover synopsis:

"One man stood out like a tracer round in the night sky. His name was Stack and his skills at staying alive made his mechanical wizardry even more valuable. Tough, dangerous and ruthless, he could build or repair any piece of machinery ever made. And in a world where cars and gasoline were worth far more than human lives Stack could name his own price."

Does that synopsis sound like a different book? Stack has no mechanical wizardry other than driving a van and sleeping. He doesn't build or repair anything and the bombs fell only twenty-four hours before the events in this book. How could gasoline and cars be worth that much? Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.

So there you have it. The worst piece of trash ever written and one that will go down in the "Hall Of Shame". I desperately need to pick up the other books to see how our hero evolves in a world gone bad. 

"ROADBLASTER!!!!!!!!!!!!".

LAST RANGER #01 - THE LAST RANGER

A few weeks ago a musty book store aisle produced Craig Sargent's "The Last Ranger" series to me. I bought book two of the series called "Savage Stronghold" and really enjoyed it, evident in my earlier blog review here on Paperback Warrior. The series is firmly in the post apocalyptic vein where a hero named Stone wanders the wasteland in search for his missing sister April. "Savage Stronghold" revealed events that happened in the first book and the overall continuity of the series. Those interesting flashbacks and the quality of the book prompted me to search out the rest of the series.

"The Last Ranger" was published in 1986 through Popular Library. As I mentioned in my review of "Savage Stronghold" this series came at the height of "Cold War" hysteria of the 80s. Films like "Mad Max", "Road Warrior" and "Red Dawn" pushed the envelope and allowed our nuclear fears exposure through all sorts of media ranging from movies to books. Sargent's "Last Ranger" series is stereotypical in its vivid portrait of scorched desert, roving bandits and the obligatory "good versus evil" theatrics that catapulted the western formula for a century or more.

The first third of this book centers around Major Clayton Stone, the father of series hero Martin Stone. Sargent tells us about Clayton's early life and his exploits as an Army Ranger in Vietnam. Clayton is a mountain of a man, a war hero time and time again and master of survival and its many facets. In fear of the looming Soviet threat he creates an enormous fallout shelter inside of a Colorado mountain range,  supplying it with decades of power, food, water and every type of military styled weapon known to man. 

Martin Stone is the exact opposite of his father. Martin marches in peace rallies, dates pretty girls and is captain of his school's swim team. Basically Martin Stone is the anti-hero. The two often disagree on a variety of topics and in 1989 come to blows after Clayton forces the family into the Colorado shelter before the Soviets bomb us into the stone ages. Father knows best indeed.

The family live in the fallout shelter for about a decade and Clayton teaches his son the tactics to stay alive. For years the two train in martial arts, explosives, various shooting styles and hundreds of different weapons from turret styled machine guns to revolvers and rifles. Clayton turns his son into "Rambo" while mom and sister watch.

About the halfway point we see Clayton die of a heart attack. Martin...now simply called Stone...dismisses years of training and decides to leave the shelter with his sister and mother. Using an RV and carrying only a shotgun the trio journey into the desert where they are mauled by...biker gangs! Apparently the 80s formula of apocalypse imposes that the creator is obligated to make the most vial criminal element ride a motorcycle. Thus the enemy of Stone is a moto-psycho group called Hell's Guardians. They kill his mom, kidnap his sister April and leave our hero broken and battered in the desert sand.

The last third of the book begins with Stone being rescued by Native Americans. Apparently they have returned to the ways of the land, hunting animals and worshiping Earth spirits. In a scene taken right out of "Man Called Horse" Stone is hefted up on hooks through his chest and suspended in mid air for the night. This painful journey into the spirit world deems Stone a true warrior. He beds a beautiful tribe chick and then returns to his shelter to arm himself for war; a motorcycle with a .50 caliber machine gun turret on handlebars and enough guns and ammo to make "Borderlands" seem peaceful. 

Storm rides into Denver looking for Hell's Guardians. He kills a gang member in a strange initiation to infiltrate the gang in hopes of rescuing April. He gets tossed into a barbaric Olympics contest where he has to ride, shoot straight and speak the truth to avoid death and win a trophy ("Running Man" anyone?) From there we see Stone exposed, captured, beaten and then escaping in an action packed showdown with the bikers. Stone doesn't find April and heads to southern Colorado for book two, "Savage Stronghold".

I thought this was a decent first entry in the series. Clayton's introduction at the beginning was necessary to illustrate how well Stone is trained for the aftermath of nuclear war. I felt the Native American section was really unnecessary and really slowed the pace to a painful crawl. Some of the characters presented here rear their heads in book two (and probably subsequent books I imagine). I am looking forward to the third book, "Madman's Mansion" and have a few more doomsday novels to present to you as well. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

NINJA MASTER #01 - VENGEANCE IS HIS

I made my way to the "Ninja Master" section of Chamblin Books in Jacksonville, Florida. Off the subject here for a moment but this store has two locations and a warehouse for a combined square footage of 55,000. They have so many of these paperbacks that aisle number fifty was dedicated to nothing but action adventure novels like "Ninja Master". Each series has its own label so I was easily able to identify things like "Doomsday Warrior", "Deathlands", "Last Ranger", etc. My only complaint was that the science fiction section was almost too big to even navigate and books like "Out Of The Ashes" were in there and that doesn't really fit. If "Deathlands" is action adventure then "Out Of The Ashes" would certainly fit that category and not sci-fi. Anyhoo...this store is going to get a direct debit out of my savings account each week because I am gonna rack up some serious titles in the coming year.

With absolutely one of the cheesiest covers of the genre "Ninja Master" gets off and running with its first entry called "Vengeance Is His". There are eight total books in the series before spinning off into other series' like "Year Of Ninja Master". Right off the bat I'm going to say this is NOT the ninja imagery I remember as a child. Growing up predominantly in the 80s the ninja lore was absolutely insane. Kids had costumes, fake throwing stars, plastic swords and enough "martial arts" magazines to last a lifetime. The ninja stuff I remember was highlighted by Sho Kosugi movies and the television show "The Master". I can remember renting big box VHS films like "Enter The Ninja", "American Ninja" and even a Chuck Norris film featuring ninjas in "The Octagon". So with that being said "Ninja Master" is NOT that sort of ninja...in fact he isn't really a ninja at all in my experience. But more on that in a moment.

Wade Barker wrote "Vengeance Is His" and he is the dedicated author of the whole series plus spin offs. The book came out in 1981 on Warner Books. Our "Ninja Master" is Brett Wallace (maybe the name was inspired by martial artist Bill Superfoot Wallace), a young man living in Cleveland with his beautiful Japanese wife. His father runs a multimillion dollar real estate business and Wallace can eat with a silver spoon. One night one of his father's business deals goes south and someone kills his parents and wife. Now Wallace is the heir to a zillion dollar fortune and a hatred in his heart for baddies everywhere. He journeys to Japan to study martial arts and the way of the ninja. Bruce Wayne anyone?

Wallace returns home after a decade of ninja antics and immediately targets the thugs that killed his family. The absolute ridiculous action sequence adorning the book cover is in fact how the thugs are taken down. Wallace uses super human strength to break bones and necks to settle the score. He then takes his fortunes and moves to San Francisco. He picks up a beautiful Japanese chef and has a few sex flings with her before buying a restaurant for her to run. Quickly she is written out of the book and Wallace is on to his first ninja mission. Apparently there is a neighborhood that is mostly made up of senior citizens and weak people who are being harassed by a local gang calling themselves The Wilshire Rangers (they sound like an English Premier League team). The Rangers are led by two brothers and they basically run drugs, prostitutes and general thugs that terrorize the local cops and the residents. Wallace befriends a prostitute named Patty and gets the scoop on the Rangers. He decides to right the wrongs using his ninja fighting skills.

Barker makes Wallace out to be a hero that is on par with Thor. Apparently Wallace has learned techniques like touching a man's forearm and creating death. He uses his knees to kill a few people. At one point he uses his palm to push a man's nose into his brain. In two scenes Wallace dodges bullets (I wish I was making it up kids) and can even use mind tricks to change his surroundings. I think all of this would have been somewhat entertaining if Wallace would just wear a black suit and hood that shrouds all but his eyes. Then, and only then, would I buy into this ninja fantasy. Somehow the look of a Mortal Kombat type character in a black ninja suit just seems more appropriate for mind tricks and super human feats of strength. Instead Wallace walks around in suits or jeans. He rarely ever uses stealth, he has no sword, boken, knives or daggers. He doesn't even have one of those smoke ball thingies that make ninjas disappear. He is basically just a UFC fighter. I will say that he does have a throwing star that detaches from his belt buckle. Geez.

The end result is "Ninja Master" does not get off to a good start here. Perhaps the other seven titles are better and Wallace will use some sort of traditional ninja garb to off the baddies. Regardless I will continue on with other entries because at this point I feel I just need to know more. There is also a side story at the very end of this book that shows Wallace teaming with a "Microchip/"Oracle" sort of assistant and the Japanese chef to form a fighting team. Where the Hell is Sho Kosugi when we need him?

Monday, June 17, 2013

RESISTANCE #01 - NIGHT AND FOG


I ran into a great selection of action adventure novels at a little bookstore called Givens Books. I picked up most of the six book series called "Resistance". This is a World War II series of action novels written in the early 80s by Gregory St. Germain. I'm not terribly certain if this is a house author and few details are out there about him or this series in general.

This first "Resistance" entry is called "Night And Fog". It was released in 1982 under the Signet brand and part of their "Signet Action Adventure" marketing. If you look closely at the book cover you will see that the illustration is inside the picture of a phoenix. All of the "Resistance" titles are adorned that way and I thought it was fitting considering this is a team based book about a unit called "Phoenix".

"Night And Fog" is set in the early stages of World War II. From just my history buff experience I am thinking this would have taken place around late 1939 or early 1940. Poland has just been invaded by Germany and some of the country has been given to the Soviet Union. Our main character is an action guy named Scott Gideon. He is an American who has been quite the journeyman for the last decade or so. He recently left war in Spain and is recruited in Belgium by a millionaire named Philaix. Gideon survives a trial to determine his worthiness and soon Philaix employs him to lead a ragtag bunch of mercenaries into guerilla warfare against the Nazis. His first mission is to infiltrate a German occupied castle in Poland and rescue a Polish general. His team consists of seven war vets from places like France, Russia, Holland, Ireland, Poland, Austria and Italy. Each of these guys are recruited based on their expertise with knives, maps, boats, explosives, etc.

St. Germain's writing is somewhat technical at times. I found it hard to follow his geography, often confusing in its details of where the team is in relation to various German camps, Belgium, Poland and Russia. The whole book is basically about the team's mission to Poland and the eventual retrieval of the general. Throughout this long road trip they find themselves in various battles and extreme circumstances. The group fight patrols out in the fields, they destroy various checkpoints, airports and eventually infiltrate the castle. Once in the castle they become captured and then escape in one of the more ridiculous "heroic" scenes. The end of the book is a furious round of gunfire as German troops chase the Phoenix team down a runway.

Okay so first things first. This is a really decent historical overlook at some of the early trials and tribulations facing Poland in the early stages of the war. The plight of the Polish people is brutally told in a no-holds barred retelling. This part of the book was fairly educational to me. I found the daring rescue and firefights interesting early on and by book's end I began to tire of the never ending firefights. The plausibility is completely thrown out the window and rightfully so considering this sort of action adventure tale. I was suprised to see one of the team members killed off (not saying who!) and the aftermath of that tragedy. The human nature of the book is well done and the cohesive fighting unit comes into its own in a way that makes you want to seek out more volumes. I'm gonna give this one a recommendation and is one of the few World War II action novels I've ran into. Comparing to films I think "Night And Fog" is similar to team based vehicles like "Dirty Dozen" and "The Wild Geese". I have the whole book series now so look for more of my "Resistance" reviews in the future.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

M.I.A HUNTER #01 - M.I.A HUNTER

I collected the "M.I.A Hunter" series when I was in high school. I believe at one point I had the entire sixteen book run and had read a good majority of them. The novels started in the mid 80s amongst a frenzied media and pop culture environment that was obsessed with Vietnam action vehicles. That time frame through as late as the mid 90s contributed heavily to the Vietnam war scripts and post 1973 theatrics. Films like "First Blood", "Rambo 2", "Full Metal Jacket" and "Platoon" scored well on the top tiers. The media degraded into B films like the "Missing In Action" series before becoming completely stagnant with blowhards like "Platoon Leader" (Michael Dudikoff!) and "Siege At Firebase Gloria".

The late 70s and 80s was a rather controversial period of time to discuss the Vietnam War in terms of its prisoners of war. There was a huge portion of society that firmly believed US troops were still being held in Vietnam. Contrived images of soldiers in tattered uniforms suspended in bamboo cells were firmly etched in pop culture ("Missing In Action", "Uncommon Valor"). The other side of the fence felt all of this was simply fantasy and that the majority of these supposed P.O.W.s would have been pilots whose age and extreme living conditions in Southeast Asia would have limited their lifespans. Depending on which opinion you have the numbers are really alarming. 1,300 Americans are reported as missing in action to this day. Were they killed? Exported to the Soviet Union? Worked as slave labor? Who can really speculate at this point considering Vietnam has been open for trade and tourism for twenty years now and this is a moot point.

The first installment of the "M.I.A. Hunter" series is simply called "M.I.A. Hunter" and it was released by Jove in 1985. These books were written by a myriad of authors like Stephen Mertz, Joe R. Lansdale, Michael Newton and Bill Crider under "house" pseudonym Jack Buchanan. The series followed the trend of having larger than life book covers and a marketing catch phrase. This one says:

"He brings back American's forgotten men from their Hell on Earth".

The book begins in a Vietnamese military base just shy of the Laos border. Three American POWs are being held in bamboo cages under very harsh conditions (Hollywood 101). One of the POWs, Bradford, manages to escape and is eventually seen by a Laos freedom fighter before being re-captured. The freedom fighter relays the information about the American POW to a CIA operative who eventually gets the information to Bradford's wife. This sets the stage for Bradford's wife to contact the MIA Hunter and our first mission is now set; find Bradford and bring him back alive.
 
Mark Stone is a former Green Beret and Vietnam Vet who spent some time as a POW himself. He runs a business for hire that rescues POWS all over the globe. He has a network of associates that assist with travel, firearms and overall logistics. Stone relies on two fighters with his missions, big Texan Hog Wiley, a former team mate of Stone's in 'Nam and a former British SS named Terrance Loughlin. The three remind me of those team based video games like "Double Dragon", "Streets Of Rage" and "Final Fight". Stone is your default main character. Wiley would be the big strong brawler. Loughlin is a more technical character with an explosives background. The book is written in a way that focuses on each character during battle and what they are contributing. Often Wiley is shown brawling, Stone is organizing the battle and Loughlin is conveniently away planting charges.
 
After taking on the job of rescuing Bradford the team journey into Bangkok to acquire weapons and intel from a network associate. A battle ensues with some operatives apparently clued into Stone's global antics. This part of the story was rather frustrating because nothing comes to fruition. What government is after him and why don't they just shut him down? Maybe this is a story that runs the series. Anyhow the team eventually meets up with a Laos freedom fighter and two other Americans who serve as transportation. After a few clicks down river the group battle a boat patrol of Vietnamese and quickly dispatch them. Quickly Stone finds the prisoners and frees them in a huge firefight with the Vietnamese camp. Retreating out of the camp consists of more gunfights and in the book's finale a "last stand" scenario plays out in a remote Laos village (briefly reminds me of "Seven Samurai"). The group holds off waves of baddies and eventually make it out with Bradford in tow.
 
The book reads very fast and is a rather short novel at under two-hundred pages. It is fairly obvious that this book sets the tone for future installments and that the central core will always be Stone, Hog and Loughlin as the primary killing force of the series. Authors can easily deposit these three fighters in Vietnam, the Soviet Union, China and the Middle East to rescue prisoners in a cookie cutter action formula sure to please "mercenary" and "soldier of fortune" hounds. The series always had great cover art, was made at the height of "Rambo" type films and seemed readily available at grocery stores, pharmacies and book stores back in the day. Sales had to be decent considering sixteen installments were created.
 
After being out of print for two decades a reissue has been authorized. These Kindle editions feature generic (horrible!) artwork and weigh in at $2.99 each. I prefer the $1.00 paperback versions no matter how worn they are.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

LAST RANGER #02 - THE SAVAGE STRONGHOLD


Okay, with a cover this cool Craig Sargent's "The Savage Stronghold" gets three bold faced statements on front and back:

"Martin Stone is The Last Ranger. America's last hope in America's Darkest Age"

"A third world war has left America a lawless and battered land. But amid the pillage and heartless killings, one brave young man has become America's last hope for justice and freedom"

"In a city enslaved by a savage new cult, he's fighting for freedom and revenge!"

I just recently bought a copy of this one used for a dollar. This came out in 1986 through Popular Library, a subsidiary of Warner Books. Let's face it, the 80s action genre was saturated with post-apocalyptic series' and novels. In my youth of the 80s and early 90s I watched a great deal of post apocalypse movies like the "Mad Max" trilogy, "Def-Con 4", "Red Dawn", etc. The books that I normally sunk my teeth into were more horror related, things like Stephen King's "The Stand" and Robert R. McCammon's "Swan Song". I did tend to read a few of the action adventure novels of this theme but there just seemed to be so much readily available. I remember seeing entries like "Endworld", "Deathlands" and "Out Of The Ashes" (I did enjoy William Johnstone's "Mountain Man" series) and it seemed appealing but I was really sort of burned out on those themes by the mid 90s. A few years ago it started all over again yet more zombie inspired than anything.

"The Savage Stronghold" is actually book two of a ten book series written by Craig Sargent. I've haven't had the opportunity to track down any other books in the series and this was my first venture in "The Last Ranger" series. After devouring this volume in less than two days I'm on the hunt for the other nine titles.

The book starts with a bang. We are introduced to the series' main character Martin Stone (of course his name is Stone!), his dog Excalibur and an armory fitted Harley Davidson. Stone is on a long stretch of highway in Colorado and runs into a camp of cannibals. His choice is to pay to proceed through this section of Colorado or simply mow them down with the handlebar mounted .50 caliber machine gun he is packing. Stone opts for gunfire and "The Savage Stronghold" is off to a great start.

In some flashback scenes of the first book America was bombed (nuked?) by the Soviet Union and what's left is simply a wasteland akin to Judge Dredd. I believe Stone, his sister and parents were living in a cave for about five years. I'm not sure if Stone was an Army Ranger or what the emphasis is on "The Last Ranger" bit of the series. I was never able to tell from this particular book what Stone's background was before the bombs. He lived in the cave and at some point a motorcycle gang of thugs called The Guardians Of Hell killed his family and kidnapped his sister. He fought the gang in Denver and wiped out a good portion of their headquarters before the leader, Straight, left town with Stone's sister. Now he is patrolling the country in search of his sister and any wrongs that need to be righted.

Stone wanders into Pueblo, Colorado and discovers a town that has been taken over by a bizarre church. The leader called The New Prophet tortures, crucifies and executes anyone who is different. Of course Stone faces off with him, the Guardians Of Hell and Straight in a battle to free his kidnapped sister. 

This book was extremely exciting and never left me bored. I've read this sort of story a half dozen times, from Judge Dredd to the various spaghetti westerns that showed us a town that was controlled by a ruthless gang, criminal land baron or some sort of backwoods law enforcement. "The Savage Stronghold" is really no different yet it is written with enough gunpowder and grit to make it interesting. The profanity is thick, the violence is above average and there is a little bit of a love interest thrown in for good measure. If you have played video games like "Borderlands", "Rage" or "Fallout" then this book is mandatory reading.

MUSICAL SELECTION - Iced Earth - "Burning Times"

Saturday, June 8, 2013

CONAN #05 - CONAN THE HUNTER


Sean A. Moore's "Conan The Hunter" is thrust into this chronological list after the wretched "Conan The Defiant". Some argue that "Conan The Indomitable" would be next but I'm not terribly certain and I don't know that it really matters in the grand scheme of all things Conan. This one came out in 1994 on the Tor brand and this is one of three Moore entries in the Conan series.

I can't say Moore is any worse than Perry but he isn't miles better either. "Conan The Hunter" would have been a much better book if it wasn't written in phases. We get a huge cross section of this book that plays out like a city thriller. Then Moore changes the pacing and scope of the book tremendously by having it stretch hundreds (if not thousands) of miles across desert wasteland to eventually culminate in a finale inside yet another desolate temple.

This one opens with a drunk gambling Conan in the area of Zamora (he does say at the end of "Conan The Defiant" that he is headed there). He has picked up a night wench called Yvanna and has made arrangements to pay for her sex by giving her a jeweled bracelet. The bracelet was stolen from a murdered princess and Conan takes the fall. After a few chase scenes, some treachery and intrigue we see Conan trapped in a dungeon courtesy of the deceitful Mutare.

Again, Moore does a fantastic job with the pacing and inner sanctum turmoil of the King Of Brythunia. The battle with the sewer monster was really well done and other than a few Superman moments Conan is written well (brawn over brains). It is once Conan teams with Salvorus, Kailash and a priest named Madesus that things really get weighed down. I thought the chase scene across the desert in pursuit of Mutare was unnecessary. We could have skipped thirty pages here and just put the band of heroes right in the temple. But anyway the climatic battle is decent and Conan fights temple gargoyles! Who can argue with that logic?

I can't say I'm completely impressed with Moore but I much prefer his writing over Perry. I'm not dreading his next two entries but before the next Moore I have...gulp...four more Perry novels and two from a guy named Leonard Moore. Crom!

MUSICAL SELECTION - Axel Rudi Pell - "Outlaw"

CONAN #04 - CONAN THE DEFIANT

Now comes the era of Steve Perry. Wow. Where do you even begin? Perry has written a handful of Conan novels and is typically considered somewhere between a B or C grade Conan author. I may even venture to say pulp fiction hack. Where De Camp and Carter's stuff is written fairly well...Perry is just flat out lifeless. His scenes go off into so many tangents that I literally had to jot down notes for "Conan The Defiant" as I had no idea which character was alive, dead or somewhere in between. At the end of the day none of it really mattered as this whole book went absolutely nowhere.

"Conan The Defiant" was released by the Tor brand in 1987. I downloaded the book for iPad and thankfully didn't spend a hard earned dollar on this one (wink). The book finds our hero shortly after he has left the cave of "The Thing In The Crypt". His wandering path leads him to the aid of Engh, an Oblate priest who is fighting off enemies using only a staff. Conan is intrigued and eventually the two are friends back at Engh's temple. There is a tussle, Engh is dead and Conan is off to right the wrong in the traditional vengeance formula.

This is where things really get bizarre. A necromancer named Neg The Malefic has a small army of zombies, one of which is a beautiful woman named Tuanne. Neg also employes a vile henchman named Skeer. Why? Because he needs an amulet/charm thing called "The Source Of Light". Apparently if he has this amulet he can make even more zombies than he has now. Neg is basically trying to become Evil Ernie and rule the world with his corpse companions. In the way is Conan, the recently escaped zombie Tuanne and another beautiful wench named Elashi (she is after the amulet as well).

Perry goes on the deep end three fourths into this book. He has an army of tarantulas after Skeer, our main characters on the hunt for Neg, an armed assassin and his crew on the hunt for Conan and Neg himself has a crew of a dozen or more blind zombies on the hunt for Conan. WTF!?! Who can keep up with this nonsense? I just tuned out on who is after which character and why. To make matters even more confusing Conan, Elashi and Tuanne become lovers of each other along the way. The end result was a battle that was quickly dispatched and disposed of in less than five pages. The absolute worst part? Conan actually cries at the end of the book. Crom be damned!

There are at least four more Perry novels in this list and I'm not sure I can read another. This was absolute rubbish. It has a few nice covers sitting out there but beyond that stay away!

MUSICAL CHOICE - Manowar - "Kill With Power"

CONAN #03 - THE THING IN THE CRYPT


"The Thing In The Crypt" marks our third entry in chronological reading order of Conan. This was written by L. Sprague De Camp and Lin Carter and appears in the "Conan" book by Lancer (1967) and then later re-issued as book one by Ace. I picked up a fairly good copy of the Ace reissue at an old paperback exchange a few weeks ago for a buck. 

Where "Legions Of The Dead" left off we saw Conan in chains, snared by the Hyperboreans after a raid in Asgard. This short story has a rather rousing beginning...Conan vs wolves! Conan finds a way to break his chains and escapes to the south only to find a pack of hungry wolves on his trail. In one testosterone fueled fury Conan fights the wolves with the length of broken chain. Fearing certain death he escapes into a mountain cave. The wolves become frightened in the doorway of the cave and refuse to go in.

Once inside the Cimmerian finds darkness, bones and a mummy seated on a throne. This mummy has an iron sword on his lap and Conan takes the sword. This apparently triggers something in the mummy and a fight ensues. Conan is seen at the end emerging from the cave with his new iron sword.

These scenes are in the original "Conan The Barbarian" albeit minus the mummy fight. In the film Conan simply picks up the sword and the mummy continues his corpse slumber. This entry is really short weighing in at less than twenty pages. I can't really find any fault with the writing. I know these authors receive tons of heat from the fans and some of it might be valid. "The Thing In The Crypt" is basically one long action sequence and the descriptive detail regarding the snow capped mountains, the crunch of bones in the crypt and the snarling wolves are certainly eye candy for the adventure hounds. I really enjoyed the story and if anything new Conan fans could pick this short story up and receive a really high octane read for fifteen minutes. 

The next entry in the chronology is "Conan The Defiant" by Steve Perry. That novel picks up as Conan leaves "The Thing In The Crypt". 

MUSICAL SELECTION - Metal Law - "Night Of The Wolf"

Friday, June 7, 2013

CONAN #02 - LEGIONS OF THE DEAD

This second entry in the chronological reading order of Conan is "Legions Of The Dead". This short story is by Bjorn Nayberg with assistance from Lin Carter and L. Sprague De Camp. I believe the original unfinished manuscript was started by Conan creator Robert E. Howard. The story can be found early in the compilation book "Conan The Swordsman" (1978) which I purchased for a whopping $7.99 from the ITunes Store. It still amazes me that a digital copy costs as much or more than the physical book. 

This story is roughly set with Conan being very young, possibly seventeen or eighteen. This is of course after the events of Venarium and finds our hero running with a band of raiders known as the Aesir. The leader of these raiders is Njal, who awakes to find that his daughter Rann has been kidnapped by Hyperboreans. Njal sends out thirty scouts to a castle called Haloga. Conan, Njal and a handful of raiders depart to recover Rann and also to discover the whereabouts of the missing scouts. 


In one hair raising scene we find that the scouts have been hung on hooks and displayed around the top of Castle Haloga. The perpetrator? A wicked queen called Vammetar and her sinister Witchmen. Conan penetrates the fortress only to find that the dead have risen and are on the hunt for the raiders. 


Interesting enough that the story ends with Conan in chains, a slave to the Hyperboreans. This "slavery" is shown at the beginning of the film "Conan The Barbarian" and also recalled in the next Conan entry entitled "The Thing In The Crypt" . Overall I thought this was a decent read filled with action and occult. I am not sure who to credit the writing too but overall it was a really good piece to fill in the young adult era of Conan's life. I am dreading the upcoming novels in the series by Conan hack Steve Perry.



MUSICAL SELECTION - Tyrant - "Legions Of The Dead"

CONAN #01 - CONAN OF VENARIUM

Okay so I'm getting my sleeves rolled up for Conan. I've been reading a few of the Dark Horse comics...the reboot they did about 5 to 6 years ago. I ran into a chronological list of Conan novels, a reading order arranged by Conan's supposed age. In moving from comics to the actual novels I felt maybe I could read EVERYTHING from what original creator Robert E. Howard did through all of the various authors who have created books about this fictional character. 

My list starts with "Conan Of Venarium", a novel written by Harry Turtedove. This guy has made a living writing alternate history books like "Guns Of The South". This "intro" book gets tons of backlash from the diehard fans because some of the dates don't match the timeline that most consider valuable. Also I believe Conan's parents names are different here as well as the "sacking of Venarium". I don't see how any of that really matters considering the original creator had Conan in all different ages from boy to old man. It is all up to interpretation...that is sort of the attraction for authors to contribute. So suck it. 

This book shows us Conan at age 15. He lives in Cimmeria with his parents in a village called Douthil. His mom is dying of something akin to tuberculosis and his father, Mordec, is a blacksmith. The southern neighboring country called Aquilonia sends raiders to Cimmeria to take it over and envelope the land into their kingdom. At first the Cimmerians make a stand minus Conan...his father literally beats the Hell out of him and forces him to stay off the battlefield. The Cimmerians lose and Aquilonia basically forces themselves into Cimmeria. They aren't necessarily cruel or hostile...they simply want to allow their people to farm there, use the resources and still allow the Cimmerians freedom albeit far far from what the barbarians would consider a proud lifestyle.. This doesn't sit well with Conan and Turtedove really uses this novel to show us the fury and rage that builds in the character at such an early age. Conan, his father and a host of villages and nearby neighbors band together and fight off the Aquilonians and force them back to their homeland. By book's end Conan has become a man, a warrior and finds that he no longer belongs in Cimmeria or anywhere deemed home. The end was very fitting as we see Conan choose NOT to pick sides in an upcoming war and he starts out on his own as a wanderer and thief. This obviously sets the tone for the future of the character. I think Turtledove does Conan very similar to "Braveheart" and I'm okay with that. I think this was a great introduction to the character and a recommended read for newbies like myself.

INTRODUCTION

Paperback Warrior is an attempt to relive the glory days of 70s and 80s action adventure novels. The barrel chests, bullet belts and bandannas that adorned cult classic heroes like "The Exterminator", "Stony Man" and "Penetrator". I had a book or two from all of the best loved series and now I am attempting to recreate that library again. I will post my random findings, reads and commentary here and hopefully this will rekindle some memories of those dog eared action adventure novels.