Tag Archives: Deathlands

Dark Carnival

51VKHsxpjILI wish I read the Deathlands books a little more often than I do, although the truth of this matter is you could insert any ongoing series[1] I am reading and not yet caught up to live publication for, and that would still be a true statement. I have an embarrassment of reading wealth, I guess? Kind of.

But as much as I enjoy reading them, they’re getting harder and harder to review, because of how much continuity is piling up. I have read 14 of these over the past 7ish years (they are published quarterly, I think, so yes, this means I’m falling behind), and they’re so far not the least bit episodic. Old enemies come back, the cast changes over time, the past (both the written past and the characters’ pasts before the series opens) has consequences. All that, on top of post-apocalypse porn with a deep sci-fi bent and surprisingly[2] egalitarian gender parity, and yeah, of course I want to keep reading more.

This one, leaving out all the piled up plot, centers around dire happenings in and around an operational amusement park in Florida that is conspicuously not DisneyWorld. Also, though, let me leave you this hilarious dispatch from the 22nd Century:

Doc returned to his own room and watched some vids of a television series that Boss Larry piped through. Ryan and Krysty tried to watch it, but it seemed a plot of such staggering complexity that they gave up on it.

“It wasn’t the giant and the dwarf,” Krysty said, lying back on the huge bed. “Nor the damned fine coffee and the cherry pie. It was the woman who was dead, then Japanese, then alive again.”

[1] I mean, not Anita Blake. Seriously. But otherwise, yes.
[2] Both for the genre and the publication date. And I’m not saying it’s perfect, it’s just a lot better than could have possibly been predicted, and objectively closer to the good side of the scale than the bad side.

Seedling

51b094MgQYL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Assuming you haven’t been here long (and are unwilling to click through the Deathlands tag): post-apocalyptic 22nd Century gun porn with teleporters and whiffs of Seven Samurai, in episodic format, series approximately 100 books in length. Okay? Okay.

Since I’m still reading them, it’s probably time to stop being surprised by how compelling they are, or at least to stop mentioning it every time. The real problem is that without that or the setting summary, and without massive spoilers, it’s hard to say much of a much. Plausibly, I should not concern myself with spoilers regarding a 25 year old men’s adventure series that nobody besides me is going to read, but it’s hard to think that way. The result of all of this being, there’s maybe a sentence, tops, I can put together to explain any given book.

In the case of Seedling, Ryan Cawdor and company stumble out of the latest abandoned secret government teleport installation into uptown Manhattan (or technically probably Queens, but whatever), where they discover the biggest collection of pre-nuke hardware and memorabilia any of them have ever seen, an unexpected mutant army, the expected levels of treachery and general Deathlands deadliness[1], and a deviously clever use of the book’s title.

[1] After all, it’s not named that because you’d want to buy into the timeshare.[2]
[2] Okay, fine, two sentences. But only barely.

Latitude Zero

517LqnCryCL._SY346_Here are the important lessons I have learned from reading two Deathlands books in a row[1]:

1) Yep, they are able to catch me by surprise still, and even better, do it by meeting my expectations on one hand while utterly subverting them on another.
2) It is a bad idea to read two of them in a row. It’s not that popcorn isn’t still delicious every time you get a tub of it, it’s that you fail to get the proper impact if you have it daily.
3) Man, life really is nasty, brutish, and short. These are the good guys, and they usually try their best to help the most people, but noble self-sacrifice? Playing long odds in the hopes of saving a few more? None of that. They help when they can, but if they decide they can’t, that help ain’t coming. On the bright side, they do a pretty good job of staying alive, and they’re almost never the aggressors. But heroes? Nope.

Also, though I didn’t learn this from the specific two-in-a-row circumstances, Latitude Zero taught me that this author and/or stable of authors is really quite good at recycling villains. And getting me to empathize with them, no matter how minimally. I know I keep praising this series, so I should make a point of explaining that it’s not that they’re objectively good. It’s that they’re a post-apocalyptic sci-fi series that so dramatically transcends the limitations of the men’s adventure shelf, and in so many literary and social ways, that they are objectively Not Bad. Which is wildly unusual if not unique in the annals of that shelf, and results in my getting to read a never-ending series that is dialed into my specific proclivities.

It’s like that time when the soap opera I randomly chose to watch from the beginning as my first ever soap opera turned out to have witches, talking dolls, and portals to hell opening up under peoples’ homes. Nobody could have predicted that something so perfectly aimed at me would ever exist! Much less that I would trip over it.

[1] Because I was camping in the desert and didn’t want to a) run out of books[2] nor b) destroy my delicate electronic devices[2] nor c) bring a book whose physical form I would be worried about[2].
[2] I did not. So that worked out pretty well!

Time Nomads

51o+C5jhCvL._SY346_The good news for me is, I read more than one book while camping in the desert a couple weeks ago, and Time Nomads was every bit as solid as any book I’ve read in the Deathlands series. Which, okay, I understand that these books are first and foremost pulpy romance novels for men who prefer that most of the mushy bits be replaced by guns and also the shootings of said guns into people. But they’re apocalytic sci-fi with female characters who have many qualities other than victim and a cast that is not safe from harm at any moment. Which is to say, in some ways they’re better than many books I’ve read that are of objectively higher quality.

The book starts out on its standard, with the merry band of not-quite do-gooders teleporting into a new hidden government installation somewhere in the nuke-ravaged America of the 22nd century. But then the author proves he’s not afraid to mess with his formula by sending one of his main characters on a botulism-fueled flashback to the days before they found all the hidden teleporter pads, robots with laser guns, cryogenic pods and and towns in need of rescuing that have made the series such a delight. And okay, I admit that “flashback” doesn’t sound like that much of a formula-buster, but that’s because I’m leaving out the drastic changes that occur as the book ends.

The changes may not take, and I won’t be offended if they don’t, but the fact that I can’t be sure? That’s what impresses me about this series. Well, and also the post-apocalyptic setting, but I think everyone already knew that part.

Northstar Rising

I went with a Deathlands book to ease myself into reading not-The-Wheel-of-Time, and I have to say, it was a solid choice. (The other initial possibility was Dresden Files.) See, while I had no problem returning from screen to paper, I had a huge problem reading a book that didn’t have Rand in it. Not him specifically, but I’m not kidding either; for pretty much the first half of Northstar Rising, everything about it felt subtly wrong, like I was reading a fake book that someone was trying to convince me was the real thing.

Eventually I settled in, and this one is every bit as good as the others, though I am starting to have minor problems with the series. For one thing, the titles? Chosen seemingly at random lately. I’ll admit that they went to Minnesota, which is in the north. But otherwise, they hung out with cryogenically frozen doctors (who are a touch on the stereotyped side, alas) and giant ant swarms and vikings and barrels of radioactive waste. You know, like you do when it’s the nuclear devastated wastelands of America a hundred years in the future.

Then again, I cannot really say what I’d have named it instead, there being no common theme to pull the various events of the book together. On the other hand, they broke formula a little, and that’s probably good news. Like I say, minor problems. Certainly nowhere near enough to make me put away the mind candy.

Red Equinox

You remember those Deathlands guys, with their gender equality and their gun fetishism and their occasional mutations and their ability to teleport around the shattered ruins of the United States trying to find that perfect settlement for forever but otherwise righting wrongs while they keep ending up in the wrong place? Well, in Red Equinox, they got a callback to the second book in the series, which you undoubtedly remember is the one where they teleported for the first time, and ended up in Alaska where they could run into some invading Russians at the land bridge.

How can such a callback exist, you ask? See, this guy got to report on first American contact in the hundred years since the nuclear war, and so he got promoted home to Moscow. And meanwhile, Ryan Cawdor and company got to learn that the American embassy in Moscow has the same teleportation capability as so many of the hidden redoubts scattered around the Deathlands. None of which sounds so terrible, because you just leave, you know? Moscow is like the most dangerous place for an American to be! …too bad they broke the door you need to close to trigger the teleport sequence, eh?

Ice and Fire

51nrpwy4fylI’m reading too many of these, and they are too similar, for much in the way of in depth reviews. So I think if you are interested at all, you’ve got the premise settled in your head by now, and I can just go with sense impressions, unless something vital changes. So, here’s what’s going on in Ice and Fire.

1) More secrets from the past, via cryogenic chambers! That is definitely a cool thing, not simply for the information they have been able to glean that will help them on their way, but also because where there is one bank of cryogenically frozen people from the past, there will be more. Y’know?
2) More ambivalence about the purpose of their travels. I guess the real purpose is to eventually teleport into a place where they like what they find and want to stay there forever and grow old and fat together with lots of slightly mutated children, but I think even though that’s what they believe, they none of them would be willing to put down roots when there are more things to see and people to save. Yet at the same time, they spent the whole book seeing a big, obvious problem (otherwise happy, wealthy people living one of the better lives available in our tragic future, except the massive mutant snake-worshiping cult that has sprung up is threatening to turn them all into hate-filled religious slaves) and saying in a number of different ways, “Hey, this is not our problem, we don’t have to solve everything, we’ll just get chilled if we do”. Right up until they end, when they remembered that they’re suppose to leave the campsites cleaner than they found them. I want this ambivalence and, okay, flip-flopping to be a psychologically interesting long term problem, but the truth is that it’s probably just iffy writing. Still, I hold out hope!
3) Romance is in the air! By which I mean the guy who likes guns is awkward around the baron’s secretary and also the blonde girl that’s been associated with Doc Tanner gets tired of him being old and her vagina starts making questionable decisions for her. The second part was the worst thing in the series so far, because even though their relationship troubles have been in evidence around the edges of the previous book or two, she suddenly becomes completely unreliable out of nowhere in this book, and then is clumsily removed from the plot. It all felt very “teenager in an ’80s horror movie”, when the rest of the series has not shown any evidence of slut-shaming or indeed imbalance between the sexes on either the good or evil sides of the equation.
4) Gradual cast turnover continues as well, which I still like, even if I could stand for it to not be, y’now, clumsy like this was.

By and large: there’s still more good than bad here, even if I wasn’t so susceptible to the setting that I’d ignore the bad for as long as possible. The edges are fraying a little bit, but I see all kinds of ways to recover, so for now I’ll hold out hope that my trashy apocalypse-porn series can stay less trashy than one might expect.

Dectra Chain

Camping now means “another Deathlands book”, since they’re already old and don’t need to be kept very well plus also it’s not like I’m going to run out of them anytime soon. Of course, I only managed to read a tiny portion of the book while camping, because I had very little luck concentrating on any book until the last full day. And then it took me like a year to read it afterward, but that’s because I’ve been busy with too many hours of work (and lots of comics to read while there) and too many hours of TV that I fell behind on while camping, so, y’know. It’s just weird ’cause these read so easy.

You know what else is weird? Dectra Chain does not refer to anything actually in the book, and even Wikipedia Pete knows almost nothing about the word. It appears to have to do with navigation? Which, okay, is fair enough, since the book is about a post-nuke whaling village in Maine. It’s not clear to me where they got their boats or the know-how to maintain them, but I guess it’s been a hundred years, people adapt and all. If you’re anything like me, a whaling village doesn’t sound like it has the kind of serious threat that Ryan Cawdor’s band of teleporting rovers needs to take care of, except perhaps from the whale’s perspective. But sure enough, there’s a bloodthirsty captain who holds the town in a strange thrall and who our heroes naturally manage to run afoul, after which violence ensues, as it is wont to do.

But what’s interesting to me is not this so much as the fact that our good guys are still kind of assholes at times. Notably, they both ran across some French Canadian hunters[1] and chased them off and stole their food and weapons instead of just leaving them be, and then later very nearly left town without Righting the Wrong. I like to think the subsequent difficulties were karmic retribution, but I suppose I’ll instead have to get used to the idea that they’re merely the best of a bad world, and not always good in a bad world instead. However else I may feel about it, that at least has the virtue of being suitably apocalyptic.

In other, unrelated news, there may be more people teleporting around! And also a secret, more highly classified teleporter that leads to a secret moonbase? Whether these facts are related or will ever become the focus of an episode remains to be seen.

[1] Well, that’s what I assumed, all it said was that they couldn’t speak English.

Pony Soldiers

I am kind of relieved to see some errors cropping into the Deathlands series. It’s not that they’re great literature; they are little more than fun sci-fi romps that would make a great 80s TV show[1], but in a way, that’s kind of my point. They have no business being as forward thinking and well-constructed as they are, considering their genre and their publication era alike. So it’s nice to see Pony Soldiers come along and suddenly provide a recurring villain as well as letting the characters act uncharacteristically foolish toward him now that he’s finally on the scene. Of course, then I think, no wait, they don’t know here in book five that the series is going to get into triple digits and still have new books coming out even as I castigate them for that lack of foresight, and most of those same 80s TV shows waited less than a year between recurring villains, which is about the length of time between the first and fifth books being published, so really this probably isn’t an error after all. Dammit. Fine, but I’m holding on to the part about them acting foolishly around him, instead of him just being so clever as to avoid his fate. At least it’s something?

In addition to all that, the story delves a little bit more into the concept of time travel that has been looming over everyone’s heads, by virtue of apparently dropping General Custer in the middle of a pitched war with the post-nuke Apache somewhere in the mostly radiation-free Southwestern deserts. Between that little mystery, viewpoints from a few more characters than we’ve had before, and ever-greyer moral quandaries, the series is definitely getting more interesting the further along it goes. And that’s not just my relief over the misstep talking.

[1]  Think A-Team, except with more continuity than they ever could have dreamed of in those days. And more female characters outside refrigerators than they ever could have dreamed of, for that matter.

Homeward Bound

The problem with the Deathlands series, which will only grow in scope as I get further into it, is that the formula is already starting to preclude my ability to say anything new. This is not a problem with me reading them, by any means; what most people get in comfort out of re-reading favored books, I’m getting out of these. I’m only five in now, and there are almost certainly over a hundred, with new ones still being published every two or three months right now, but Homeward Bound doesn’t deviate from the formula established by the end of the third book, not a bit. The band of adventurers pops of out a teleportation room sealed up inside an undiscovered government hideaway, emerges into the post-nuclear landscape, runs off to do some good deeds, and then heads back for another teleport.

Sure, this book added a brief trip to an apparent moonbase (which, okay, that was pretty cool, but I wonder if it will turn out to have been flavor text rather than a hint at future adventures) and let the main character, Ryan Cawdor, come face to face with his past[1], but they couldn’t even leave me with the vague hint of doubt as to whether he would try to stick around and rule his ancestral barony instead of running right back to adventuring.[2] Nope, the last two pages are, “Let’s all pile in our car and drive back to the teleport room!” I’m only asking for that to be replaced by maybe 10 or 20 pages at the beginning of the next book, right? Still, better to know what I’m in for now than later, I guess? Enh, “in for”, I say, when the only real problem is the reviews. The books themselves I will continue eating like candy long past the point where my brain is fat and complacent.

I am amused at the contrast between this and Anita Blake, where I’m only tolerating the books for the reviews. If it weren’t for GRRM, that is what I’d have read next! Instead, the next while will be recap city. Sorry about that.

[1] The wrong being righted by Sam Beckett in this episode of Quantum Leap is that of the Cawdor family’s destruction by black sheep middle brother Harvey.
[2] Oh, and to clarify two points, 1) Obviously the title of baron didn’t come to be until, y’know, after the nuclear war. In many senses, his father was exactly the sort of power-grubbing man that the survivors of the Trader’s old crew keep coming up against in each “new” book. Oh, and 2) I just said the series lasts for like a hundred books, so no pretending that the party’s survival and success count as spoilers. (Like you were gonna read them anyway!)