Tag Archives: men’s adventure

Trader Redux

Because Mary is way behind me, it’s too soon to start the next Liveship book. And because Road Wars ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, I figured, hey, why not read the next Deathlands. This has done me no good whatsoever, because Trader Redux ended on a bigger cliffhanger than the last one did[1], and Mary has caught up maybe a chapter in the meantime[2].

So anyway. This one was better, with timelines significantly more in whack. The old guy from the 1890s who’s been tossed around via time travel went off to find himself, and the main character guy goes whitewater rafting[3] into the barrel end of a shotgun wedding, so there’s plenty enough going on. But the main point of the book, how will our heroes react to regaining their upon a time leader?

I would call that aspect of things “incomplete”. Which is part of why this one ended on a bigger cliffhanger than the last one. Even if it is the smallest part.

[1] Okay, yes, they all end in cliffhangers technically. But usually the cliffhanger is “where did we teleport to this time, it sure looks dangerous”, and whatever, that’s status quo. Cliffhangers along the lines of “how will the meeting with my old boss who I used to love back when I wasn’t a leader myself, but now not only have I changed, it looks like he has too” and “uh-oh, all my friends have vanished, probably because the house they were hanging out in has more radiation than you can shake a pointed stick at” are qualitatively different.
[2] She’s reading plenty of manga in the original Japanese, so it’s not like she’s a slacker. Just not doing me any good. In, uh, this particular regard.
[3] I think down the Snake River Canyon, although it’s not entirely clear. It is 100% not the Grand Canyon, despite what the more spoilery than anything I’ve said here (and that’s impressive) cover copy claims.

Road Wars

Vacation nearly always equals Deathlands. And on the bright side, I didn’t run out of book before the plane landed, if only by about 20 minutes of reading.

Downside: Road Wars was the worst of these books in a while. It was not exactly bad, yet while it’s weird to say that I have standards for these books, it also turns out to be true. See, this is the culmination of an ongoing plotline from the past multiple books, in which the two main characters have learned that their old mentor from the first book is not dead of radiation cancer like they’d thought, and head out to find him. This results in a series of episodic encounters that may pay off in future books, while their friends who stayed home and their mentor (and the friend who found him) in old Seattle each have their own adventures. The problem being that these stories are split apart for dramatic effect, yet could not possibly have happened across the timetable in which the main characters are travelling from the friends to the mentor, across 1500 miles of nuked wastelands.

None of the individual stories were bad, and at least one of them was not merely fine but engrossing. Nonetheless, the skewed timelines bothered me really a lot, and took away from most of what was going on.

Still, light entertaining post apocalyptic fluff is not a genre I will soon tire of, and this was only relatively bad. Still far better than, for example, the last Anita Blake I read.

Rider, Reaper

I liked this Deathlands book somewhat less than usual, for a variety of reasons, which I will now elucidate.

1) The plot was not organic, and instead was in service of a clear goal that took me out of the writing. See, albino knife-throwing murder machine Jak Lauren left the group a long time ago, to start a life on a ranch in New Mexico. Yet, the in media res opening of Rider, Reaper immediately took the happy ending away from him, solely so the series could have him back. Clumsily enough so that I didn’t even realize it was that style at first, and instead thought I had accidentally picked up the wrong book. (On the bright side, I like him. But man, the clumsiness. Maybe if his family had been murdered during one of the stretches of time when everyone else hadn’t been right nearby, and then found him along the way instead? I dunno.)

2) Due to circumstances, they team up with a group of Navajo warriors to take down the bad guys of the week, and those warriors are portrayed as hot-headed savages worthy of a team-up with 19th century cowboys showing that the white way is manifestly the correct one, instead of 22nd century survivors of a society-ending nuclear war. It was just so bad, and all the moreso for me being used to this series’ shockingly common egalitarianism. Ugh. I am pretty sure the author hasn’t changed yet and won’t for a long time, so I hope it is a one-off problem, and not a sign of things to come due to editorial changes or some other permanent shift.

All that said, the set up of the next few books is pleasing to me, and I continue to look forward to where things are going. Please oh please let this be merely a small bump in the road.

Twilight Children

On Sunday, I read Twilight Children, completing my three-book camping weekend bender. In this one, Ryan Cawdor, Krysty Wroth, and their band of (I swear this was written in an amazon description of one of the other books, which I am not making up) warrior-survivalists go from a familiar setting gone direly wrong, to an old West tourist town inhabited by poisonous bird-bug things that I feel probably should have been more consequential than they were, and finally into the meat of the story, in which a paradisaical lakeside community is spoiled by Logan’s Run syndrome.

Later, they chill some mutants.

So, a thing I realize I’ve left out of these reviews is the side story, in which one of their old friends from before they started teleporting everywhere has been on a quest to find Ryan’s former leader, a near-mythical figure called the Trader. His rules for survival and profit in the Deathlands have informed their every decision, and the mercenary aspect of these rules is why so many of their adventures that ended in cleaning up messes created by all the power-hungry and murder-addicted regional barons have ended that way by accident, after they tried to stay out of it instead. The A-Team, they ain’t.

My point here is that even by that low standard, the Trader himself has appeared over the last couple of books to be a particularly mercenary individual, and I think that when everyone finally gets back together into one big happy, they’ll instead find that maybe they’d have been better off leaving him wandered off to die of radiation cancer like it seemed that he had done, about two thirds of the way through the first book. Which is a cool tension to have in an ongoing series like this. (Another reason I enjoy these so much, I reckon, is because of how much they remind me of Marvel comics, in their storytelling methodology.)

Cold Asylum

On Saturday I read Cold Asylum, which quickly dispenses with a set-up for several new locations and then with its title scene (a refrigerated, multi-warehouse-sized morgue inhabited by cannibalistic mutants[1]), to proceed quickly into a Most Dangerous Game pastiche in which the newest member of the band of adventurers (a young, sheltered cultist kung fu monk pulled forward through time[2] from right before the nuclear war) starts to show cracks in his loyalties and capabilities. How will they get out of this one?!

[1] I know it’s easy to see that I’m reading one of these books, roll your eyes, and move on, maybe wondering why I bother. This, right here, is why I bother. It’s just such a perfectly macabre sample of post-apocalyptica. And I know, it’s silly to imagine the refrigerators working a hundred years on, but that’s one of the premises you just have to accept. The nuclear generators are buried well, and they keep running without service. Otherwise, the whole series falls apart, because how would the teleporters work without power? Also, the part where the teleporters just never send you to an unpowered or otherwise destroyed location was a piece of genius in its own right.
[2] Also, all the time travel. Seriously, 125 book sci-fi series that is simultaneously post-apocalyptic and has good gender equity throughout? Except for the obligatory gun fetishism, what’s not to like?

Deep Empire

If you are paying a lot more attention than I would expect anyone to be paying, you would expect this review to cover the second Robin Hobb book. However, I ran into a pair of related problems. Maybe a trio of interrelated problems? You decide! See, thing one is that I’m still trying to read the series in conjunction with my wife. Thing two is that I went camping last weekend. The problem with that is that while I read a lot in the woods, she really does not. Thing three, which may or may not count as an actual thing, is that I didn’t want to deal with reading comics on my convertible laptop in the woods, because it’s quite a bit harder to handle / keep safe than a tablet in a case would have been. The relevance of this is that comics would have slowed me down quite a bit and made it at least mildly feasible that I could read the Farseer book without pulling irretrievably far ahead.

So instead, I brought five Deathlands books. The theory being that I would be out for 5 days and read about a book a day. This math was largely correct, except that I was not there for the entirety of the bookend days, and also I was building / tearing down on those days.

Enough inside baseball! You’re definitely here because you want to know how Deep Empire was. And I have good news: the title actually makes sense[1] this time. See, they come out of the teleporter into the Keys, where they encounter pirates, undersea volcanoes (because, post-apocalypse), dolphins, and rogue marine biologists.

[1] All three did, which makes me wonder if I missed something in Shockscape. I probably didn’t, but the impostor syndrome is especially strong right now, since I noticed my reviews used to be a lot funnier than they are these days. Everyone not reading this because they left me behind long ago? I forgive you.

Shockscape

I was poised to read a Robin Hobb book, but then my schedule got pushed back, so I went for something guaranteed to be quick and easy. And then work was a bear[1], and I realized a new Walking Dead was out, so now I’m actually behind on starting the Hobb instead of ahead. Oh well, that’s what happens when I try to keep to a schedule on much of anything besides work and vacations.

Which brings us to Shockscape, a book that demonstrates Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in action[2]. See, these books can only have either a title that is vaguely related to the plot, or a cover that is vaguely related to the plot. Never both, and virtually never more than a vague relationship. In this case, the title is as far as I can tell a meaningless agglomeration of syllables, while the cover shows a giant mutant bear, who isn’t in the book long, but he is the catalyst for the rest of the action. Which consists of the same kind of action in most Deathlands books: the good guys run into a baron[3], he sets them to some task for which failure means death and/or enslavement, depending on whether you are a person on the task or a hostage, the good guys complete the task (probably by killing someone what needed it), and then return and kill the baron too, because what kind of a dick makes people do things whether they want to or not?

It’s a good thing I don’t mind stories that are formulaic, as long as I know that whatever character or plot or world-building development missing from this book will definitely occur in the next one. Anyway, there was a pretty solid cliffhanger? (I hope they don’t resolve it in the easiest way possible, where they might as well not have had it in the first place.)

[1] Oops
[2] It doesn’t.
[3] A baron, in Deathlands parlance, is the leader of some locality. He always has sec men, and usually is in some sense a bad guy, either by virtue of terrorizing his populace or by virtue of opposing the good guys in a non-evil way that is never justifiable enough to make our heroes look like non-good guys when they inevitably chill him in the end. (Unless he’s a recurring character who gets away but will probably be killed in a sequel. That happens.)

Fury’s Pilgrims

51xi6zpicnlDid I mention that the Deathlands series is over, as of earlier this year? Probably. It’s just so weird to me that this thing has an ending, 30 years after it started. Especially when I compare to my infinite and infinitely expanding Marvel comics thing, you know? I mean, I’m still only to 1992 here, so it’s not like I’m in any danger of running out, it’s just strange.

That said, it’s also strange that I’ve gotten so far into a men’s adventure series and it still shies away from being fully episodic, misogynistic, and militaristically triumphal at every turn. Fury’s Pilgrims gives our heroes another momentary glimpse at the pre-nuke world, with its time travel equipment and space stations and other wonders, all tantalizingly out of reach and all gradually decaying into uselessness.

I mean, some of the entries in the series are more hopeful than that description? But so far, I have to admit that Deathlands is not a rise from the ashes version of the post-apocalypse; this is not an aspect I’d ever really considered before. Still, I’m not opposed to grimdark, and even if I were, this is not really that. The characters find love, and sometimes long term peace, and keys to their past and the collective past alike, even if never quite as fast as I’d like for the latter. But I’ve got like 100 plus books to go, so I should probably give them some time, eh?

Moon Fate

51B5enw1nlLApparently, the Deathlands series is completed, at 75 books, as of sometime last year. That’s kind of cool, because it implies that I might ever finish[1]. Not a habit I’m used to, what with Marvel comics that have been published continuously since 1961 with no end in sight.

I’m not sure that has any special relevance, but I learned it while doing research into the author of Moon Fate. (James Axler is a farm name, you see, assigned to any number of actual writers in the series, but not a real person in his own right.) The sad reason for this research was that there was a tonal shift so drastic, I briefly hoped there had been a change of the usual author to explain it. Here’s an implausible number of words about that.

Weirdly, even now, I can’t tell if I’m being unrealistic. In thumbnail, Ryan Cawdor is returning from the events of Chill Factor to rejoin his friends, but due to a series of the kind of tragic event that is so typical in a post-apocalyptic hellhole, they end up split once more, with he and his girlfriend captured by vengeful mutant “stickies”, so called because they are part of a common lineage in the Deathlands whereby their arms are covered with incredibly strong octopus-like suckers, strong enough to strip flesh right off any “norms” they might come in contact with.

And here is where problem one crops up. Normally stickies are, in addition to being strong and violent death machines, quite lowly ranked on the intelligence scale. Which is fine, killer mutants are a staple of any nuclear holocaust. But they were lead by an especially intelligent throwback to humanity, who of course was a figure from Ryan’s past. I don’t mind that they had a bad time together and the stickie wanted revenge. I mind that, after going to all the trouble of making him a leader who was intelligent and strong-willed enough to organize his troops instead of the usual ravening hordes, the story still treated them as mindless enemies. A story where the mutants could also be human would have been much cooler.

In any case, not enough to put me off the story, but then there was a rape scene in which a female stickie took Ryan into her quarters for to satisfy her carnally. And… I mean, there was only the one mostly human throwback, so I’m not saying I have a problem with the run of the mill mutant being a grotesquerie. And if the rape scene had been reversed, with lead female character Krysty Wroth being the victim, that wouldn’t have been any better, for all kinds of reasons. Still, the scene where Ryan was being forced to perform oral sex was just relentlessly anti-female, in a way I have thusfar thought this series was better than. And like I said, I read over the caveats and feel like I’m being way too sensitive about this; because yes the scene could have been left out entirely, but once you accept its presence, I can’t really see anything unrealistic about it. All the same, it felt skeevy, and I hope it doesn’t happen again.

Third, not that I much care about this, and especially in comparison to the other two, but I have no earthly idea what the title had to do with anything at all.

Anyway, leaving aside those complaints, the book was at least a nice change of pace from the standard “teleport somewhere, right a wrong, move on” template the series quickly fell into. I mean, yes, that is technically exactly what happened, but the trappings were all different, what with resuming from a split party, visiting friends, and staying in town for months rather than days or hours.

[1] Given that this book is #16, I’m already 20% of the way through!

Chill Factor

51Z1R4iI8nLIt is pleasing that I have basically infinity comics to read, because sometimes I fail to plan trips correctly and run out of book too fast. In part this is certainly due to being kind of sick and not wanting to do anything besides read, unexpectedly, but also in part this is because the Deathlands books are comic-like in their own way. Obviously, they read extremely fast, but also they are similar in that they have recurring villains and in that they lay the groundwork for future books in the current book, so the overall story tends to feel seamless instead of purely episodic.

Chill Factor sees one-eyed killing machine Ryan Cawdor off somewhere in the extreme north to rescue his son from a sulfur mine run by Russian slavers, while dodging the tender affections of a series of badly thought out but extremely lethal, er, killing machines. Like, you know, hunter-killer security droids. T-800s by way of R2-D2. Because of handwavy reasons, he’s performing this task by himself instead of with his usual crew, and while I don’t mind that, it’s certainly time for one of the other characters to get a spotlight book.

Anyway, if you like this kind of thing, the series continues to deliver. I especially appreciated, in this case, how convincing the environment was, with most everyone’s lives measured in days or weeks rather than months. Between, you know, the constant sub-zero temperatures, the radiation, and being a slave in a sulfur mine. That said, the books don’t exist digitally, so probably it’ll only ever be just me reading them.