Tag Archives: Deathlands

Bitter Fruit

Eventually, I liked the plot for Bitter Fruit. Cryogenically frozen bioterrorists first rebuild the Celtic empire[1] and then plot to wipe out most of the already dregs of humanity that yet remain, a hundred years past the nuclear holocaust that already basically marked the end of the world. Luckily, we know who can probably stop them! (Oh, this is a Deathlands book, if you didn’t actually know yet who could stop them.)

I say “eventually”. While this was not the first book in the series to have a new author, it was the first book where I noticed. Characters subtly out of character[2], a big change in the way book transitions work[3], and most damning, a possible change in the gender egalitarianism of the series. I’m reserving judgment on that last bit, as one data point is not a trendline, but all the same, none of the female characters have ever used sexuality to extricate themselves from danger before this author, so. (The main male character has at times tolerated sex while in danger, which I suppose is technically rape, and also I do not object to using sex as a tool in the toolbox when required. I’m just leery of it from a first time to the series author, after having spoken so much about the quality of the books to date.)

Worst news: this new author will be popping up frequently for a little while. Man I hope someone smacks him around and sets him straight.

[1] Well obviously empire is not the right word here. People isn’t what I want though, and kingdom is nearly as wrong as empire is, albeit a little less inadvertently snide.
[2] Just because you call a dude laconic, if he talks all the time and in much more detail than he used to, I’m both going to notice that and also judge you for not having known what laconic meant in the first place, nameless (unless I went to wikipedia and checked again) Deathlands farm writer!
[3] Instead of “end a book, pick up the next book immediately where the prior book just ended”, this was “end a book, skip forward by about three chapters of what I would have expected to read, but those three chapters wouldn’t make any sense at all if they’d been written, which I guess is why they had to be skipped, but since I noticed, you didn’t actually accomplish much.”


What do you say after 34 books in the same series?

I guess the first thing I’ll say is that I like how they’ve added some new villains and secondary characters that will maybe pop up again in the future, because it’s important not to get bogged down and run out of new ideas. (Plus, one of them has cool mutant powers like the main lady character, Krysty Wroth, and it’s nice to have positive mutations as more often than a one-off, since they sure don’t skimp on the negative mutations. Thermonuclear radioactivity, what are you gonna do? shrug emoji)

The second thing I’ll say is that even though it’s arguably lazy to set a book a hundred years in the future and then rely on the present as grist for your novel mill, I really do like when we get bigger glimpses into the way the world was when it ended, and this is a big one indeed. What would you say to a mountain full of pre-nuke government officials who have been keeping themselves alive with cryogenics and constant organ transplants? I, for one, can dig it. …and then there’s a suspiciously familiar cult, too. It’s an embarrassment of 20th Century riches, is what.

The third thing I’ll say is I have a disappointment, particularly because of how often I’ve been surprised by progressive egalitarianism throughout the series. When you call your book Stoneface, and it is partially set in and around Mount Rushmore, with characters[1] from the indigenous Lakota people, well, I was really hoping they would bring up the Six Grandfathers at all. But that’s a lot to ask of 1996’s authors, you know? In a lesser men’s adventure series, which let’s be honest is basically all of them on the “how progressive can this genre be?” scale, it would never have crossed my mind to be disappointed here.

Counterpoint, though, I really like to hope I would not have read 34 books deep into such an alternative series. Despite what it looks like, I do have standards.

[1] one of them even a potential recurring person from my prior mention

Eclipse at Noon

A thing you would have no real reason to remember: Circle Thrice[1] ended on a cliffhanger. (Also, I read that a year ago?? I do not read enough. This is not the first time I’ve said this lately, but.) So anyway, though, cliffhanger.

That aside, Eclipse at Noon is mostly about old enemies and new riverboat rides. I’ve never been on a riverboat, but it mostly sounded like what I expected cruise ships to be like, except for the paddle and all. Also: smaller than that. This continues to make me wonder if cruise ships were just a lot fancier in the ’80s and ’90s versus how they are now, which is sort of middle class chic, for some reason.

Anyway: the story was approximately what I’ve come to expect, with guns and mutants and the promise of more teleporting around (although not any just lately). Also, some random old enemies that we’ve never heard of before, but as good a job as this series does of recycling old encounters into new ones, I cannot fault them for once in a while saying, look, guys, remember this stuff that happened to us before the series started?

The title thing, though: I can perform some mental gymnastics to force a metaphor about how just when things were finally going nicely for the first time in a while, with the cliffhanger resolved and some fancy big meals and a riverboat ride in the offing, oh no, their “high noon” is being “eclipsed” by this sudden old enemy machinations thing, but… yeah, I’d prefer more literal and less maybe metaphorical but maybe just “this sounds kind of cool, right?” titles, for my cheap men’s adventure sci-fi thriller series. I guess I’m just old-fashioned that way.

[1] That is, the previous Deathlands book.

Circle Thrice

Nearly a year since the last Deathlands. Oops? But between a global pandemic and a new son, I’ve had things going on. …boy howdy. Things.

Circle Thrice is a weird book, even by the standards of the series so far. For one thing, it’s highly episodic. Except for the fact that our post-apocalyptic teleporting companions are not literally on the Mississippi River (it’s the Tennessee instead), the first two thirds of the story remind me a lot of Huckleberry Finn. Because there they go, downriver[1] on a raft, running into various weird people and situations[2] without very much fear of consequence, because, as you know by now, our heroes are very well-armed and other people generally are not. It’s a peaceful interlude, if you correct for mutant death around every corner.

Later, in the last third, we get to a more typical “heroes run into a baron who may not have their best interests in mind and/or former enemy makes a new appearance” situation, and that part is fine as well. I guess a thing I like about these books is that, 32 volumes in, they are simultaneously comfort food and something I’ve never read before. It’s not like I’m getting bored, clearly. Probably because they still keep me guessing with things like the first two aforementioned thirds, and with things like wondering if that wound that keeps being mentioned and which keeps not getting resolved is going to turn into a really big deal major character death or in fact is just an oops, need to stretch more and maybe take it easy for a day or so. It’s nice to not know for sure, instead of seeing it coming from miles away.

Also, though, the book title? It feels like a religious or especially pagan religious reference, right? No idea if it is one, my briefest of googles tells me not especially, but man it sounds like it. Also, it doesn’t mean a single thing relative to the story being told. Nothing. Pick any other random imperative verb and slightly archaic modifier, and it would fit equally well here.

So that’s weird.

[1] Did Huck and Jim go upriver? Because on the one hand, how do you stop being a slave by going farther south? But on the other hand, raft + river rarely results in an upriver trip. How is this the first time I’m asking myself this question?
[2] Villagers who have a raft that needs stealing. Non-consensual BDSM priest. Tour of the Civil War battlefield of Shiloh. Graceland[3]. Rabid villagers (not the same ones as the ones with the raft).
[3] Look. I’m not saying it’s on the Tennessee River. I’m not even saying the writer is saying that. It’s just another episodic thing that happened. They don’t all have to tie directly to the raft, okay?

Keepers of the Sun

This week in the Deathlands, our heroes… are not in the Deathlands, actually. See, for the past three to five books, there have been hints of circa 17th C samurai that have been using the same teleportation gateways that our band of semi-heroes have been using to travel around the post-apocalyptic remains of what was once the United States. (So, y’know, near future sci-fi.) All of which to say, this time they come out in Japan!

Well, in the post-apocalyptic remains of what was once Japan. Because, you know, global thermonuclear war has only the one winning move, and nobody in this series took it.

Anyway: Keepers of the Sun is mostly interesting as a historical time capsule of the late ’80s[1], when we had an economically tense relationship with Japan. I have frequently lauded the sexual egalitarianism of these books, and I would have guessed that the racial parts would be the same. This is… kind of true here? Not as much as I wanted, but in some ways it felt like the blustery, rough-edged folk of the future were learning not to be racist against the Japanese[2] as a stand-in for the (let’s be honest) mostly working class truck driver type who became the biggest audience for this series.

I know for sure that I kept expecting [hereafter follow spoilers for a book you will never read] the other shoe to drop with the nominally noble-minded, Bushido-coded warlord[3], but no, he really was what he seemed. Even their points of contention over a possible mass invasion of the Deathlands could I think have been solved by the realization that even with the many uninhabitable or outright destroyed regions of North America, population reduction has resulted in plenty of room for everyone. But the mostly episodic nature of the series largely prevents that size of change to geopolitics, I suppose. So they found another way to resolve it.

[1] I’m trying very hard to disregard the 1996 publication date here.
[2] Except manga. Everyone stayed racist against manga.
[3] Okay, what I cannot especially defend is the premise that the meager remains of Japan’s main island would revert to circa 17th C warlords, samurai, ronin, and peasants. But since the US has mostly reverted to feudalism, it’s not as troublesome as it sounds at first glance.[4]
[4] I’m a little proud of that phrasing.


As usual, a weekend in the woods means another Deathlands book[1]. I don’t have a lot to say about it, because it was extremely transitional. Also because reviewing these is starting to feel a little like reviewing individual issues of comics? I think the latter is more true because this one was transitional. Like, when you have a really good four to six issue Spider-Man or Avengers run, and they’ve set up hints about what will happen next that’s big, but in between there are a couple of episodic villain of the week bits, with maybe two panels each dedicated to “no really, the next story is about to happen”? This is that but in book form.

And don’t get me wrong, the aggregate story is not hurt in the least by the transition, but there’s not a lot to say about it, nevertheless.

They’re still teleporting around, there are still dropped hints about teleporting Samurai too, plus a cast change and the first seeds of the big story that will follow whatever resolution occurs with the Japanese teleporters. Also: Crossways has enough dining establishments in a row to make me realize I can’t really wrap my head around either the economy or the distribution chains that would make some of the dishes they are making on the regular possible.

This last bit makes me sad, because I don’t want to accidentally ruin the series thirty books in by overthinking whether the world is plausible.

[1] Except I didn’t actually read a lot, and then took the rest of the month to finish. At least I am reading, unlike in August.


I know mostly all I do is complain about being behind and/or working constantly. But here’s my point. I read another Deathlands book, right? This is the book I take camping because I might finish one or two over a long weekend, all while helping with a giant fireworks show plus explosion, and also getting up to who knows what all manner of shenanigans. (I mean, I know, but this is a public forum, of however limited readership.)

It took me a month to read Bloodlines. A month. Something has got to change, somehow. There are too many books in the world for me to take a month on a book that has otherwise taken me a day.

Also, you might argue, there are too many books in the world to read the Deathlands at all. And, well. Maybe, but this is an old argument. Especially now that this book has turned the entire series on its head. Because up until now, this has been nonstop science fiction for people who think they are gun-and-sex apocalyptic enthusiasts. (Or, if you’re me, occasional gun porn for people who are apocalypse-and-sex science fiction enthusiasts. But unlike the people it’s actually for, I’m not fooling myself.) But as of this book, they have thrown horror into the mix.

Specifically, Louisiana vampires. How weird is that? But let’s be honest, it’s the mid 1990s now (adjusted for publication date), it was a weird time.

Does this mean that around 2010 the series will introduce comic superheroes? (I’m pretty sure it definitely means that around 2003, the series will introduce zombies. Maybe sooner.)



Emerald Fire

I haven’t read anything but comics in about a week, because I’m behind on this book review. The irony is, of course: in what world am I worried about the quality of a Deathlands review that nobody cares about?

Emerald Fire was a mixed bag. I liked the setting (somewhere in Central America, for a change of pace) and the idea of helping local tribes against slavers trying to keep a silver mine running. I probably should mind the “American saviors of helpless natives” trope, up to and including the part where the albino kid was worshipped as their god. But that was overshadowed by the part where our heroes were nobly disgusted by all the ritual human sacrifice.

It’s like, in-world you’re descendants of the people who blew up the world, and your home stomping grounds treat life as cheaply as the rotgut that passes for liquor; and from the reader’s perspective, you’re a subgenre mashup of two barely respected literary forms. In each of these cases, you’re not good enough to cast aspersions at other cultures.

Of course, the problem here is, now I’m forced into the role of apologist for cultural relativism and human sacrifice, and that’s not very exciting for me. But man were they being holier-than-thou about it.

Oh, hey. One other random thing, regarding the cover. I wonder if they had this in mind for an earlier book, but it wasn’t ready in time or something like that? Because two books ago, there was definitely a fight with a giant mutant crab. There equally definitely was nothing crablike in this book. So!

Ground Zero

Sometimes the title of a Deathlands book will make me scratch my head in puzzlement, since it seems like they just took a couple of random words, one of them semi-complex, and strung them together, irrespective of the plot of the book. Other times, such as Ground Zero, I’m pretty well on board.

See, our heroes have landed in what used to be Washington DC but is now simply referred to as the Washington Hole, what with how many missiles were aimed dead center of the seat of American government. So there’s a blasted pit several miles wide, a new volcano, Lake Potomac, and villes all around the pit where people still live and do business, since it was after all a populous area, pre-nuke. Yeah, ground zero works just fine.

That said, it’s really just a string of largely disconnected events, though I guess the second half of the book is tied pretty well together. Highlights include the most powerful mutant seer anyone in the series has ever met, a creepy zoo of rare oddities, a pivotal tornado, more signs of the samurai that rumors say have been all over the place lately, and most rare and wondrous of all, a bartender who remembers our heroes fondly from encounters past.


By now you know the Deathlands drill, or have been ignoring reviews of the series and will ignore this one too. The main things that stand out about Shadowfall are the introduction of a new ongoing antagonist (a mutant hypnotist who collects hair, nominally for the sale of wigs) and the inversion of the usual formula, where the ruling baron of the area is typically a power-hungry sadist and tyrant who needs to be toppled.[1]

A thing I found interesting is that this was one of the few places where… let me back up. See, Krysty (the redhead who can sense the limited future enough to warn of impending doom, or else have a good idea of whether her friends are safe or not in real time, over long distances) has been wanting Ryan (her boyfriend, the one-eyed leader of the traveling group of… heroes? mercenaries? I guess ronin would be a pretty good analogue[2]) to settle down somewhere pleasant and make babies. The thing I found interesting was that this was one of the few times since she’s wanted this that they voluntarily left a locale where settling down would have been feasible, and she didn’t say a single word about it.

The thing you should find interesting about this is that the lack of consistent characterization is a noteworthy outlier.

[1] Power vacuums are not really a problem for our heroes, since they will be teleporting somewhere else by the beginning of next book at the latest.
[2] Appropriation being what it is, I should first note that this is my assessment, nobody has said anything like that in the books (not that they wouldn’t, because really, this is mid ’90s authorship[3], but they didn’t), and second note that I really can’t think of an American cognate for ronin. The only thing close is some Westerns tropes, but most of those are lifted wholesale from Japanese samurai / ronin stories and dressed up with six-guns and leathers in the first place, so you see my problem.
[3] There have been hints in fact of some probably but not definitely Japanese people popping up in weird places and slaughtering folks, which I expect to pay off in a book or two (and which may be what put the lordless samurai comparison in my head in the first place, come to think of it). None of this would be relevant, except that they’re being referred to as Orientals, which by 1995 really should have been out of common usage. So that’s been an annoyance.