Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Original PMP Death Merchant Series Overview

I'm posting here the original Series Overview I wrote for the Death Merchant on the now-defunct Post-Modern Pulps Review Page website. I'm not going to re-write it now, although there may be some amendments to it down the line. I realize now looking at my old files that there were some DM books that I read but didn't write a review for, so I may need to re-read them and write a review - specifically #15, the Iron Swastika Plot, since I've read #14, and now #'s 17 and 18.

Without further ado:

The Series Overview:

Richard Camellion (yes, I think it really is supposed to sound like "chameleon", and yes, it is corny) is a nigh-indestructible badass who travels the world on the tab of the CIA, FBI, NSA, or any other government organization willing to pay him a hundred grand or so. He's a go-anywhere, kill-anything kind of guy, a "Merchant of Death" in the violent sunset years of the Cold War era. I hope you brought your .44 Automag and a lot of spare ammo, 'cuz it's gonna be messy...

Warning! These books are really "politically incorrect". Racist, sexist, classist, and just downright morally offensive at times, back "in the day" they would have elicited a head-shaking chuckle and an embarrassed sigh from most of their white middle-class male American readers. Nowadays, the author would probably be drowned under the flood of litigation filed against him by minorities and women's rights advocates. I make no apologies for Rosenberger's writings, nor do I defend them - the offensive nature of his material is, and always will be (I hope) an aspect of Free Speech, and the bad must come hand in hand with the good. And, to be fair, the sort of people who would actually manage to get through the murderous festival of carnage that is a Death Merchant novel probably don't give a crap about name-calling in pulp fiction entertainment.

The Writing & Content:

The writing on the whole is competent if a little dense at times, digging a little too deeply into the gritty details of weapons and unarmed combat. Not only are the fight scenes lengthy, but they're detailed with near-scientific precision as Rosenberger gleefully charts the wound channels of each lethal impact, tracing the bullets of the operator's guns as they plow through tissue, organs, bone, and brains. Often the kills are punctuated with such sadistic asides as "Instant death, quick and painless!" or "Utter annihilation!", the author clearly delighted with the carnage his characters inflict.

In fact, the hand-to-hand combat that most fight scenes inevitably boil down into (as characters discard their emptied firearms to close in with bayonet, knife, and fist) is even more graphic than the gunplay. Rosenberger clearly knows something about martial arts combat, and whether or not his knowledge is purely theoretical, his Shuto hand strikes and Atemi nerve attacks are covered in ruthless detail. I have actually squirmed in discomfort while reading about someone being kicked in the crotch so hard their pelvis was shattered and driven into their ruptured bladder, or a blow to the throat that leaves the victim choking on their own blood and shredded tissues.

The most annoying parts of these books aren't the exhaustive blow-by-blow battle expositions, but the dialogue between combat sequences, where the characters debate various aspects of world politics. I honestly can't tell half the time if this is pure character-driven political commentary or the author using his creation as a handy mouthpiece for his own viewpoints, but it does a lot to detract from what is otherwise a fairly entertaining festival of carnage. Israeli / Palestinian atrocities, political coverups, the CIA's (supposed) involvement in Watergate, the doomsday prophecies of Nostradamus (???), and a plethora of Cold War era brushfire war politics all feature prominently. It is clear that the author feels something for these topics, but it's sometimes a little difficult to tell where it's just a character playing Devil's Advocate, or if it's Rosenberger's own voice coming through the commentary.

In conclusion, the books are filled with some amazingly graphic violence and they're written with a very sadistic sense of humor, but the politics between the gun battles and karate fights are not only very "conspiracy theory", they're also just plain boring unless you really get off on a discussion of Cold War history as told through the voices of a bunch of bloodthirsty mercenaries roaming around the world killing for fun and profit. I should also make mention of the fact that Rosenberger is the only pulp author I've seen who makes extensive use of foot-notes, both to provide added details about weapons and equipment, to fill the reader in on various historic factoids, and to note when events from other novels are mentioned. As strange as it may seem, I think in a series like this, its oddly appropriate.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Review of Nick Carter Killmaster 188: Death Island

Although there were reportedly 261 Nick Carter: Killmaster novels published between 1964 and 1990, I only have five, and they go from 188 to 236. As far as I'm aware, this puts the Killmaster novels at the second most prolific of the Post-Modern Pulp series, after the Mack Bolan Executioner novels (which are still being published today). One of the constant used book store "to-dos" in the back of my mind is to always look for more Killmaster novels, along with Death Merchant, The Butcher, The Guardians, and The Survivalist.

To get you caught up, if you have no idea what the Killmaster series is about, here's the Wikipedia article on the series.

Now that you're all caught up, back to Death Island. Nick Carter is called out to an island chain in the South Pacific because, literally, the natives are restless. An American satellite tracking and receiving station (which is also serving as an intel center for intelligence agencies) located on a French-controlled island is under continued assaults from the locals, and because of nearby Chinese influences, the possibility that they are stirring up the locals means Nick Carter must go in and investigate, before the station's American-born civilian workers revolt and demand to leave the island.

Carter shows up on the island, and just a few hours later, someone's trying to shoot him while he's enjoying a nice cocktail on the balcony of the local hotel where he's staying for the evening. A few hours later, he's crashed a party at the home of the French governor of the islands, who is so obviously a villainous scumbag it's almost laughable (no, wait, it IS laughable). Of course, the scumbag governor has a smoking hot exotic Euro-wife who, after five minutes of talking to Carter, wants to have crazy hot tropical sex with him. A few hours after that, he's in a firefight back at the base, capping the locals with his Luger. A few hours after THAT, and he's having crazy hot tropical sex with the Governor's wife - and of course, she's never had it so good.

From here on, there's helicopter flights, rampaging natives, a secret base, some good old fashioned post-modern pulp techno-wizardry, some submarine skullduggery, and a lot of shooting, stabbing, 'splosions, and running, boating, and flying around some tropical islands. There's only the one sex scene, which is good, because it's actually really awkward. The author is hinting at this and that, but trying to not be explicit at the same time. How exactly one can be "gentlemanly" about your character going down on a woman, but not actually SAYING you're going down on a woman, is beyond me. Either just cowboy up and give all the details, or take it behind a closed door (more about this when I get around to reviewing The Specialist series...).

As for a body count, I wasn't keeping track of Carter's kills, but I'd guesstimate it around two dozen, not counting deaths from explosions that more or less happen off-screen. I do like to see the main character still using a Luger in 1984 despite there being other, more "modern" or "tactical" pistols by that time, such as the Beretta 92F or CZ-75. Eight rounds of 9mm isn't a lot, but Carter is (of course) a phenomenal shot. I've handled a Luger before and while I haven't fired one, I've seen one fired, and although it is an accurate pistol, the weapon's light barrel moves its center of gravity so far back that rapid, accurate fire seems extremely difficult, as the muzzle has almost nothing keeping it weighed down. Considering the number of times Carter fires three or four rounds and drops two or three bad guys, it's no wonder he never uses anything else if he can help it; he's a past-master with the pistol.

I'll have another Killmaster review along sooner or later; next up in book reviews will be another Death Merchant novel...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Review of Death Merchant 14: Vengeance of the Golden Hawk

I haven't read a Death Merchant novel in...well a long damn time. Probably at least three years, if not four. I read about a half dozen of them while writing for the original PMP website and burned myself out, mostly because Joseph Rosenberger's writing style is best likened to a firehose filled with acid. It's not that it's terrible; it's just that it is so jam-packed and dense that reading more than one of his novels at a time can be a pretty fatiguing. The level of detail and exactitude that fills every fight scene and every description of an exotic locale, weapon, or piece of equipment is really impressive, but it also causes the writing to become entangled; the action doesn't flow from shootout to shootout but rather from individual bullet to individual bullet.

Still and all, the level of detail is very good. Rosenberger covers language, customs, food, clothing, geography, architecture, politics and history, religion and philosophy. We in the 21st century have the world at our fingertips and any detail is just a quick internet search away, but back in the 70's you had to achieve that level of detail the hard way - good old fashioned research, analog research; journals, magazines, books, encyclopedias, maps, hours upon hours at libraries and other reference centers, finding sources and making phone calls and asking questions, jotting down notes, and compiling it all to create what you're looking for; a believable environment within which to set some seriously balls-to-the-wall action.

Anyhow, let's look at Death Merchant 14: Vengeance of the Golden Hawk.

Richard Camellion, the Death Merchant, is vacationing in Israel when he is approached by Israeli intelligence and asked to go undercover as a mercenary explosives expert to infiltrate a radical splinter group of the PLO known as the Vengeance of the Golden Hawk, or VGH. This group has acquired six Iraqi missiles and a substantial amount of nerve gas, and is planning on striking Tel Aviv, an act that would kill tens if not hundreds of thousands of Israelis and would no doubt cause nuclear retaliation on the part of Israel, possibly leading to World War III.

The Death Merchant goes undercover by getting himself locked up into a Jordanian prison with another undercover Jordanian spy and three captured members of the VGH. Escaping through the use of hidden explosives, Camellion and his cohorts fight their way free of the prison (Camellion and the undercover Jordanian making attempts to not kill the guards, who are being unwittingly sacrificed by their government for the sake of maintaining the ruse) and escape into the outskirts of Amman, where they meet up with an underground contact and begin sneaking their way into southern Iraq, where the VGH have set up a secret base.

Over the course of the novel, the Death Merchant and his compatriots get into four major battles; the prison break, an ambush in a marketplace that moves into a mosque, a battle out in a desert wadi, and finally the battle to defeat the VGH and destroy the missiles, which takes up the last fourth of the book. There is little hand-to-hand combat during these big fights, but it does crop up here and there as Camellion has to show distrusting VGH members at a couple of points in the book that he is not a man to be screwing around with. The end battle gets quite epic, with rocket launchers, explosives, incendiaries, machineguns, grenades by the bucketful, and even an armored car. All told, there's probably over a hundred kills in the novel, perhaps half directly attributed to the Death Merchant, the rest divvied up between his Jordanian spy cohort, the VGH members he hooks up with, and finally their undercover contact within the VGH.

All in all, this was a pretty good Death Merchant novel. It's still early in the series, so in places its a little rough, and I think Rosenberger is still figuring the character out a little bit, but he's definitely his own creation by this point; certainly no Mack Bolan clone by any means, just as Rosenberger is in no way attempting to pastiche Don Pendelton.

Next up, a chance of pace; I'm going to be reading a Nick Carter: Killmaster novel, so stay tuned.

Friday, July 9, 2010

New Blog: The Manhattan Project

Good morning everyone.

Thought I would give a brief heads-up to let you all know I've started a new blog, The Manhattan Project, dedicated to the drinking and mixology of fine spirits and fine dining and entertainment in and around the Boston area (and no doubt beyond).


Since men's adventure fiction tends to go hand in hand with the enjoyment of adult beverages, perhaps a few of you might find this new blog of interest. If so, please stop by and say hello.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A-Team Remake - Yay or Nay?

I never got a chance to see the A-Team remake in theaters. I was actually a little surprised how fast it came and went, especially since what vibe I got from people was that it wasn't all that bad. However, going down to the local theater I saw three venues all showing the newest Twilight movie and a bunch of Toy Story showings, so I guess it got pushed out due to all the other, bigger draws. I can't blame the theater folks for this, but I would have liked to have seen this on the big screen.

In many ways, the story of the original A-Team is a perfect example of the Post-Modern Pulps written during this time period. A group of Vietnam special forces veterans who are hunted by the government for a crime they didn't commit, offering their services as vigilante crime fighters to the oppressed while doing their best to not leave a body count, which would of course force the military and law enforcement agencies to go after them with a lot more vigor. In many ways, the A-Team is like a PG-rated Phoenix Force / Able Team, and if it hadn't been a television series, it could have easily been written as it's own "Men's Adventure Fiction" series, albeit most likely with a more R-rated slant in terms of the violence.

The show also tapped into a lot of the darker PMP issues; the plight of the Vietnam vets, juvenile as well as organized crime and drugs, corrupt officials, government coverups...it was absolutely a product of its time, and you could see that in many ways it was "tugging at the chain" to take the stories further than the television networks would have allowed. I get the feeling that, were you to make an A-Team series now on TV, Hannibal and Co. would have more in common with Jack Bauer than their 1980's counterparts.

This is something of a shame because, especially with regards to Mr. T being a cast member, the series made some effort to show young, impressionable kids (like myself) that it was important to stand up to bullies and "bad people", but more importantly, not to sink to their level while doing it. The A-Team took down the bad guys without killing them, stood up for the little guy, and (amazingly) offered some good advice on what it was to be a "good person" in a not-so-nice world.

So, I'm looking for opinions from anyone out there who's seen the remake - what did you think, both compared to the original and on it's own merits? I'll definitely Netflix it when it comes out, but I'd like to see other people's opinions.