Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Book Review: Phoenix Force #1 Argentine Deadline

I recently got in a bunch of old Phoenix Force and Able Team titles, and I've slowly been chewing through them.  These Gold Eagle books are extremely fast reads; you could probably get through a PF or AT title in a lazy weekend afternoon or a week's worth of lunch hours with little trouble at all.  If you have an interest in these older titles, you can often find them through Amazon via third-party vendors (see the link near the end of the review).

I was never as much a fan of Phoenix Force as I was of Able Team in my youth.  There wasn't any one thing in particular to put my finger on, but that's just the way it was.  I read more Able titles, and maybe the greater exposure helped.  Either way, I wanted to start from the beginning in each series and begin reading them to see how each progressed and developed.  So, I thought I'd start with Phoenix Force.  My review of Able Team #1: Tower of Terror will appear in the inaugural issue of Hatchet Force Journal later this month.

Unlike the members of Able Team, who all came into association with each other through Don Pendleton's Executioner stories, Phoenix Force meets for the very first time in chapter 4 of Argentine Deadline.  Following the usual pattern for Gold Eagle titles, both PF and AT, the crisis develops in the first couple of chapters, and then the main characters become involved.  Although that's usually okay when you know who they are going to be, doing this for the first PF title, when we've never met the characters before as we had with Able Team, seems a little weird to me.

This is coupled with the way the team is introduced.  There's about two dozen pages of "You're all the best, and we want you to do all this secret stuff.  If you don't want to, bye.  Oh, and even though you JUST met, there are people who need saving in just a couple of days or they are all dead, and it's entirely up to you.  No pressure or nothin'".

I know we need to get the story moving along, but having Phoenix Force go from never having met each other before to working together in the field twenty-four hours later just doesn't work for me.  No real-world anti-terrorist organization would throw together a team of five different men from five different countries, two of whom get into a brawl five minutes into their introductions, without weeks if not months of training and acclimation to each other's methods and abilities.

What further drags the book down is that, in order to give each individual some spotlight time, each member of the team immediately splits off once in-country, so we can dedicate a chapter or two to their abilities and point of view.  A noble effort, but it also wastes the entire middle third of the book, and most of the "action" is at most a paragraph or two.  Two of the characters also immediately get their asses kicked, which further complicates the plot, as one needs to be rescued and the other spends a whole chapter dealing with a bad blow to the head.  It's an enormous waste of paper in my opinion, and having them alone and not interacting with each other means less inter-character devlopment, which is so critical to these sorts of "kill team" type books.

To further frustrate matters, I found the plot of this book needlessly complicated, and just kind of boring.  Some Americans get kidnapped while on an "academic retreat" - who takes an academic retreat to Argentina?  Apparently their last retreat was in NYC; maybe they should have gone to Vegas instead.  It's also pointed out that none of them have any money or collatoral to be ransomed with, something the kidnappers screwed up on (they were mistaken for "wealthy American business people").  Apparently this bunch of academic paupers could still find the cash to fly down to another continent to have their meeting.

All in all, this book is a little weak for a "#1".  However, it's worth reading if you are a fan of the Gold Eagle titles, as it's the first in its series and helps lay the ground work and backstory for the other characters.  I still definitely think it could have been handled better.  I'm reading the first Able Team book now, and the quality is considerably higher - it helps tremendously that Pendleton had already fleshed out the characters and established their working dynamics before the series began.

You can probably pick up Argentine Deadline for a few bucks off of an Amazon retailer.  If you're interested in these titles, pass on the next iced mocha, and spend the cabbage on  a couple of these instead.  They make for great back-pocket summer reading.

Buy Argentine Deadline Phoenix Force #1 Through Amazon Here. 


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the critical review. I'd like to track down some of the old Able Team and Phoenix Force novels. I'm with you though, I like Able Team a lot better. The plot does sound strange, what year was in published? It may have been based off of the American medical students who were held in Grenada in 1983.

Joe Kenney said...

I have a review posting on my blog this coming Thursday for a volume of Able Team that will knock your socks off...if only more of them had been like it!

Anonymous said...

Groovy, I'll keep it in mind.

Jack Badelaire said...

Joe - which one? Of all the Able's I've read, #8 - Army of Devils - is the most off-the-wall. Shot to Hell (#20) comes a close second.

JM - In my Hatchet Force review of AT#1, I'm going to go into my likes and dislikes a little more. Both AT and PF started in mid-1982, and I think kidnapping down in South and Central America was pretty rampant at the time (But how times have changed! Not...).

Joe Kenney said...

You got it right with your first guess, of course -- it's #8! I was a Phoenix Force fan as a kid and never read Able Team...I bought "Army of Devils" years ago after reading some of the reviews on MackBolan.com, and only just now got around to reading it. Well, I guess the book has ALREADY knocked your socks off...I thought it was pretty insane and great.

Machine Trooper said...

Thanks for the heads-up. Sounds like a case study in how NOT to write an action series opener. But then authors make mistakes and poor choices, just like anyone else. Sounds like maybe Pendleton (or the ghost?) found his rhythm a few installments later.

I read the first of the Gor books last year, and was disappointed. Later I was informed that the series doesn't start to crackle until several books into it. I do plan to give it a 2nd chance.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if "The Survivalist" picked up down the line? I thought #1 was okay, but its mostly just a primer for the series.

Joe Kenney said...

I never dug the Survivalist. I didn't even like it as a kid. You would always see copies of that series at my middle school. I do know that toward the end the protagonists go into cryogenic freeze and wake up like a thousand years in the future to fight neo-nazis, which alone warrants a read someday.

If post-nuke pulps (as I call 'em) are your thing, check out the five-volume Phoenix series by David Alexader. Completely over-the-top insane graphic violence. Slightly less graphic (but even more insane) would be the 19 volume (!) Doomsday Warrior series by Ryder Stacy. I'm reading volume 1 of that one now -- something I've meant to do since the late '80s -- and I will have a review up one of these days on my blog.

Jack Badelaire said...

Yeah, Survivalist is a weird series. It's something of a case of an author having too much of his own personal agenda filtering into the story. And yes, there's some kind of hibernation / time travel that puts them 300 years into the future. Weird stuff. I've read the first few and ought to put up a couple of reviews some time.

I've got a couple Doomsday Warriors kicking around - haven't read them though. I plan on an issue of Hatchet Force entirely dedicated to post-nuke pulps, and hopefully this gang can assemble some great reviews.

Anonymous said...

Sounds pretty cool. I can review that first Survivalist if you like, otherwise I can review a contemporary novel like the outstanding "Day by Day Armageddon" and its sequel "Beyond Exile"

That is a pretty zanny way to finish off the Survivalist books, I wouldn't have expected that. It seems to sort of defeat the concept of the series, which from the first book at least, seemed to be about the protagonist attempting to find and rescue his wife and son.

Machine Trooper said...

I read a few of the Doomsday Warrior books years ago. My copies (like the Mack Bolans from those years) are tattered from carrying them around in my cargo pockets. I was actually considering digging them out as review fodder. Turns out Graphic Audio has a couple of those titles, too.

I love the post-apocalypse genre, and enjoyed those books. The author got a little preachy, once in a while, but nothing compared to Johnstone or others. The part I could have done without was his Zen/New Age mysticism. But that's me.

As I remember them, they were satisfying escapist adventure.

I gotta check out "Day by Day Armageddon." Never heard of it before.

Anonymous said...

You won't be disappointed. I know zombie fiction is over saturated but DBDA is pretty unique and quite addictive once you start reading it.

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