Monday, June 13, 2011
Book Review: Phoenix Force #3 Atlantic Scramble
This chapter is all the introduction we would ever need for the five men of Phoenix Force, and could have easily kicked off the series, with a few mentions of how the team had been recently formed but had yet to go into battle together, yadda yadda yadda. It would have meant less wasted paper and would have given us more action, while still telling us everything we needed to know about our heroes for the first novel. Instead, we were subjected to a rather boring "...you were picked by a computer from six thousand candidates..." speech, something which utterly killed any forward momentum Argentine Deadline might have had. Instead, we see in this book each of the men raring and ready to go into battle, their "civilian" lives a boring cover story for their "real" lives as Mack Bolan's "Foreign Legion", which I think is the best description of Phoenix Force I've ever read.
Did I say action? Oh yes, there is action - quite a lot of action, in fact. There are four solid action sequences in the book, each of them has a pretty substantial body count, and each of them takes place with a different scenario. In fact, there is probably twice as much combat in Atlantic Scramble as there is in the first two books combined, and it is handled quite well; lots of chattering Uzis and Ak-47s, M-16s and CAR-15s blazing away. Grenades are thrown, demolition charges are set and blon up, and lots (I mean lots) of bad guys are killed, some in pretty nasty ways.
In fact, if there is one criticism about this book, it is that it can be a tad bit too nasty. Thomas Ramirez, although I feel he saved the series from a rather boring death, also seems to have taken a few too many pages out of the Joseph Rosenberger school of writing about your enemies. The Libyan terrorists are spoken of in terms that border on racially derogatory and often come across as just uncomfortable to my bashfully sensitive 21st century sensibilities. Their swarthy features are repeatedly pointed out ("...brown as a donkey's ass..." gets used at one point) as well as needlessly remarking on one Libyan's "Levantine nose". Rafael and a couple other Hispanic characters in the book also banter around some "beaner" humor; maybe Ramirez, presumably of some kind of Hispanic descent himself, was going with the old "I can make fun of my own people if I want to" excuse when he wrote these jokes in, and as this book was written almost 30 years ago times have indeed changed, but I do find it a little awkward, especially since although the Gold Eagle titles are merciless on the various hero's enemies, they don't often lean towards racially-oriented slurs unless it is part of a character's dialogue.
That having been said, though, the book is overall much better written, in my mind, than the first two Phoenix Force titles, with some rather amusing turns of phrase thrown in here and there. Manning's Ferrari takes off down a curving wilderness road "...like a fuck-starved jackrabbit", which I found hilarious, and a Libyan terrorist gets "...sent to Allah-bye Land" by one of the team. If I didn't know better, I would almost think that "Thomas Ramirez" was a pen name for Joseph Rosenberger himself, as his Death Merchant books are filled with this sort of humor. Indeed, the "super-weapon" stolen by the Libyans, the Dessler Laser Submachine Gun, is a weapon that shows up in only one other place than I can find; a Death Merchant novel (I have read it, but the number escapes me at the moment). Whoever Ramirez is or was, I think there is no doubt he was a big fan of the Death Merchant series, which was about a decade old by the time Atlantic Scramble was published.
From Atlantic Scramble onward, the Phoenix Force titles become much more readable, and I hope to keep passing these reviews along for some time to come.