Monday, June 13, 2011

Book Review: Phoenix Force #3 Atlantic Scramble

Truth be told, I think Atlantic Scramble would have made a far, far better first book than Argentine Deadline.  There is an excellent introductory chapter, where we see all five men in their "native habitats"; Gary in the Manning in the Canadian wilderness, McCarter gambling and womanizing in Vegas, Encizo in bed with a woman, Ohara meditating, and Katz admiring Starry Night in the MoMA with a female companion of his own (which amuses me, as I was recently at the MoMA and was introduced to that very same painting by a female friend of mine - but I don't wear a beret...).

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 " 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 " 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.


Anonymous said...

Nothing funnier than some vintage institutional racism. I love the movie "Black Dynamite" which did a great spoof of the old blaxploitation films. Back on topic, I wish Gold Eagle would reclaim some of the positive aspects of these book, like showing the personal lives of the team members and portraying them as individuals. Stonyman is probably my least favorite of their books for me since these are especially guilty of having cookie cutter characters and plotlines.

Jack Badelaire said...

Absolutely. It gives just enough character development to know that these guys have a life outside of work, but not so much as to turn it into a melodrama, as is what happened to "The Unit", a promising but ultimately failed series about Delta Force which I really liked initially, but then quickly went downhill.

Jack said...

Yeah, good point. The Unit turned into Army Wives real quick. There was some real life stuff woven into that show that I was surprised to see on tv. Still, there was a good bit of BS woven in there as well... I think I only saw 3-4 episodes before giving up on it.

James Reasoner said...

Tom Ramirez was and is Tom Ramirez. I've been trading emails with him recently. A wonderful guy, as most veteran paperbackers were and are. To find out a lot more about his career, check out this page:

Jack Badelaire said...

James -

Thank you for passing that link along - I just gave it a quick skim, going to have to sit down some time and give it a more thorough read soon.

I hope I didn't come across as too critical of the man - after all, he's writing "war porn", and I loved every page. And as my favorite Men's Adventure series is The Death Merchant, which is filled with so much wrongness it's almost laughable, I can't point any fingers.

Regardless, Ramirez gave Phoenix Force the shot of adrenaline it so desperately needed if the series was going to go anywhere or compete against Able Team. Big time kudos to him for that accomplishment.

James Reasoner said...

I passed along a link to the review to Tom, and while I can't speak for him, I don't think he was upset by anything you had to say. He was friends with Joseph Rosenberger, so that was a good call on your part. I've read ATLANTIC SCRAMBLE and plan to read his other Phoenix Force books soon.

I really need to read some of those Death Merchant books. I read the first one many years ago when it was new, didn't care much for it, and never went back to the series. My understanding is that it changed considerably after the first two or three books.

James Reasoner said...

By the way, I watched the entire run of THE UNIT and enjoyed it, but except for scattered episodes it never quite lived up to the promise of the pilot episode, which was extremely good.

Jack Badelaire said...

Yeah, the first Death Merchant novel is essentially yet another Executioner-type anti-Mafia vigilante story. Almost immediately though, Rosenberger "rebooted" the character and the series into something much different.

The books are dense, the can be pretty offensive as well, but the research and attention to detail the books will go into, especially the setting details when the character is in some foreign locale, is pretty impressive for what is essentially lurid "war porn" trash fiction.

That the Death Merchant is one of the longest-running adventure titles of it's type says to me that, despite some of its faults, Rosenberger was giving his readers exactly what they wanted.

Anonymous said...

Holy crap, that Tom Ramirez autobiography piece was pure gold. "The House That Porn Built" We should all be so lucky. There are actually some folks making major cashola by writing smut for the Kindle. Maybe I'll hop genres if it turns out I suck at military fiction.

Anonymous said...

The DM book you're thinking of is #9 "The Laser War." SS guys supposedly attached to the Africa Korps buried it in the Libyan desert, etc., etc.

FWIW I always enjoyed Phoenix Force more than Able Team.