The Paperback Fanatic #21 is out!

I’ve been subscribing to The Paperback Fanatic magazine for a few years now, but I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it here on the blog. What is it? It’s a British magazine that focuses on paperbacks from the 1960s-80s, focusing heavily on “genre literature”: fantasy, science fiction, horror, men’s adventure, sleaze, etc. It’s the brainchild of Justin Marriott, who has continually improved the magazine with each issue. The magazines are now almost entirely in color, and feature discussions of key series, interviews with authors and artists, and color reproductions of cover art. They also invariably sell out not long after publication. The authors that Marriott lines up are obsessive experts in their areas of interest and are genuine authorities — I learn a great deal about collectible genre paperbacks every issue.

Why have I decided to mention The Paperback Fanatic now? Well, Issue #21 has just been released and I have an article in it. My piece covers the insane, over-the-top men’s adventure series TNT by “Doug Masters.” In this article, I give an overview of the series’ complex publishing history, the authors, the series as a whole, as well as reviews of each of the seven English-language novels in the series. Justin has also included some lavish color photos of the covers. These reviews are published nowhere else, though I hope to one day include this article in a monograph on the men’s adventure genre (mostly unwritten as yet).

Here are the complete contents for #21:

Bounding From the Thirties! The Corinth regency reprints of The Phantom Detective and Dr. Death (Justin Marriott)

Gold Medal Crime: part 1 of a definitive A-Z (Rob Matthews)

50 years of Rhodan: a celebration of pulp astronaut Perry Rhodan’s 50th birthday (Andreas Decker)

TNT: the overlooked and demented men’s adventure series (Andrew Byers)

Frank Bernier: A Forgotten Australian Paperback Artist (James Doig)

Abraham Merritt cover gallery: examples from around the world

Opinion columns, reviews, letters and much more.

88 pages, most in full color

You can pick up the magazine here, and can even subscribe. If you’re a collector of genre paperbacks, you won’t regret it!

Book Review: Mugger Blood (The Destroyer #30) by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Mugger Blood is the thirtieth – and perhaps most infamous – of the long-running Destroyer series. The premise here is the same as always: Remo Williams (the eponymous Destroyer) and Chiun, Master of Sinanju, are the assassin/enforcement arm of a secret U.S. government agency (CURE) that exists outside U.S. law to preserve the Constitution and the Republic. The series exists as a vehicle for both action-adventure fun and Murphy and Sapir’s criticisms and satire of American culture. The plots of all the books are relatively thin (this one being no exception), but the novels shine in their witty dialogue and “color” provided by the bickering protagonists.

Mugger Blood has been reprinted a couple of times and has gained some measure of infamy. To be clear, it has been decried as a thinly-veiled racist diatribe. It is certainly not the kind of book that would ever be printed in 2011. It simply couldn’t be: we take ourselves too seriously now and because the political correctness that Mugger Blood satirized in 1977 has become all-pervasive thirty years later, many outlets of social commentary are cut off for us.

The book’s temporal and spatial contexts matter here: we’re talking about mid-1970s New York City. The 1970s were the nadir for New York City. Crime was at its highest levels, with tales of new atrocities being committed a daily occurrence. Local politicians and the police force were seen as both corrupt and incompetent (one or the other traits would have been acceptable, but this was the worst combination possible). Literacy rates and public education were likewise demonized by an increasingly frustrated population as the city seemed to be descending into chaos. The 25-hour blackout of 1977 – the year in which this book came out – led to an almost total breakdown of civilization in wide swaths of the city, with massive fires, looting, and riots occurring in black and Puerto Rican neighborhoods. Close to 5,000 looters were arrested, and more than 500 cops were injured in the riots. New York City in the 1970s was hell. In response to the seeming powerlessness of civil authorities, the idea of the vigilante – a private citizen who would take matters into his own hands and exact a measure of justice (and vengeance) – took hold in the public consciousness. This was the era of Charles Bronson and the Deathwish films. Curtis Sliwa formed the Guardian Angels two years after the book’s publishing. Five years after that, Bernard Goetz gunned down four muggers and was alternatively praised and condemned for his actions (Goetz had already been mugged once previously, receiving permanent injuries from the first attack), restarting the national conversation on vigilantism and continually increasing crime rates. That’s a long-winded way of describing the environment in which Murphy and Sapir wrote Mugger Blood.

The Destroyer series is always filled with (right-leaning, white) working- and middle-class social commentary and criticism of contemporary America via biting satire, and Mugger Blood is no exception. Here we see political correctness, ineffective policing, corrupt and incompetent politicians, and the public educational system thoroughly roasted. Remo and Chiun are ostensibly sent by their boss Smith to New York City to recover a gizmo invented by an expatriate German scientist. The reality, though, is that Remo has become fed up with the rampant urban crime rate and wants to do something about it. He does. Remo and Chiun take on a black street gang and an Al Sharpton-analogue race-baiter. Blacks are certainly not the only group criticized here – the New York City Police Department are depicted as abject cowards unwilling to do their jobs; academics are shown to advocate obfuscatory and dangerous political correctness rather than helping solve actual problems; and the teachers and administrators of the public school system are taken to task for doing worse than nothing to educate students. Ultimately, Remo and Chiun are assassins – they can kill a few people and temporarily satisfy the reader by getting revenge on some of the worst offenders in society, but they can’t solve all the country’s moral and social ills. That’s up to all of us.

Mugger Blood has been flatly described as “racist.” I think that’s too simple a criticism, and one that simply dismisses the book without analyzing it and delving deeper into why the book was written and what it seeks to accomplish. I don’t want to come across as too defensive of Mugger Blood. It’s entirely over-the-top (as satire often is, almost by definition), and yes, it’s reasonable to call some of the depictions “racist.” So let’s be clear: I think Mugger Blood serves the useful purpose of depicting a time when many Americans were crying out for help and not getting any from the civil servants they were paying. How much you think things have changed since 1977 depends on how much of a cynic you are, I guess.

I give this controversial book 4 stars out of 5. And I know that that rating is itself controversial. But it’s an interesting, useful artifact of its time. If you are a fan of 1970s and ‘80s men’s adventure novels, you should read this one.

Review copyright 2011 J. Andrew Byers

Review: Nick Carter #53: The Arab Plague

This is the 53rd in the extremely long-running Nick Carter, Killmaster men’s adventure series. The book was originally published in 1970 and was released in the U.K. as “The Slavemaster” which is probably a more accurate title. Given the title, I had been expecting the plot would involve some Middle Eastern biological weapon but that’s not quite what we get here.

The 261 Nick Carter, Killmaster books are always described as having been written by “Nick Carter,” which was used as a house name; the books were written by a wide variety of authors, as you might imagine, and the Spy Guys & Gals website lists the author of this one as Jon Messman, citing the reference work Action Series and Sequels: A Bibliography of Espionage, Vigilante, and Soldier-of-Fortune Novels by Bernard A. Drew (published by Garland Publishing in 1988). I have no additional information to either confirm or contradict this, but I do plan on locating this reference work because it has a lot of potential, though it has likely been superceded at lest in part by Brad Mengel’s Serial Vigilantes of Paperback Fiction: An Encyclopedia from Able Team to Z-Comm (McFarland, 2009).

Plot spoilers follow.

Nick Carter is Agent N-3 for a secret U.S. intelligence agency called AXE. He is a James Bond-type who is sent to Saudi Arabia because a long-term U.S. government operating in the region has become erratic and unreliable and has been deemed a security risk. It seems as though he may have become a double agent and Carter must figure out what’s going on. Carter uncovers a slavery ring operating in Saudi Arabia. As bad as this is, it turns out that the slavers have access to some brainwashing techniques which they use to control beautiful Western women who are in turn used to have sex with important Western government and business leaders, thus providing the slavers with plenty of blackmail material. The slaver is a Saudi man who is served by a half-dozen gigantic eunuchs straight out of Central Casting. Nick Carter, predictably, ends up destroying the whole operation. Oh and oddly enough, the book includes a swimming pool battle-to-the-death between Nick Carter and a half-dozen giant snapping turtles who are used by the slavers to dispose of bodies.

Carter’s operations are, as always (in my view) clumsy and about as subtle as an axe. Don’t read this one expecting to see even remotely plausible descriptions of how an intelligence officer might work in the field. The book is also a product of its time. All the Nick Carter books have, by 2010 standards, fairly tame descriptions of sex and this one is no different. One of the characters has been blackmailed by the slavers and photos of him are taken while he has sex with two women at once, in several different sexual positions, and the like. (Gasp, shudder, swoon, etc.) Carter and another character see the photos and remark how kinky and “far out” this is, and I just had to laugh. In any case, I don’t think contemporary readers will be too shocked by anything they read here.

I give the book 3 stars out of 5, but then again I’m not a particularly big fan of the Nick Carter books. They’re extremely fast reads but not terribly interesting. In any case, if you like the Nick Carter series, this isn’t a bad one, but it’s not all the great either. Middle-of-the-road in terms of quality and utterly forgettable.

Review copyright 2010 J. Andrew Byers

Review: Pearl of Patmos (Richard Blade #7)

Seventh in the long-running Richard Blade men’s adventure series (thirty-seven English-language books plus as many as 150(!) more French-language books that continued the series after it stopped being published in English).

I’ve now read all of the first seven books in the series and they all follow the same premise: the Brits discover a means for sending a human into other dimensions so they send MI6 agent Richard Blade (very much in the James Bond mold) into a different dimension every book. They have no control over where he goes and only have a loose ability to bring him back while desired. They’re always experimenting with new computer equipment and so sometimes they can communicate with him and sometimes not. Sometimes he can resist being brought back to Earth, sometimes not. Because this program is extremely expensive, they’re always after him to bring back valuables from his visits; sometimes he’s able to do that, sometimes not. It’s not clear to me if they could send him to the same location a second time, but thus far they haven’t. Blade is always concerned at the start of each novel with how the journeys are affecting his brain (he gets a couple hundred electrodes jammed into his brain and body before each trip), but it’s unclear if they’ll ever do anything with this anxiety. Oh and the series is also notable because of its erotic content, which is not usually graphic, but is a bit more explicit than you find in most other men’s adventure novels.

All were penned by house name “Jeffrey Lord,” but supposedly the prolific Manning Lee Stokes wrote the first eight books, with Roland J. Green taking over the reins for the remainder of the English language books (save for one written by Ray Faraday Nelson). Sadly, I only own the Stokes books plus one random Green book (#29 in the series) so I have no idea how the premise of the series changes over time or how much the writing style changes from Stokes to Green. I enjoy the series (I read men’s adventure novels while riding my recumbent bike in the basement) and will pick up the rest of the series as I locate them.

Plot spoilers follow.

As with almost all the dimensions that Blade gets sent to, he travels to a “fantasy” setting with three rival city-states, two of which are in the process of being conquered by the third (guess my old international relations profs were right about a tripolar international system being the most unstable of all possible power configurations). As with most of the Blade novels, Blade befriends a physically deformed, lower-class man who provides him with information about the world and later supports him when the action gets going and becomes romantically entangled with an upper-class, semi-nymphomaniac woman whose social position is in jeopardy. I’m not kidding: the typical Richard Blade plot is that formulaic and this novel is no different. Here, Blade helps a living “goddess” escape her doomed city, befriending a deserting soldier with missing teeth along the way. They all end up on the island dominated by another city-state led by a high priestess/living goddess who is the first woman’s grandmother. This city is ill-prepared for war, mostly being a caste of effetes ruling over a large group of slaves who are kept constantly drugged and docile. Blade manages to mount a defense of the island, defeat the leader of the invaders in single combat on the beach, and helps the living “goddess” sacrifice herself for the good of the island. Oh and there’s a bit of mysticism here because she really is some kind of mystical being that serves the island’s volcano (or something like that) and we see a bit of what appears to be an actual magical ritual at the end of the book before Blade is wisked back to London.

I give this one 3 stars out of 5. If you’ve enjoyed the other Blade books so far, you’ll probably want to continue reading the series with this one, but it’s forgettable because it follows the Blade formula so closely and is pretty much run-of-the-mill. Not bad for the genre by any mean,s but not awesome either.

Review copyright 2010 J. Andrew Byers

Book Acquisitions

I picked up a total of seven new books this weekend (as if my “to be read” pile needs any additions).  Five were from a local library used book sale and two were a couple of role-playing games I pre-ordered a long time ago that finally became available.

  • Dreamcatcher, Lisey’s Story, and Bag of Bones, all by Stephen King.  I used to read Stephen King religiously and still think that his earlier work is some of the best horror ever written, but I pretty much stopped reading him after Gerald’s Game and Needful Things came out.  Needful Things wasn’t all that great in my opinion, and I was disappointed with the third and fourth Dark Tower books, so I quit reading him for a long time.  Recently I’ve been meaning to try some of his newer stuff and see if it’s any good.  For $1/each for mint condition hardbacks, how could I pass these up?  I have been toying with the idea of reading/rereading all of King’s work in publication order and reviewing them here, and I may do that, at least once I’ve reviewed the complete Vance oeuvre.
  • When the Women Come out to Dance by Elmore Leonard.  I have always suspected that I would really like Leonard’s work, and I once collected a big stack of his mass market paperbacks from eBay, but I foolishly sold them all years ago in a futile effort to whittle down on my to be read stack.  Now I am slowly reacquiring them as they become inexpensively available.  Guess I need to get around to reading them at some point.
  • Last Call (The Destroyer #35).  The Destroyer books are always fun, and this was one I need (good thing I had my out-of-print book want list with me).
  • Monsters and Other Childish Things and Bigger Bads (role-playing games).  Interesting horror-type game (and new supplement) about weird kids and their monstrous friends.  Should be fun, though the mechanics that the game uses are not my favorite (it’s the One Roll Engine, which is clunky and gimmicky in my opinion).

All in all,  a pretty nice haul.  Next library sale (different local library) is in October — on my birthday as a matter of fact — so that should be fun as well.  My wife has assured me we will have a pleasant day of booking that day.

Review: Endworld: Doomsday by David Robbins

A relatively action-packed prequel to a long-running men’s adventure/post-apocalyptic survival series.

The book begins with the world falling into chaos.  Multiple wars involving nuclear weapons begin in the Middle East and elsewhere. Eventually, the missiles start landing in the United States, destroying a number of cities.  (Technobabble is kept to a minimum here; frankly, I’d have liked to see a little more specificity on what was going on elsewhere in the world.)
Fortunately, an eccentric movie producer has constructed an underground compound in remote Minnesota and has recruited a hundred or so competent individuals to join him in rebuilding civilization.  Just one problem: they’re scattered all over the country and have to make their way to the relative safety of the compound.  The first half of the book follows the adventures of a handful of these individuals as they make their way through an increasingly chaotic (and deadly) American society in the process of breaking down.  The author manages to end each chapter on a cliffhanger, which lends a sense of urgency to the book.  Characterization isn’t bad, certainly well within the “standard parameters” of typical men’s adventure series.
The second half of the book — once everyone arrives at the compound — is a little less interesting.  Things become a little on the cheesy side when the producer begins describing his plan for the group’s future, suggesting that they each take a title (Leader, Warrior, Tiller, etc.) and each of the Warriors takes on a codename (Thor, Solo, etc.) that they use exclusively from then on.
Here’s the silliest part: the character Thor is a nearly seven foot tall construction worker who (along with his family) worships the Norse gods and he manages to get a warhammer that can literally throw lightning bolts.  Honestly, I wish these elements hadn’t been included because they ramp up the silliness factor in an otherwise straight-forward adventure novel.
This book is a newly written sequel to a long-running (27 or so books) adventure series published from the mid-’80s through the early ’90s.  The first chapter of the first of these is included as a teaser and I was somewhat surprised at what I read there.
That book is set a century after this one, with an entirely new cast of characters.  Their access to technology appears to be somewhat more limited, understandably, and the landscape seems to be peopled by various mutants and strange phenomena.  I’m intrigued by that premise — it reminds me strongly of Sterling Lanier’s Hiero’s Journey and The Unforsaken Hiero as well as the old role-playing game Gamma World.
The book wasn’t bad, as long as what you’re looking for is a fun, light read.  I have a few misgivings about reading a prequel to a series that will be set a century after this one with an entirely new cast of characters and setting, but I was intrigued enough by the book and the sample chapter for the first book in the series that I do plan to pick up the next book (entitled Endworld: The Fox Run).
3.5 stars out of 5
Review copyright 2009 J. Andrew Byers