So, after over two dozen books, the Survivalist series came to a close with 1993’s “Death Watch.” In some ways, the series was lucky to have progressed for as long as it did. Similarly to the technothriller, the action-adventure genre that typified Jerry Ahern’s other work declined massively in mainstream popularity when the Berlin Wall fell, with many series (always ‘cheaper’ and lower-margin than the likes of Clancy and Dale Brown) getting outright cancelled.
So surviving for two years after the end of the USSR and getting a proper conclusion instead of just a pulled plug made the Survivalist a lucky series. But the end was overdue.
Who and What
By this point, the increasingly science fiction Survivalist series has stopped being remotely post-apocalyptic in any fashion. There’s the world-threatening ‘catastrophe’ of the week, the secret supervillain lairs, the Nazi mad scientist and his pre-programmed clones, and so on.
Long series tend to fall into three general, understandable pits. One is simple repetition of what happened before. One is what I like to call, after Bill Hicks’ classic Gulf War joke, the “Elite Republican Guard” effect, where the antagonists become less credible-seeming. The other, a reference to a Twilight 2000 module, is what I call “Arkansas vs. The Blimps”, where they grow more outlandish as a way of avoiding repetition. The blimp effect isn’t always bad and can sometimes be beneficial.
By the time of “Death Watch”, all three were in effect. The repetitive parts were more small-scale (and worthy of being covered in different sections), while the other two were bigger. The “Elite Republican Guard” is embodied by, in the face of this supposed peril, a decent-sized passage being devoted to the main character’s wedding, and said wedding being handled nonchalantly. “Arkansas vs. The Blimps” is the sci-fi subject matter.
And the book is kind of rushed. Everything is resolved in one book, and the final denouement is just one chapter at the end.
DEEP HISTORY OF TEM
Ahern’s long description of weaponry keeps coming back. For instance, one passage describing a character at the wedding lists the gun they have, the brand of the gun they have, the caliber of the gun they have, and the brand of holster that they have. This is not an aberration.
The Survivalist has always been zombie sorceress heavy, but the later sci-fi parts made it reach new heights. It went from “pulpy post-apocalyptic” to “pulpy sci-fi with action-adventure scenes and familiar weapons.”
The action hasn’t gotten any worse over the last 26 books, but it hasn’t really gotten much better either. While still good by cheap thriller standards, if someone like me was crazy enough to read all the books in a row, well, I’ll just say it felt awfully repetitive to have Rourke shoot a guy with his Detonics for the 500000000000000000th time. And I don’t think the best author in the world could have improved it (not like that author would have written a 27 book long cheap thriller epic)
The Only Score That Really Matters
This is the final installment of a decade-long soap opera which has the usual problems of something moving too slow suddenly forced to wrap up quickly. The Survivalist series, in my opinion, should have ended around the tenth or eleventh book. The main characters survived, ensured the future of humanity, and accomplished the clear goal. Instead it was followed by more than a dozen books of sci-fi-with-Colt.45-soap-opera-adventure.
While the later Survivalist books are interesting to look at, I’d be loath to actually recommend them to all but the most devoted Jerry Ahern and/or “weird pulpy fiction” fans. And Death Watch symbolizes the later books at their most er, “different”.