A Thousand Words: Cave Dwellers

Cave Dwellers

Officially, this was the second movie in the Ator series of Conan the Barbarian knock offs. But it’s as “Cave Dwellers” that it leapt into my heart as the greatest Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode I have watched. The small and sus company known as Film Ventures International took a questionable strategy of getting the rights to show clips from movies, changing the titles and credits, then calling the rest of the movie a “clip” for legal reasons. It only worked because they were small.

Anyway, the film started with an extremely blurry clip from a 1960s Italian Tarzan knockoff in its bootleg credits, and then only got crazier from there, following up with an action-packed climax featuring a hang glider and concluding with nuclear bomb footage(!). Joel and the robots excelled, especially because this is the kind of mock where the movie itself has enough great material to build on (for instance, it’s hard to do that much with a stilted, no-budget 50s movie).

Yeah. This is my favorite Mystery Science Theater episode of all time. It’s amazing, and the movie it’s mocking is amazingly bad.

Review: Infiltrated

I recently finished Infiltrated, the latest (as of this post) entry in the Duncan Hunter series by Mark Hewitt. I was extremely relieved to be done with it, having gone ahead with the final two books out of plain curiosity. It probably was not the wisest decision out there.

By now the main character is an internet Navy SEAL meme done unironically. The set pieces are reduced to the same old superplane gimmick that’s already been repeated many times over. But those are small problems compared to the absolute biggest sign of devolution: The series has become more than ever like William W. Johnstone.

Like Johnstone, the final two books have been taken over more and more by repetitive political rants. They reach a particular low in Infiltrated, not helped by a change in tone. The conspiracies go from “The Hindenburg was destroyed by communists and Amelia Earhart kidnapped by a Soviet submarine and sold into slavery in the Middle East” to boring, annoying, and slightly creepy internet conspiracy theories turned real. It’s like going from “Actually, JFK was killed by a combination of Jackie and the car’s driver” to someone going on tirade after tirade on the “international bankers”.

So yeah, I’m glad to be finished. It was a fun ride for a few books, but overstayed its welcome without a good stopping point.

Review: Wet Work

Wet Work

Mark Hewitt’s Hunter series continues its crazy in Wet Work, the fifth installment. It gets harder to review a later book in a long series unless the quality changes massively in either direction. This is not the case here. Like most of its predecessors, it’s a sprawling technothriller with a ridiculous main character who makes John Rourke look like an everyman in comparison.

Thankfully, one thing about this book is different and better. The final action set piece is actually tense and well written. But even that can’t break it out of the pack of “I love reading them, but don’t really recommend them for other people” that the first four established.

Review: Blown Cover

Blown Cover

The fourth book in Mark Hewitt’s Hunter series, Blown Cover is a book where I did not want the crazy to stop. The crazy was the entire point of the series, and for it to become just another middling thriller would be taking the “Captain Beefheart Playing Normal Music” issue to extremes. Thankfully, the crazy becomes, if anything, even crazier.

There’s Amelia Earhart conspiracies, Hindenburg conspiracies, the same conspiracies in the last three books, and more. And this book even has a -shock- actually well written action set piece. There’s a genuinely effective action scene where the protagonist has to struggle his way to the cockpit in a depressurizing plane that’s truly well written. Yes, there’s hundreds of pages of clunky crazy surrounding it, but still.

So yes, I had genuine fun with this book. It might even be my favorite so far in the series, just because of how excessive it is. I like excessive cheap thrillers.

Review: No Need to Know

No Need to Know

The third in Hewitt’s Hunter series, No Need to Know is every bit as out-there as the first two (if not more). Once again, I’m in the somewhat unusual position of not recommending them for other people while having a blast reading them myself. The conspiracies don’t stop in this book, and neither do the set-pieces.

In fact, this is actually better paced if anything than the second and especially the first book. While it’s still overly long, it feels like it flows better and doesn’t have that many outright dull moments. Ok, except those involving the details of operation the YO-3 airplane, which is obsessed over throughout the series.)

That sounds like faint praise. And the inherent flaws of the first two are still there. But still it’s nice to see an author’s craft get genuinely better.

Review: Exile

The Last Roman: Exile

Starting The Last Roman: Exile, I was struck by the extreme similarity of the gimmick to the Casca series. Namely, a Roman gets splattered during the Crucifixion, becomes healed and unaging as a result. I’ll let it slide because they’re both based on the Longinus legend that long precedes them both. Yet that’s not the biggest difference between them. Marcus, the protagonist here, and Sadler’s titular hero could not be more apart.

Basically, the Casca series after the second book used the circumstances of its main character as just an excuse for the pop-historical setting of the week. That he was connected to Christianity meant nothing, his background meant nothing, and each story was just a 51% effort (at most) historical thriller. This book is still a cheap thriller through and through, but everything in it is done so much better.

There’s a lot of flashbacks and jumping between eras, but it’s done very smoothly and effectively. The contemporary cheap thriller setting features a MacGuffin and plan that would do Jon Land proud. There’s an energy to it that Casca completely lacks, and I’m always glad to see a premise with potential done right.

Review: Concrete Jungle

Concrete Jungle

Getting the latest Brannigan’s Blackhearts novel was about as easy a decision for me as a panda’s decision to eat bamboo. After devouring Concrete Jungle, where the Blackhearts go to Prague, what do I think? It’s very sad for me to say this given how much I absolutely adore the series, but I did feel this was lacking compared to past installments. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s still a decent 51% (or more?) cheap thriller. Everything I like about them is still there. And it’s very hard for any series to remain completely electrifying for twelve installments.

But I did feel that this is the (comparative) worst of the series to date. Most of the enemy gimmicks are either reused from earlier books or mundane. For instance, in the the bulk of the novel, the Blackhearts fight-Eastern European mobsters. Mobster-slaying is as 70s as disco and bad mustaches. And I felt that the lucky breaks/narrative contrivances the protagonists got this time were a little too obvious. Yes, they were always there, but they were concealed a lot better in earlier installments.

This series has been on a great run, and nothing can take that away. But still I hope it isn’t jumping the shark completely.

Review: Day of Confession

Day of Confession

Alan Folsom’s second thriller novel was 1998’s Day of Confession. Following the “big” so-bad-its-good shoes of predecessor The Day After Tomorrow, it stumbles. Badly. That involved a bizarre plot centered around giving Adolph Hitler a head transplant. This, like a 1990s technothriller out of Central Casting, involves Catholic Church higher-ups launching a conspiracy to take control of China.

(Look, this is what you get when you don’t have a definite opponent. You can get Cauldron or you can get stuff like this.)

Anyway, this more mundane premise dooms the book. It has all of its predecessor’s weaknesses, like so much of the book just being people going places. But by having a more boring thriller plot, it lacks the crazed strengths that made Day After Tomorrow such a good bad book. The writing isn’t the worst ever, but there are better thrillers out there.

Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

Ok, so after I read Battle Royale, I knew I couldn’t just not read the other famous “teenagers in a death game” book. So despite not being in the demographic, despite having little interest in it when it first came out, and despite so much else, I read through Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.

What’s interesting is that it’s flawed in the exact opposite way of Battle Royale. That was too broad, focusing on the adventures of countless doomed students away from the main characters. This is too narrow, focused entirely on a first-person narrative from protagonist Katniss.

Especially because, to be frank, she comes across as a dullard. The kind of person who’d be bland trailer trash in anything but the post-apocalyptic semi-sci fi setting she’s written in. I’ve long thought that first person is one of the hardest perspectives to write action novels in, and this did not exactly convince me otherwise.

I don’t want to be too hard on this, since I’m obviously not really the target audience. It’s written well for what it is, but it’s an orange read by someone who likes apples.

Review: Kill Shot

Kill Shot

Every so often, I dip back into the Mack Bolan pool, with Kill Shot being my latest attempt. And I always come back to the realization that most of the Gold Eagle ones aren’t worth checking out when so many other, better cheap thrillers exist. And this was no exception.

Not only does Kill Shot do nothing to separate itself from the “Twinkies of literature” pack, but it’s worse than the norm due to its setup. As a “SuperBolan”, it’s longer than the normal throwaway Executioners. However, length does not equal substance or any other advantage in this case.

Even readers of action thrillers can do a lot better than Zombie Bolans like this.