Review: Tarnsman of Gor

Tarnsman of Gor

The Gor series is perhaps the most infamous science fiction one ever. Yet you’d never know it from the beginning entry, Tarnsman of Gor. What that is is a somewhat sleazier and really, really blatant John Carter of Mars knockoff. As transported Earthman Tarl Cabot goes to a world of barbarians, slavery, and giant birds (the titular “tarns”), a clunky narrative ensues.

The series devolved fairly quickly into what is best known as slave sleaze, where it becomes filled with blocky rants about how men holding women as slaves is the best, most natural form of society, and how many Earthwomen suddenly find themselves loving being slaves. This isn’t as present in the first installment, but Cabot is still not exactly the most ideal protagonist.

More interesting than the blocky prose is how the series got its reputation: I mean, there’s certainly no shortage of outright and far more explicit sleaze fiction, whether in the 1960s-70s or today. So why do sci-fi/fantasy fans turn their anger more on Gor and not those? I’d argue that it’s because it makes the fig leaf of “sword and planet adventure” too blatant, putting it in a different standard. Even Dray Prescot got into mocking Gor, naming a barbaric continent of slavers “Gah”.

But yeah, even in the early, less problematic books, I can unhesitatingly say: Skip Gor. Author John Norman rivals William W. Johnstone for “worst mainstream published author”, and that is no small feat.

Review: Redux

Redux

The second book in Steven Konkoly’s Black Flagged series of thrillers, Redux sadly doesn’t live up to either its predecessor Alpha or the later Deep Sleep. Granted, it took me a while to read it because of too close things-first, it involved killer diseases, second, it involved Russia, but I finally got around to it. It’s still not exactly the worst thriller ever, but it’s not the author’s best, unfortunately.

While the action isn’t exactly bad per se, the book still bounces around too much from character to character and place to place. This combined with the frequent exact spelling out of every weapon and accessory makes it look like a Gold Eagle book-and not in a good way. Even the best players can swing and miss, and this is a miss.

Review: Africa Burning

Africa Burning

Back when I was young, I made a horrendously negative review of Gavin Parmar’s Africa Burning, talking about how little sense the tale of a giant army of T-90s and M113s (really) appearing in the Chadian desert to charge up into the modernized, reformed, opened Libya made. (Boy did that “prediction”, made pre-2011, about the direction of the country, age poorly).

Now, well, I have a soft spot for this amateur Ian Slater/technothriller/shoot the terrorist-wannabe novel. It reads like someone acting out their action hero fantasies after seeing and reading a lot of relevant fiction, and the earnest, genuine quality of it has made me smile. I may not recommend actually reading it, but at least I don’t have a bad feeling towards it anymore.

A Thousand Words: Money Plane

Money Plane

Adam “Edge” Copeland and Kelsey Grammer’s Money Plane is the story of an attempt to rob a flying super-casino. It fails. Not the heist, the movie. This is an extremely stupid movie. And it’s not even that stupid in a fun way. It’s just inept. Even if one follows the reasonable assumption that action movies do not have to make sense, it’s a failure. Its suspension of disbelief refuses to be followed.

For instance, in-universe, a “master thief” doesn’t seem to know how many people crew the average commercial cockpit. Out of universe, a professional wrestler is squandered by having him spend the bulk of the movie sitting at the controls and talking. In-universe, there are no staff on this supervillain plane and no one goes to check on the cockpit even after the plane shakes and diverts from its original course. Oh, and almost all the resistance comes not from the plane runners but from other gamblers.

The film is very short but still feels overstuffed, not knowing if it wants to be a serious heist movie or a silly heist movie. None of the protagonists are very developed or charming, and even Grammer’s performance is a little too forced. The people behind the titular super-plane are squandered: The actors who play the “concierge” and “bookkeeper” on the plane actually do their supervillain roles well, but the movie bizarrely shifts away from them and towards unfunny “wacky” guests like a cowboy who ends up shooting himself in the head (it’s a long story). I wanted to like this movie, but it really doesn’t work, even as a dumb action movie.

A Thousand Words: Postal 2

Postal 2

Running With Scissors’ 2000s “masterpiece”, Postal 2 is a game about a man in a small Arizona town whose goal is just to complete mundane errands. However, a lot of stuff gets in the way. This game is infamous for its tasteless dumb humor, its gore, and the ability to use cats as silencers.

The humor is either dated, unfunny, or both. It’s very much in the style of the shock-the-oldies Dennis Rodman meets Bart Simpson style of the time. The actual gameplay, especially in the plot missions, combines two of the worst elements of turn-of-the-millenium FPSes: A post-hitscan, pre-regen system where combat is a deterministic exercise in power ups, and wandering through very similar hallways.

And yet, there’s stuff that’s genuinely good about it. Part of it is that, off the beaten path, it provides the opportunity for silly spectacle. This is helped by the open-world element being genuinely good. Almost all buildings are enterable, there are locations that have nothing to do with the main missions, there’s plenty of easter eggs, and a silver lining of the combat is that there’s often legitimate power ups (and hence reasons to explore) in the nooks and crannies. Another small part is that there’s just a hint of slyness in just wanting to do chores but getting confronted by everyone from creepy mascots to Gary Coleman.

This is a stupid, clunky, awkward game. And it’s fun.

A Thousand Words: Nightmare Reaper

Nightmare Reaper

The just-fully-released Nightmare Reaper is a love letter to both roguelikes (games built around randomized content) and classic “motion shooters”. With that frantic gameplay mixed with a background that involves a trapped young woman’s troubled, twisted dreams (the game takes place in said dreams), it could be called Doom Nikki.

I’ll admit this is not usually my kind of game, but I’ve found that losing can be surprisingly fun (it is extremely generous by roguelike standards in terms of how much dying in a level costs you-or, in this case doesn’t). Of course, besides the traits of a Doom-style shooter, the roguelike randomization means the game’s difficulty can become a lot more luck than skill based.

Still, if you love Doom-style FPSes, this game is definitely for you.

Review: A Pius Stand

A Pius Stand

The concluding volume of Declan Finn’s Pius Trilogy, A Pius Stand gets still weirder yet. A giant invasion force in the thousands is organized by the International Community League of Evil. It attempts to storm the Vatican, but its soldiers do so in a type of vehicle that sets the tone for the book as a whole. Instead of lavishly described tanks, the League of Evil rides in…..


these

Don’t believe me:

Instead of walking up the middle of the Via della Conciliazione, they drove up the streets on either side—the Via dei Corridori, and Via Borgo Santo Spirito. And, since bringing in armored personnel carriers was too expensive, it was just cheaper to bring their soldiers to St. Peter’s Square with local buses. With each bus driving down the street side-by-side, this amounted to 140 buses shipping in seven thousand soldiers between both streets.

Once the battle actually starts, it’s a goofy spectacle that’s far more Home Alone than Zulu. This is due to the desire of the main characters to keep it as nonlethal as possible. There are Hollywood booby traps, stun beams, and, most ridiculously, cavalry charges with ex-stuntmen. Meanwhile, a League of Good consisting of everyone from NYPD officers to Israeli commandos to the IRA to mobsters (!) fights back and helps defeat the League of Evil.

Like I’ve said about the first two (comparably) tamer installments, this is not exactly anyone’s idea of a good book. But I’d take something weird like this over a thousand shoot-the-terrorist novels any day.

Review: All Lines Black

All Lines Black

The internet novella has grown on me as a way to “sample” an author’s work before I “chow down”. So it was with great interest that I picked up Dalton Fury’s All Lines Black. This short tale of operator Kolt Raynor (again with the cheap thriller names!) in the middle east isn’t going to set any records for originality or serve as anything but a writing sample.

However, the writing is excellent. The action fundamentals are done right, and that’s what matters in a genre like this. Given Fury’s (it’s a pen name, obviously) legit experience, it works fine, even if it understandably gets a little too Herman Melville in places. If you want fun, I recommend this.

Review: The Churchill Memorandum

The Churchill Memorandum

Sean Gabb’s The Churchill Memorandum is an alternate history spy thriller taking place in a world where World War II was averted due to Hitler’s death in 1939, the libertarian British Empire rules strong-and the US has devolved into a dictatorship complete with a “Republican Guard”. It’s one of the hardest books to review.

See, this may be the most extreme example of “alternate history as a setting” I’ve seen. By itself, the book is nothing but a 51% installment in a genre that, while not disliked, isn’t my first choice. But the setting, oh boy. The setting combines a big dose of L. Neil Smith-style libertarian utopianism with a British version of “libertarian” nostalgia for something you’d think wouldn’t be appropriate. In this case, it’s THE EMPIRE. You can be forgiven for wondering “isn’t an empire using the power of the state to a great degree to suppress others”.

Anyway, the setting goes farther than that. Historical British politician Michael Foot is portrayed as a supervillain who dissolves his victims in pits full of acid. His associate in the League of Evil is Harold Macmillan.

This book is kind of like a 1980s hair band that dresses extravagantly but plays the most mundane pop. The surface is crazy, but what’s behind it isn’t really. Ok, except for Michael Foot’s Evil Tub of Acid. That has to count for something, right?

Review: Final Target

Final Target

John Gilstrap’s Final Target is a Jonathan Grave retread. “Grave gets in a tussle down south of the Rio Grande” is basically the plot of the book. Which he’s done before. Oh, and he helps rescue a group of kids/teenagers as well. Look, cheap thrillers don’t exactly have the most intricate plots.

Being a retread, this is a 51% book. There’s little in it that hasn’t already been done in previous Grave novels. But this is a 51% book in the best possible way. It’s comfortingly familiar, and all the fundamentals are sound. The writing is good and so is the action. There are worse things to read than a book in a series you like that demonstrates all the qualities that made you enjoy the series in the first place.