My First Technothriller

If one counts Clive Cussler (or, in this case, “Clive Cussler’s”) novels as technothrillers, then one called Fire Ice was the first techno-thriller I read. Then it gets weird because well, I honestly can’t remember the next ones I read until reading the The Big One alternate history novels, which is kind of like getting into cinema by watching The Room, Who Killed Captain Alex, and Plan 9 from Outer Space.

My next mainstream technothriller was Dale Brown’s Flight of the Old Dog, a perfectly good choice. My first Tom Clancy was Red Storm Rising. The big crossover was the Survivalist novels, where the tiny thread connecting the po-faced technothrillers I’d read before to the ridiculous action excess that series revealed to me was that both were technically World War III novels.

The Uses of Big Pistols

Giant pistols have very, very limited applications, especially with the development of first submachine guns and later short carbines. The only semi-practical use I can think of for the giant Dirty Harry-style monster is hunting/defense against large angry animals.

Otherwise, well, even before the advent of widespread body armor, pistols were very limited to the point where many troops have unhesitatingly just taken extra rifle ammunition to fill the space and weight that would have been taken by them instead. The only other niche role is as a backup/close weapon for someone who carries around something bulky (ie, a big launcher/machine gun or piece of heavy equipment). Except even there there have been better options. Especially since a big pistol would almost certainly require an exotic caliber that would be harder to resupply.

Of course, cheap thriller writers are infamous for just giving their characters the biggest guns possible. Before the Desert Eagle, Mack Bolan wielded an Automag and a .460 Weatherby rifle, something that Jerry “Detonics .45” Ahern took issue with.

Review: The Kamikaze Legacy

The Kamikaze Legacy

A sequel to The Yakusa Tattoo, The Kamikaze Legacy continues to follow hardboiled Ed Mulvaney as he moves to foil another international plot in a stereotypical Japan, this one concerning a deep-sea expedition with sinister motives. This is less the “crazy Jerry Ahern novel mixed with technothriller” of its predecessor and more “crazy Jerry Ahern novel mixed with Clive Cussler-esque technology/ secret history thriller.”

While it still has the strengths and weaknesses of The Yakusa Tattoo (strengths: good ridiculous action and an even more ridiculous plot-weaknesses: blocky prose and a million weapon descriptions), I found that this has a MacGuffin that by all means should belong in a boring “shoot the terrorist” novel, but ends up being just as crazy as the rest of the book. This emphasizes that, especially for cheap thrillers, execution is more important than concepts by far. As for what it is, it shouldn’t be too hard to guess.

This is a very stupid-fun Jerry Ahern book. It’s the kind of book where the mountains of technical inaccuracy and implausibility actually add to the appeal of it all. While it’s not quite as bizarre as its predecessor, it’s still a very fun cheap thriller.

The Survivalist’s Legacy

I really think the review of the first Survivalist book, Total War, was the moment that Fuldapocalypse really broke out of the cage I’d originally put it in. I’d already been tiptoeing away from the specific “198X conventional World War III” books, but even then had just pushed mostly to other “big war thrillers”.

This was something where I acknowledged in the review that my entire paradigm wasn’t made for something like this. It wasn’t immediate, but it put me on the path to first changing and then eliminating the formal categories altogether. It also made me review (and read) a lot of “Men’s Adventure” books, a subgenre that I intend to write a lot more about.

Oh, and for whatever weird reason, I binge-read the entire series. I’m still strangely impressed by that.


Review: The Awakening

The Awakening


The tenth Survivalist book, The Awakening is when the series changes significantly. Having spent centuries in suspended animation to ride out a world-consuming fire wave underground, the Rourkes now emerge to take stock of the changes and aid the space-launched Eden Project as it prepares to return. John Rourke ages his children by selectively thawing and refreezing them so that they can be the same age as the adults when they wake up, and they emerge into a world where human life still exists.

This book, if I had to reedit/adapt the Survivalist series, probably wouldn’t even exist at all. I’d probably fold the recovery and the Eden Project return into an epilogue to Book 9 at worst and a few extra chapters at best, and then conclude the series there. But in actual history, the books were selling enough to continue and Ahern finally had the ability to make them more and more science fiction-y.

While the Survivalist series was never a “hard” setting to begin with (after all, the nuclear war caused multiple states to tumble into the ocean), here begins an even more contrived setup. There was an underground shelter. And another underground shelter. And another underground city. And an underwater city! It’s very much like a Bethesda Fallout game where there’s a lot of conveniently working stuff laying around centuries after the war, and it becomes a more obvious author’s toy with each new book after this.

(Later there will be a second timeskip that will obliterate the last traces of any post-apocalyptic residue in the setting, but that’s another story)

The actual book itself is more satisfactory Jerry Ahern action, but this is still the time when the series jumped the shark.


Review: The Yakusa Tattoo

The Yakusa Tattoo


Jerry Ahern’s turn into (sort of) hardboiled detective fiction, The Yakusa Tattoo, is something.

Ahern has the stereotypical Hardboiled Vietnam Vet Police Officer being tasked to go to (a stereotypical) Japan for a secret mission. Cue a plot with everything from a Hunt For Red October-style super-submarine to lots and lots of ninja fights. What were you expecting from someone who wrote a 27-book centuries-long epic with Hitler’s corpse as a MacGuffin in one of the books?

The prose is – not exactly the best, to put it mildly. There are the huge descriptions of guns and holsters (although thankfully a Detonics only appears once). There are characters talking in gigantic blocky paragraph-speeches. There are perhaps a few too many fight scenes for the sake of fight scenes.

And yet it has the same “I’m not holding anything back” charm that the Survivalist series at its best had. I mean, it has ninjas and Cold War spy plots. And where else can you get a hardboiled Chicago officer storming an ancient castle?

Fuldapocalypse 200 Posts: The Logistics Of Red Dawn

So for my 200th post on Fuldapocalypse, I’m going to be looking at the contrivances in Red Dawn. This may seem like an unfairly easy target. And it is. But I figured I might as well take a look at it anyway.

So, first getting a staging point for the giant invasion. You have to get across the Atlantic with at least some of the US Navy in the way. The most common is the “Red Mexico” solution.

So, the PRI government has to collapse (at least slightly possible given Mexico’s economic problems and upheaval in the 1980s), and an explicitly pro-Soviet government has to take over (with the US doing nothing, politically or militarily). Then they have to move the invasion force in. Now, even in the USSR, high-end divisions don’t grow on trees. My hunch is taking some of the high-category divisions from inside the USSR itself-and you’d have to stripmine a lot of them to the point of jeopardizing operations in Europe.

Now comes the issue of moving them there. A declassified CIA document argued it’d take two or three months even with no interference to move two armies (6-10 divisions) to Syria. The Atlantic is bound to be much tougher. Another argued Cuba could move 10,000 troops locally. The highest figure for intervention is 25,000 , or about a corps (given the smaller size of Cuban divisions)-and it drops to a “few thousand” of the lightest troops with the US Navy in the way.

A smaller, but still very present issue is concealment. Trying to keep it the invasion force hidden isnt’ the equivalent of trying to go “we’re landing at Calais”, it’s “we don’t have anything in Britain at all.” Take a country that remains one of the most tied-in with the US and has never had a giant mechanized army. The Soviets would need to hire the same people from Dark Rose or Day Of The Delphi who managed to stash a bunch of tanks in empty parts of buildings and keep them there undetected until it was too late.

And if the US military is reduced to the point where it can’t interfere with this giant, fragile tail… then like Jerry Ahern’s Survivalist, it’s probably been reduced to the point where the Soviets can just walk in and take it (conventionally).

Of course, the original Red Dawn isn’t the kind of story where you worry about such a thing. I really doubt John Milius was calculating supply norms as he wrote and directed the movie.

_ _ _ _ _ _

There is an interesting “North American theater” possibility. Handwave in a Red Mexico and equip it, like Cuba and Nicaragua, with surplus hand-me-downs. If it can keep American heavy divisions stateside (and it probably would) at the cost of some equipment that’d probably just erode in depots, they’ve won before the first shots are fired. There could be engagements along the Rio Grande. But that isn’t Red Dawn.

Alternatively, if somehow the zombie sorceresses can move a significant number of the Soviets in, then a bizarro Case Blue to knock out the oil industry in the Gulf Coast seems more reachable with a scrounged-together front. From the border, the 570 km to Houston fits in the radius of a typically planned Soviet operation, and there’s never been better terrain or infrastructure for armored operations. But that still isn’t Red Dawn.

It can be naval-based and involve stockpiling (and shielding) a giant amount of landing craft in Cuba, conducting a preparatory campaign, and then storming across the Florida Strait. But that still isn’t Red Dawn, even if it’s almost as implausible.

Or the Soviets can somehow choose Colorado as a goal and get the supplies/forces to make it up there. They can, with the aid of their plotnukes, reach the Mississippi river and Rocky Mountains, but still can’t knock out enough of the American heartland to prevent an ultimate (implied) American victory. That is Red Dawn, but it’s not remotely “plausible”, even with hordes of handwaves.

One Red Dawn fanfic project listed a gigantic invasion force that’s actually bigger than the GSFG. I’ve been harder on that project in the past than it deserves-it’s clearly just a fun internet collaboration, and to occupy the entire country would indeed need such a gigantic army (for comparison, another estimate of the force necessary to conquer Iran alone was 20-25 divisions, with 30-40 to continue the invasion to the Arabian Peninsula). It’s still squaring a circle. Oh well.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Strangely enough, specific order of battle details and North American invasions in general seem to work more in games than in actual books. In wargames, exact detail is relevant, and if you need 50 Soviet division counters to fill every hex, you have those 50 division counters. In less “crunchy” games, the invasion plot (read: Call of Duty’s memetic “Teleporting Russians”) is a clear excuse for set pieces (like Red Alert 2’s Allied campaign which leads you from one landmark to another).

This was a fun post to write. Happy Holidays!

Review: The Battle Begins

The Battle Begins


So, a part of me, probably the same part of me that went “OK, read a long Jerry Ahern series in order”, said “OK, now read another, slightly less long Jerry Ahern series in order.” So it was time to go to the Defender series, namely the first installment, The Battle Begins.

Instead of John Rourke, ex-supercommando and high-powered gun nut, we have David Holden, ex-supercommando and high-powered gun nut. Cue a large amount of action as he and a group of “Patriots” fight back against a plot that can best be described as “Cyrus from The Warriors actually put his mega-gang war plan into action, and he was sponsored by the Kremlin.”

This has many of the same strengths as The Survivalist. Namely, it’s 80s action in novel form with a sincere attempt at humanizing its protagonists that isn’t seen as often as it should be. When the inevitable Detonics .45 pistol showed up, to me it was like the scene in a Zelda game when Link grabs the Master Sword. And the final battle is in a nuclear power plant with a computerized voice counting down the seconds until meltdown, with said meltdown able to be stopped by pushing one button.

Yet it has some of the Survivalist’s weaknesses as well, and then some. First, it’s a lot more politicized than the Survivalist ever was, and while the portrayal of the Soviets in Total War was decently evenhanded, the portrayal of the antagonists in this book is not. Ahern put a lot of effort into trying to dodge the uncomfortable racial implications by blatantly diversifying his heroes. He put very little in trying to make their opponents even slightly sympathetic. But then again, this is a 1980s action novel, and at least it’s not that much worse.

The phrase “at least it’s not that much worse” can arguably be applied to this book as a whole. Is it better than The Survivalist? No. Would I recommend it over the Survivalist to someone for their first Jerry Ahern book? Is it still a perfectly readable ridiculous over the top 1980s action novel? You bet it is.


Review: Death Watch

Death Watch

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.


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.

Zombie Sorceresses

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.”

Tank Booms

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”.


Review: Pursuit


Pursuit is the thirteenth(!) installment in Jerry Ahern’s Survivalist series, the first of which, Total War, I reviewed earlier on this very blog. The Survivalist changed dramatically from start to finish, and Pursuit is representative of this change.


Well, on one hand, Pursuit has the series at a crossroads between the pure post-apocalyptic survival it was in the earliest books and the sci-fi action it would become in the latest ones, with the only constant being Rourke shooting lots of people with his beloved Detonics pistols. It has action novel cliches but little else. Certainly a story that starts with the main character piloting a high-tech one-crew “minitank” and ends with a visit to a geothermally fueled paradise colony doesn’t seem like it has much in common with Clancy or Bond…

-But on the other hand, most of it takes place in Iceland. And the Soviets invade Iceland! And it was published one year before Red Storm Rising to boot!

So it’s literally Icelandic. 😛


The rivet-counting is reduced to sci-fi infodumps and the usual exact detailed descriptions of firearms anyone who read the series will know as routine by now.

Zombie Sorceresses

Now it gets crazy. Ahern, to achieve his dream of writing backdoor sci-fi with a publisher who wanted modern action adventure, set a massive chain of events in motion. An atmospheric fire-wave would destroy most life on the surface.

Rourke and his family/friends acquired a suspended animation serum and used it after entering his underground “retreat”, leading to a five hundred year time skip. Since then, survivors from other underground shelters (including in the Soviet Union) and from the Western “Eden Project” launched into outer space to return five hundred years later, have repopulated the world, giving Rourke more targets to shoot plot opportunities.

The result was a tech-boost and a supply boost.

The “Wha?”

Now this part isn’t really changed. It’s still ridiculous 80s action, and there’s still some survival there. However, the characters have solidified and so has the series financially. Since by Ahern’s own admission it was a “soap opera”, get ready for cliffhanger endings and long meta-arcs. And soap opera character drama, including things like Rourke’s selective use of the suspended animation process to age his children up to pair them off with fellow adventurers he wasn’t related to (and, conveniently, get them to action hero age), and his wife’s dislike of that.

What has changed, and it’s a gradual change that has progressed ever since Rourke found his way back to the “Retreat”, is that it becomes less and less about actual survival and especially scrounging.

The Only Score That Really Matters

If you’ve made it through the twelve previous books in the Survivalist series, you probably know what to expect. It’s 80s action, and it grows ever more fantastical and less directly post-apocalyptic with each installment.

It’s something, and in this case it was an Icelandic something.