Review: Vortex

Vortex

Jon Land’s third novel, Vortex, is easier for someone like me who’s already read many books to review. This is because this is where the writing finally clicks. This is where Jon Land goes from “out-there thriller author” to “Jon Land.”

For all that The Doomsday Spiral and The Lucifer Directive were out-there, this manages to one-up them with its tale of cosmic manipulation, a conspiracy that threatens the universe (yes, the universe), and psychic powers. The foot is on the crazy car gas pedal and it never leaves. From here, it’s just a short step to the “majesty” of Blaine McCracken.

Review: The Lucifer Directive

The Lucifer Directive

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This early Jon Land thriller, his second published novel, has all the hallmarks now familiar to me after reading literally over a dozen of his books. In The Lucifer Directive, a young college student gets a wrong number call that changes the fate of him and the world. What makes this book relevant to the original goal of Fuldapocalypse is that the evil plot involves triggering a (nuclear) World War III.

It’s very hard to review a lot of books by the same author in the same style – even if it’s a style one enjoys. And this book, while a little clunkier than some of Land’s later books, still does his “escalating craziness” gambit very well.

In fact, think one of Land’s biggest strengths as a writer, besides his sheer over-the-topness, is his skill at that kind of plot “buildup”, for lack of a better word. Granted, it’s it’s not done in the most graceful way. Yet it works, and works very well.

Review: Pandora’s Temple

Pandora’s Temple

After being buried for more than a decade, Blaine McCracken returned in Pandora’s Temple.

This book shakes off the cobwebs of Dead Simple and returns to what made the early McCrackens so excellent. Ridiculous MacGuffins, even more ridiculous action set pieces, giant plot twists, and more. A Blaine McCracken book works best when it’s utterly crazy, and this certainly qualifies as such.

It’s a little rougher and more “overstuffed” than some of the early McCracken novels (not that I’m complaining about too few ridiculous set pieces, it just feels a little clunkier), but is still an incredibly fun spectacle that can definitely sit along side them.

Review: The Eighth Trumpet

The Eighth Trumpet

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Fresh off the first Blaine McCrackens, Jon Land introduced fellow super-agent Jared Kimberlain for a similar absolutely bonkers thriller. The Eighth Trumpet not only has offbeat fight scenes, it also has a plot centered around an, uh-Jerry Ahern-ian grasp of geography. By this point the formula has solidified, especially with the Hulking Strong Sidekick Protagonist who fights the dedicated Hulking Strong Antagonist hand to hand during the climax.

That being said, it manages to out-McCracken even some of Land’s other books with how ridiculous-and fun- some of the set pieces are. It’s not that much different “plot”-wise from many of Land’s other books (at least to someone like me who has actually read a ton of them), but it definitely has a huge spark of “WOAH!” in it, making it very worthwhile.

Review: The Doomsday Spiral

The Doomsday Spiral

Some content creators have first works that are rough around the edges. Some start off strong and get weaker. Some, like Billy Joel in the psychedic-progressive-just-a-keyboardist-and-a-drummer Atilla, are vastly different from their subsequent and most famous pieces. So I decided to read Jon Land’s first novel, The Doomsday Spiral, and see where it fell.

The book roars out of the gate as Israeli super-vigilante “Alabaster” must stop a plot by the Palestinian “Red Prince” to neutralize the Americans so that they can deal with the Israelis later (the Red Prince must have gotten his lessons in target priorities from the Red Storm Rising Politburo). This could have been a middle-of-the-road “shoot the terrorist” novel. It wasn’t.

By Jon Land standards, fighting a giant man with a chainsaw (as happens in this book) is pretty tame. By normal thriller standards, especially the kind of thrillers I call “supermarket novels”, it’s delightfully out there.

I saw pretty much every plot device used in subsequent Land novels. The superpowered main character. The over-the-top ridiculousness of it all. The conspiracy-in-a-conspiracy. The inevitable action scene against a particularly tough level boss antagonist. An overall feeling of swinging back and forth between “awesomely stupid” and “stupidly awesome.” I’d say it’s formulaic, but when part of the formula is “ridiculous stuff happens”, it doesn’t feel so bad as long as Land can deliver. And here he does.

Review: The Valhalla Testament

The Valhalla Testament

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I knew what I was getting into when I got the book. The Valhalla Testament is a Jon Land novel starring New York Giants running back (!) Jamie Skylar as he travels to Nicaragua to investigate and foil a very Jon Land-ian supervillain plot.

This book hits every Jon Land note. Trained attack crocodiles, double-crosses, double-double crosses, a plot that veers between “amazingly stupid” and “stupidly amazing”, “.60 Caliber machine guns”, and, in my personal favorite plot twist, an antimatter facility that not only gets blown up, but whose containment procedures as described were so terrible that it probably deserved to get blown up.

By its author’s ridiculous standards, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of some of the Blaine McCracken novels. But it’s still a good cheap thriller that very much has the spark Land at his best possesses.

 

Review: Dead Simple

Dead Simple

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The ninth book in the Blaine McCracken series, Dead Simple marked a point where it took a very long hiatus afterward.

It’s easy to see why. This book devolves into “Captain Beefheart Playing Normal Music” in a way that no previous Blaine McCracken book did. McCracken is, in the early parts, treated as aging and vulnerable-a problem both in terms of thematic dissonance and how he’s back to his old self instantly when the climax happens. The moments of whimsy and craziness that make the series so amusing feel half-hearted at best. The storyline is closer to a mundane “shoot the terrorist” than any previous McCracken, the MacGuffin is the least interesting and most bland in the series to date, and its historical-treasure subplot felt awkward and out of place, like it was trying too hard to follow the exact path of a Clive Cussler novel.

If this was in isolation with a new hero named, I dunno, Bruce McDowell, I’d have considered it a decent, slightly eccentric, run-of-the-mill “51% thriller”. But in comparison to its gonzo predecessors, it can’t help but fall short. Leaving the series buried for over a decade before a fortunate revival might have been for the best if the alternative was to stagger on into mundanity, losing everything that made Blaine McCracken fun and distinctive to begin with.

Review: Day Of The Delphi

Day Of The Delphi

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Despite being the sixth in the series, Day Of The Delphi is actually the first Blaine McCracken book I’d heard of. How had I heard of it? Well, it’s quite a story. Shamus Young, one of my favorite video game commentators, had listed it as one of his least favorite books ever. Naturally, this piqued my interest and I found the greatest thriller protagonist name ever. A little later, I heard the name “Blaine McCracken” again, got The Omega Command, and never looked back.

As for Day Of The Delphi itself, it’s excellent-by Blaine McCracken standards. The previous entry, The Vengeance of the Tau was still good, but it suffered from having the first disappointing central gimmick in the series. McCracken returns to form in this ridiculous epic.

The tone of this book (and the whole series) can be summed up by a scene disappointing to me. The disappointing scene did not involve any inconsistency, by now routine super-gambits, or laughably inaccurate designations of weapons. All those are in the book, but they aren’t the disappointing part of it.

No, the disappointing scene was a fight in a slaughterhouse that failed to take advantage of the potential to use live cows as weapons. McCracken uses the ramrod to kill an enemy. It needed more “battle cattle”. Other than the lack of battle cattle, this was a ridiculous Blaine McCracken spectacle extraordinaire. Yes, even by the standards of other books in the series.

It doesn’t have a MacGuffin that’s weird, but it makes up for by having an incredibly ridiculous (the plan of this book’s super-conspiracy ranks as dumb even by the standards of Blaine McCracken super-conspiracies) main plot. Some might reasonably think that’s bad. To me, I view it as part of the fun.

Snippet Reviews: August 1-11 2019

It’s time for more snippet reviews.

The Omicron Legion

The fourth Blaine McCracken book, The Omicron Legion continues Land’s style of ridiculous plots, quadruple-crosses (yes, I’m using that word), and BLAINE MCCRACKEN action. If you liked the past Blaine McCracken books, you’ll like this a lot.

The Mercenaries: Blood Diamonds

This Peter Telep (under a pen name) novel would be a routine 2000s thriller if not for one thing-the dialogue. It’s ridiculously and constantly crazy. This wouldn’t be too big of a deal if the actual story was goofy to match, but it’s supposed to be a serious tale of weary mercs in the southern African wilderness.

While it at least it stands out a little because of that, this book really ought to be focused around a Macguffin giant magical diamond that can power a super-deathray, not a stash of normal ones.

Terror in Taos

One of the Penetrator novels, Terror in Taos serves up all the 1970s “vigilante vs mobsters” action one could possibly want. By the standards of the genre, it’s very good. The action, which includes hero Mark Hardin storming a desert castle, is good. There’s even a bit of semi-mystical Native American stuff that makes it even more ridiculously over-the-top and fun (yes, it could easily be tasteless and offensive to a modern audience, but this is a 70s action novel-what did you honestly expect?).

Review: The Gamma Option

The Gamma Option

The third Blaine McCracken book, The Gamma Option continues the crazy twists and turns, the crazier plot swerves, nonsensical politics, and surprisingly solid fundamentals that marked the previous two installments. It does yo-yo a little more into “amazingly stupid” (to give any detail on these moments and twists would be to spoil them, but rest assured-they are very, very, dumb)  but still has a lot of “stupidly amazing” moments. My favorite of these is Chekov’s Monster Truck.

See, Blaine McCracken notices a monster truck parked nearby when he goes to interview someone. I knew when I read the passage that the monster truck was not Jon Land’s attempt at some kind of weird literary metaphor, nor was it just a bit of background description. I knew that McCracken was going to end up driving it in a chase scene. And drive it he did.

This is everything I expected from a Blaine McCracken book, and it has all of the ridiculous appeal that makes reading them such a treat.