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

awakeningcover

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.

 

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!

Invasion Fiction

So, the World War III Blog series on Red Dawn has gotten me to write a piece on invasion literature, especially Anglo-American invasion literature. Now a part of my thoughts on invasion fiction, specifically Anglo-American invasion fiction, stretched back to Jerry Ahern’s Survivalist. There the Americans get the worse of a nuclear exchange and the Soviets invade. Now a part of me was thinking this:

“The 1981 book, not far removed from the infamous ‘Malaise Era’, might illustrate how even in the most star-spangled genre, a sense of American pessimism was still present.”

But another part of me was thinking this:

“You’re overthinking this to a huge degree. All it is is a way to put Russians in the path of John Rourke without that pesky “Army” or “Atlantic Ocean” being in the way.”

The point is that, whatever it was, this was very different-about as different as could be-from Clancy/Bond-style war thrillers. To the point where it basically broke the narrow grading system I’d set up for the blog. And this was before the series turned into science fiction.

It was also a type of invasion novel, Bobby Akart’s Axis of Evil, that took the first step in moving Fuldapocalypse away from a narrowly focused review blog to a general one. And it was the best decision I could have made. So invasion novels are pretty rooted on Fuldapocalypse.

In my eyes and reading, there’s basically two types of invasion novel: Grim invasion (ie, Tomorrow series) and pulpy invasion (ie, early Survivalist). There’s of course overlap, but the categories seem a little clear. The classic pre-WWI invasion novels fall into “grim invasion” (“See the fate that will befall us if we don’t fund the army!”) while many later invasion stories aimed at pure entertainment fall into the latter. In fact, I’d argue that the biggest issue I had with the original Red Dawn was how it sat a little awkwardly between the two, not having the clearest tone.

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.

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.

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”.

 

Unstructured Review: The Survivalist

Having completed the Herculean task of finishing the entire Survivalist series, I figured it would be ideal for my first unstructured review. The “formal” parts can be found in my reviews of Total War and Pursuit, and not that much has changed in terms of zombie sorceress contrivance or rivet-counting detail.

The first nine books are good fun for anyone who likes 80s cheap thrillers, and the overall arc provided the series with a natural stopping point. The Rourke family and friends ride out the fire wave around the world in suspended animation, and they wake up to await the return of the Eden Project, a similarly suspended group of people launched into space just before the nuclear war to return a long time later.

Ideally, they’d ensure the safe return (with Billy Thorpe’s “Children of the Sun” blaring? 😛 ) and that would be that.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Instead, after the tenth book, the series felt increasingly less post-apocalyptic and more self-indulgent. Ahern could finally write the sci-fi he wanted to, and the books felt like an author’s toy box. This is not a bad thing at all by itself-after all, more than two dozen books of Rourke flopping around in the wilderness would have felt monstrously dull and samey in its own right. However, the hearts of the books are still close combat with laboriously described pistols, bullets, and knives. It’s just occuring around a backdrop that by the end involves Nazi mad scientists, memory-implanted clones, and hypersonic fighter aircraft.

The soap-opera serial nature meant a clear-cut possible ending never emerged again after the ninth book (even the finale is kind of rushed). The characters almost never have to scavenge and can fish from convenient arsenals. The world has a “Fallout game” problem of everything working after sitting for centuries (and of course, everyone using either real or replica versions of centuries-old equipment). Convenient underground and underwater cities emerge when the plot calls for it. The series never was “plausible” and had ridiculous geology from the get-go, but the parade of gimmicks still felt contrived.

The rough and tumble charm of the first few books is gone and the sci-fi action stuff doesn’t quite rise to the level of replacing it. If I had to give a reason, it’s a sort of “have the cake and eat it too” effect where there’s all this supertech but still the good old familiar (and of course, exactly infodumped) weapons. The science fiction tone isn’t really that much of a problem, but I still liked the original postapocalyptic one better and have read better military science fiction than the weird hybrid Ahern made.

And then there are the fundamentals. They don’t get that much worse, but often they weren’t the best to start with. That Ahern wasn’t afraid to shake up the character relationships and kill an important character off is a good thing. That Ahern devoted a lot of time to characters pondering about their lives and continued a love triangle for muuuuch longer than he should have is not. For the action and prose, Ahern’s definitely not the worst, but he doesn’t really try to grow that much.

The later books are still readable and still have the action feel -if they didn’t, I wouldn’t have finished them-, but the series definitely goes past the point of diminishing returns after the ninth or tenth book and the lack of “compartmentalization” means they’re less enjoyable on their own.

_ _ _ _ _ _

I’d only really recommend the first nine books to cheap thriller fans. I must emphasize I don’t want to be too hard on the later ones in spite of my critique. A much better author would still struggle with keeping quality up over a very, very long series. Ahern was clearly writing the way he liked and was making a sincere effort to be different. The books kept flowing well and did not devolve into total clunkers like say, later Tom Clancy ones.

But they’re still less interesting and unless one is really into Ahern’s writing or is determined to see the overall plot through to the end, I’d say that there’s better sci-fi or contemporary action novels out there than the later Survivalist novels. Still, nine fun goofy over the top cheap thrillers isn’t bad.

 

Review: Pursuit

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.

Icelands

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. 😛

Rivets

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.

 

 

Review: Total War

Total War

It does not take a PHD in literary theory to guess why interest in postapocalyptic stories rose as the Cold War heated up in the early 1980s. One of the most infamous is Jerry Ahern’s Survivalist series, starring the Detonics miniature 1911 pistol-and the man firing them, John Rourke. Reviewing Total War, the first book in the series, I found it very good for what it is.

Icelands

Ok, I want to take a second to argue that my original category of “Icelands” may be obsolete. I’d envisioned it as applying to a much narrower group of stories than I ended up reviewing on this blog. It was designed for a very short continuum between Hackett’s Third World War and Team Yankee. It was not designed for something like this, a pulp adventure thriller. So I may be doing a revamp of my whole post structure, and if I do, “Icelands” is the most likely category to be changed or revamped.

That being said, Total War is very much an 80s pulpy cheap thriller. Just those words should give you a hint of what to expect.

Rivets

This is one of those “it tells you exactly what kind of gun it is” books, be it a revolver or Detonics pistol. It has a lot of lists (including a description of Rourke’s survivalist lair), a lot of long descriptions of scrounged gizmos. Yet they don’t really get in the way of the fast-paced action.

Zombie Sorceresses

Pretty much what you’d expect from a post-apocalyptic thriller in terms of contrivances. The nuclear blasts are actually handled fairly reasonably, especially given the genre. They’re not the biggest issue. If I had to give one issue that’s the most contrived, it’s how waves of bandits for our hero to fight appear out of nowhere like it was a Bethesda Softworks video game.

The “Wha?”

This flows good for a first installment. We go from Rourke fighting in Pakistan to an infodump about his survivalist lair to the nuclear war, to him and his wife both fighting bandits.

One thing I was impressed by was how even-handed he was by action novel standards. For an American cheap thriller written in 1981, Ahern portrays some of the Soviet characters with surprising deftness and sympathy.

The Only Score That Really Matters

Ok, this is basically a western version of Fist of the North Star, except instead of going “ATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATA omae wa mou shindeiru”, Rourke simply shoots his opponents with his Detonics pistol. If you think that’s tacky, this book isn’t for you. If you like it even a tiny bit, it is.

Furthermore, Ahern is surprisingly good on some of the literary fundamentals. The book is short and moves quickly. The “clunky first setup part” only exists to a small degree here. And while Total War isn’t exactly Peters’ Red Army, its Soviets are considerably less supervillain-y than a lot of other novels in this time period.

Total War is worth a read if you like cheap 80s action.