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.



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.


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.


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.