TANKWAR II: FIREBALL BY LARRY STEELBAUGH

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Copyright 1990.

World War III has started with a Warsaw Pact invasion of western Europe. Sgt. Max Tag has managed to get the experimental tank back to NATO lines. Now he finds out his new mission from General Ross Kettle the commander of NATO. First he gets promoted to captain. Then with the newer XM-F4 No Slack Too he is to go back behind enemy lines to gather intelligence and hit rear area command and supply. They are also to go after units that are bringing up tactical nukes. So Tag and his tank are reunited with the Jagd Commandos and American supply company. Operating from an old mine and working with the local resistance they manage to take out a rear area HQ and many of the units bringing up tactical nukes. Only they don’t succeed in getting them all and a nuclear attack is launched against the NATO armies in southern Germany at the end of the book.

So the second has Tag and his supertank going behind enemy lines. They reunite with the units that helped them including his girlfriend Giesla. It must be great to be in a combat unit and have your girlfriend along for the occasional sex during those rest periods. Somehow I don’t think the real world works that way but this series was not set in the real world. You also get a new character introduced in Sgt. N. Sain. A hashish smoking rock musician who was visiting during a USO tour and now commands a Bradley. He was in the reserve Army and has his two keepers Mad Dog and Rabies. He spouts all this goofy new age mumbo-jumbo. This came out in December of 1990 which by then it was obvious that the Warsaw Pact was a Humpty-Dumpty that wasn’t getting put back together again. Still it was an enjoyable action series that you just suspended belief to enjoy. Ends with a big cliffhanger of a nuclear strike to give the reader a sense of much more serious stuff to come.

TANKWAR BY LARRY STEELBAUGH

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Copyright 1989.

It is the near future and hardliners in the Soviet Union have taken over. They have reasserted themselves in Eastern Europe and tensions are about to break out in open war. Sgt. Max Tag is testing out a new prototype of tank. The XM-F3 No Slack is on maneuvers near the Czech border when the war starts. They find themselves trapped behind enemy lines. Luckily they hook up with some Jagd Commandos a specialized unit of West Germans in light attack vehicles that are to harass the Soviets rear lines. They also pick up some American rear echelon supply company also trapped behind the lines. This motley group has to fight its way through the Warsaw Pact forces to the NATO lines.

This series just came out one month before the Berlin Wall came down so the idea soon became a bit dated. Yet this is a pretty solid little military action series based on what seemed like a very credible scenario. It had a decent run in the early nineties. You have this super-dooper advanced tank with anti-air missiles, monopolar carbide armor, advanced computers, laser targeting and radar. Not the mention it can go 80mph. The crew is your typical stereotypes that you get in these type of series. Fruits Tutti the loader who is an Italian from the Bronx that’s also a genius with computers. Wheels Latta a hillbilly that was a moonshine runner in his civilian life is the driver. Naturally he uses his driving perfected from evading revenuers to evade the Soviets. Then there is Ham Jefferson the gunner who is your token black guy.

You also like many men’s adventure series the romantic hot girl for the main protagonist. This this case a Lt. in the Jagd Kommandos who is the sister of his best friend. Naturally they have the obligatory very graphic detail sex scene during one of the lulls in fighting. We find out that Max Tag’s manhood is so big she has to use both hands to lift it. Yes it is that big. The story gives everything from the groups perspective and we don’t get a big perspective on the war in general which I think was a good idea. Gives a more intimate feel to the story. We do get some flashbacks to show Tag’s past. Like his time growing up in Montana and a fight with the local biker gang that leads to him finding out about his father’s service in Vietnam. His past experiences in fighting off an Yemeni-Iranian invasion of Oman and another in Honduras fighting a Communist coalition. Naturally they make it back to fight WWIII another day.

TWO HAWKS FROM EARTH BY PHILIP JOSE FARMER

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Copyright 1979.

Roger Two Hawks an Iroquois is a bomber pilot during WWII. During a raid on the oil fields in Romania his bomber is shot down. When he bails out he finds himself not in Romania but some strange foreign land. Yet it is a world that is also fighting a world war. He soon finds himself in an alternate Earth. One where the Americas never existed. The Asian tribes that migrated their instead turned westward and settled in Eastern Europe. So these tribes now have established nations for themselves. The Perkunishans are the Germans of this world and have launched a genocidal war against their neighbors. Blodland is the England of this world and the main opponent to them. Two Hawks soon finds that both factions are out to get him for his knowledge of technological advances from his world. He has many adventures that sees him fall into both factions hands.

This was a really interesting book. Farmer did a lot of research into the various peoples to give us a fascinating look at a world without the Americas. That Eastern Europe is populated by descendants of the tribes that migrated to America seems plausible. There are also no negroid peoples because India is an island and that race never developed. Instead Africa was settled by an Arabic people. There are no horses or camels because these originally developed in the Americas. Only they later became extinct in out world but thrived in Eurasia. There is no rubber so there are no rubber tires for vehicles. It is a world where slavery is still common and ruled by absolute monarchs.

This book was originally written back in 1966 and published under the title The Gate of Time. Farmer states in a foreword he never liked this title because the gateway never dealt with time. That an editor in his words “bowdlerize’ a scene by rewriting it. His original was restored and he wrote an extra 10,000 words for an ending. This ending has Two Hawks after the war finding a portal that brought him to a prehistoric America that had pre-Columbian natives and Two Hawks settling down with dreams of turning them into a modern society.

I loved how this book starts with him giving his story to a writer and you think it is our world. But it turns out to be this world at the end. Also another German also came through and at the end we find out Two Hawks is not from our Earth. When he asks who Hitler is we find out that in his world the Kaiser still rules Germany. Otherwise his world and ours have very similar histories. So if you want a unique alternate history book I would highly recommend this one.

STORMRIDER 3 LORD OF THE PLAINS BY ROBERT BARON

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Copyright 1993.

Tristan Burningskull is now the leader of the High Free Folk of the plains. He is the Lord of the Plains. Now he has to deal with a threat to his people. The city-state of Homeland has joined forces with the Nation of Dallas to take over the plains and destroy the various biker clans. He has to lead his forces and destroy two armies all the while dealing with assassination attempts from the defeated Catheads and their Fusion cult allies. He also has dissidents within his own followers that want him dead. So he manages to first defeat the Dallas army. Then he gets his revenge on the Purity forces of Homeland.

The final book in the Stormrider trilogy comes to an exciting conclusion. Tristan manages to defeat his enemies and capture his old adopted home of Homeland. Along the way he deals with various intrigues against his rule. The cover tells that this would be the last in the series and everything ties up nicely. Like most series in the early nineties it only lasted a few books. The market was changing and publishers were throwing out all sorts of stuff that just didn’t last. I suppose this series might have had more traction back in the eighties at the height of the adventure series.

The series had a very strong structure for its three book run. The first introduced the character from his childhood to early adulthood. The second dealt with his rise to power among the biker clans. The final is his conquest of Homeland. The world Victor Milan created was interesting and had future possibilities. The Catheads and Fusion cult were still active. There was still the Nation of Dallas and mention of an expansionist Quebec that could have played into future storylines. The ending was a bit weird in that it had Tristan hook up with his old fiancee at the end. She didn’t seem to have any real relevance to the character. He seemed to have a stronger relationship to Jovanna or his old childhood friend Jaime. It just didn’t really resonate at the end and felt awkward. Otherwise this was a fun and enjoyable post-apocalypse action series.

STORMRIDER 2 RIVER OF FIRE BY ROBERT BARON

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Copyright 1993.

Tristan Burningskull has now established himself among the High Free Folk of the plains. He has plans of uniting them. The Cathead nation has allied themselves with the Fusion cult from the east. The stated goal of this alliance is to crush the independence of the High Free Folk. So the various motorcycle gangs unite under the leadership of John Hammerhand a respected Stormrider. Only problem is Hammerhand is as dumb as a tree stump. His leadership sees a crushing defeat of the biker alliance. Now Tristan has to travel to the shaking lands to get his grandfather’s legendary motorcycle WildFyre. There in the underground kingdom of the Kobolds he must fight a T-Rex to get the bike. With it and help from the Kobolds he manages to defeat the Cathead/Fusion army and become Lord of the Plains.

So the second book in the trilogy deals with Tristan’s rise to leadership among the biker gangs that roam the plains of this post-Starfall world. We get a good solid glimpse into this biker culture that sprang up descended from twentieth century biker gangs. Hints of the outside world with the various city-states that exist. I did think that the T-Rex encounter was a bit silly. Apparently some old scientists were able to successfully resurrect DNA of a T-Rex. The book doesn’t really go into any detail how this happened and this was the only really goofy thing in an otherwise straight action thriller. An enjoyable story filled with action, biker culture and a bit of goofy fun.

STORMRIDER BY ROBERT BARON

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Copyright 1992.

It is hundreds of years after the comet Sagan crashed into the Earth. It has caused geological instability of much of the Earth. In the central plains of the former United States human civilization consists of independent city-states. There are also motorcycle gangs that base their culture on the gangs of the old twentieth century. One gang the Hardriders are wiped out by the forces of the city-state of Homeland. The sole survivor is the eleven year old son of Wyatt Hardrider the leader. Tristan is taken to the city and raised in the foster care system. Eventually he is adopted by a kind couple and eventually joins the local military. He becomes a Striker which is the elite special forces with the call sign Outlaw One.

Only a military coup by the Purists forces him to flee the city to wage a one-man war again this new regime. He gets captured during the winter by a small motorcycle gang called the Jokers. They plan to sell Tristan at the local yearly rendezvous that the gangs have in Taos. Only they are attacked by the rival gang of Catheads. The Catheads are the rivals of Tristan’s old gang and he manages to lead the Jokers to victory against overwhelming odds. A vision he has of a burning skull has Tristan take the name Burningskull.

The first in a post-apocalypse series by Victor Milan. Robert Baron was a house name created for this series. Milan who has probably written under more pseudonyms than his real name wrote my favorite series from the eighties The Guardians. So when I found that he wrote this trilogy I had to check it out. First it advertises itself as a post-nuke series. The cause of the apocalypse was a comet strike not a nuclear war. So this is a bit of false advertising. Milan crafts a world that has both coasts of the continent in constant geological turmoil with volcanos and earthquakes caused by Comet Sagan. The middle part of the continent seems to be geologically stable.

The story focuses on young Tristan who was part of this biker gang that liked to ride around tornados for fun. Hence the name Stormriders. The first part of the book has him growing up in this stifling society where an elite group of administrators rule over what they derisively call clients which are everyone else. The clients have to go each week to these Mao like self criticism sessions. He manages to make friends with a blind librarian who shows him the history of the world. After a brief period of freedom when the government collapses from a military defeat, he is forced to flee when that repressive system comes back with a vengeance. Then the last part of the book is him rediscovering his biker heritage. A fun and enjoyable start to a cool trilogy.

KING DAVID’S SPACESHIP BY JERRY POURNELLE

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Copyright 1980.

It is the year 3013 and Prince Samuel’s World has been discovered by the Second Empire of Man. Samuel’s world was bombed back to medieval times hundreds of year ago during the secession wars. They have managed to bring themselves to an early twentieth century level when the newly resurgent empire finds them. The nation of Haven uses the empire to subdue the other states to bring them under the unified rule of King David. Only they also find out their planned future under the empire. They will be nothing but a colony to be exploited by the empire. To gain control over their planet they must be a space capable civilization. They hear of a temple on the primitive planet of Makassar that holds the knowledge to build a spaceship.

They hire Nathan MacKinnie a former military colonel from the defeated nation of Orleans. He will lead an expedition to this planet under the cover of being a trade mission. There in the city of Batav he finds his goal besieged by a horde of barbarians. He must form an army and train them in new techniques if he is to save the information that will ensure his planet has some sort of autonomy under the empire.

This is a Pournelle book that somehow escaped my attention. I had heard of it but only until last year did I see it in a used bookstore and decide to get it. After reading it I think this is Pournelle’s finest book. It takes place in his future universe of a Empire of Man ruling after Earth destroys itself in a nuclear war. I loved the complex intrigue and politics that was going on in the story. Pournelle also has a great grasp of military history and you get these elaborate battles from ancient times. Also the exciting ending that uses an old technique theorized back in 1899 to launch a ship into space. A great touch to a story that I wasn’t expecting to love so much. I really recommend this book.

THE HELLBOUND TRAIN BY WILL SUNDOWN

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Copyright 1991.

It is ten years after Hovik’s attack on Camp 351 released the government’s virus. Now the world has been reduced to small isolated communities eking out a living. Ross MacKenzie is a former Marine aviator and astronaut. After some roving gang kills his wife he decides to wander the countryside. He gets captured by the troops of General James M. Decker. Decker a former major in the Arizona National Guard has now given himself a promotion and formed the Army of America. In a huge train he travels to the Sierra Nevada mountains for a government secret complex. There he will find arms, ammunition and nuclear weapons to equip his army for the conquest of the country. MacKenzie escapes with the help of a young Indian woman and the two make it to Hovik’s settlement. There they have to find a way to stop the mad general and his train or else Decker’s mad dream of conquest will become a reality.

So the second and final book in the series by Will Sundown is basically a more standard end of the world type book. Civilization has collapsed and the main threat is this deranged general. Decker is your typical right-wing stereotype caricature. He fancies himself a George Patton type and loves all the great military figures like Alexander and MacArthur. He thinks everyone not with him is a commie and laments the moral decline of America. He even thinks that slavery was a good thing only America should have never used the genetically inferior blacks. Instead they should have bought Poles from the Russians.

While not as good as his first book it still is an enjoyable read. Hovik has really grown as a character. He is now a father and leader of the community. A man who now has responsibility and no longer the aimless criminal looking out for only himself. He actually wants to stop Decker as a sort of payback for being responsible for releasing the virus that destroyed civilization. Naturally with a train as the main enemy it ends on a spectacular crash over a cliff. Something very obvious to the reader but still quite satisfying.

Will Sundown is a pen name for William Sanders. He has written a number of Science Fiction mostly alternate history books. One he won an award for I remember thinking about getting long ago so I might check out more of his stuff in the future. This series never when on after his two books which is fine. I don’t really see this world as having the potential for a long term series and these two book are good stand alone reads.

POCKETS OF RESISTANCE BY WILL SUNDOWN

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Copyright 1990.

It is the future and America is an authoritarian police state. Hovik is a former Marine who got caught selling guns to the resistance and is now at a prison camp in Nevada. Hovik isn’t himself a very political man but he is caught up in the bureaucracy so now is assigned to this camp for political prisoners. One day there is an escape and the commandant decides to send all those that were in the work detail that didn’t escape to Camp 351. The prisoners sent to this camp are rumored to be part of medical experiments and no one ever returns. So while being transported, Hovik escapes. With him is a young timid computer hacker. The two evade the security forces and make it to San Francisco. He hooks up with the local resistance and agrees to lead an assault on Camp 351. So with a bunch of “amateurs, losers and psychos” he must assault a guarded camp and shove the government’s germ warfare project down their throats.

What strikes me the most about this book is how not dated it seems even though its thirty years old. There are endless wars in the Middle East. Everyone uses credit cards because cash is discouraged so the government has more control over the people. The whole government is not really an Orwellian one but a half-assed authoritarian one. Described as a car that just slowly falls apart over time. Something that comes about over time because of neglect and apathy. One where the real power is faceless bureaucrats that operate behind the scenes. In one scene one of these bureaucrats shows a political prisoner one of his books. He states that they aren’t illegal to own although not on the approved list for schools or libraries. That with over half the population functionally illiterate and only one in ten even being able to understand what the book is about. So they don’t even care if they exist.

Hovik the hero is an anti-hero in the vein of Snake Plissken. A tough old guy who got kicked out of the Marines and spend most of his life in petty criminal ventures. The resistance is as much an enemy as the government. They knew about the camp but want it intact for propaganda purposes. They seem more interested in their own power and conducting purges. The author clearly has a distrust of those on the left and right as being the same power hungry individuals. So Hovik and this group find out that the camp was developing a virus to cleanse the world of undesirables. Something that they inadvertently release causing a global pandemic.

The author has a dedication at the beginning that acknowledges all those in DC and elsewhere that are working tirelessly to make books like this believable. Sadly that seems more true then thirty years ago.

WINTERWORLD THE MECHANIC’S SONG BY CHUCK DIXON

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Copyright 2015.

Scully tells his story to Wynn. It starts out at a frozen city where a young Scully grows up with his family. The father is very abusive and one day is injured. Now the young Scully is responsible for scavenging for food. His first day out he comes on some men in a machine. These men had brutally killed some people so Scully manages to take out the men. He rescues their captive a guy named Fingers. Finger’s drops him off at this family’s place but he soon finds that wasters have killed them. So he follows Finger’s across the wastes where some cannibals have ambushed and killed him. A women on a snowmobile rescues him and takes him to the Boss. The Boss is an old crippled man who is building a giant snow CAT to take him to Mechanicsburg. A place were men are working to rebuild civilization.

Scully learns how to be a mechanic and helps with rebuilding the CAT. Scully with the Boss and a woman named Cilla live off the remains of an old Sam’s Club. On a trip to scavenge materials Cilla is left behind. Eventually they get the CAT running and make the trip to Mechanicsburg.

Back in the ’80s the now defunct Eclipse Comics put out a three issue series by Dixon of a futuristic ice age. This was an awesome series and it wasn’t until twenty years later that IDW revived it. This was just a really well done series. Dixon is a well known writer of comics but can also write prose books as well. This book tells the origin of Scully. His early life and how he learned his mechanical skills. Even gives us how he got his name Scully. Dixon portrays this brutal and grim ice age. A world filled with cold and humanity reduced to small bands scavenging for food and warmth. A very enjoyable book that I hope he continues future installments of this series in both book form and comics.