Monday, September 27, 2010

The Kung Fu Avengers, by Michael Minick

The Kung Fu Avengers, by Michael Minick
1975, Bantam Books
(Original UK printing, 1973)

I discovered this obscure novel by a total fluke, researching the Bruce Li movie Kung Fu Avengers (aka Soul Brothers of Kung Fu). This Michael Minick novel came up in a search result and I instantly bought it, due to my lifelong obsession with what I've coined "Bell Bottom Fury," aka '70s-tastic kung fu thrills.

Ben and Jade are blonde-haired causcasian youths raised in a Buddhist temple in China after the death of their missionary parents. Despite their alien looks the siblings are treated as normal members of the Silver Forest temple, and are trained in the sect's powerful kung fu style. But when an attempt to escape Communist China, to teach "The Way," results in a fatal battle with Chinese soldiers, Ben and Jade find themselves uprooted and returned to their "true" home in New York City.

Here the novel jumps ahead a few years to 1975, where Ben and Jade have settled into this new life. Trouble looms again when their friend, a sort of Martin Luther King for Asian Americans, is murdered by the Black Phoenix tong. The siblings again find themselves in the thick of it, fighting off wave after wave of kung fu-fighting thugs, eventually working for the CIA to take out the leader of the Black Phoenix. (This finale it must be noted is at odds with the rest of the book, with Ben and Jade outfitted with a variety of gadgets, including rocket packs!)

My main problem with this novel is how wordy it is. It's not so much an action-adventure as it's a lecture on kung fu philosophy. The novel also lacks many thrills. Minick jumps to and fro in the narrative, even going back to the 1940s after the escape-from-China opening, and he has a habit of over-explaining everything. Not only that but each character speaks in the most verbose fashion possible; this is one of those novels where no one uses contractions and speak in tones so lofty even Roy Thomas would be embarrassed. And the fights are repetitive to the point of monotony.

I also don't understand who this novel was for. What concerns me most is something printed on the flyleaf -- basically, the age ranges this book is acceptable for. In other words, Kung Fu Avengers is a junior reader's novel, despite the back cover's blurb of drugs and death and other sordid details. Apparently the novel was published by Corgi's children line in the UK! This is not mentioned anywhere in the Bantam edition, which actually makes Kung Fu Avengers appear like some martial arts-centric men's adventure novel.

But then when one considers how there's no cursing in the novel, no overt violence (indeed, Ben and Jade go out of their way to merely knock their opponents unconscious), and absolutely zero sex (other than a brief mention of the "sordid" things the Black Phoenix leader has his slave-girls perform with one another for his entertainment), then it all clicks. It's strange, because according to the author bio Minick was an editor and writer for True Action and other men's adventure magazines, so one would expect the novel to be a bit more lurid.

Believe it or not, I'd actually recommend Joseph Rosenberger's kung fu-fighting Mace series over this.


Annis said...

There is an issue about the Corgi Children's Imprint being attached to adult fiction which is related to Amazon listings. I first came across this problem when trying to work out why Lynn Guest's historical novel of medieval Japan, "Children of Hachiman" aka "Sword of Hachiman" was listed as being published by Corgi Children's when it is definitely an adult novel.

See this piece from Wikipedia on he subject:

Since about 2005, Corgi has been a Children's paperback imprint of Random House. Bantam are the imprint of choice for reprints of classic Corgi SF paperback titles now, and many new Transworld SF publications

- you will however see many Amazon entries listing older Corgi SF titles as "Corgi Children's"! This seems to be because they retain the same ISBN and Amazon can't cope with such British normalities as "same text can keep the same ISBN, however often you change the cover, price, company that owns the imprint, etc."

Do NOT trust Amazon (UK or US) for a definitive Publisher! (Well, maybe after a Look-Inside - but even then check they're showing you the edition you THOUGHT you were looking at!)

Cheers, Annis

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the informative post!