Monday, June 25, 2012

The Enforcer #5: Bio Blitz

The Enforcer #5: Bio Blitz, by Andrew Sugar
No month stated, 1975 Manor Books

After Lancer Books stopped publishing the Enforcer, Andrew Sugar's series was in limbo for two years before Manor Books picked it up in 1975. Reprinting the Lancer originals with new covers (athough for some curious reason, #4: Kill Deadline wasn't reprinted until 1979 -- and with Sugar's name misspelled as "Angrew" Sugar on the spine!), Manor also published two new installments, Bio Blitz and Steel Trap. Neither installment featured a number or a publication month, which must've caused reader confusion. Given that each prior Enforcer novel had been heavily based in continuity, which of these two new books was supposed to be read first?

Anyway, I can confirm that Bio Blitz takes place shortly after Kill Deadline, and precedes Steel Trap; hence, it's the fifth volume of the series, even though Manor (for whatever reason) neglected to title it as such. I can also happily report that Bio Blitz is a return of sorts to the lurid, scifi-esque pulp of Enforcer #1 -- still one of the best men's adventure novels I've ever read. Though Bio Blitz doesn't quite achieve the twisted glory of that first installment, it comes close at times.

For one, Sugar here has figured out how to meld his Objectivist/Libertarian views with violent pulp. Whereas the first volume started off strong with great characterization, plotting, writing, and action, the succeeding three volumes became increasingly static. Gone were the jungle locales and weird menaces of the first book, replaced by long scenes of our clone hero Alex Jason sitting around, smoking and drinking endlessly, while he would talk his way through some conundrum. The series, I'm saying, was becoming more of a psuedo-mystery thing, with a veritable intellectual/philosophical thrust. I am not saying however that I didn't enjoy it. Hell, I rank the Enforcer way up in the ranks of the men's adventure series I've read. I most like it precisely because it's something different than the genre norm.

But still, the series was becoming a bit too padded and, at times, dull. Kill Deadline in particular, while promising a great plot about a killer stalking new members of the John Anryn Institute (ie the shadowy private organization for which Jason enforces), was given over to patience-trying scenes of Jason drinking and smoking and talking and talking. So Bio Blitz comes as a jolt of fresh air, given that it features a lot more action and thrills, the narrative very rarely getting stuck in the mire of the longwinded digressions/discussions of those three previous volumes.

Sugar here capitalizes on two popular topics of the mid-'70s: the bug menace craze (as seen in innumerable films of the time, most spectacularly in the almighty Swarm, with Michael Caine) and women's lib. Both topics are combined in the latest threat facing the Anryn Institute; Lockner, archenemy from the previous volumes and seen briefly in Kill Deadline, has concocted an incredibly complex scheme to infiltrate the Institute, involving strains of specifically-mutated insects as well as an army of gun-toting women's libbers.

In Kill Deadline Jason's longtime flame Janet was murdered by Lockner's vassal; at the end of the novel, Jason discovered that Janet had also been pregnant with his child. As we'll recall, Jason swore vengeance, and pledged that the Institute would go on the offense. Bio Blitz opens up three months later (we also learn it's been "over four years" since the events of the first volume), and the Institute hasn't gotten much closer to finding Lockner, let alone capturing him...but Jason has found himself a new flame!

This new character, Samantha, is one of the failings of Bio Blitz. She is a carbon copy of Janet (a veritable clone, you might say): a gorgeous doctor who enjoys the thrill of danger and who falls in love with Jason. The only difference being that Samantha (nicknamed "Sam" -- just like in Bewitched!!) is also a clone. But really she is so similar to Janet that it made me wonder why Sugar even bothered killing Janet off...especially given that Janet is mentioned but a few times in the novel, Jason already getting hot and heavy with Sam in one of Sugar's trademark explicit scenes (though, sadly, the sex scenes have become less and less explicit with each volume).

However Bio Blitz features many inventive scenes, such as when Jason goes out to the countryside with Institute honcho/best friend Flack to see the man's restored Colonial mansion, which falls apart beneath their feet, courtesy some Lockner-designed termites. This scene features the first of a handful of actual action sequences, with Jason using his 3-shot laser pistol to blow off the heads of a few of Lockner's goons. Another enjoyable scene, Sugar playing up the dark comedy and lurid aspects throughout, is when three of the female militants try to break into the Institute, and Jason makes them strip before they are interrogated. The highlight though is the climax of the novel, with Jason and Samantha, nude from the waist down, trying to get across an approaching army of ants so they can rescue Flack from Lockner's clutches.

This is not to say that Bio Blitz doesn't occasionally revert to the stagebound, dialog-driven nature of preceding volumes. Sugar must've done a lot of research on insects and he displays his knowledge, in outright bald terms, through the conduit of a newly-introduced scientist on the Institute's payroll. Also, Lockner's schemes are way too complex, and there are several scenes where Jason will talk his way through them for pages and pages. Again Jason is presented as the know-it-all, able to figure things out long before anyone else. That being said, though Jason is smart about some things he's a complete idiot when it's narratively convenient, like when he fails to spot the obvious identity of a frail man who's trying to gain admittance to the Institute.

The "lost art of being a guy" ethic I've written about in previous Enforcer reviews is here in full force, possibly moreso than any other volume yet. Sugar must've been a hell of a smoker, or perhaps he was trying to quit and was getting a vicarious nicotine fix through his characters, because these people friggin' smoke. Each and every scene features a mention of someone pulling out a pack of smokes, offering it around, holding aloft a zippo, taking pleasurable drags. It about made me want to go out and buy a pack! In fact, it occurred to me that Manor lost a great opportunity for some product-placement revenue; Bio Blitz features one of those cardboard ads for Kent Cigarettes, bound into the book, as was custom for a lot of these 1970s men's adventure novels. All Sugar had to do was specify that Jason and his pals smoked Kents, and Manor probably could've raked in some extra cash.

But anyway we again have many scenes where Jason and his Institute comrades sit around and smoke cigarettes and drink brandy -- and they drink brandy just about as much as they smoke cigarettes. Jason in previous books has been a bit more "advanced" than the average men's adventure protagonist, more open-minded about women and the world. So here Sugar lets the other Institute guys mouth all of the misogynist stuff, in particular Abernathy, the Institute's non-clone head of security. This guy gets a lot of lines in about the female militants, who of course are played up as complete idiots; every time he brings them into the narrative, Sugar goes to pains to tell us how stupid these militant women are. I also got a kick out of the official Institute name for female enforcers -- "enforcerettes!"

Bio Blitz is layed out the same as previous volumes, opening up with a scene before the climax, with Jason reflecting back on how it all started before we make our way back to the end. So we have various bug attacks, convoluted schemes, a sex scene or two, lots of drinking and smoking (at one point someone even jams a cig into Jason's mouth immediately as he regains consciousness after being knocked out!), Jason blowing off heads and searing off limbs with his laser pistol, and the final comeuppance of Lockner -- something worked toward since Enforcer #1.

One more volume remains, the aforementioned Steel Trap, which apparently sees Jason going undercover in a prison. Bio Blitz by the way doesn't play up much on the clone aspect; indeed Jason's body in this volume, a red-haired and burly Irish model, is arbitrary to the plot itself. Anyway, as the length of this review will attest, I quite enjoy this series, despite its faults, and will be sad to see it go -- sometimes I get the feeling we could learn something from The Enforcer, but god knows what it might be.


Tex said...

Thanks for working your way through The Enforcer series. I've only been able to find the first one in the various shop I sweep, so the reviews of the others help tide me over until the rest pop up.

(amazed that it's been 31 years since he first bought an Enforcer book)

Grant said...

I know this review is over a year old, but once again I have a "spoiler" question. (It might be about a big enough thing to remember without going back to the book, though.) Does the Jason character fight the female army himself?
As I said before, even violent stories seem somehow touchy about giving the hero fatal showdowns against women - instead they trot out that big cliché of having the HEROINE do it. (I just saw an adventure story today where I predicted that cliché very early, and I was right - and I'm usually AWFUL at predicting things in stories.)

Joe Kenney said...

Grant, my memories of the Enforcer books are pretty good, because I enjoyed them so much. In fact I intend to re-read the entire series someday. However I can't recall if Jason and his fellow Enforcers actually fight the women seems to me their one big scene is where the two of them try to infiltrate the Anryn institute. The climax moreso plays out with Jason trying to navigate across a lake filled with those bugs, rather than gun-blazing action. So anyway, I'm pretty sure this is another example of what you mention, where, despite being built up, an actual confrontation with female villains doesn't actually occur.

Grant said...

Thank you.