Monday, June 18, 2012
The Guardians #1
The Guardians #1, by Richard Austin
February, 1985 Jove Books
Here's a series I was aware of but just never read. An example of the post-nuke pulps that sprouted up in the mid-'80s, The Guardians was written by Victor Milan, under the house name "Richard Austin;" it's my understanding Milan wrote the first fourteen volumes, before being replaced by some still-unknown ghostwriter(s) for the last two volumes. But this is a post-nuke pulp more in the paramilitary vein of Gold Eagle books, lacking the crazed fun of Doomsday Warrior or Phoenix. In fact this first book's a bit too dour and repetitive for its own good.
Taking place in the early 1990s, this first novel sets the stage for the ensuing volumes. The Guardians are a four-man team comprised of hotshots from the four branches of the US military, their mission to safeguard the president in the event of a nuclear war. Headed up by Billy McKay, a gruff Marine, they supercede the authority of the Secret Service and military brass. They are even beyond the authority of the president; their mission is ingrained Terminator-like into them, and they will overcome any obstacle to achieve it.
The other members are Casey Wilson, a laid-back Air Force top gun, Sloan, a Navy hotshot who actually outranks McKay but who has taken a junior position in the Guardians, and finally Rogers, an Army green beret who has as much covert ops experience as McKay. POV-wise Milan mostly stays with McKay, with the occasional jump to one of the other Guardians. Actually Milan POV-hops throughout the novel, from paragraph to paragraph, which is something I guess I just have to get used to in this genre, and who knows, maybe someday I will.
In this first novel the shit hits the fan as Russia, after losing a conventional war, launches a nuclear strike on the US. But rather than the immediate insanity that would ensue in a Ryder Stacy novel, Milan instead has the structure of the US government remain in place. In other words, we don't get roving gangs of leather-clad street punks or mutants or whatever. The survivors do panic, and the novel opens with McKay blasting away civilians who, in their terror after the catastrophe, attempt to storm the White House, but all in all the novel lacks the manic, OTT nature I prefer in the post-nuke genre. It's all just so depressingly "realistic," which again harkens back to those dour Gold Eagle books.
The Guardians get the president out of the White House and onto the road in a trio of advanced armored personal carriers. Get used to them, because these damn things are basically the sole setting for the rest of the novel. Pretty much the entirety of Guardians #1 takes place inside one of these "Super Commandos" as the Guardians escort the president over the blasted wastelands of the United States. Their destination: a fortress in the midwest known as Heartland, where the president can safely guide the US into recovery. To get there though they will have to deal with bandits, traitorous National Guard soldiers, and the CIA.
Milan works a larger threat into the storyline with the presence of a shadowy Russian type who has already conquered Europe. We learn in brief snatches that this man controls the CIA and has even brought the USSR in tow (Russia was hammered by the US's retaliatory nuclear strike, by the way). Now he wants the president, preferably alive, so he can bring the US to heel. This lends the novel a much-needed comic book sort of vibe, because otherwise it's hard going.
As mentioned, Guardians #1 is very repetitive. There are so many scenes of our heroes sitting around in their APC as they head for their destination. The action scenes, too, are kind of repetitive, and even worse I found some of them hard to follow. Milan also has a tendency to write these sequences like military fiction, again playing up a "real world" vibe. But nothing stands out. In fact there are two scenes where an armored helicopter attacks the APCs, and both scenes are pretty much identical. The only highlight is the climatic assault on a high school overrun by sadistic National Guard troops.
The heroes themselves suffer as well, a bit too bland to care about. McKay is the only memorable one, which is understandable given that he takes on the brunt of the narrative. His sentiments throughout the book mimic those of the reader, as he tries to figure out why the hell the Guardians were put together -- not to mention from all walks of the military. Why in the world would you need a ship's captain for a drive across the midwest? The Guardians make their journey with a detachment of Secret Service agents, all of whom bicker with the "show boating" Guardians. We are reminded, again and again and again, that there's a lot of rivalry between the two groups, and after a while you just get sick of it.
Anyway, not a very enjoyable book, but at least ensuing volumes appear to be more entertaining -- and more importantly, get out of the limited setting of this first installment. Milan by the way is still churning out men's adventure novels; indeed he is actually now writing for Gold Eagle itself! I've read reviews of his other books in the genre and they all sound up my alley, so I'm guessing this first volume was just a bit of a misstep as Milan tried to find his footing.