Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Mind Masters #4: Amazons

The Mind Masters #4: Amazons, by Ian Ross
March, 1976  Signet Books

There are a few changes afoot with this volume of the Mind Masters series; most notably, the author is now credited as “Ian Ross” instead of “John Rossmann,” but make no mistake it’s the same dude. Also there’s more of a team dynamic at play, with series protagonist Britt St. Vincent sort of brushed to the side for many sequences so that the author can focus on other members of Britt’s Mero Group. Also, believe it or not, there isn’t a single sex scene in Amazons, though it still brims with a general air of sleaze and exploitation, as is customary for the series.

Another change worth mentioning is the name of the villainous CIA psychic warfare lab that goes up against Mero; throughout the series Rossmann has referred to it as the “Hary Diamond lab,” but in Amazons it’s suddenly the “Harry Hammond lab.” Unlike the other changes, this one actually occurs in the novel; Rossmann writes “Harry Diamond” when he first mentions it early in Amazons, but thereafter it becomes “Harry Hammond.” So are we witnessing the mindset of a paranoiac at work? Did Rossmann, afraid he’d let out too many “secrets” with the previous three novels, suddenly get scared, changing his own name to a psuedonym as well as material within the actual book? Who knows.

Anyway, Britt’s life continues its hectic pace; this installment picks up apparently just a few weeks after #3: The Door. Britt’s now in Brazil, where he’s looking into a string of political murders that might or might not be tied into some ghost activity: Furtado, the CIA-backed new president of Brazil, has had a powerful medicine man killed, and word is the medicine man’s ghost is out for vengeance. But that’s just one of the plotlines; there’s also Dr. Sin, a North Korean anthropologist who’s gone missing down here. Like The Door, there are a wealth of plots going on in Amazons, and Rossmann skirts over some and forgets others.

As we’ll recall from the final pages of The Door, Britt’s also journeyed to Brazil due to reported sightings of valkyrie-like blonde beauties who have been seen with these politicians shortly before they turned up dead. As luck would have it, the mission coincides with Brazil’s infamous Carnival, during which a racing event will be held – perfect for the Mero Group’s cover as a racecar team.

Once again it’s the preparation for the race that takes the brunt of this portion of the storyline; very rarely do we see Britt or the team’s head driver, Greg, actually take part in a race. And also these prep scenes continue the series’s curious homoerotic tenor, with lots of otherwise-pointless details about Britt “gripping” gearshifts or screwdrivers or what have you. (Not to even mention the many, many references to Britt’s “heavy penis” and whatnot…sounds like a medical condition, if you ask me.)

While Carnival rages in all its uninhibited glory about them (which gives Rossmann ample opportunity to mention all of the “swaying breasts” and “erect penises” of the naked celebrants), Britt and teammate Karl head off into the jungle. Their destination: the ruins of a Mayan temple from which the dead medicine man’s ghost supposedly operates. Karl though can’t hack the bad vibes and takes off, leaving Britt solo. When he spots yet more swaying breasts and erect penises headed his way – a line of Carnival celebrants branching off into the jungle – Britt follows them and pretty soon gets his ass caught by bona fide jungle Amazons.

These statuesque blonde women are so incredibly beautiful that men lose all senses when looking at them; this though is due to their psychic powers. Also, they walk around the jungle fully nude! Shackled in their village in the depths of the jungle, Britt also meets Dr. Sin, the supposedly “missing” North Korean anthropologist. Sin is actually a James Bond-style villain and has come here to harness the psychic powers of the Amazons to take over Brazil…and then the world! Also, Sin is a hermaphrodite!!

The level of sleaze Rossmann descends to (ascends to?) throughout this section is a wonder to behold…naked Amazon beauties traipsing about; a CIA agent captured, tortured, roasted and then eaten; copious descriptions of Sin’s hermaphrodite anatomy; tons of strange scenes where a nude and shackled Britt loses sexual control of himself due to the psychic manipulations of the Amazons; and even an actualization of that curious tenor where Sin (consistently referred to as “he” in the narrative) grabs hold of Britt’s manhood seconds before Britt orgasms from the Amazonian psychic chicanery!

Again, the only thing missing here is an actual sex scene, which is only strange given how plentiful (and explicit) they were in previous volumes. What’s odd is that much is made of how the Amazon chieftess makes Britt her lover for one night, the challenge being that if Britt doesn’t please her she’ll have him castrated, but Rossmann doesn’t get into details on the actual night, despite building it up so much. (An even bigger miss is when, later in the narrative, Britt’s girlfriend/teammate Kelly is challenged to sexually pleasure the Amazons or face death…and Rossmann apparently forgets all about it!)

A staple of the previous books was the longwinded explanation the villain would give Britt once having him in custody. Here Rossmann takes that and basically spends around 75% of the novel on it; once Britt’s been captured, we are faced with an endless string of scenes where Sin will question Britt, baldly exposit on the latest metaphysical research, and then tell him his plans for world conquest. And of course Britt exposits right back; vast chunks of the Mind Masters books read like excerpts from a magazine article on ESP or psychic research or whatever, with quotation marks merely bracketing the information in a lame attempt at passing it all off as “dialog.”

Meanwhile Britt’s fellow Mero operatives try to find him. Kelly, the young American college student Britt saved back in London, in The Door (I’m sure we all remember that unforgettable and touching scene where she screwed the gearshift of Britt’s car, right??), has apparently become a fellow operative in a bit of narrative sleight of hand. Somehow in the unstated time between volumes she’s gone from London to LA, where she’s offered herself as a human guinea pig to Mero to test-case those psionic-boosting pills Britt popped in the last volume, and now she’s come to Brazil, here to put her newfound powers to use in the quest to rescue Britt.

Even Greg, previously a blank slate of a character, has a lot of narrative time here. Rossmann also builds up a nasty feud between John, the scientist of the team, and Kelly; the pointedly stated reason behind John’s dislike being the sole fact that Kelly is a woman. (Hmmm…) Whereas the earlier books shunted these other Mero members off to the side while Britt handled everything on his own, here we have extended sequences where we read all about their trials and tribulations.

Britt learns all about the Amazon beauties – and this being Rossmann, we learn all there is to know. They’re almost clones of one another, and savage rites ensure that only the strongest survive. Also, they rule men, keeping them shackled, castrating ugly and frail ones and keeping the “good” ones in breeding pits. And all men in the Amazon village are kept in line with a garrotte-like string that’s tied about their scrotums; one yank from an upset Amazon and it’s bye-bye to their balls.

Even though Rossmann denies us the scene, Britt apparently keeps the head Amazon honcho happy, but that doesn’t stop her from attempting to sacrifice him when Britt refuses to give Sin the info he wants. Sin, through some nebulous means, is able to rule the Amazons…Rossmann has it that his hermaphrodite nature gives him this privilege. Finally we have one of the few action scenes in the novel, Britt once again blasting away with psychic eyeblasts, as in the previous book…cue lots of “dialog” about how the fear of incipient death might unleash awesome psychic powers.

An interesting thing about Amazons is that our heroes are presented as a bunch of paranoid pill-poppers who are united against the US government. There’s a strong anti-US foreign policy sentiment at work here, very unusual in the world of men’s adventure. Sin rails on and on against America and how Vietnam was really waged so that the US government could get hold of more oil fields. (Which doesn’t sound familiar at all.) He claims that the US is doing the same thing in Brazil, looking to exploit the country’s untapped oil fields by installing a puppet president.

Also, Amazons is sort of like the men’s adventure novel Terence McKenna never wrote. There’s a goofy scene where Britt is saved by an actual ayahuasca vine – one that crawls across a field so that it can place one of those psionic-boosting pills in Britt’s mouth! There’s a lot of material in Amazons that could almost come out of McKenna’s 1993 book True Hallucinations, which served for an unusual reading experience for me, given that I’d recently listened to McKenna’s 1984 “Talking Book” audio production of True Hallucinations (complete with “psychedelic” sound effects and hippie rock…search for it online if you want an unusual listen on your work commute).

Rossmann eventually gets around to amping the tension. Kelly proves herself a more memorable protagonist than Britt, arriving on the scene and kicking Amazon ass in no time. Popping those pills and blowing blonde psychic warriors away with eyeblasts, she succeeds in getting herself crowned as the new chieftess, though as mentioned to do so she must pass two tests. First she must fight, unarmed, several ferocious men to the death, after which she must sexually satiate several of the Amazon women! But while Rossmann fully documents the first test, he completely omits the second, not even mentioning it again…and I doubt it was something the publisher cut out; a lesbian sequence would’ve been the least of this series’s exploitative moments.

There’s more action later in the tale as a CIA strike force descends upon the Amazon village, blasting away from some Huey helicopters. Here Britt, for I think the first time in the series, actually acts like a men’s adventure protagonist, going up solo against the invaders. Of course, he’s using his eyeblasts instead of a genre-customary machine gun or whatever, but still, at least it’s something. Strangely though Rossmann chooses not to end the novel with this powerful scene, instead apparently remembering all that shit about the medicine man’s ghost and so now focusing on that plot.

So then Amazons limps to a close as Britt and Karl dig up the medicine man’s body in an attempt to “free” the ghost, and then the spirit goes off and quickly wreaks vengeance…it’s all like Ghostbusters or something, and you wonder where the naked blonde beauties went. Oh, and Kelly’s passion for Britt has “cooled” in the weeks(?) since last seeing him, but she might still love him, or maybe not…I get the impression Rossmann is attempting to build up a long-simmer love story here, a will they or won’t they? sort of thing, which of course is rendered moot given how much sex Britt has with various women during any given assignment. (And one last time, let’s not forget that gearshift-screwing scene…)

Only one more novel in the series was to follow: Recycled Souls, which is actually referenced, by name, on the last pages of Amazons. In a “funny” bit of self-reference, Rossmann has it that Britt’s cases are given the same names as the actual Mind Masters novels, and “Recycled Souls” is the name of his next assignment. Also Rossmann slyly mentions again that “real” Mero operatives are out there, getting information out to the people…including one author who is writing it all under the guise of an action series.

So who knows, maybe there really are megalomaniacal North Korean hermaphrodites out there with an army of psychic Amazon warriors at their beck and call…

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