Thursday, February 14, 2013

SuperBolan #98: Predator Paradise

SuperBolan #98: Predator Paradise, by Dan Schmidt
September, 2004  Gold Eagle Books

This was one of the last books Dan Schmidt published, and unfortunately it’s every bit as uninvolving as another of his latter publications, Devil's Bargain. If anything this just confirms my theory that the earlier these men’s adventure novels are published, the better, and also that authors in this genre will gradually achieve burnout. Because without question the earlier Schmidt novels I’ve read have been very enjoyable, particularly The Executioner #115: Circle Of Steel, which was damn great.

But again I wonder how much the author is to blame. Gold Eagle has clearly refashioned itself to ride on the current fame of Tom Clancy/Ops Center stuff, and this SuperBolan almost reads like a piece of military fiction. To wit, Mack “Executioner” Bolan, who by this point is a complete cipher, has been tasked (by the President no less) to infiltrate a black ops commando/Delta squad calling itself Cobra Force Twelve to ascertain whether they have ulterior, anti-US motives.

Just like the more memorable Alpha Team Six in Devil’s Bargain, Cobra is made up of hardened warriors who go about with colorful code names…just like Cobra from GI Joe, in fact. Hell, the leader, Colonel Ben Collins, even calls himself “Cobra Commander!” If only he wore a mirror-lensed faceplate. But again as in Devil’s Bargain the too-many Cobra black ops dudes run together, and all are basically clones of one another. Hence, the reader can’t tell them apart, and quickly loses interest.

Even the narrative is lifeless, which is odd given how action-heavy it is. The first 100+ plages are literally an endless action sequence, with Bolan riding shotgun as Cobra blitzes various terrorist compounds from Mogadishu on up through Africa and into the Middle East. Collins will send in three plucky Cobra bastards who will enter into a fake deal with some despot, distracting them, and then Cobra Force Twelve will descend in their bombers and gunships and M-16-toting squads and start blowing people away.

But the action scenes are plain boring, mostly because Schmidt delivers them so flatly, stuck in the heads of the characters while the action goes down. In other words, while guns are blazing, instead of detailing the carnage Schmidt will relay it all from Bolan’s point of view (or Collins, or another Cobra commando, etc), ruminating over man’s inhummanity to man and etc. The actual combat description is relegated to stuff like, “Bolan blew the guy off his feet.” And then it’s back to the ruminating.

Compare this to the gore onslaught that was Circle Of Steel, where the action kept moving and the heads kept exploding. I guess a guy can only describe a head blowing up so many ways; it seems obvious to me that a writer in the action genre is going to eventually get sick of it. Schmidt would be a prime example. Predator Paradise is a pale reflection of the man’s earlier works, offering up cardboard characters, repetitive and uninvolving action scenes, and a general sense of frustration.

Also frustrating is that Bolan is a bit slow on the uptake here. He figures from the get-go that Cobra is up to something bad, but he tags along with them anyway. They waste a few Muslim terrorists, Bolan helps them catch a few leaders, some Cobra dudes make some evil insinuations, and Bolan just decides to keep going with it. Hell, there’s even a scene where one of the Cobra guys takes a shot at Bolan – right in front of everyone – and after killing the dude, Bolan still isn’t sure if Cobra is bad!

Of course, these guys do have an overarching plan for evil, but damn if it too isn’t muddled. I honestly couldn’t figure out what they had in mind. Something about corralling a bunch of warlords from Africa and the Middle East, taking them to a military base in Iran, and then doing something, like selling WMDs to Russians or something like that. Seriously, it was like the men’s adventure equivalent of The Big Sleep, just an endlessly convoluted plot with no satisfying resoluton.

And as mentioned, it would be one thing if we had some colorful personages here, but other than one or two of the Cobra dudes, none of them are memorable. They all have interesting code names, though, and Schmidt works it out that different code names mean they are in different level of Cobra, and therefore privy to different levels of the nonsensical Cobra scheme. But as for personalities, they have none. They all basically speak the same way, make the same threats; there are only three of them in particular, the ones who go in alone to each warlord and distract them before Cobra’s main force arrives, who have any spark, and Schmidt would’ve done well to just focus on them and get rid of the rest of the faceless Cobra masses.

It’s also frustrating that there’s a lot of potential here. A rogue team of black ops raising hell in Africa has the makings of at least an interesting plot, but it’s squandered with needless wheel-spinning and repetitive action sequences. It also would appear that “black ops team gone rogue” is something of an obsession with Schmidt, as I think every book of his I’ve read has concerned the same thing. So maybe by this point he had reached the end of the road, and could no longer find a new way to tell the same old story.

Repetition is key in this novel, so it will be in this review, as well – the earlier a book is published in the men’s adventure genre, the better it will be. And after a few decades of writing about terrorists getting their faces blown off by M-16 autofire, any writer will eventually achieve burnout. Hell, even David Alexander hung up his action-fiction-writing hat, and that dude could make an exploding head read like goddamn poetry.


N.Brown said...

When it comes to pulp, I demand detailed descriptions of the effects of violence on the human body. The British-penned Western series from Edge onwards are my favourite for this, sometimes completely stopping the battle narrative for a long paragraph just to describe some poor sod's demise in splatter movie levels of detail...shards of bone, pulped brain matter etc etc...

From the early 90s trash films and books both seemed to get watered down. With these men's adventure joints I generally won't buy it if a) after 1992 or so, b) has fancy modern Photoshop design as opposed to a cover painting or c) is much over 200 pages....

esteik iletisim said...

A very well-written post. I read and liked the post and have also bookmarked you. All the best for future endeavors.

Joe Kenney said...

N. Brown, just wanted to say you and I are on the same page! I think 1992 is an accurate year for the drop-off of men's adventure and pulp.

Also, Mike Madonna sent me a few volumes of Edge back in the summer and so far I've only read one one them: "Eve of Evil." I enjoyed it, even though Westerns aren't really my thing. I keep meaning to write a review of it, and should move on to the other ones he sent me.

N.Brown said...

Read the earlier ones first, after about number 20 the OTT ultraviolence is turned down a bit.

No 3 'Apache Death' is one of the most exciting pulp novels I've ever read and absolutely brutal. Gilman is a brilliant writer. It's a crime they never made an Edge film (although I think it's been optioned at least once).

While the violence in the later Edges is toned down, all the rival series of that time in the 80s were trying to outdo each other with ludicrous gore, black humour and general unsavoury business. All the Crow and Breed books fit that bill down to the ground.