Thursday, August 22, 2013

Recycled Souls (The Mind Masters #5)

Recycled Souls, by Ian Ross
September, 1976  Signet Books

It doesn’t feature a series title or volume number, but this was the fifth and final installment of the Mind Masters series. In fact, “Mind Masters” isn’t mentioned anywhere in the novel, and what’s odd is that Recycled Souls comes closer than any previous volume to being a direct sequel to The Mind Masters #1. The events of the previous volume in particular aren’t even mentioned, and author John Rossmann (aka “Ian Ross”) brings back characters and situations that haven’t been seen since that first volume.

But the series overhaul begun in #4: Amazons continues here, with Recycled Souls coming off like a reset switch. As for Rossmann himself, he’s still for whatever reason calling himself Ian Ross. Humorously, the book features an ad for The Mind Masters volumes #1-4, stating that each volume is “by John Rossmann (Ian Ross)!” And for that matter, Recycled Souls is actually copyright John Rossmann, so I wonder why he even bothered with the name change.

Inexplicable name changes aren’t just limited to the author. Kelly Dale, the American college student who entered the series back in #3: The Door, is now known as “Trish DeVele,” and we get absolutely no reason why this is! Throughout the novel Rossmann (and the characters) refers to her as “Trish,” and Rossmann never once explains why she changed her name, what the goal was, or anything. He just informs us right at the start that Kelly is now Trish, and that’s that! It’s even odder because Recycled Souls takes place just “a few weeks” after The Door.

But at any rate Trish is basically now just a female version of series hero Britt St. Vincent, anyway, spouting out the same parapsychology mumbo-jumbo in the baldest of exposition. And remember how she fought off the titular Amazons in the previous novel and took a position of power in their queendom? It’s not even mentioned here, which is just as odd given that the events of Amazons took place only a few days before Recycled Souls!

This volume brings Britt and his fellow Mero operatives to the exotic locale of Long Beach, California. As you’ll recall, they boarded a plane to California at the very end of Amazons, and on the flight Britt researched the mission – namely, that a WWII sailor, believed to be dead for decades, recently showed up in a waterfront gay bar in Long Beach and, after starting a fight, was tossed in jail, where he turned into a pile of ashes overnight. Now in a Long Beach hotel, Britt is busy pining over the years-ago death of his fiance, Gayle, whom he suspiciously hasn’t mentioned (or thought of) since The Mind Masters #1. In fact Recycled Souls opens with Britt looking over his hotel balcony, crying at Gayle’s memory, and debating if he should kill himself!

Trish/Kelly meanwhile poses as an investigative reporter; her job is to interview Dr. Laura Wharton, a beautiful blonde aquatic researcher who lives in a mansion filled with equally-gorgeous women on Catalina Island, just off of Long Beach’s shore. Wharton you see is a devoted lesbian, as are all the women at her disposal. Plus, she relates to Trish mere moments after meeting her, Wharton is also a CIA agent, and is performing underwater research for the agency – like, for example, psychically training sharks to obey her commands! (The back cover copy smacks of desperation on this point, attempting to cash in on the recent success of Jaws.)

Britt continues to pose as a race car driver, and we get a few long sequences of him barrelling through the Long Beach streets. But then Rossmann page-fills in his favorite fashion: Britt is mysteriously summoned to the famous Queen Mary; in an isolated room there he meets up with Mero head Dr. Webster (himself not seen since the first volume) and a CIA agent named Carlton who’s old acquaintances with Webster. Here Rossmann delivers about twenty or so pages of the outright exposition the series is known for, with the trio discussing psychic phenomena and the ever-constant threat of mind enslavement. The series-reset feeling is strong, with Britt even informing Carlton how he got involved with Mero and who each member of his team is and what they do.

One thing I can say is that Rossmann has finally figured out how to keep the plot moving while still dumping his metaphysical info on us. Recycled Souls moves right along as Trish is promptly kidnapped by the evil Laura Wharton; Trish is drugged and wakes to find herself nude and chained to the good doctor’s bed. (One of Wharton’s female goons later mentions that Trish “pleasured” Wharton through the night, but suspiciously enough Rossmann failed to inform us of that lurid fact…or, more importantly, to provide us with the details!) Wharton is just the latest version of the longwinded villains this series is also known for, and as a bound Trish listens the “man-hating seductress” goes on and on about how she can make clones from something as simple as a strand of hair.

The action doesn’t go down until the final quarter, with Britt being attacked by a few CIA “cyborgs,” ie those one-shot-and-die psychic kamikazes last seen way back in The Mind Masters #1. Meanwhile Trish, no longer useful to Dr. Wharton, is tortured by a pair of sadistic guards (they use her breasts as a dart board!), who plan to toss her to the sharks once they’re finished with her. But if only Trish could reach those psychic-boosting pills… (Of course she does!) There are still no guns or any other “regular” sort of men’s adventure action standards, but Rossmann doesn’t shy from the gore, with plentiful description of how heads explode and eyeballs pop out when people are hit by Britt or Trish’s psychic mind-bolts.

As for the series overhaul mentioned above, the sleaze has been thoroughly gutted. The Mind Masters started off with some of the more lurid stuff I’ve ever read, in particular #2: Shamballah, which featured some hyper-explicit and sleazy sex (and of course was the best volume of the series!). But after that installment the sleaze began to taper off, with Amazons not even featuring a single sex scene. Recycled Souls follows suit, with even less of a sleaze factor than that…other that is than a scene where Britt is momentarily knocked out and his attackers plan to rape him so as to make it look like a “sex murder” here by the gay bars of Long Beach’s wharves.

I wonder if this tamed nature was due to the whims of Rossmann or the publisher. My guess is it was the former, as the back cover and first page of Recycled Souls makes the novel sound just as lurid as the earliest volumes of the series, talking up the hot lesbian chicks in Dr. Wharton’s undersea city, as well as the intriguing development that Wharton creates a clone of Trish so as to sexually ensnare Britt. It would seem the copywriter had a better novel in mind than Rossmann himself did, for while Wharton actually does clone Trish, all she uses it for is to distract Britt’s attention and to lure him into a trap, where the Trish-clone attempts to karate-chop him to death. (After which she falls into the ocean, conveniently gobbled up by sharks.)

In fact, given the lack of sleaze and the removal of all the explicit sex, coupled with that ultra-lame bit in The Door where Britt called to God for help and God helped him (!!), my bet is that Rossmann himself was trying to move away from the cheap and dirty feel of the earliest installments and into more of a “holy” atmosphere. And I’m not just pulling that word out of nowhere; there’s a part in Recycled Souls where Britt goes into an extended jag about various “holy” things, and the novel ends with Britt ranting about how “the world is for children!” and other maudlin chestnuts you’d more expect to hear coming from the head of the PTA instead of a dude who previously attended Black Masses and orgies with his nympho German girlfriend.

Rossmann attempts to end the novel (and thus the series) on a cliffhanger; perhaps he hoped if he did so, enough readers would write to Signet Books and request another installment. If so, I would say the attempt failed. Recycled Souls ends with Dr. Webster’s dire warning that the CIA has more than likely figured out the secret location of Mero HQ, and that an assault squad is no doubt on the way. Though Laura Wharton’s faction of CIA renegades has been disposed of (Wharton and her entire lesbian army having become shark food, thanks to Britt psychicaly shattering the protective glass wall of their underwater lab), there are more CIA factions out there who want Mero.

So this is where we leave Britt St. Vincent and his pill-popping, racecar-driving, psychic comrades; eternally vigilant for a CIA attack that will never come.

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