Thursday, May 8, 2014
Death Merchant #30: The Shambhala Strike
Death Merchant #30: The Shambhala Strike, by Joseph Rosenberger
October, 1978 Pinnacle Books
Wrapping up the “ancient aliens” trilogy that began in Hell In Hindu Land and continued in The Pole Star Secret, The Shambhala Strike turns out to be an okay entry in the Death Merchant series, one that takes it straight into the realm of science fiction. Here Joseph Rosenberger manages to combine his interest in mysticism, overly-described exotic locations (and its people’s customs), and endlessly-detailed firefights. Oh, and Camellion teams up with an ancient alien!
Having traveled to Bhutan, thirty miles from the Tibetan border, we meet Richard “Death Merchant” Camellion as he is once again leading a party of CIA agents and army commandos. Heading up “Operation Arrowhead,” in which the CIA has decided to look into the mystery of Agharta, the so-called underworld empire of myth, Camellion commands a group of redshirts, among them Vallie West, a Schwarzenegger-sized CIA commando who apparently has fought beside Camellion before. Believe it or not, there’s even a girl in the group, certainly a rarity for Rosenberger: Helena Banya, a gorgeous blonde Russian “sex-spy” who has recently defected to the West.
As usual Rosenberger shoehorns all kinds of exposition into the proceedings, but when it comes to detailing the “sexpionage” efforts of the USSR, who can complain? As Camellion broods over Helena, who of course he doesn’t trust, he thinks to himself for pages and pages how these Russian sex-spies are taught to use their bodies in various ways. Helena’s story has it that when she defected, she brought along a folder of classified Russian intel so as to prove her honesty; among the paperwork was material on how the Russians recently tried to find Shambhala, supposedly the gate to Agharta.
Since the Soviets are trying to find the place, then America wants in on it too, thus Camellion has been hired to venture into the treacherous Himalayas. He leads a party into the mountains, and once again Rosenberger serves up too many characters who run together, from an anthropologist turned CIA contractor named Paul Gemz to a handful of Bhutanese soldiers who do nothing but quake in superstitious fear throughout the novel. There are also a handful of Black Berets, humorously enough led by a dude named “Red,” which isn’t confusing at all.
Making an appearance here is the rampant footnoting the series was at times known for; The Shambhala Strike is stuffed to the gills with paragraphs of footnotes, most of them absurdly unnecessary. Rosenberger takes a page from John Rossmann, with characters discussing semantics in outright exposition, with Rosenberger often backing up their claims with footnotes. But it’s all so stupid and shoehorned in. For example, at one point while setting up their perimeter defenses in the mountains, Camellion says they’ll at least be as safe as the average homeowner, and in a footnote Rosenberger actually gives statistics on how many housebreaks there are per year in the US!
Much worse though is the exposition. As in Hell In Hindu Land, the characters here will discuss metaphysics at the most preposterous of times, like right after firefights or even when meeting alien beings(!). You’ll have these army commandoes discussing esoteric lore in the baldest of exposition, with footnotes backing up everything they say. And like every other Rosenberger novel, The Shambhala Strike is too damn long, coming in at 208 pages of small type. If Pinnacle had just gutted the expository stuff and removed the footnotes, they would’ve been left with a leaner novel that would’ve been more in keeping with their other action paperbacks.
The first half of the book is pretty trying, very much in the adventure fiction mold, as Camellion and team trek across the Himalayas and Rosenberger footnotes all kinds of uninteresting shit. In fact, the reader isn’t even prepared for the fact that The Shambhala Strike is tied in to those earlier two novels, as Camellion isn’t even here looking for any aliens. He just wants to get to the bottom of the Shambhala mystery, and more importantly wants to get there before the Chinese do. Cue lots of tension as the small party knows they are being followed by Chinese soldiers, just waiting for the hammer to drop.
The action scenes here, for the most part, aren’t written in the same wearying style typical of Rosenberger. They’re more like something out of a war novel, with Camellion laying explosives and blowing up his pursuers, rather than endlessly-detailed gunfights. Once the “riceballs” are out of the way, Camellion makes it into Shambhala, which turns out to be a massive city beneath the earth, the group traversing down miles of tunnels to the place. Here the novel becomes full-on sci-fi, with ancient beings known as “Goros” speaking to Camellion et al telepathically, welcoming them into their underworld kingdom, complete with its “sun” of artificial light, which is just like the one Camellion saw in Thuleandia.
The Goros are humans, but ones who are 18,000 years old. They claim to have been residents of China, before even the Chinese lived there, and they were recruited by the Inelqu, the alien “grays” Camellion refers to as “Sandorians.” We get a long backstory here, complete with egregious exposition and footnotes, in which the Goros relate that millennia ago the Inelqu came to Earth from their planet in the Pleiades galaxy, turned the apes into humans, and eventually got into a holocaustal war with another race of aliens, these ones called the Flimmms, who came from an alternate reality!
Now the Inelqu slumber, having fought their war with the Flimmms to a draw. The Goros, who are cloned into new bodies every few hundred years, are tasked with watching over them. They’ve drawn Camellion and team into Shambhala because the Goros know that the Chinese are on the way, and Shambhala must be kept secret. Since the Goros are forbidden to harm anyone, they ask Camellion if he will fight off the Chinese, of which there are a mere 460!! Camellion, as blasé as ever, makes use of the Goros’s “flying doors,” ie high-tech flying contraptions created thousands and thousands of years before by the Inelqu.
One of the more perfunctory action scenes ensues as Camellion and Vallie West fly overtop the Chinese, who have gotten into the caves which lead to Shambhala, and just throw explosives down at them. But still there are a hundred or so Chinese soldiers eft, and they have tanks – however conveniently enough, all mechanical and electronic gear is negated by the energy field which pulses around Shambhala’s massive dome. Camellion’s team is forced to retreat back into the underworld, where the Death Merchant insists that they wake one of the aliens, something the Goros have said they can only do in “emergencies.”
Here follows a scene that you’d never expect in the world of men’s adventure, as the Goros wake up one of the little aliens, who engages in several pages of expository dialog with Camellion and crew! The alien goes into further detail on the story the Goros told, blithely informing the humans that they were created by the Inelqu. Comically enough, Rosenberger has Camellion and the others seeing all kinds of religious allusions in what the alien says, like when it mentions that the Flimmm’s massive spaceship crashed to Earth, Camellion quotes a line from the Bible about Lucifer’s falling star. In other words, the catastrophic war between the Inelqu and the Flimmm gave us humans all of our myths, and Camellion further informs us that the Inelqu are the Nephilim of the Old Testament.
So, one thing you can’t say about The Shambhala Strike is that it short-shrifts on the “ancient aliens” angle, like The Pole Star Secret did. But then, given the endless exposition and stupid questions and “insights” from Camellion et al, you kind of wish Rosenberger had kept a little mystery to it. But after lots of talk, the alien (one of a hundred sleeping in Shambhala, but woken by the Goros because it was the one in control of the weapons) hands over a few laserguns, stating that it cannot take life and thus Camellion and team must do so.
The novel’s climatic action scene is more typical of Rosenberger’s work, with lots of excessive description and POV-hopping and redshirts getting killed as Rosenberger documents their name and where they’re from and other extranneous details. The laserguns decimate everything in their path, but still it comes down to regular gunplay, with Camellion wielding dual autoloading .44s. By battle’s end only he and a few of his party survive, among them Vallie West and Helena Banya, who you won’t be surprised to know just disappears in the second half of the novel and has no relevance to the plot. In fact you wonder why Rosenberger even created her in the first place. Oh, that’s right – to fill pages.
Now, you’d think an alien being just awoken from an 18,000-year slumber, who told you that his people created your ancestors, would perhaps rattle your worldview a little. But not the Death Merchant, who basically just says, “Well, that’s that,” and leads his surviving party out of Shambhala, which closes off forever behind them. And hell, Camellion’s already thinking about his next mission, which might take place in…North Korea!!! Obviously, such a mission would appear mundane to the average person, after he or she had just met an alien and seen a fantastical underworld kingdom, but not blank-slate Camellion.
While many installments broached sci-fi topics, I think this is the most out-there the Death Merchant series ever got. It’s basically an overly-long trawl in “ancient alien” theory, with lots of egregious detail about this and that tossed in for good measure. In other words, it’s about what you’d expect from Rosenberger, who is the only writer who could have his hero meet ancient aliens and not bat an eye. There is a cool unexplained bit, though, where the Goros telepathically tell Camellion they know he serves “the Lord of Light” and is protected by him.
As I read The Shambhala Strike I kept wishing that Rosenberger was still around; maybe we’d see him as one of the talking heads on History Channel’s super-stoopid Ancient Aliens show.