Thursday, May 22, 2014

John Eagle Expeditor #9: The Deadly Cyborgs

John Eagle Expeditor #9: The Deadly Cyborgs, by Paul Edwards
February, 1975  Pyramid Books

Paul Eiden returns to the John Eagle Expeditor series and more than makes up for his unfortunately-padded and boring previous installment, #7: The Ice Goddess. As we’ll recall, that volume had all kinds of potential for being a trashy, lurid masterpiece, with John Eagle venturing into an “Amazon Queendom” ruled by a man-hating temptress of ultimate depravity, but sadly Eiden spent more time documenting boring stuff like Eagle’s time among the Eskimos and overly-detailed games of chess.

But Eiden must’ve taken a college course in “Men’s Adventure Writing 101” or something in the interim, or who knows, maybe he even just read a few of the earlier volumes, which were courtesy Manning Lee Stokes and Robert Lory. Because in The Deadly Cyborgs Eiden once again delivers a pulpy, promising plot, but this time he doesn’t bog the entire narrative down with unecessary detours; instead, he gets right to the good stuff. In this volume, my friends, John Eagle goes up against cyborg Yetis!!

Eagle’s boss Mr. Merlin has a secret research station in the Himalayas: Base One, which is composed of various scientists and is guarded by Anotnio Da Zara, an old commando hand with a fondness for mountain-climbing; he commands a legion of Sherpas. One evening Da Zara comes upon a Sherpa corpse, and the poor guy’s been shredded. Soon enough Da Zara finds the attacker – and it’s an actual Yeti, a monstrous, shambling creature with red-black fur, long arms, and huge claws!

Da Zara blows away two of the creatures with a .44 Magnum, and after a preliminary autopsy the corpses are quickly shipped to Merlin, who as usual runs the show from his high-tech fortress on fictional Makaluha island in Hawaii. Turns out these aren’t just your everyday, garden-variety Yetis; they’re actually humans, but ones who have been cybernetically and surgically altered, with armor plating welded to their joints and thighs and chests. Also their eyes have been replaced by “stereoscopic cameras” and their ears are “parabolic microphones,” and somehow Merlin is able to deduce that they are the work of Dr. Chen Yu, a Chinese scientist who was raised in the US but now has a hatred of Americans because his acupuncture-teaching father was ridiculed there(!).

Finally, John Eagle is called in. His mission is to venture to Base One in the Himalayas, hook up with Da Zara and his Sherpas, and locate Chen’s secret fortress, where he is creating these cyborg Yetis out of the locals. Oh, and Chen is the appropriately-psychotic villain pulp fiction demands…plus he has a gorgeous woman, nude and in chains, captive in his fortress. This is Susan Blackwood, a 27 year-old British Intelligence agent who was posing as a defecting college student in Peking. Elizabeth is kept tied up and constantly naked as part of a psychological campaign on Chen’s part; he wants to break Susan down and then turn her into a female cyborg Yeti! (Also, you’ve gotta love artist Sandy Kossin’s interpretation of Susan, on the lower left-hand corner of the cover; in the immortal words of Sir Mix-A-Lot, “baby got back!”)

Part of the series schtick is a healthy dose of adventure fiction, with Eagle testing himself against the elements. The Deadly Cyborgs is no different, with lots of detail about Eagle acclimating himself to the rigors of mountain-climbing in the Himalayas. Da Zara (who immediately thereafter drops out of the narrative) hooks Eagle up with two Sherpas, Ondi and Ang Dawa, who go off on a few weeks of mountain-climbing with Eagle. As expected this stuff is pretty egregious and uninteresting, but serves its purpose of page-filling. On and on it goes, overly detailed, but at least here this immaterial stuff only lasts for a few chapters, instead of the hundred pages of banal page-filler we got in The Ice Goddess.

After Eagle saves a thought-dead Ondi from an avalanche, the trio returns to Base One and merriment ensues, with the Sherpas breaking out Nepalese hash, “reputedly the strongest in the world.” We learn here that Eagle is “a moderate drinker” and smokes pot and hash “only as a social gesture.” When Anidede, the sexy and mini-skirted English-speaking sister of Ondi, waltzes up to Eagle and tells him she plans to have sex with him, and also that “To make love after hashish is very, very nice,” Eagle obviously makes an exception to the rule, toking right away with her.

Of the three series authors, Eiden writes the most explicit sex scenes. Here we not only get thorough description of Eagle’s shall we say finger-based explorations of Anidede’s sensitive region, but also lines like, “He slammed his shaft into her body and felt the immediate clonic spasms of her vulva.” Or even: “He hammered his shaft into her with stallion vigor until his own release came.” Man, that’s one slammed and hammered shaft! A later sex scene, the expected one between Eagle and the perennially-nude Susan Blackwood, is just as explicit, though Eiden like Stokes and Lory never goes for outright sleaze, instead couching the dirty stuff in a pseudo-“literary” feel.

Eagle’s so caught up with Anidede that he doesn’t learn until the next morning that the cyborgs have again attacked Base One. Here Eagle sees his first cyborg corpse in person, and Eiden does a nice job throughout capturing their eerie appearance, with their glowing “lidless eyes” which are cameras. After this Eagle hooks up again with the two Sherpas and sets off in pursuit; if he can track the surviving cyborgs, Eagle can find the secret base Dr. Chen is operating out of. Despite repeatedly stating that only large-caliber guns can take down the Yetis, Eiden still has the two Sherpas armed with nothing more than their standard carbines, and even more strangely Eagle is merely equipped with his typical C02-powered dart gun. Eagle also doesn’t make use of his chameleon suit, which is also strange given its heating properties.

The dart gun proves effective against the cyborg Yetis, though; Eagle and the two Sherpas come across a few of them as they’re in the process of attacking some helpless natives. Eagle’s steel “flechettes” blast right through the cyborg armor, and his headshots “jelly” their brains. But as expected Eagle ends up alone after this gory battle, and only here does he don his chameleon suit, which Eiden like Stokes fits with a helmet, rather than the hood Lory describes. (This though leads to some unintentional humor, as Eiden will write that Eagle has “locked in” the helmet, but then pages later he’ll have Eagle, his hands full, placing the dart gun between his “strong, white teeth.”)

Susan meanwhile has been going through her conditioning process, transported from a “hard cell” to a “soft cell,” the former the expected dungeon with chains, the latter an opulent bedroom with its own shower and bathroom. In between the drugs and the conditioning, Susan discovers she has a secret accomplice here: Markov, a KGB agent posing as one of the scientists in Chen’s lair. Markov is able to secretly slack off on Susan’s enforced drug regimen; there’s a goofy bit where we learn that Chen intends to dull her senses and play her films of “happy cyborgs” playing in the snow, so Susan will want to become one!

One thing I wish Eiden had exploited more in The Deadly Cyborgs is, well, the cyborgs themselves. Eagle gets in that brief skirmish with them, but then the threat moreso becomes the Chinese soldiers moving in on the area. Eagle doesn’t know it, but Chen has been declared insane by the Chinese government, who is sending in the troops to take over his fortress. Also instead of action we get lots of detail on how Eagle uses plastique to blow his way into an air shaft into the fortress, where he finds himself in a sub-corridor. 

Dispatching the two Chinese guards, Eagle runs into Susan Blackwood, who in true series style is so horny (merely from hearing Eagle speak English) that she throws herself on him, demanding that they screw, right here and now. Only after the “orgaic frenzy” does Eagle chastize himself for this lack of discipline, giving in to his lust in the middle of a mission. But then, we’ll recall that Eagle has often had sex with some random woman moments after infiltrating an enemy base (off the top of my head, there was #2: The Brain Scavengers and #3: The Laughing Death), so you have to wonder why he’s so hard on himself this time – but more importantly, this sort of nonsense, to me, only makes the series such escapist fun.

The climax sees Eagle, Markov, and a still-naked Susan (who despite being nude brandishes a Chinese “burp gun” in true Girls With Guns men’s adventure mag fashion) holding down the corridor while Chen sends cyborgs after them. Here finally we have more Eagle-vs.-cyborgs mayhem, with a handful of the massive Yetis attacking with violent results. Once again Eagle fires his darts point-blank into cyborg eyes and ears, but this time Eagle himself suffers serious damage, his right thumb nearly torn off by a Yeti claw. This lends tension to the finale, where for once Eagle is more desperate than usual, even struggling to load a new clip into his dart gun. (As for the thumb, the novel ends with Eagle figuring Merlin will have “the best surgeons in the world” fix it, but given the lack of continuity in the series, I’m betting the injury will never be mentioned again.) 

Eiden holds true to the other series tropes, with Eagle’s companions suffering even more drastically. Again though, this author shows a strange quirk for focusing on the wrong stuff. Instead of playing out more on battles with the Yetis and Dr. Chen, Eiden instead rushes through all of that and spends more time with Eagle wondering why he has such a strong hatred for Dr. Chen(?!). Eagle continues to ponder this for the last several pages, while we get more detail of how hard it is for him to sneak out of the base with his mangled hand. (Oh, and Eagle realizes on the last page that he hates Chen because Chen’s cyborg Yetis are an affront to nature!) I would’ve preferred more of the, you know, cyborg Yeti stuff, and less of the pointless introspection.

I think I say this every time, but this is my favorite men’s adventure series. Well, this and Andrew Sugar’s The Enforcer. But as I mentioned above John Eagle Expeditor is just pure escapist fun, so much so that you can overlook the occasional tendency to pad out the pages. The three authors more than make up for it with pulpy plotting, a lurid vibe, and lots of sex – and besides, there aren’t too many other series that would feature cyborg Yetis as the villains.


Trever Palmer said...

This book sounds great! I haven't read any in the series, but I might have to rectify that. Sounds like they deserve a day in court.

And mechanical Yetis! First thing I thought of was Steve Austin fighting the robotic Bigfoot on SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN (yes, I'm dating myself).

Joe Kenney said...

Trever, very ironic you should mention the Six Million Dollar Man, as just this past week I watched that show for the first time since I was a little kid. (I even had the toy with the "telescope" eye and that weird fake skin on the arm!)

But yeah, there definitely is that sort of feel to this volume of Expeditor, though obviously the book is more R-rated than the show ever was. And now that I think of it, Lee Majors circa '74-'75 would've made for a fine John Eagle if a movie had ever been made of the series.

Trever Palmer said...

Joe: I used to have that doll of Steve Austin, too! I always thought it was cool to stare through the eye.