Thursday, July 3, 2014

Jason Striker #6: Curse Of The Ninja

Jason Striker #6: Curse Of The Ninja, by Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes
December, 2001  Xlibris Books

The Jason Striker series came to an ignoble end in April, 1976, and for the next few decades our judo-loving, book-narrating hero was cast into limbo. Then in 2001 Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes self-published the series as three trade paperbacks; in the third volume they included the material they’d written back in late 1975 for the never-completed sixth (and final?) installment of the series. What’s interesting is that, other than being incomplete, Curse Of The Ninja is of a piece with those earlier volumes – just as clunky, arbitrary, and time-wasting. 

As we’ll recall, the previous volume ended with Jason Striker half-dead from a gallstone, abandoned on a wooden craft as it sailed down a river in the Amazon jungle. So then it only makes sense that this volume opens with a hale and hearty Striker competing in a judo tournament for the rokudan level of black belt! And familiar faces watch from the crowd, among them Thera Drummond (last seen in #3: The Bamboo Bloodbath) and Ilunga (last seen in #4: Ninja's Revenge). At first I hoped the previous two volumes had just been a dream, and that the series could continue on the enjoyable course of the first three volumes, but no; it turns out the judo tournament itself is the dream.

Striker wakes up in Miami, where he’s been living the past few months as “Caesar Kane,” a name he’s chosen for himself because – you guessed it – he has amnesia! Like the other novels, Curse Of The Ninja is written in first-person past tense, which makes for some pretty clunky narrative, ie “At that time however I did not remember who I was,” and the like. Anyway, Striker has somehow gotten to Florida, where he was found along the road (or something) by some dude who just offered Striker to sleep at his place until he got an apartment of his own. (And as for that gallstone, Striker discovers surgery scars on his abdomen, as if he’s recently undergone hasty, emergency surgery…)

But Striker knows where his priorities lay, and soon enough visits a judo dojo, compelled there by his dream; the people watching him in the crowd in that dream, of course, are now mysteries to his conscious mind, and he has no knowledge that he’s actually a judo master. But in the class he gets tossed around, still finding that he’s capable of doing things which seem fantastic. Of course, who gives a damn about all of this stuff anyway; it’s pointless, and we want to continue with the storyline that’s been developing since the fourth volume, if for no other reason than to see the damn thing through.

However, “plot development” is relegated to Striker’s dreams, in which we get flashbacks to stuff that happened toward the end of Amazon Slaughter but wasn’t actually detailed in that book. For example, we’ll recall how in the end of that fifth volume Striker and Dulce came upon a tribe of headhunters in the Amazon, and how these people were greatly impressed by Striker’s judo skills. In one of these dream sequences, we see that the tribe chief insisted that Striker sleep with his private harem of five women. A very explicit sex scene ensues, Striker finding out at the last moment that he’s expected to have sex with all five, one after another, or he might be killed.

And just when Striker’s spirits are flagging, so to speak, that mystical ki power hits him and he’s ready for action again! This sequence is very lurid and exploitative, with the last girl in the harem a prepubscent virgin! It’s just kind of, oh…off-putting. Oh, and afterwards, snapped out of his ki-madness thanks to the arrival of Dulce (who takes Striker’s mass-screwing in stride, even though at the beginning of the scene Striker was afraid to sleep with the harem, for fear of invoking a jealous Dulce’s wrath), Striker looks upon the harem and sees that the first four women are in reality all fat, old, and ugly…and he has to inform us how the child member has been harmed by his member (which we’re further informed is “in proportion” to Striker’s body, but still damn huge when compared to these jungle Indians).

I’ve really disliked this “Black Castle/jungle Indians” storyline which began in the fourth volume, mostly due to the way it’s been told, but anyway I hoped to get some resolution out of it, or at least the satisfaction that it had been building up toward something. But my friends, the authors instead fill endless pages with am amnesiac Jason Striker learning judo…a-and having super-explicit sex with a woman named Susan who might know who he really is…a-and roofing a house!! All that shit that occurred in the previous two books – Fu Antos and his Black Castle, Mirabal and his plotting, Dulce and her sacrifice to stay with Fu Antos, etc, etc – all of it is just brushed to the side, as if it never happened, so we can instead read all about “Caesar Kane’s” endless struggles in learning judo. And roofing houses.

Finally Striker takes a fall and hits his head and guess what, remembers who he is. This is unfortunately after too, too many pages have elapsed. Now he realizes that Susan was once a student of his, and apparently she’s been with him these weeks because she had a secret crush on him and so took advantage of his amnesiatic status. Or something. Anyway, Striker makes a brief phone call back home, talking to Ilunga – her short and unfortunately final appearance in the series – and decides to once again head down into the damn Amazon to wrap up this whole business with Fu Antos. And Susan, of course, offers to go along, even offering the services of her motor home.

And yet, even here the authors dawdle. Even as Striker heads for a final confrontation with his enemy, we get inconsequential stuff like Striker meeting up with on old judo pal, whose dojo they happen to pass by on the road. The closer we get to the finale, the less material there is, with the authors informing us in brackets of sections that were never written. But here’s the thing – the unwritten stuff sounds miles better than the shit they actually did write! This is especially true of the unwritten conclusion, which is presented in a synopsis, in which we learn that: “The Black Castle has been built on the site of ancient ruins; there is evidence of alien visitation from space, millennia ago. There are strange things here, and Fu Antos is reconstructing the secret science of these aliens, augmenting his own weird physical and mental powers fantastically.” These two sentences are more interesting than the entirety of Curse Of The Ninja.

The authors state that they stopped writing in December 1975, when word came from Berkley that the series was finished. They don’t make it clear if Curse Of The Ninja was originally envisioned as the series finale, but it works that way, for at least so far as the summary goes, Striker is nearly killed by Fu Antos, who magically strips Striker of his judo knowledge. However that overlong opening sequence comes into play here, because Striker – when he was “Caesar Kane” – became a judo white belt, and thus is able to remember enough of the martial arts to best Fu Antos in combat. Then the Indians rise up and destroy the Black Casle. As for what happened to Mirabal, Dulce, Susan, Striker’s people back home, and etc, none of it is answered – though we do get the inane information that Susan is in fact married and has been using Striker for “illicit adventure.”

But anyway the series concludes with a victorious Striker realizing that not only has he finally overcome the voodoo curse he gained in the previous volume, but also that the “scars” of his encounters with it and Fu Antos “will remain as long as Jason Striker lives.” To fill out the rest of the book, the authors include various articles they wrote for Marvel’s Deadly Hands Of Kung Fu magazine, as well as a few short stories featuring Hiroshi, the akido master who appeared throughout the series. There’s also other material, like stuff about Roberto Fuentes’s time as a Cuban revolutionary, as well as various proposals and etc, none of which I read.

But that’s that for the Jason Striker series. And what a strange trip it was. The first three novels, while at times goofy and clunky, were a lot of fun, like vintage ‘70s kung fu movies on paper. But then the next three volumes took a sudden and ultimately irreparable dive. Plotting, characterization, resolution, all of it was jettisoned, and really I can’t think of anything positive to say about these final three volumes. So then, I’d recommend if you do decide to someday check out this series, just stick with the first three volumes. You’ll thank me!

1 comment:

halojones-fan said...

See I always thought that the weird underage sex stuff in the later volumes of the Xanth series were just Piers Anthony running off the rails. Now I get an idea that he was just *like* that...