Thursday, June 16, 2016

Cybernarc #3: Island Kill

Cybernarc #3: Island Kill, by Robert Cain
April, 1992  Harper Books

The Cybernarc series continues to capture the vibe of a late ‘80s action movie with this third volume, however there’s something a bit subdued and padded about the proceedings, as if Wiliam H. Keith (aka “Robert Cain”) were losing steam. While I greatly enjoyed the first two volumes, Island Kill sort of tried my patience. 

For one, it misses the greatest feature of those first two volumes: the growing camaraderie of heroes Lt. Chris Drake and RAMROD, ie “Rod,” ie “The Cybernarc.” Their humorous bantering at times reached the level of Remo and Chiun in The Destroyer, only based more on respect and friendship than on insults. But this time Drake and Rod only exchange a handful of lines, with Keith pulling an unusual trick by keeping Drake off-page for much of the novel and making Rod the star of the show. Again Keith makes the reader forget that Rod isn’t human; only at times when he focuses his eyes on something far away or puzzles over some latest human mystery does the reader remember that Rod’s just a bunch of circuits.

But that humorous rapport is gone in Island Kill, and the book suffers. Indeed, Keith at times attempts to add a troubling confrontational aspect to their relationship, with Rod at times disobeying Drake’s orders (to save Drake’s life, that is) and Drake occasionally wondering what would happen if Rod were ever to go crazy or something and come after Drake himself. All of that heroic sacrifice from the previous two books, like when Drake or Rod would go through hell to save one another at any cost, is also gone this time. For the most part this one’s just a standard action tale with heavy anti-drug sermonizing and a robot protagonist. Otherwise it’s run of the mill late ‘80s/early ‘90’s action pulp, neutered stuff when compared to the sleazy and lurid examples of the genre from a decade or two before.

Another sign of the times is that Cybernarc is beginning to become more and more like military fiction. The men’s adventure genre didn’t completely die in the early ‘90s; it got a makeover and lost the pulp stuff, replacing it with a lot of military acronyms and SEAL team protagonists or whatever. Such is the case here, with Island Kill stuffed to the wazoo with lots of military terminology and tactics sprinkled throughout. This again makes one wonder what the originally-envisioned series might have been like, as mentioned in my review of the first volume, with the “whacked-out Vietnam vet” building his own robot to kill the drug dealers of the world. Now that wouldn’t have been military fiction! But it sure would’ve been fun.

Unfortunately, “fun” is what’s missing from this third volume. It’s all too serious throughout, starting with the kidnapping of a senator and his wife in the Bermuda Triangle and leading to one sprawling action scene after another. Part of the uber-seriousness is courtesy Drake, who as we’ll recall still suffers from the horrific murder of his wife and teenaged daughter in that first installment. I’m starting to think this was a mistake on Keith’s part, giving us a co-protagonist who is so emotionally shattered. For once again there’s absolutely no sex, with Drake razor-focused on killing drug dealers and with little interest in women given his recent nightmare. Speaking of which, Ramona Montalva, the sexy villainess from #2: Gold Dragon, doesn’t appear and isn’t even mentioned this time.

Anyway, Island Kill takes place in the Bahamas, where Rod and Drake (I always want to type “Rod and Tod”) are sent after the abduction of Congressman Rutherford. The politician has been taken captive by Carlos Ferre, a coke-paranoid drug kingpin who rules his own island empire called Pirate’s Cay. The titular “island,” Pirate’s Cay only has a few natives, most of whom are American transplants and all of whom are basically hostages here, unable to leave and forced to work for Ferre. Keith spends a lot of time jumping into the various perspectives of these one-off characters, particularly one of Ferre’s subordinates, and it comes off like what it is: padding. The book runs to a too-long 213 pages of small print, and a lot of it’s inconsequential.

One thing that returns is the gore factor, present last time but greatly reduced from the blood-drenched onslaught of the first volume. Once again Rod smashes heads apart with his bare hands, Keith gleefully detailing the cascading brains and skull-shards each and every time. Likewise the frequent gunfights are also gore-drenched, in particular the climactic assault on Pirate’s Cay, where Rod, in Battle Mod, hefts a XM-214 minigun and blasts various gunners into “red mist.” In fact the rampant violence is about the only fun factor in Island Kill, as it all has the uber-gory vibe of Paul Verhoven at his most unhinged. Again, Cybernarc would’ve made for a great film.

As mentioned Rod is for the most part the star of the show. Throughout the book he’s ditching Drake and running off to monitor Ferre’s operations, usually pulling off his own assaults in the process. But again Keith does a great job of showing how inhuman our hero is, in particular when it comes to his patience; there’s a part where Rod sneaks onto Pirate’s Cay and just sits around for a day or so without moving. Not to mention when he hooks himself to the bottom of a boat during a drug run or walks around on the seabed. This time we also get the unveiling of Rod’s latest app: Sea Mod, which is a sea sled attachment for his Battle Mod. This is briefly used when he and Drake head to Pirate’s Cay for the climactic assault, which comprises the final quarter of the novel.

Keith also includes a new subplot featuring Weston, the shady CIA rep in charge of the RAMROD project. Turns out a lot of politicians in Washington are dirty, in the pockets of the various drug lords, and they’re trying to close down “White Sanction,” ie the RAMROD kingpin-assassination operation. Otherwise Keith doesn’t pick up many threads from the previous two volumes, with more focus placed on the Pirate’s Cay characters and long action sequences. And we get a bunch of them, from an opening jungle fight in Columbia to Rod taking out scores of henchmen, including crooked cops, on some Florida docks. The action is very well handled, with as mentioned copious gore, but again it lacks the emotional connection of the two earlier books.

The novel ends with a new direction in the lives of our two heroes: White Sanction must go underground, reporting directly to the President now that it’s officially off the records and condemned by the House of Representaties as illegal. Also Drake and Rod move to Pirate’s Cay, freed from Ferre’s yoke, its natives eager to help out in the drug war. Here’s hoping the next volume reaches the heights of the first two books, though.

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