Monday, October 10, 2011

The Mind Masters #2: Shamballah

The Mind Masters #2: Shamballah, by John Rossmann
April, 1975 Signet Books

Prepare yourself for a sanity-shattering orgy of Satanic sex and hellish mind-violence as you descend with Britt to the ultimate depths of evil.

With back cover copy like that, how can a book fail?? (I especially like how they didn't even finish the sentence with the expected exclamation point.) And I'm happy to say that for the most part Shamballah lives up to that lurid back cover promise. While it still has its problems, it's much better than the exposition-laden banality that was Mind Masters #1.

It's a mere two weeks after that previous novel and our hero, Britt St. Vincent, is now in Germay. As you'll recall, Britt is a famous race car driver who competes all over the world, but his real job is as a sort of psi-detective for the mysterious Mero Group. Mero is dedicated to battling against the threat of the psychic enslavement of mankind, and one of their methods is attempting to contact the dead to gain their aid in the battle. Hence, Britt uses his cover as a famous racer to hop about Europe so he can investigate haunted locales -- fortuitously, it appears that most of Europe's racing centers happen to be in the same areas as places that are supposedly haunted.

The latest race is through a Hitler-designed course than runs through the Black Forest; the course passes by a castle which the locals claim is haunted. What's strange is that wrecks are notorious on this course, particularly on the circuit that passes directly beneath the castle. Britt takes his fancy ghostbusting equipment (which of course is explained to death) and sneaks into the castle to take a reading -- that is, after he's had sex with his Satan-worshiping German girlfriend.

Oh, I forgot to mention her? Shamballah is without a doubt the most "Eurocult" novel I've ever read. I'm surprised some European director didn't buy the rights (or just steal the concept) and make a psychedelic softcore porn flick out of it. Britt's German galpal, Gretchen, is a local who, like all the other girls around here, are members of a Satanic coven. They're all also dropdead gorgeous, and like to congregrate inside the castle, nude save for animal masks, and conduct orgies with local men. Britt and a fellow racer are invited.

Britt ditches Gretchen while the orgy is in progress, sneaking away to set up his ghost equipment, but he returns in time for the Satanic mass. The Eurocult goodness goes full tilt here, with a sequence that culminates in the ritual deflowering of a local girl via a flame-heated gold phallus! After paying respects to the castle's "ghost," the Satanists resume their orgy, but Britt again buzzkills the fun; he wants to check on his equipment.

After a brief psi-battle with a mysterious figure, Britt returns to his hotel and goes about preparing for the race. He notices something strange about Gretchen, however -- when they have sex (which is often -- and graphically-depicted!), Britt starts to feel a sort of panic descend upon him as he reaches orgasm. When during the latest humping he sees a horned demon start to materialize in the corner, Britt knows for sure something's up. It turns out Gretchen has some sort of crystal implanted in her back; Britt snaps it, the horned demon disappears, and a tranced Gretchen gets up, dresses, and staggers for the castle. Britt follows.

Turns out there's a hidden complex beneath the castle. Britt, sneaking in behind Gretchen, is instantly caught by the master of the place -- Heinrich Weissmann, SS bastard who has commanded the castle since WWII. The complex is named "Shamballah," and it is run by a bevy of brainwashed and nude women. Weissmann certainly knows how to live, it seems, and he glories in showing off his handiwork to Britt. Weissman too is a psi-warrior (he was of course the msyterious figure who fought Britt the night before), and with his HAL-type computer he plans to mentally enslave the world and bring back the Nazi reich.

You know those cliched scenes in the James Bond movies where the villain captures Bond and then proceeds to tell him all of his plans instead of killing him? Well, Rossmann takes the cliche to a laughable extreme -- the ensuing conversation between Britt and Weissmann runs for 80 pages! And these are exposition-heavy pages, with actual articles and books referenced. It's all nearly as bad as the exposition in Mind Masters #1, but I must admit that a lot of it is pretty interesting. For Rossmann lays down some Heavy Stuff here, from how to get rid of ghosts, to the occult origins of the Nazis, to even theories about ancient astronauts and the true functions of the Egyptian pyramids!

Sadly, the climax isn't all it could've been, with Britt for once using his race driver pose to save the day, literally racing to save the life of a visiting German official. For a men's adventure series, there isn't much action in the Mind Masters novels; Britt doesn't shoot or even punch anyone, and mostly spends his time firing "psychic blasts" or running away from villains. Or, best of all, having sex with his Satanic girlfriend.

Again Rossmann writes in present-tense and, what with the Nazis and the occult talk, it makes the novel read like Gravity's Rainbow Lite. But still he has shaky command of the tense, using too many passive verbs (ie "Britt is thinking," etc) when active ones would be much better suited. And while the exposition is toned down a bit, characters still enjoy spouting off for endless blocks of paragraphs about gadgets, beliefs, or what have you. Rossmann also has a strange habit of referring to parts of Britt's anatomy (particularly his brain) as if they were separate from him, but I think he has esoteric reasons for this.

And the sleaze level is through the roof -- in the Shamballah sequence, Weissmann has one of his nude women pour Britt some coffee, and when Britt asks for cream, the woman squeezes her breasts and voila, cream is served! Since the woman is not described as pregnant, or having been pregnant, I'm pretty certain this is a biological impossibility. But what the hell, it was still pretty cool in its sleaziness. And as mentioned, the sex scenes between Britt and Gretchen are quite thorough in explaining everything that happens, as it happens.

So, a much better installment in the series, with somewhat tighter writing and a great Eurocult vibe. But even still Rossmann delivers some unintentional howlers, a few of which I'd like to share with you:

Britt hands the amazing man a screwdriver. (Pg. 23)

His heart gives a sudden thump, and Britt feels a tightness high up between his hungry thighs: Damn! I haven't had a woman for nearly a week! (Pg. 48)

Mummies! exclaims Britt's mind. "Mummies?" he repeats aloud. (Pg. 59)

Thud! Bam! "Hilf!" (Pg. 204)

And no -- there's no character in the novel named "Hilf!" I mean, wtf?


Cullen Gallagher said...

Man, this sounds alternately amazing and frustrating. That 80 pages of exposition would likely sink me, but then that amazing man with a screwdriver would make me go "Hiff"!

JD Rhoades said...

You had me at "flame heated golden phallus."

AndyDecker said...

Hmm, without context I risk a guess and say that "Hilf" is supposed to be german for "Help". As no one of these writers could be bothered to look into a dictionary, this falls right into the "Ve haf vays of making you talk" kind of speech.

But this sounds truly mental. In the seventies the Black Forest was full of hidden castles manned by 70 years old SS psychos, not to mention racetracks. ROTLF. And I thought only Rosenberger had these over the top ideas.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Another great review. The milk scene made me laugh out loud.

One minor nitpick about grammar. I'm not sure that "Brett is thinking" is an example of the passive tense. It's just a present participle, no? I do think your point is still solid, that it's a slightly weaker way to use the present tense, I'm just not sure that is considered the passive voice.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks all for the comments. AndyDecker, can't believe that "hilf" being German for "help" never occured to me. My German ancestors would be consumed with rage. OlmanFellyus, what I probably should have written is that Rossmann could have better used more active verbs/phrases such as "Britt thinks," "Britt runs," etc. With the constant "Britt IS" stuff, it gets to be like a "See spot run" sort of thing. At the very least, it gets pretty annoying after 220+ pages!

Felicity Walker said...

It could be really passive and be “…is being thought by Britt”! ☻

Cowboy Yogi said...

I'm reading it right now. The present tense is very odd, like reading a choose your own adventure book.