Wednesday, May 30, 2012

C.A.D.S. #1

C.A.D.S. #1, by John Sievert
November, 1985 Zebra books

Here's another series I was familiar with as a kid in the '80s, but given the uniform cover design of the books -- each with some sort of high-tech gun floating against a blank background -- I assumed it was a military sci-fi series. Little did I know that it was actually a post-nuke pulp, let alone that author "John Sievert" was a psuedonym for Ryder Stacy, aka Ryder Syvertsen and Jan Stacy...the creators/authors of Doomsday Warrior! Indeed, this series ran at the same time, and was nearly as successful, lasting an impressive 12 volumes.

It's my understanding that Ryder Stacy collaborated on this first volume, just as they did on each volume of Doomsday Warrior. So then there's the same dichotomy in C.A.D.S. #1, going from goofy action scenes with clunky writing (Jan Stacy) to New Age-esque character instrospection with great writing (Ryder Syvertsen). I've read that future volumes were written by Syvertsen alone, who handled the series up until volume #9, when it was taken over by none other than David Alexander! So then with C.A.D.S. we have a post-nuke series written by the three best writers in the post-nuke biz; what more could you ask for?

This first volume is very similar to Doomsday Warrior #1. It takes its time setting up the scene, introducing the characters, and getting the ball rolling, but once it does, it veers directly into the madness and the insanity. And, like that first Doomsday Warrior, C.A.D.S. #1 is just too damn long for its own good. The book is 400 pages, which is much too long for an action-series novel in my opinion. As a result the novel is chaotic, all over the place, jumping from characters to incidents with little rhyme or reason. In fact the central plot of the tale -- the untried C.A.D.S. team rescuing the President, who may or may not be alive -- is lost for the duration of the novel, while Ryder Stacy instead entertain us with their patented lurid thrills.

The book opens in the "future" of 1997, one in which the USSR is still around, and still engaged in peace talks with the US. However we learn that the Soviets, of course, are planning a surprise attack on the gullible Americans. While the US President and Soviet Premiere plan a new era of peace, the Premiere meanwhile backs the total destruction of the US, sending out legions of nuclear subs while swearing to the Americans that nothing untoward is going on. However in their secret Air Force base in New Mexico, the members of the top-secret C.A.D.S. project suspect otherwise, in particular their leader, Colonel Dean Sturgis, who is certain that nuclear war is imminent.

C.A.D.S. stands for Computerized Attack/Defense Systems, and basically they're seven foot-tall armored suits that fire "E-balls" (ie explosives), machine guns, flamethrowers, etc. Description is vague but apparently the suits look like those worn by astronauts, only black instead of white, complete with the same visored dome, only the C.A.D.S. ones are red. The suits can't fly, but they can take to the air in very high leaps, which we're told eventually runs out the gas supply.

In point of fact these suits, as described, are impossible constructions; we're informed that each suit-wearer has at his command enough power to destroy an entire army, with a nigh-endless supply of ammunition and explosives, not to mention fuel and etc. There's just no way a suit could hold all of that stuff and still afford the maneuverability and aerodynamic qualities Ryder Stacy detail here. But then, I'm overthinking. Like everything else I've read by these authors, C.A.D.S. #1 is basically an R-rated Saturday morning cartoon.

The suits come complete with a computerized interface which provides a plethora of intel, scanning and tracking realtime and reporting it back to the wearer. Also there's a sort of AI setup which, when activated, can provide the wearer with realtime battle strategy. But the main point of the suits is that they can weather the atmosphere of radioactive wastelands. Given the military-wide opinion that a nuclear war with Russia is forthcoming, the Air Force brass sees the C.A.D.S. as having the potential of acting as first-line defense in a post-nuke battle arena. However as the series opens the suits are still in prototype stage.

Around 200 soldiers make up the C.A.D.S. force, racking up practice hours but having zero actual combat experience. Dean Sturgis heads them up and acts as the protagonist, but as with the Doomsday Warrior books there are a lot of characters in play. Sturgis though is your typical men's adventure hero, a grizzled veteran who constantly runs afoul of authority and knows that the only correct way to do things is his own. He lives on the base in a perpetual bad mood, mostly because he knows that the world is about to end, but also because he's worried about his ex-wife, Robin, whom Sturgis still loves, and indeed has reconnected with. Sturgis has constantly put his career ahead of his personal life, but now, in his mid-30s, he's getting second thoughts, and wonders if he should say the hell with the Air Force life and just go be with Robin.

The nuclear war of course changes all this, but as mentioned it takes a long time to happen. The missiles don't hit until around page 100, and before that we have lots of character and scene-building, in particular lots of stuff with the President and his staff worrying over the possibility that "the Reds" might have something up their sleeves. The authors hopscotch among a huge cast of characters, playing it all up like a suspense thriller, with the occasional interlude of Sturgis and his comrades field-testing their suits. Then the Russians launch their attack, successfully blocking retaliatory strikes from the US while blasting the majority of the country to radioactive bits with a hundred or so nuclear hits.

But once nuclear war has been waged Ryder Stacy kick in with the OTT insanity we know and love from Doomsday Warrior. Seriously, we go from a novel about politicians fretting over possible war to scenes of mental patients shackling up their former doctors and "curing" them with sadistic methods of torture. The book, while enjoyable crazy, actually suffers from this, given the somewhat serious tone of the opening hundred pages -- the ensuing chaos seems to come from a different novel.

The Russians hit Washington, DC with a few neutron bombs; we're told these will kill people but leave real estate undamaged. This is the same thing the Russians did in Doomsday Warrior, and for the same reason -- they plan to take over the country, using DC as their own capitol. The President happened to be in the bunker beneath the White House when the bombs hit, and word is that he might still be alive, trapped down there. Communication of course is sketchy in the post-nuke US, and only the one message got through. Nevertheless it's enough for what remains of the US government to order in a team to find and rescue the President.

No better job could be suited for the C.A.D.S. force. Having survived the war unscathed, their base in the middle of nowhere, the soldiers put on their suits and break up into three large squads, each taking a different route through the blasted US, to reconvene in DC at an appointed time, where they will unite and take on any Russian defenses as they save the President. Sturgis heads up the main team; that is, after he's let out of the brig.

In a stirring scene, Sturgis, being informed that war is finally occurring, calls Robin (who lives in the middle of a city), and tells her to get out of there asap. Sturgis has fashioned a bomb shelter/cabin in the middle of the upstate woods, and he tells Robin that he will meet her there. But as he's flying away in a commandeered plane, going AWOL, Sturgis sees a nuclear blast on the horizon and knows the time has come, that war is here. He cannot abandon his soldiers. He turns the plane around, turns himself in to the guards, and as mentioned is put in the brig.

When Sturgis and his team set out across the US, the novel takes on more of an episodic feel. On the long journey to DC they encounter militias, mental patients, Cuban soldiers who pose as American GIs, bikers, Russian soldiers, and even the Soviet models of the C.A.D.S. suits. That's not to mention the scenes from the perspectives of the Russian invaders, who deal with the patriotic fervor of the unbeaten American survivors; as in Doomsday Warrior, there are many scenes where downtrodden American masses rise up and kill their better-equiped Soviet enemies.

The action scenes are frequent and fun, if (as expected with these authors) ungrounded in any kind of reality. Sturgis and his squad are wholly dependent upon their C.A.D.S. suits, which admittedly is the point of the novel but ultimately detracts from it. Sturgis, I'm betting, couldn't hold his own against most men's adventure protagonists, and indeed is rendered powerless without his suit. However those fearing a military sci-fi sort of thing need not be concerned -- the focus here is on OTT action, with Sturgis and his soldiers only using their suits to decimate less-equiped enemies, most of whom are drug-addled bikers or whatnot. In other words, there isn't much focus on high-tech nonsense or what-have-you. It's all as believeable as the old GI Joe cartoon, only with a lot more violence.

A definite lurid vibe runs through the novel. In particular with the opressors who arise in the wake of the nukes; there's a bit early on where a gang kidnaps the children of a small town and starts torturing them. The already-mentioned mental patients stuff is especially wacky and sick. And it wouldn't be a Ryder Stacy novel if there wasn't a goofy but explicit sex scene. After freeing a West Virginia town from Cuban invaders (!), Sturgis and his crew are treated to a barn dance. The local women throw themselves at the men; one of the local women, an 18 year-old virgin (of course), takes hold of Sturgis and forces herself upon him. Though he puts up a bit of a moral struggle, thinking about Robin, he of course gives in, and the purple prose ensues.

Robin also has her share of the narrative. Making it to the bomb shelter after all (Sturgis spends the novel not knowing if she survived or not), she deals with her sudden solitude as well as the drastically-changed world she now lives in. It seems clear that this is being set up as the running storyline in the series: Will Sturgis and Robin find one another? What makes it annoying though is that, toward the very end of the novel, Sturgis finally gets to that bomb shelter, he's not even a mile from Robin, and then he receives a distress call from his squad and has to leave! It's a total cop-out of a scene, and reminded me of the similarly-annoying stuff from the Last Ranger series (also apparently written by Ryder Stacy) where the main character kept looking for (and then losing) his damn sister.

Finally, the authors get to work in their trademark irreverent spirit, with lots of dark humor and subtle parodies of the jingoistic fervor common in men's adventure novels (ie, the jingoism that caused the nuclear war in the first place). In particular they demonstrate this in the finale when, to save the President, the C.A.D.S. team actually destroys the White House! The authors also as expected make the invading Russians appropriately despotic and decadent, hating the Americans so much that they're dedicated to killing every single one of them.

So then, another fun but overlong Ryder Stacy excursion into insanity. It wasn't as great as any of the Doomsday Warrior novels I've read, but then, not many books are.


Peter Brandvold said...

This sounds GREAT! And I love that cheesie 80's cover though I would have hated it back then... I'll have to read this while listening to the Scorpions or Pat Benatar.

Pete B.

Unknown said...

Man. I was in 6th grade and a friend of mine, in what I now refer to as the 'sci-fi' club for simplicity, was reading CADS #1. I thought it was great (of course the scene at the barn dance counted for a significant portion of that assessment). I didn't realize this was a series, and with the trouble I've had today trying to find it I was worrying the whole memory was a fabrication. Can't wait to re-read this!

Joe Kenney said...

Michael Henry, thanks for the comment, loved to hear how the barn dance scene added to your club's enjoyment of the book! And also thanks for reminding me about this series; I see it's been over a year since I read this first volume, so I need to move on to #2!