Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Mind Masters #3: The Door

The Mind Masters #3: The Door, by John F. Rossmann
November, 1975 Signet Books

I'm still trying to figure out if the good outweighs the bad in the Mind Masters series. While I found the first volume to be a poorly-written bore, the second volume was an awesome blast of Eurocult sleaze. This third volume sadly returns to the sometimes-banal nature of the first volume, but occasionally brings back some of the sleazy nature of Shamballah.

If anything, the life of hero Britt St. Vincent is a hectic one. We learn that The Door takes place a mere week after the events in Shamballah (and Shamballah took place two weeks after Mind Masters #1!), and Britt and his fellow racing team/psychic investigators are already in Salisbury, England. The race takes up a large portion of the narrative this time; rather, I should say the preparation for the race.

I'm by no means a fan of Formula 1/NASCAR/etc, so this stuff really bored me -- and I don't exaggerate when I say that many, many scenes are nothing more than Britt and his team standing around in a garage and picking up screwdrivers (there's probably a Freudian element at play, I'm sure). As usual Rossmann's characters are a gabby bunch, and so again with The Door we have blocks and blocks of "dialog" in which the characters dump information upon one another in the baldest display of exposition I have ever encountered.

Beyond the exposition, Rossmann clumsily juggles too many plots. Is the concern here the psychic emanations from nearby Stonehenge? Or is it the massive power lines which are apparently sending the locals into fits of rage? Or is it Jack the frickin' Ripper, who apparently is alive and well and eating the livers of young women while they're having sex in the darkened moors of Salisbury? Actually The Door is about all of these things. Given that we have here the makings of three fairly interesting plots, you'd figure that the story would move, but The Door instead is the slowest-paced entry in the series yet, much more focused on Britt's conversations with a local professor who has been researching Stonehenge.

The professor has it that Stonehenge was a monument created by "ancient astronauts" (a topic which I hate to my core, mostly because it steals away mankind's gift for innovation and hands it to mythical, nonexistent aliens of the past) who, after their spaceship crashed, built the monument as a sign so the rest of the astronauts, scattered about the world as they bailed out of their crashing ships, could find their fellows and go home. Stonehenge then is "the door," a conduit through which the astronauts could astrally travel back to their home planet.

But even this storyline is a bit messy, because Rossmann (via his speaking conduit the professor) further states that the ancient astronauts were travling in "plasma form," which makes me wonder why they'd need a space ship. No matter, though -- the professor's theory is correct, of course, and there's actually a tunnel beneath the sacrificial stone in Stonehenge that leads to a cosmic pyrmaid...exactly like the one the mummified Nazi used "last week" in Shamballah!

If you are rolling your eyes at all of this, get prepared to roll them some more, because staggeringly enough The Door gets dumber. First though I need to tell you more about Jack the Ripper. Kept alive via the same "cosmic mummification" methods as seen in the previous volume (indeed, Jack just hangs out in the hidden cell beneath Stonehenge), the Ripper comes to every twenty-eight years to kill nubile women and eat their livers.

Britt comes upon these grisly murders shortly after meeting a cute American college student who comes by the garage, asking each of the racing team for their dates of birth. She's a gypsy, living near Stonehenge, and makes her living giving horoscopes; as Britt gives the girl, Kelly, a ride home, she tells him that another gypsy family has arrived on the scene, a mysterious one which sets off Britt's Spidey sense.

Previous novels were marked by some of the most extreme and explicit sex I've yet read in the men's adventure genre, in particular Shamballah, which was for the most part straight-up porn. The Door backtracks on this; you know of course that ladykiller Britt is going to have sex with Kelly, but Rossmann holds back until about seventy pages in. (This must be an unusual turn for Britt, given that in the previous volume -- remember, just "last week" -- he was having sex with his German girlfriend promptly after meeting her...not to mention going to a Black Mass orgy with her immediately afterwards.)

However when Rossmann does write the sex scene we're expecting, it's pretty weird; affected by those mysterious power lines as they sit in Britt's car, Kelly engages in a bit of "auto-erotica" as she screws the gearshift in Britt's car while going down on Britt himself. Personally I'd get the interior of the car cleaned after this, but Britt thinks nothing of it, more confused on why the two of them were so suddenly overcome by passion before passing out. Indeed there's a whole bunch of narratively-convenient passing out in The Door. Britt will often be on the cusp of discovering something, but then will pass out, coming to back in the garage or wherever.

As for those mysterious power lines, apparently they have been built by a corporation with government ties -- Rossmann (and his characters) are very concerned about psychic enslavement, and Britt's company the Mero Group is dedicated to preventing the governments of the world from taking over the minds of the people. Personally I find this naive; if we were to fear psychic enslavement from anyone it would be business corporations or advertisers. But the government is the bad guy in this series -- any government -- and I can respect that.

Anyway, Britt sort of wants to find out what's going on with those power lines that are driving the locals insane -- at one point he's even attacked by a friend of Kelly's and knocks the guy out, making him puke(!) -- but there's also this deal with the Ripper, and anyway Britt would rather go back and gab with the professor about ancient aliens or articles in Life magazine.

The Ripper stuff gets even goofier; attacked by the undead ghoul, Britt chases after him, firing "psychic blasts" from his eyeballs. The Ripper runs off for Stonehenge and Britt gives chase. Here he discovers the cell beneath the monument as well as the pyramid within. And there he finds the mummified Ripper, lying on the pyramid platform, as if asleep. What does Britt do? He basically just shrugs and then leaves!!

Read that again and let it sink in. This is yet more indication that Rossmann has a hard time working out drama or action. He comes up with interesting concepts but tosses them around, not tying anything together until narratively convenient. Britt doesn't destroy the Ripper here, of course, because Rossmann wants to save that for the finale. It doesn't matter, though, because the "power lines" plot sort of takes precedence at this point; Britt discovers that the other group of gypsies is really a ComBlock-trained team of psychic researchers. After another fight Britt is captured, as is Kelly.

As in the previous books, this develops into a James Bond-esque scenario where the villain unloads his beliefs and opinions on Britt for pages and pages. The lead villain is a Vietnamese politician who tries to get Britt to join his side while showing off his toys. Here the lurid vibe of Shamballah returns. This group has kidnapped pretty young local women so they can be sold as sex-slaves. First though the women must be trained. Britt watches on -- aroused, I must add -- as he is shown these bound and nude women as they are screwed by mechanical dildos!

But wait, there's more. The villain encourages Britt to take one of the girls for a test drive. So, while he and Britt lay near one another, screwing the bound and gagged women beneath them, the villain proceeds to talk for pages and pages about his plans for world conquest. The whole scene is staggering in a way. Oh, and I forgot to mention the psychic friggin' computer, which can read Britt's mind and so will know instantly if he's planning to escape; if Britt thinks any such thoughts, the computer will alert the villains, who will kill Kelly -- who, by the way, Britt is apparently starting to love, gearshift-screwing and all.

Britt of course manages escape, killing several of the villains and freeing some of the women, but there's still more of them out there. (Oh, and the Ripper, can't forget about him.) Here Britt becomes a full-on psychedelic superman; the scientist on his team has created pills which boost Britt's psychic powers so that he'll be able to unleash his eyebolts at whim. Britt heads back out into Stonehenge and psychically blows away more of the henchmen, blasting off arms and legs and even causing some of them to explode.

After which we come to the coolest scene in the novel -- as well as the dumbest. The Ripper attacks again, just happening along while Britt's otherwise busy with the ComBlock villains, and Britt goes after him. Chasing him back to the Stonehenge pyramid, Britt himself hops on the platform and voyages astrally into space! Without question the most psychedelic sequence I've read in an action series novel, this whole chapter is well-written and interesting. But then it gets dumb. Then it gets dumb in a big way.

A black hole sucks up the Ripper's astral body and Britt's in danger as well -- he's in a sort of plasma form, just like those damn ancient aliens, so he's susceptible to such things. Britt, about to die, calls out to God for help. And God helps him!! I was reminded of that scene in Blood Bath where Johnny Rock prayed to the Lord to give him the courage to continue feeding mobsters to his rats. (Okay, that never happened.)

Seriously though, it gets even dumber. Upon returning to his earthy form there in the Stonehenge pyramid, Britt proceeds to tell Kelly all about how great God is and how "He" has been unjustly ignored by the snobbish atheists who rule the modern world of science. He goes on like this for the whole chapter! I mean, it's all just...I don't even know what it is. I've never read Christian fiction, but I'd bet that even those authors would never pull such a narrative cop-out.

Anyway, I'm finally wrapping this up. Again Rossmann displays his uncertainty with dramatic structure; after doing away with the Ripper and the other villains, Britt just sort of sits around for the final quarter of the novel. Indeed most of it appears to be set-up for the next installmet, which sounds like it will be a return to the lurid bliss of Shamballah: Britt ventures to Brazil, where he will take on a tribe of psychic-powered Amazon beauties! Still, though, the denoument of The Door is just as lackluster as the first half, with lots of talking and thinking.

So like I wrote above, I'm not sure if the good outweighs the bad with this series. Some of the concepts are interesting, some are aggravating. The characters are lifeless and dull, able to spout out reams of info, no matter how obscure. (The only writer I know of who outdoes Rossmann in the bald exposition department would be Mark Ellis, writing as James Axler in the turgid Outlanders series, where bland, unlikable characters info-dump upon one another in a fashion that would sicken even the protagonists of CSI.) The lurid quotient has been somewhat diminished, replaced by a tepid sort of plodding tone, not to mention an unexpected and unwarranted venture into Christian fiction. In fact, despite the three separate plot lines, not much really happens in The Door, and it comes off as a nonentity in the series.

But for all that, The Mind Masters is still pretty entertaining in its own twisted way -- I mean, William Burroughs was even a fan!

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