Thursday, September 8, 2016

Six Million Dollar Man #1: Wine, Women And War

Six Million Dollar Man #1: Wine, Women And War, by Mike Jahn
No month stated, 1975  Warner Paperback Library

Based on the second Six Million Dollar Man telemovie, Wine, Women And War was courtesy Mike Jahn (sometimes credited as “Michael Jahn”), a prolific author who went on to write as many Six Million Dollar Man novels as series creator Martin Caidin himself. And speaking of Caidin, Jahn in his tie-ins pulled an interesting trick: while all his novels were episode adaptations, Jahn’s version of protagonist Steve Austin was actually based on the character in Caidin’s original novels, not the more family-friendly hero played by Lee Majors in the TV show.

To wit, the Steve Austin of Wine, Women and War is more along the lines of Nick Carter; a good guy who has a dark side, and who doesn’t mind disposing of his enemies in sadistic ways. Also, “Austin” (as Jahn refers to him in the narrative) in the novels has a different bionic makeup: it’s his left arm that’s bionic, rather than the right of the show, and the same for his left eye. Also, the novel version of Austin can store things in his bionic legs: a laser, a radio, and most interestingly a scuba air hose and face mask, for use in underwater missions. He also has a C02-powered gun hidden in the middle finger of his left hand which fires poison darts, which is reminiscent of the “gas gun” used in John Eagle Expeditor.

Indeed, Jahn’s approach to the character is very much in the mold of the series books “produced” by Lyle Kenyon Engel, and Jahn’s prose is also in the same “BCI style” of all those Engel ghostwriters. This novel, despite its origins as a TV movie tie-in, reads more like an installment of Nick Carter: Killmaster or John Eagle Expeditor, and Jahn has done a wonderful job of making it all appear like an original work. Wisely, he’s toned down the Roger Moore-esque quips of Glen Larson’s script and boosted the action to blockbuster proportions, and with his Caidin-faithful version of Steve Austin he delivers a protagonist who comes off as grim, laconic, and witty all at once.

I’ve wondered why Engel never tried to rip off The Six Million Dollar Man with his own series – it’s debatable if some of John Eagle’s gadgets were lifted from the Caidin novels – but Jahn’s Wine, Women And War gives a good idea of what such a series might have been like. In fact it’s frustrating that Jahn never got to write original stories for this tie-in series, however it appears that all four of his novels differed in some fashion from the episodes they were based on, in some cases even changing the climaxes. It would’ve been cool to see what he was capable of doing with a story of his own, though.

At any rate, Wine, Women And War comes off as a more adult (or perhaps more mature) version of the sometimes-campy TV movie. Other than Steve Austin’s occasional one-liner or quip (some of which do indeed appear in the book, including the infamous “Sorry to violate your porthole”), the tone of the book is straight and serious. It opens in Alexandria, where Austin has been sent on his latest mission, which is to break into a yacht owned by an arms dealer named Arlen Findletter and steal the book that’s supposed to be inside it.

Austin here is neither a veteran spy master nor the heroic do-gooder of the series; he has the same backstory, that of an astronaut turned flight pilot who was rebuilt bionically after a horrendous crash, but he’s rather new to the spy game and indeed isn’t even put in charge of the book’s main assignment, used more as an unwitting dupe. It’s also worth noting that Jahn has retained the same agency name from Caidin’s original books: Austin here works for the OSO, not the more famous OSI of the TV series. However Oscar Goldman is introduced here, same as in the TV movie, but it’s noted that he’s the “right-hand man” of OSO chief McKay (aka Darrin McGavin in the first TV movie). 

Jahn capably brings us into Steve Austin’s world with a modicum of well-crafted prose; within just a few paragraphs we have a good understanding of Austin’s background and his strange, bionic augmentations. Jahn displays this capable pulp writing throughout the book, always keeping things moving. Soon enough Austin, onboard a party on another yacht, has sent off Tamara, a recent bedmate and the daughter of “the Pasha of Calib,” and then he’s rooting around the “plastiskin seals” on his right thigh and pulling out scuba gear so he can infiltrate Findletter’s yacht and break the safe on it.

As mentioned, this version of Austin kills with ease – indeed, there are parts where he toys with his victims before killing them, very much like John Eagle. Boarding Findletter’s boat and finding the safe empty, Austin takes out two guards, killing one of them with the safe itself, which he hurls as if it weighs nothing. He even relishes the idea of getting revenge on the “sons of bitches” for the empty safe, setting an explosive beneath Findletter’s yacht and happily watching as it explodes – with some occupants still on it.

But when Austin gets back to OSO HQ in D.C. he’s crestfallen to learn that Tamara is dead – likely tortured to death by Findletter in an attempt to find out all she knew about the strange American she was recently seen with, ie Austin himself. Oscar Goldman makes his sole appearance here, and he’s more of a crafty, devious spymaster than the affable “pal” of the series; again, much like the version of the character in the TV movie itself, only more duplicitous. We also see Dr. Rudy Wells, scientist responsible for Austin’s bionic makeover, who is aware of Goldman’s duplicity with their “six million dollar man” but can do nothing about it.

As in the TV movie, Austin is hoodwinked into thinking he’s broken free of OSO to take an impromptu vacation in Paradise Cay, an edenic island in the Bahamas. However he’s been set up by his pal, Harry Donner, who turns out to be working under the orders of Oscar Goldman – Donner also turns out to be the chief spy working on this assignment, which again has to do with Findletter. Gradually we’ll learn the villain has stolen nukes from both the US and the USSR and plans to sell them to the highest bidder.

An unwitting Austin heads on to Paradise Cay, inadvertently offending a hotstuff Russian gal who happens to be sitting beside him on the plane; humorously, he mistakes her for a whore Donner has set him up with. Soon enough though Austin meets another babe: Cynthia “Cyn” Holland, an attractive helicopter pilot who lives in the Bahamas and who claims to be Donner’s friend. Immediately she’s hanging out with Austin in Donner’s deluxe pad and offering to mix up some of the “moonshots” Austin is so fond of.

Jahn is unable to escape the coincidental plotting of Larson’s script, thus Austin is surprised to learn that Donner’s place in Paradise Cay is right beside a villa owned by the Soviets, and that hot Russian babe just happens to be staying there. Her name, we’ll learn, is Katrina Volana, and she claims to be some government flunky, but no one will be surprised to learn she’s a spy – though it must be said she doesn’t prove to be a very effective one. Rather, the chief Russian spy here is Alexi, a former cosmonaut and friend of Austin’s.

Also as in the movie, Austin is a babe magnet along the lines of Bond, with Cyn throwing herself at him – however Jahn ends the chapter when Austin pulls her into the cabin of their fishing boat to make good on her offer. But Cyn is for the most part jettisoned from the narrative soon thereafter, relegated to sitting around in a hotel room and occasionally bringing Austin sandwiches or mixing more moonshots. For it turns out she too is a fellow OSO agent, of course, working directly with Harry Donner, now here directing the scene.

Oscar Goldman’s master plan is hard to figure out, but at any rate it all amounts to Austin sort of bullying his way into the world of the Russians. His old pal Alexi knocks him out and Austin wakes up on a yacht, the lovely Katrina at his side – as well as a bunch of Russians with machine guns. Austin is to be a forced guest for a few days; this leads to some quippy dialog with Katrina but no sex, capped off with the “porthole” line before Austin escapes, destroying the yacht in the process. However he ensures no one is killed.

The humor in Wine, Women And War comes from how the Russians keep thinking they’ve killed Austin, only for him to show up later. As here, with Katrina certain the machine gunners got him while he was swimming in the water. No one knows of his bionics, of course, and Katrina and the Russians believe their yacht just hit some big rocks; they don’t realize a human being tore up the bottom of the boat. The novel version of Austin shows his wicked streak, going back to Katrina’s place and coldly murdering the two Russian guards there, one of them with his C02 finger. 

Coincidence be damned, Findletter’s secret HQ is here on Paradise Cay; it’s a “high-rise tombstone” where millionaires apparently go for their final place of rest. Scenes are duplicated here, with Austin sneaking into the place twice and watching as Alexi and Katrina meet with the evil weapons dealer. On his first trip Austin learns that Findletter has four nuclear warheads; in his escape he kills two of Findletter’s men with a submachine gun. The second trip is more action-packed, with Austin saving Alexi and Katrina, whom Findletter was about to kill with nerve gas, having assumed they were working with Austin.

There’s no big action finale for Wine, Women And War; instead it’s more of a tense affair, with Austin and Katrina trying to elude Findletter’s guards while alerting the Navy of a Findletter plot to kill all the men on a nuclear sub. This task is mostly handled by Harry Donner, while Austin breaks the power circuit of Findletter’s HQ. The villain himself is given an apocalyptic sendoff, Austin wiring the US poseidon missile in Findletter’s silo to blow, taking out Findletter, his goons, his base, and probably a few miles of Paradise Cay itself.

That’s it – we don’t even get the obligatory wrapup where it’s confirmed that Austin and Katrina will be jumping in bed together. Jahn ends the tale with them all in a helicopter, Austin having successfully completed his mission and the world saved. As mentioned Jahn’s writing is economical and fast-moving, in other words perfect pulp. I also enjoyed this grim view of Steve Austin, a character much different from the one on the show. I look forward to reading Jahn’s other Six Million Dollar Man tie-ins.

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