Monday, December 19, 2016

Endworld #1: The Fox Run

Endworld #1: The Fox Run, by David Robbins
No month stated, 1986  Leisure Books

Clearly tapping in on the post-nuke success of Doomsday Warrior, Endworld was courtesy David Robbins and ultimately proved to be even more popular, spanning twenty-some volumes and even a sister series, Blade, which also ran for several volumes. Like Doomsday Warrior, this one takes place one hundred years after “The Big Blast,” aka World War III, however unlike Doomsday Warrior it doesn’t play it all so over the top. While some might appreciate this, I missed the typical craziness of post-nuke pulp.

Just to get the similarities dispensed with, Endworld also concerns a group of American heroes a century after nuclear war, living in an idyllic, almost socialist sort of paradise safe from the radioactive rigors of their post-nuke world. But, judging from this first entry, the series lacks the spoofy jingoism of Doomsday Warrior, and indeed we aren’t even told who the nuclear war was between – in other words, there are no “Reds,” aka Russians, making life miserable for the surviving Americans. And while this series does have radiation-spawn “mutates,” unlike the creature features of Doomsday Warrior these ones are scarred, half-dead animals that are covered in pus-filled carters and boils. 

We’re also missing the patented ultra-gore and graphic sex of Doomsday Warrior, more on which later. The Fox Run has violence throughout, but Robbins is in more of a streamline/outline mode than Ryder Stacy, usually just stating that a character is shot and leaving it at that, rather than detailing the exploding brains and spouting cerebrospinal fluids. As for sex, forget it. This book could almost pass for juvenile fiction – again, more on which later.

Our heroes are members of the Family, a group of survivors who live on the Home, built shortly before the war and nestled in a desolate area of Minnesota. Made up of seventy-five or so people, the Family lives on a bunker-type compound complete with fortified shelters, tons of stocked food, and even more guns and ammo. Led by the wizened Plato, who looks much older than his fifty-odd years, the Family is broken up into different specialized units, a la the socialist setup of Doomsday Warrior; as in that superior series, it’s all about the community and not the individual in Endworld

A squad of three-man Warrior teams lead the Home’s defenses, “Alpha Triad” being the top one, and its leader being a 24 year-old mass of muscle named Blade, who appears on the cover of every Endworld novel in full homoerotic splendor. Lacking the memorable, outrageous charm of Ted “Doomsday Warrior” Rockson, Blade is as na├»ve and innocent as the rest of the Family, completely ignorant of the world outside and uncertain what pre-nuke society was like – in another parallel to Doomsday Warrior, the Family has scads of books in its library, but none of the videos or other computer tech of that other series, so all they’ve learned has come from the several hundred books the Home’s builder, Kurt Carpenter, stocked for them. 

This first entry is very concerned with world-building, often shoehorning background material in the narrative with no warning. At length we learn that Carpenter, paranoid of a nuclear war, bought the land on which the Home was built and started off the community shortly before WW III; he himself was killed by a radioactive cloud. In the last similarity I’ll mention between this series and Doomsday Warrior, here too our heroes must endure the harsh and bizarre post-nuke weather patterns, in particular green clouds that can kill a man with just a single vapor. We get to see one of these in action early on, as even studly Blade is almost killed by a mere cloud.

It’s almost 100 years to the day since “The Big Blast,” and Home leader Plato has a concern – everyone’s growing old much too fast. He feels that it’s time for the Family to finally venture outside of the area of the Home and go to far-off Twin Cities, where Plato hopes to find research equipment that will help him figure out why everyone seems so much older than they really are. Plato himself looks to be in his seventies despite being twenty years younger, and his concern is that if something isn’t done hummanity itself will be gone within a generation.

Blade, bowie knife-wielding leader of Alpha Triad (we’re informed each member of the Family choses his or her own name at age sixteen), will head up the journey to Twin Cities. The other two members of his Triad will go along: Hickock, lean and rakish crackshot who talks and acts like he’s in the Wild West, and Geronimo, muscle-bound, spear-fighting “Indian” (who humorously enough is like 98-percent caucasian, only calling himself “Geronimo” due to a smidgen of American Indian in his genes). These two characters annoyed me no end – it was nauseating how many times Hickock would call someone “pard,” and Robbins develops a three-way banter between the Triad that strives for comedy but only seldom attains it.

The thing is, I didn’t like any of these guys. Even worse is Joshua, young Jesus-wannabe acolyte of Plato, a pacifist who preaches of “the Spirit” and whom Plato insists will go along to Twin Cities with the Alpha Triad. I kept waiting for Joshua to get killed, but unfortunately it never happened. At least we don’t get to read too much about him, given that, after an almost humorous amount of narrative buildup, the Twin Cities run is called off! When some enemies raid the Home – apparently the first non-Family humans our heroes have ever seen – and steal away the young women, the Family’s priorities quickly change.

No, instead it will be the Fox run, as it develops that these villains, who call themselves The Trolls, reside in Fox, Minnesota, much closer to the Home than Twin Cities. Unbathed cretins in foul-smelling, raggedy frocks, the Trolls take advantage of the Home’s sluggish defenses and steal off several women, including Blade’s flame Jenny, a bland but busty blonde. To further evidence the juvenile nature of the series, our heroes constantly question why the Trolls would take their women – the entire abduction is a mystery to them.

And to me this is the biggest drawback of Endworld. Our heroes, while being super-skilled at killing mutates and talking about guns and whatnot, are almost Edenic in their blissful ignorance of man’s dark heart. We will learn eventually that Home founder Kurt Carpenter wrote a sort of guidelines that has become a veritable bible for the Family. One of its stipulations was “no promiscuous sex.” What a bummer!! Hence Blade and Jenny apparently have never consumated their love – to do that requires “binding” to one another, aka getting hitched.

So anyway, with Jenny and the other gals captive, Blade and the others – even Plato – are plain flummoxed. “Why would anyone want to abduct our women?” Becomes almost a constant refrain. This, coupled with the lack of gory violence, is what leads me to almost classify Endworld as juvenile fiction. It’s even written in juvenile fiction tones, as shown here in a sequence in which Blade kills a mutate:

Blade watched the headless body flop on the grass, blood and pus forming a pool around it. He repressed an urge to continue hacking the body, to chop it into tiny little pices[sp]. How he hated the mutates!!! Every damn one of them had to be exterminated! After all, one of them had killed his father. 

Yes, friends, “After all, one of them had killed his father” is really a sentence in the narrative. And let’s not forget the triple exclamation points, not to mention the Leisure Books-mandatory typo of “pices” instead of “pieces.” This section not only shows the book’s juvenile tone, but is also about as gory as it gets – everything else is pretty bland, so far as the violent setpieces go. So if you know a kid who likes to read, I’d suggest Endworld. It’s certainly going to be better than whatever progressivist bullshit is currently passing for juvenile fiction today. Plus, given the lack of late ‘80s period details or USSR villains, the series is almost timeless.

To me, this juvenile vibe is both good and bad. Bad, because personally I prefer my post-nuke pulp to be insanely gory and filled with graphic sex, a la Doomsday Warrior, Traveler, and the almighty Phoenix. But at the same time it’s good because…well, to briefly broach a personal subject, after 14+ years of marriage my wife and I are about to have our first kid, due in late January. It’s a boy, and if it develops that he likes to read as much as I do, then I’ll have the perfect set of books to turn over to him when he’s 11 or so (which is the age when I started reading men’s adventure – though I went straight to the “adult” stuff like Phoenix Force, so maybe Endworld could be read by someone even younger).

Anyway, to get back to the review. While the women are carted off to Fox (and one of them, Joan, happens to be the sole female Warrior in the Family), the Alpha Triad heads off in hot pursuit, taking advantage of the just-unearthed SEAL. Yet another bit of prescience courtesy Kurt Carpenter, the SEAL is an all-terrain, solar-powered vehicle of opaque plastic-light material that’s impervious to bullets. It’s been stored in an airtight, grave-like chamber for the past century. Our heroes first must learn how to drive it, having never seen a working car before – again, this series, at least this first volume, lacks the quasi-futuristic tech of Doomsday Warrior or even the sub-Mad Max gearhead stuff of Traveler.

More comedy ensues as first Hickock nearly wrecks the SEAL and then Blade, being overly cautious, refuses to take it over 15 mph as they head after the Trolls. Eventually he’ll get on a blasted highway and take it up to 60. The SEAL doesn’t factor much in The Fox Run, other than providing basic transport, but one figures it will heavily feature in upcoming volumes, as all books in the series featuring “Run” in the title. I forgot to mention that Robbins shoehorns a bunch of gun-porn into the book, courtesy Hickock; there’s an interminable part where the Triad go into the Home armory and Hickock rattles off several guns and their attributes as he outfits his comrades with the weapons he thinks they’ll need.

The finale sees the Trolls returning to their blasted home, Fox, and putting the women through a series of trials to filter out the hardiest. Here the women encounter Nadine, a crone-like lady who seems familiar; turns out she’s Plato’s long-lost wife, abducted by the trolls seven years ago. The trials are kind of lame, and end with one of the women tossed to a pack of ravenous wolverines. Robbins plays some time tricks with the narrative, having Blade magically show up disguised as a Troll in the wolverine arena before backtracking to explain how he got there, as if this is post-nuke Elmore Leonard or something.

While Hickock, Geronimo, and a family they encountered on the way to Fox blast away at the Trolls, Blade engages titanic Troll leader Saxon in a grisly knife fight, which is likely the most violent part of the book, featuring as it does a character’s groin getting hacked off (hint: it isn’t Blade’s). We also get tantalizing mentions of a group called “The Watchers,” who apparently have their own motorized vehicles and whom even the Trolls seem to fear. But otherwise that’s that – a few casualties, but otherwise the women are saved, including of course Jenny, and it’s back to the Home.

At 255 pages of super big print, The Fox Run is fast moving and does a capable job of introducing this post-nuke society. I’ll keep reading the books – and I’ve managed to pick up most of the series, as well as all of Blade – but I have a feeling I’ll be turning them all over to my son in about a decade or so.


Paperback Warrior said...

I have this one the reading list. Is it just me or does the cover make Blade look like 90's adult film star Peter North? Lol.

Chris H. said...

Congratulations on your first child!! I wish you and your growing family all the best!!

I read a couple of the books in this series when it first came out so I don't remember a lot about it. Looking on Amazon I see they have the series in ebook format and on audible. I've added them to my wish list.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!

Gary R. Peterson said...

Just have to weigh in with congratulations on the great news! I sure didn't see that coming in the midst of this book review. Here's hoping your love for reading, writing, and for men's adventure will be carried on by your son. Blessings to you and your bride and to your baby, waxing stronger each day.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks a lot for the well wishes, guys! Merry Christmas!