Roadblaster #2: Death Ride, by Paul Hofrichter
No month stated, 1988 Leisure Books
The Roadblaster series continues with a second volume that picks up a few hours after the soul-wearying first installment. At least this time Paul Hofrichter has realized that his series occurs in a post-nuke world, so there’s a bit more shock and horror among the characters, who last volume spent the duration drinking beer and talking about the price of gasoline, despite the fact that friggin’ World War III had just gone down. That being said, Hofrichter dwells a little too much on the nightmares of nuclear holocaust, with material that seems to be shoehorned in from some nonfiction study on the subject.
Loser hero Nick Stack once again graces us with his presence; this time he’s been given more of a melancholy nature, often reflecting on “the bitch that is war” and whatnot. In fact Stack’s musings take up a lot of the book’s too-long length. Once again he’s sort of fired up to go find his wife and kids in New York, but once again Hofrichter prevents this by having Stack get involved in something completely unrelated. As we’ll recall, the first novel ended with a big battle to prevent some bikers from taking over a downed nuclear bomber; now Stack intends to hitch a ride on the bomber – as repayment for saving its crew! – to New York.
The crew is all for it, but first they need orders, plus a mechanic. So will Stack head into nearby San Francisco and see if the local commander there will issue both those things? Sure thing, but first Stack has to check on preteen Rayisa, who was sexually abused in grimy detail last volume (FYI, there’s no sex at all in this volume). Still traumatized – after all, it was just a handful of hours ago that Stack shot a cock out of the girl’s mouth – Rayisa freaks out when Stack says he’s gonna go back to New York. She wants to go with him, and Stack says sure – and then Hofrichter removes her from the book, having her stay back in the small town of Montieth while Stack heads for SanFran.
Stack’s back in his camper, and along for the ride come that division of “nice” Harley-Davidson bikers who showed up in the final pages of Hell Ride to help out against the bad bikers. Hofrichter as ever writes dialog that’s humorously exposition-laden, and the initial dialog with these guys made me chuckle:
“If you’re going to San Francisco, our Harley-Davidson club can join you and help find the military people in command. We planned to go down there anyway to search for the relatives of one of our members who live in Sausalito, across from San Francisco. I already explained to you last night that we’re part of a Harley-Davidson user club which travels the country attending various events. The war caught us in the mountains, and now we have to find out the whereabouts of our loved ones. Since we’re a team, each of us is going to travel to the homes of the other members to help him find his relatives.”
This must be how people talk “less than 48 hours” after WWIII. Stack for his part has been retconned into a surly ass; whereas the previous book gave the impression of a potbellied simp, this one has Stack as a grim warrior prone to melancholy introspections about the evils of hummanity. I did though appreciate his frequent diatribes against moronic left-wing thinking:
They came to a large, intact wall covered with graffiti from another time and place. In blazing red letters now almost burned off were two words: TOTAL ANARKEE. A twisted spelling of the word anarchy, which said a lot about the present world. And next to that, RONALD RAY GUN, a pithy comment about a past President whose politics the left had not liked. It made Stack wonder, if America had been stronger, whether [World War III] would have happened. No, he told himself, and silently cursed what the left had done to the country in their endless orgy of emasculation.
Ironically, it’s that “endless orgy of emasculation” which eventually brought the men’s adventure genre itself to an end; Len Levinson oncce told me that his left-wing female agent in the late ‘90s flat-out told him that publishers no longer wanted to focus on “fiction for men,” and hence he lost all of his writing contracts. Could it just be coincidence that the generation that was raised without any men’s adventure fiction was the generation that came to be so accurately known as Generation Snowflake?
Stack’s grimness expands to the Almighty, as witnessed in another humorous diatribe, accompanied by an even-more-humorous response:
“I’m not that way. I say to God, you fuck me and it’s all over, I’m not your dart board. You want me to show love and respect, treat me in a way that will merit it. Love has to be earned, even by a God. You may find my attitude brazen and hard, but I think even so small an object as a human being, while showing respect for God and asking for his mercy, has to draw the line somewhere. This far and no further, even for the Master of the Universe. One should be as good a son to God as he is a father to us. It’s a two-way street.”
“I’ll have to think that over,” Dellatore said.
Eventually Stack et al get to bombed SanFran, encountering horrors along the way, including an army of rats. Upon arrival they save a gangly, balding guy from two Arabs who are trying to kill him. The gangly guy is Bushnell, a “leftist liberal” who lives with a conclave of hippie-types. He reveals that, since the war, the Arabs have been chasing down gays, hippies, and Russians, claiming that they’ve been spreading AIDs. Stack mulls it over and finds the colonel in charge of the area. He makes his request for mechanics for the bomber, but instead the colonel deputizes Stack and demands that he go back and defend Bushnell’s people against the Arabs!
“There’s a time to make love and a time to kick ass,” Stack tough-talks Bushnell’s hippie comrades, and let’s remember that Stack was the guy who said “no thanks” to saving a bunch of people in the previous volume. He then ventures over to the gay area, led by Francis Pelf, and feels uncomfortable as he’s checked out by a transvestite Burlesque dancer named Gravy Train. Hofrichter doesn’t go too wild on the gay stuff, and indeed has a few “tough gays” who served in ‘Nam and are happy to join the war party Stack’s putting together. We also get a visit to the Russian area, for more drafting.
But despite the retconning, Nick Stack is still a chump. Here’s the funny thing…about a hundred pages in Stack and an ally do a “soft probe” of the Arab area. Turns out it’s just a few Arabs who lead the group; it’s also composed of native Americans who were caught up in the AIDs paranoia (the novel was clearly written in the late ‘80s). Stack briefly captures a sentry and issues a warning; he tells the guy to let his Arab leaders know that Stack’s in town and there’s going to be new rules. Stack then leaves…and the Arabs immediately launch an attack on the gay and hippie sections, massacring countless people – while meanwhile Stack himself is obliviously hanging out with an old National Guard commander!!
Hofricther shines in unexpected moments, like a strange-but-charming New Agey bit where a one-off character is killed in the massacre and leaves his body and connects with departed friends in the afterlife! But Hofrichter’s terrible with the POV-hopping, changing perspectives between paragraphs with no warning; this gets to be painful in the chaotic action scenes. Finally Stack – working with Bill Batthurst, aforementioned National Guard pal – launches a counterattack.
As with the previous book, Hofrichter delivers a runing action sequence that comes off more like war fiction than men’s adventure; Stack leads various fire teams on attacks on the Arab’s compound, dwelling more so on the agonies and horrors of war rather than on the exploitative gore. And there isn’t a single part where Stack shoots someone’s dick off!! Lots of one-off characters are introduced, given inordinate backgrounds, and then promptly killed off, a page-filling gambit that occurs throughout the book. Even more sadly, when the main villains meet their long-awaited ends, Hofrichter delivers them anticlimactic deaths.
The novel ends with Stack promising to help find Batthurst’s family; the National Guard commander has suffered an injury in the battle and now will be unable to continue his search for them. Uh, Stack, didn’t you start off the novel bound and determined to find your own family? And what about poor little Rayisa?
Well, there was only one more volume to go, so we’ll see. Oh, and word of warning – two entire volumes now and Stack hasn’t blasted a single damn road. What the hell??