Monday, April 16, 2018

Nomad #1

Nomad, by David Alexander
March, 1992  Gold Eagle Books

After writing the almighty Phoenix, the slightly-less almighty Z-Comm, and finishing off the C.A.D.S. series (still haven’t read his volumes yet, though), David Alexander briefly served at Gold Eagle, where he turned out this 4-volume series which is now available for free download at his website. Nomad takes place in the then-future of 2010, and while unsurprisingly some of Alexander’s predictions didn’t pan out into the real 2010, it’s pretty crazy how much he did predict correctly.

If this first volume is any indication, then the series is basically Neuromancer if William Gibson had been influenced by The Executioner instead of hardboiled crime. The plot of this one even follows Neuromancer, climaxing on a space station. However, there’s a lot more action than anything you’ll find in Gibson; in fact, Nomad #1 (Alexander’s original title being The Skyfire Kills) suffers from an onslaught of action, coming off as one action scene after another. This would be fine, but these scenes lack the spectacular gore and dark humor of similar scenes in Phoenix; one might say Nomad is “Casual Friday” David Alexander whereas Phoenix is “bedecked in the blood and guts of my enemies” David Alexander.

The hero of the series is Quinn, no first name, a former CIA badass in a special unit, where his codename was Nomad – a name he rejects now. This makes it humorous, then, because Alexander arbitrarily refers to Quinn as “Nomad” throughout. It’s pretty damn bad when you can’t even catch a break from your creator. Anyway we meet Quinn in action – stashing a mini-atom bomb in an installation as part of a test for his one-man security company. We see here that Quinn’s action suit is along the lines of that Metal Gear Solid video game: a blacksuit with night vision goggles and Virtual Reality headgear.

Meanwhile, the specialists who worked on the Star Wars-esque (ie the orbital missile platform, not the movie) Skyfire project are committing suicide in spectacular ways, their faces blank when doing so. Early on in Nomad #1 it becomes very clear that Alexander is attempting to write a James Bond-esque thriller, complete with scene-setting across the globe, lots of spytrade lingo, and even a secret terrorist organization with Nazi roots that’s looking to take over the world – an organization which, by the way, is run by a dude whose face is never seen. So that even the most dense of readers will get it, Alexander names one of this organization’s special machine guns a “Spectre.” For those readers who still don’t get it, the name of this evil organization turns out to be “Scepter.” Hell, there’s even a Thunderball riff where a Scepter agent who failed is killed in front of the others as an example. The only thing missing is a white cat.

Quinn is contacted by his former boss in that special unit, Bruckner, who still works in the shadowy intelligence realm and who keeps referring to Quinn as “kemo sabe.” Quinn’s skills are needed because he helped program the Skyfire tech, and even designed the “automatic kill zone” perimeter defenses which guard the Skyfire control plant. Now various technicians who worked on the secret project are killing themselves – we get to witness several of these suicides, which take place around the world, further giving the novel a sort of blockbuster vibe – and Bruckner wants Quinn to find out what’s going on. In particular, Bruckner wants to ensure the head honcho on the project, William Koenig, a famous pacifist, doesn’t end up offing himself.

A funny thing about Nomad #1 is that it starts off relatively quiet on the action front; indeed, it occurred to me that Alexander was writing for the most part a modern-day thriller, the sort of thing you’d see on the shelves at Wal-Mart with a bland Photoshop cover and way too many pages. This though turns out to be a ruse; while Quinn is in investigator mode for the first quarter, after this the novel goes hard into “nonstop action” territory, to the point that you almost wanna wave a white flag. The book also picks up an unintentional (or perhaps it's intentional) comedic vibe, in that Quinn and his female companion keep coming upon Skyfire techs after they’ve just been killed. If only the duo had left like ten seconds earlier!

As for that female companion, her name is Ramsey and she’s a comrade in the spycraft trade, one of Bruckner’s minions and a hotstuff blonde with a kickass bod. Quinn’s first stop is Rome, and here he meets Ramsey, whom he initially sees as cold and aloof – not that this prevents them from having the expected (yet mostly off-page, this being Gold Eagle and all) sex. Here begins the protracted comedy-esque action scenes, with Ramsey and Quinn constantly one step behind the Zodiac-named mercenary squads employed by the shadowy organization which is killing the Skyfire techs, an organization which is run by a never-seen individual who goes by the name Alpha.

The first big action sequence takes place on the nighttime streets of Rome, which are humorlously empty at the time; Quinn and Ramsey are hounded by a group of mercs in night vision goggles in a game of cat and mouse. Luckily Quinn just happened to bring along his handy submachine gun: don’t leave home without it, folks. Alexander sort of treads the line between straight-up men’s adventure pulp and tech-savy military fiction, with copious firearms and VR tech details; acronyms run rampant. While the action is nonstop and the bullets seldom stop flying, it must be said again that the outrageous gore of Phoenix is sorely missed. This isn’t to say that Alexander doesn’t occasionally throw us a bone:

Quinn never gave [the merc] the chance to pull the trigger. 

This time Quinn’s accurate fire tattooed a jagged pattern of bloody red tatters across the Scorpio merc’s upper chest. Pulverized bone and organ tissue spewed in dark crimson pulses from the exit wounds punched in the merc’s back. Reflex action triggered a panic burst that went wild and high, hammering holes in the ceiling. 

Badly shot up by the Spectre fire, the merc did a spastic two-step and crashed into the wall behind him. His knees buckled and he slid slowly down the wall to a praying position before keeling over to one side. Hitting bottom with a thunk he shuddered for a few seconds then gave up the ghost. 

Grabbing a funeral wreath that said “Rest In Piece” he’d noticed nearby, Quinn dropped it on top of the dusted merc as he and Ramsey pushed past him toward the alleyway.

So as you see, there’s not only a gun called a “Spectre,” but Quinn himself is prone to Bond-esque quips and actions; I mean the bit with the wreath could come right out of a Roger Moore picture. The action moves across Europe, with a protracted stopover in Brussels in which another extended action scene occurs during a bizarre-sounding local parade. Each stop follows the same template: a hit squad is already here and has just taken out the latest Skyfire tech, and Quinn and Ramsey come upon the scene too late. A massive firefight ensues. By the time the action moves to Hong Kong you already know where it’s headed when Quinn and Ramsey get on a boat and Alexander notes the heavy weaponry onboard. Sure enough, yet another Zodiac-named strike force is on the way, this one garbed in “black tactical face masks.” A massive firefight ensues.

But Quinn isn’t just the typical meatheaded action hero. Despite being a hulking bulk of muscle, he’s computer savy too, which of course brings to mind the current crop of action protagonists, just as home behind a computer as a machine gun. So we get lots of “computer stuff” as Quinn tries to access various databanks in his quest to find out who is behind this plot. Along the way he finds out about something called “Castle.” When the action repairs to Germany and Quinn meets Skyfire director Koening, the plot is almost unveiled; Koenig starts at Quinn’s mention of “Castle,” implying that he has much to speak with Quinn about in private. But wouldn’t you guess it – a shadowy assassin appears at just that moment and takes Koenig out.

“Castle” turns out to be the codename of an experimental space station which is hidden in Earth’s orbit; so experimental that even the President is unaware that it’s operational. It’s been taken over by Alpha and his minions, and in the final stretch Nomad #1 continues with the Bond vibe, coming off like a gorier take on Moonraker (the film, not the book!). This is the highlight of the novel, if really it’s just yet another endless action scene. Quinn heads up there – this after various turnarounds and reveals, including Quinn faking his own death – and we finally meet the mysterious Alpha.

While he doesn’t have a bald head, scarred face, or white cat, he does at least wear a black jumpsuit (his minions wear gray ones so there can be no question who’s in charge, I guess). Most interestingly he has this “neural disrupter chip under his skin” that “distort[s] visual and audial perception of his face and voice.” This means that Alpha’s face is a blur, his voice scrambled. It’s a cool mental image, and Alexander does make the big villain pretty memorable, if Quinn is for the most part more focused on taking out Alpha’s chief henchman (whose identity is supposed to be a surprise, but really isn’t). Alexander takes advantage of the space station setting, with Quinn about to be sucked out of an air dock into space (like Bond, the villains can’t just friggin’ shoot the guy), but thanks to a special shirt that hides explosives, he escapes. A massive firefight ensues. There’s also an Aliens-esque finale in which Quinn takes on that chief henchman, who happens to be wearing powered armor. 

After all this, the actual climax is kinda bland. Quinn sets off a nuclear explosion on Castle, just managing to escape back to earth (and it’s heavily implied Alpha has survived – as well as that annoying Energizer Bunny of a henchman). But whereas the novel should end here, Quinn still has to deactivate the Skyfire program, which is about to run amok thanks to a worm Alpha has implanted in it. This necessitates Quinn suiting up and taking on the automatic kill zone of machine gun implacements he himself arranged in the central command center. So it’s mostly Quinn blowing up robots and automated weapons.

The novel ends with Quinn now apparently reporting directly to the President, and as mentioned the reveal that the henchman is still alive and gunning for Quinn’s blood. A glance at future volumes shows that he doesn’t appear again until the third volume. Overall I enjoyed Nomad #1, but the constant action got a bit repetitive and wearying. However the Scepter villains were cool, Alpha in particular, and it was kind of neat to see “the Phoenix guy” writing James Bond.  

No comments: