Thursday, May 21, 2020

Doomsday Warrior #14: American Death Orbit

Doomsday Warrior #14: American Death Orbit, by Ryder Stacy
September, 1988  Zebra Books

Okay so at this point in the Doomsday Warrior saga Ryder Syvertsen is straight-up writing juvenile fiction, like Tom Swift for the post-nuke subgenre. The juvenile tone has been there from the beginning, but at least the earliest volumes spiced things up with gory violence and hardcore sex. But with American Death Orbit Syvertsen greatly reduces the former and barely caters to the latter – redhead beauty Rona returns to the series, the first we’ve seen her since the twelfth volume, but she only appears long enough for some off-page shenanigans with Ted “Doomsday Warrior” Rockson in the beginning.

That’s another thing: early volumes couldn’t figure out if Rockson’s nickname was “Doomsday Warrior” or “The Ultimate American.” In fact it was the latter that was most often used, but I guess at this point Syvertsen realized he should follow, you know, the title of the series, so it’s “Doomsday Warrior” throughout, with Ultimate American not used even once. These things only matter if you’ve read the previous 13 volumes and are taking notes, though. Last volume I wondered if Syvertsen was giving us arbitrary dates for these adventures, and this volume seems to indicate that he indeed is: we’re informed that American Death Orbit occurs in 2096, which means that the previous volume did not take place three years after volume twelve.

But then, it’s hard to tell how long ago American Paradise was. Rockson’s again in Century City when we meet him, of course, with no indication of how long ago the adventure in Hawaii was. I figured it must’ve been a month, maybe a few weeks. But as we’ll recall, the previous volume climaxed with evil Colonel Killov abducted by a spaceship. We gradually learn that this happened two days ago, meaning this volume occurs immediately after the previous. Yet in the Rockson sequences, it’s as if a long time has passed…but it’s especially moronic because the established template of the series has it that Rockson and team endure a hellish long journey to get wherever they’re going when they leave Century City. So are we to undrestand that the journey back is a breeze? 

Ultimately it doesn’t matter. I mean Rockson lost his ‘brid (aka the mutant “hybrid” horses of this post-nuke future) many volumes ago, yet the thing showed up again with zero explanation. And it appears again this time: “Snorter-the-fourth,” we’re told its name is, leading one to presume it is a descendant of the original Snorter, but Rockson thinks to himself how he has relied on the beast “for several years.” So I guess it’s the same Snorter. Anyway in this one too Snorter will be left in the wild, but we at least get the semblance of some setup explanation when Rockson points it and the other ‘brids “toward Century City” (hundreds of miles away, btw) and tells them to take off. They have mutant talent for direction, we’re told, so no one will be surprised when Snorter miraculously returns in some future volume.

Speaking of returns, as mentioned Rona finally shows up again. We don’t get to see her much, though, and she’s reintroduced to the series with little fanfare; Rockson mutters over the tough judo workout Rona gave him earlier that day, then goes back to his quarters to find her waiting in his bed for him. And you know it occurs to me just now that Rockson’s other true love, Kim, hasn’t been seen since the ninth volume (though we did see an alternate reality version of her in the tenth volume). My assumption at this point is that she’s not coming back, and presumably Syvertsen got bored with her. Rona’s the much more interesting character, at any rate: a redheaded beauty with the same “mutant star pattern” as Rockson. Believe it or not, folks, but the sex scene is off-page…Rockson and Rona exchange some foreplay dialog and it fades to black. And after that Rona begs to come along on this latest mission – as she has in the past – but Rockson refuses, saying it’s too dangerous.

And indeed, Rockson takes off the very next morning: the latest threat has it that some Century City astronomers – just introduced this very volume – have spotted something strange up in space with their telescope, which was installed five years ago (but never mentioned before, of course). Wouldn’t you know it, but there’s a giant space station lurking up there, a wheel design a la 2001 A Space Odyssey, and it’s about five miles large. And there are space ships and what not flying all around it! Yes, all this is introduced via bald exposition; fourteen volumes in and we suddenly learn there’s a teeming population in outer space – and guess what, Schecter, the head Century City scientist, predicts that they only have about a week until the space station is activated.

Schecter also informs Rockson that a few years back they came across a cache of NASA documentation which revealed that this space station was developed “late in the twentieth century” as part of the Star Wars Missile Defense System. And if this thing is fully activated it will have laser cannons and whatnot that can rain hell on the Earth below. But there’s still hope: also according to those NASA discs, shortly before the nuclear war there was designed – and built – a massive starfighter, dubbed the “The Dynosoar Satellite Killer,” which could take out a space station if necessary. And meanwhile we readers know – from the brief opening part with Killov – that the space station is occupied by “Space Neo-Nazis,” descendants of a former Nazi who worked for NASA and started his own project “on the side,” sending out teams of Nazis into space before the war. And now the descendants of these Nazis live in the space station and have just decided to complete it and destroy the Earth. I mean my friends, there was more “realism” in the average episode of G.I. Joe.

So Rockson, who like everyone else on the planet has never even been to space, puts together a team that will head to Wyoming, where the Dynosoar was stored by NASA, get it operative, head into space, and destroy the space station before the space Nazis can fully activate it. But of course, several scientists have “already studied” the full plans of the space station and the Dynosoar, and what’s more have even built flight simulators for it. So Rockson will have to bring these scientists along so they can actually fly the plane. Of course they’re all redshirts, Syvertsen not even bothering to give most of them names, save for the two that rise to the top: Rajat, a brilliant twenty year-old Indian kid, and Connors, a sixteen year-old kid who looks up to Rockson as a hero.

Now Syvertsen has developed this plot, and despite the juvenile nature there’s heaps of opportunity: I mean a space station filled with Neo-Nazis, and Rockson about to board a starfighter and head out there to face them. The reader, especially one who is a veteran of pulp paperbacks, expects a juicy tale of Rockson encountering a bevy of, say, uber-horny outer space Nazi She-Devils. Or even some depraved galactic Hitler or somesuch. But my friends, my friends…Syvertsen says “screw all that” and instead page-fills with abandon, spending the majority of the tale in arbitrary bullshit: an avalanche, a bunch of vampire women who run a diner, and finally – and most annoyingly – a bunch of crap about “space Frenchies” (aka “space bums”), themselves descendants of astronauts, who eke out their existence above the Earth and eat metal. As impossible as it is to believe, Syvertsen spends just a handful of pages in the neo-Nazi space station – Killov himself only appears once or twice in the narrative itself – and does absolutely zero to exploit his own outrageous plot.

The usual template is catered to: Rockson and team (composed of all the usual save for Scheransky, who is “working on a secret project with Schecter” that’s never revealed) encounter all the usual dangers on the journey, both flora and fauna. Syvertsen then reveals that he’s not even paying attention to his own series, or at least hoping no one else is: the Rock Team comes across an actual diner, the U-EAT-HERE, with flashing neon sign and hot waitresses and everything, and Rockson can’t believe such a thing exists. And yet, Rockson already encountered a similar diner back in the fifth volume. Not that he remembers this. Instead he and his team are thunderstruck that a diner exists, and saunter inside and gape at all the food and the scantily-clad waitresses, and Rockson suppresses the constant “danger signs” that flash in his mind.

Syvertsen will spend way too much of the narrative here. Of course the women turn out to be evil and the diner’s a trap; within seconds of eating their food Rockson and team pass out, the food drugged. They wake up in tough spider webs and Rockson realizes that the waitresses are actually vampires – mutant vampires at that. Only Chen’s ninja skills allow them to gradually get free of the bonds, but not before a few of Rock’s team have been killed and, most disgustingly of all, some slug sort of things have been implanted in McGlaughlin’s big gut. Rockson rallies his troops and they finally massacre the vampire women, but McGlaughlin’s in a coma (the slug-things extracted by a medic – and yes Rockson’s finally learned to bring along a medic on these missions) and way too many pages have been wasted on this bullshit.

Even more unbelievably, he squanders more potential: we’re told early on that the Dynosoar is in Wyoming, in an area of land controlled by a barbarian ruler named Garr. Well Syvertsen brushes through this as well; given that he wasted so much time with the vampire women, he has Rockson and team show up in Wyoming, scout out the area – and within a few pages Rockson’s made his way to the massive starfighter, which is stored underground, and gotten the rest of the team on it! I mean there’s no confrontation with Garr, nothing. That being said, we do get one of the most random Beatles references ever: Rockson sees some dude shitting in the street and thinks to himself, “Why don’t we do it in the road?” Rajat and Connors take over and push a few buttons and the ship rolls along the underground passageway – apparently no issue due to the thing having sat there for over a century – and within a page or two they’re blasting off into outer space!

Now all this would be fine if it led directly to the Nazi space station and those cosmic Nazi She-Devils. But unfortunately they’ll just have to exist in our imagination, because instead Rockson starts target-shooting with the laser beam, and almost blasts apart a strange-looking ball of junk…only to realize there’s a person in a spacesuit hovering beside it! The guy waves for entry into the Dynosoar, and he turns out to be the descendant of French astronauts – his ancestors were stuck on a space station when the nuclear war happened – and now he and his people make their living up here, scavenging space refuse. Absolutely no attempt is made at explaining any of this. We’re told there were “hundreds of oxygen tanks” left behind up here, apparently a century’s worth – but there are tons of these people, living in total outer space squalor, even getting their food from space junk by melting metal into a “paste” which they use to make food. And they’re super-advanced, too, even able to heal McGlaughlin and bring him out of his coma.

At this point the reader has to make a choice: chalk the whole thing off as the dumbest shit ever and chuck the book, or just keep reading. But you can’t do the former, because honestly the entire series is goofy, so at this point, fourteen volumes in, what’s the point? It’s just that this particular volume takes it so far into the realm of the ridiculous that there’s almost no coming back. And as mentioned the worst part is that Syvertsen can’t even reap his own material: we don’t see a single space Nazi, and the too-few parts with Killov have him bickering with a scientist type and the Fuhrer, who is old and moronic and just sits there. Killov as expected takes control, fueled as ever by drugs. 

Rockson and team unite with the space bums and launch an attack on the space station, with lasers blasting and men in astronaut suits flying around with guns blazing. Rajat and Connors do all the heavy lifting; of course they are wizards with the Dynosoar, despite only having studied the thing on ancient floppy discs. Oh and I forgot to mention, there’s a friggin “Space Eiffel Tower” up here, which is what the ancestors of the Space Frenchies were up here for a hundred years ago: to build a replica of the Eiffel Tower in space. In one of the novel’s few memorable moments, this thing is used to pierce the heart of the Nazi space station. As ever Rock’s team suffers a few losses, but none of the regulars of course – though one of the new characters buys it. This is rendered humorous though because, SPOILER WARNING, it turns out to be Rajat who dies – floating off into space in a seeming tribute to the finale of Dark Star, and a crying Rockson says to himself, “Thank you, Rajiv.” Italics mine, because racist Rockson couldn’t even get the poor kid’s name right!!

The finale is also memorable, but sadly predicts that the series will get even more juvenile: Killov again manages to evade death, using a pair of “atmospheric chutes” to glide all the way down to Earth, able to even get through the stratosphere without burning to a crisp. And, Syvertsen at this point figuring “who cares,” Killov lands on the Great Pyramid of Cheops – just as a high priest is worshiping Amun Ra. And sure enough the dumb priest thinks this skeletal figure that just dropped from the sky is the god himself, and is prepared to worship him. And to bring him lots of drugs, which is what Killov immediately begins to scream for.

And with that American Death Orbit mercifully comes to a close; at nearly 250 pages of super-big print it does manage to move at a fast clip, but it’s so sophomoric that the reader has a helluva time even enjoying it. I mean Syvertsen’s gone way out before, but this time he goes way, way out, and I can’t say it’s for the best. There are only a few volumes left, so here’s hoping the series gets back to the vibe of the earliest volumes.

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