Monday, June 27, 2022

Doomsday Warrior #16: American Overthrow

Doomsday Warrior #16: American Overthrow, by Ryder Stacy
August, 1989  Zebra Books

Well folks with this sixteenth volume of Doomsday Warrior author Ryder Syvertsen clearly doesn’t give a shit. I mean I haven’t seen such authorial disinterest since the latter days of The Penetrator. Syvertsen is going through the motions, likely breaking out in a flop sweat as he tries to pad out the pages of this overlong 223-page novel…the sixteenth damn installment of a series he’s been writing since 1984, but for some reason people keep buying it so he has to keep writing it! You can almost feel him longing for the sales to drop so he can just stop already. 

To wit, American Overthrow is by-the-numbers Doomsday Warrior, offering nothing new to the series and drifting along on its own tedium…so lame that there’s even a “Bobby in the shower” dream sequence fakeout that only serves to further pad out the pages. The colorful gore and unbridled sleaze of the earlier volumes is wholly absent; indeed, the dream sequence has what amounts to the only sex scene in the novel, but Syvertsen glosses over any of the explicit detail. The plot is a rehash of previous novels, further evidencing the author’s boredom. Even the promised setup – that this time Ted “Doomsday Warrior” Rockson will go up against fellow Americans – is given short shrift, Syvertsen focused more on trivial details like endless treks through the nuke-ravaged wastes and battles with nuke-creatures. 

Humorously, there’s no pickup from the previous volume, not even a cursory mention of its events nor of how long ago they occurred. As we’ll recall, that one ended with Rockson presumably dead(!) in the climactic battle in Egypt, once again fighting the sadistic Colonel Killov, but American Overthrow opens with Rockson in the woods near Century City in his homebase of Colorado, on a hunting trip with his best bud Detroit. No mention is made of the previous volume’s apocalyptic final battle, how Rockson survived, or even how he and his squad made it back to America. The entire novel simply isn’t mentioned, and American Overthrow is one of the first volumes of Doomsday Warrior in a long time that doesn’t require you to have read the previous installment to know what’s going on. 

The only installment that is referred to is #3: The Last American, but only vaguely; we learn here that it was “three years ago” that Rockson attended the signging of the Constitution of the Re-United States, and that occurred in the third volume (I think…it’s been over ten years since I read it). I don’t believe this “three years” dating jibes with the other dates Syvertsen has arbitrarily strewn throughout recent volumes, and it’s just more indication that the author isn’t very invested in his saga. The important thing is that American Overthrow sees the return of President Langford’s daughter Kim, that blonde goddess who was once proclaimed to be Rockson’s “true love” before being abruptly removed from the series without any explanation; the last time we saw her was in #9: America’s Zero Hour. Actually the last time we saw her was in #10: American Nightmare, but that one took place in an alternate reality, so it wasn’t the “real” Kim. 

So anyway we have an overlong opening in which Rockson and Detroit are out hunting and get attacked by this mutated lizard creature. After this a messenger from Century City finds them and requests their presence back in CC asap – word has come in that a fellow liberated city, Pattonville, has been overtaken by a military coup. Three hundred miles away, Pattonville is the chosen city of President Langford and Kim, and Rockson feels pangs of fear. We’re informed that Rockson and Kim “had been lovers once,” which is a WTF? moment if ever there was one, as in those earlier novels Syvertsen made it clear that Kim was Rockson’s soulmate. However, any hopes for a quick-moving tale of Rockson gaining revenge are quickly dashed, as Syvertsen proceeds to waste even more time with yet another overlong sequence of Rockson taking on the mutated flora and fauna of this radblasted future. In fact he won’t even get to Pattonville until toward the end of the novel, and his reunion with Kim lasts all but a page. 

But then the women have been gradually removed from the Doomsday Warrior narrative. Rona, Rock’s other true love, the redheaded beauty who was once “one of the boys” and went out on missions with the Rock Team, is now relegated to “woman at home” status, literally only there to have sex with Rockson on the rare occasions he’s in Century City. Off-page sex at that! Whereas earlier volumes went all-out with the crazed purple prose, these days Syvertsen merely writes, “They made love for half an hour,” and that’s literally all we get for the Rockson-Rona festivities. I mean he’s bored as hell, folks. He also seems to want to write something other than post-nuke pulp, as now Dr. Schecter, the resident genius of Century City, has become the Q to Rockson’s James Bond, providing him with a trio of gadgets for the mission (namely, a breathing device that fits in the nostrils, a foldable heat-shield suit, and most Bond-like of all a mini-gun shaped like a medallion). 

His usual team whittled down to just Archer, Detroit, and Chen, Rockson heads back out into the wild for the long trek to Pattonville…cue even more of those series-mandatory “mutated flora, fauna, and weather” sequences, this time with acid rain and other horrors. Syvertsen pads more pages with cutovers to Pattonville, where we are taken into the plight of one-off characters who are either gassed or killed by the new ruler: General Hanover. The villain of the piece, Hanover is a self-styled modern Hitler, even outfitting his men in Nazi-like uniforms. The fact that Rockson for once will be facing off against fellow Americans really troubles our hero’s heart; indeed, Rockson is filled “with a Kierkegaardian brooding” over the entire mission(!). But despite all the setup Syvertsen fumbles the ball, as the Americans Rockson eventually goes up against have been brainwashed into zombies (or “gasheads”) by Hanover’s gases. 

The most egregious part of American Overthrow is a long sequence in which Rockson and team, wearing those heat-shield uniforms, fall into a volcano…and find themselves in the domain of “lava men.” Doomsday Warrior is known for trampling over any sense of realism, but this sequence in particular is goofier than a 1980s Saturday morning cartoon. Led by King Sulphur, this “fucking colony of volcanic beings” puts Rockson and team through various trials and tribulations. Rockson somehow finds the opportunity to conjugate with the beautiful Shi’sa, an “angelic living sculpture” who makes her interest in flesh-man Rockson obvious. This part is super-weird; it’s not explicit, more just surreal, as Rockson marvels over the warmth and underlying softness of this lava woman’s hot bod. 

But get this…after Shi’sa helps them escape, Rockson’s riding on his mutant horse “hybrid” with the rest of the Rock Team, passing by the volcanic fields…and Detroit tells Rockson that he, Rockson, has been asleep all this time! And none of the team “remembers” the events with the lava men. In other words the entire sequence was just a damn dream! And Rockson basically just shrugs it off and gets on with the trek to Pattonville. I mean good grief! Just as ultra-lame as you can get. But then Syvertsen only livens up when he comes up with something that captures his goofy interest…like later in the book when we’re told that President Langford, who has been drugged regularly by General Hanover, looks “as drugged out as John Carradine in Atomic Vampire.” I mean we’re told this in the narrative, not in dialog, but again it’s another instance of obscure 20th century stuff being referred to in a novel that’s supposedly set in a post-nuke 2090s. 

Even General Hanover fails to meet expectations. He’s set up as suitably supervillain, but instead he comes off like a tool; in Kim’s few scenes in the novel, we see she’s kept locked up in a plush room, and Hanover will come in a few times a week to have dinner with her. The bastard!! But really he’s plotting to make Kim marry him, or somesuch…I mean the series is totally G-rated now, you see, so Kim is more bored than anything. In fact she stabs Hanover with a fork and throws food at him and whatnot, so she’s feisty as hell, but ultimately she too is drugged and kept on the periperhy of the narrative. She fights Hanover more than Rockson himself does; when our hero arrives in Pattonville and tries to disguise himself as a zombiefied “gashead,” he’s quickly outed and put through a sort of gladiatorial contest. His last challenge: Death-breath, a monstrous mutant even bigger than Archer. But even all this stuff is pretty bloodless and boring. 

The finale is goofy too, with Syvertsen so bored that he creates a fake Schecter here in Pattonville: Dr. Mason, yet another scientist able to whip up inventions, in this case a gas that counteracts Hanover’s gas. The finale sees zombie Pattonville residents stumbling around with weapons and taking on Hanover’s loyal soldiers. And of course Rockson’s medallion gun comes in at the last moment. At least this time we get a resolution, unlike the previous volume: Rockson when last we see him is about to embark on the 300-mile trip back to Century City with President Langford, Kim (both of them recuperating from the drugging), and Archer. Rockson’s ordered Chen and Detroit to stay in Pattonville to help with rebuilding; given that there are only a few volumes of the series left, I wonder if we will see either of them again. Who am I fooling…next volume they’ll both probably be back in Century City with nary an explanation. 

About the only interest I got out of American Overthrow was Syvertsen’s unwitting prescience. I mean the main plot has to do with an illegal coup that has taken away the rightful power of the American people. “We’re here to carry out the return to law under the US Constitution. There can be no higher goal than that,” Rockson informs his squad in the climax. Rockson, where are you when we need you now? And as if that wasn’t “ripped from today’s headlines” enough for you, check out this paragraph describing old President Langford, at the very end of the novel: 

Man, that last sentence says it all…it sure does, Rockson. It sure does.


I can't delete this said...

Thank you for continuing on with this series, I discovered it in audio-book format, and listen to it once a year, and for as crazy as it gets, it's one of my favorite things. 3 books to go, and they're some of the strangest ones yet, and that's hard to say given where the entire series has gone so far, but trust me, they're worth all finishing, and if you haven't done the graphic audio versions of them, they are so worth a listen, full cast, sound effects, etc..

I can't delete this said...

Also, thank you for your blog, and multitude of other books you have turned me onto over the years..

Joe Kenney said...

Hi, thanks a lot for the comment! I actually have heard several of the Graphic Audio adaptations, and they're pretty good! To the extent that I "hear" that actor's voice when I read Rockson's dialog. I'm looking forward to finishing this series -- especially the "Dream" volume that's coming up.