Endworld #2: Thief River Falls Run, by David Robbins
No month stated, 1986 Leisure Books
Man it’s been years since I read the first volume of Endworld – it was before my kid was even born, and he’s halfway through kindergarten already! Well anyway, I have many books in this series, as well as sister volume Blade, so it’s about time I get back to it. The only thing I could remember from my reading of the first volume back in 2016 was that the series seemed like a ripoff of Doomsday Warrior, only for the Young Adult market, and also that I didn’t like it very much.
And this second volume just confirmed my feelings; Thief River Falls Run comes off like an edited-for-TV version of Doomsday Warrior, lacking the gore and purple-prosed sex of that superior series. Otherwise it has the same setup: one hundred years after a nuclear hell, and a cast of colorfully-named asskickers. But whereas Ted “The Ultimate American” Rockson and his pals act like true men’s adventure heroes, Blade and his fellow “warriors” are like innocent children. Part of the schtick of this series is how Blade and his “family” venture out of their safe space in Minnesota and encounter other people, and they’re just so innocent and unaware of everything.
And whereas Doomsday Warrior had its cake and ate it, too, with Rockson and friends talking about 20th Century trivia (thanks to that “library” of videos and books in Century City, of course), Blade and his friends are confused about such mundane things as a car horn. Yes, friends, there is actually a part in Thief River Falls Run where Blade accidentally leans on the horn of their post-nuke all-terain vehicle, the SEAL, and they all wonder what that strange loud noise they just heard was. Did the vehicle make the noise?? So there is none of the winking-to-the-reader nutjob stuff like in Doomsday Warrior, and that even includes the sex material…Blade and his fellow warriors, you see, only get busy when they are married! WTF!! The whole damn thing is like a post-nuke Little House On The Prairie.
This series is also starting to remind me of another Leisure post-nuke pulp series: Roadblaster. Not that it’s that bad, it’s just that, as with Roadblaster, our heroes takeforever to get anywhere. Last volume they wanted to go to Twin Cities, apparently the post-nuke Minneapolis. They didn’t make it. This volume they try to go to Twin Cities again. They don’t make it! Compare to Rockson and team, who would go to space and back in a single volume.
Another annoyance is that we can’t just have a team of post-nuke shit-kickers. Instead, Robbins gussies up the plot with the unwanted presence of Joshua, a long-haired pacifist who is so naïve he seems to have walked out of a book written by Ned Flanders. And Plato, the leader of “Home,” insists that Joshua go with Blade and the Warriors on the Twin Cities run! You almost wonder if the guy’s an inside agent, setting Blade and the others up.
Speaking of inside agents, David Robbins sets up several dangling subplots for future volumes. There is the threat of enemy agents within Home who plot to wrest control from Plato, and also the development that Blade’s father, the former leader of Home, was murdered years ago as part of a plot. Blade stumbles upon this info during events in Thief River Falls, mostly due to the presence of mutant “Brutes.” He learns via happenstance that Brutes, which are kept on leashes by Watchers, might have been used to kill his father.
As for Blade, he’s still sick from infection as this one opens; it’s some unspecified time later. Robbins spends the initial pages introducing two new characters who will presumably factor into later novels: a young woman named Rainbow (who is comatose the entire time) and her precocious, twelve year-old daughter Star. They have escaped from somewhere, “hunters” after them, and Blade’s colleagues Hickock and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi save them. After this nothing more is said about the two, but the way they are introduced, Star asking tons of questions about Home, might indicate they will have bigger roles in future. This part furthers the Doomsday Warrior vibe, with the Warriors fighting a giant mutant spider.
So anyway, once Blade is better old Plato tells him to try to get to Twin Cities again – but this time he’s taking along Joshua. Robbins uses this as a way to fill up the book’s unwieldy 256 pages: Joshua spends pages and pages defending his pacifism to Hickock. Now it would be one thing if Joshua were constantly being pressured by the Warriors, but instead it's Joshua who is constantly judging them and their “violent” ways. And folks it’s just no fun reading a post-nuke action thriller with a main character who keeps judging everyone for being “too violent.”
There’s also a bit of a Guardians vibe with our heroes driving around in their customized vehicle. There’s only periodic action, like when a biker takes a shot at them and Hickock blows him away – cue more bitching from Joshua. Fortunately, Joshua goes through some character growth in Thief River Falls Run; a subplot concerns him being forced to kill to save his comrades, and Robbins seems to use Joshua as a stand-in for those who complain about the use of excessive force…you know, like brain-addled puppet politicians who wonder why cops can’t shoot violent perps in the shoulder or something. When it’s kill or be killed, you kill, and this is the lesson Joshua learns.
And sadly this subplot turns out to be the “meat” of Thief River Falls Run. Because action-wise, again we aren’t talking Doomsday Warrior. The vibe’s actually more like a Western, with Blade et al coming across a saloon in the titular town and engaging with some redneck gunslingers. There is a lot of promise for Twin Cities here; we learn the place is overrun by rats and roving crime gangs. This info is courtesy Big Bertha, a pretty young black woman Blade and team rescue from the gunslingers; they were keeping her as a sex slave.
One thing we learn is that there are no black people in Home; Blade muses that there was “one black family,” but they died long ago. Hence Big Bertha is the first black girl any of them have seen, and Bertha herself takes a shine to Hickock, whom she calls “White Meat.” As for “Big Bertha,” she informs us she got this name on account of her “boobs.” She also calls Hickock “honky,” and Robbins clearly wants us to understand that these two will become an item…which works out for Hickock, as his chosen mate was killed last volume. Which I admit I’d entirely forgotten about, but Robbins frequently reminds us.
I also forget the gore quotient of The Fox Run, but it’s only minimal in Thief Falls Run. The Warriors shoot several people, but the violence is mostly PG-13 at best. There’s also a lot of hand-to-hand fighting, with Blade taking on a male-female pair of Brutes. We’ve been told in these first two volumes that “only animals” were mutated by the nukes, with the insistence that there are no human mutants, but the Brutes seem to disprove this. Joshua and Bertha take on one in the climax, and there’s also a cool part where an injured Blade is separated from his friends as hunters, Watchers, and a revenge-minded Brute come after him.
But humorously it’s back to square one at the end of the novel; Blade decides to call off the “Twin Cities run” yet again, and the team gets in the SEAL and heads back for Home. Maybe next volume they’ll actually get there!