Monday, March 4, 2024

Doomsday Warrior #18: American Dream Machine

Doomsday Warrior #18: American Dream Machine, by Ryder Stacy
July, 1990  Zebra Books

What can I say about this penultimate volume of Doomsday Warrior? That it’s incredibly stupid? That it’s the worst volume of the series yet? That it’s a sort-of rip off of Total Recall with a little Dune thrown in? That Ryder Syvertsen has clearly stuck a fork in the series and has entirely lost all interest in it? No matter what I say, I won’t be able to properly convey how ultimately terrible American Dream Machine really is. 

Well, one positive thing I can say is that it doesn’t rip off the previous volume, which itself was a ripoff of the volume before that. For this one, Syvertsen goes way back to the tenth volume to rip himself off; for, just as that tenth volume was an “imaginary story” that had no bearing on the overarching storyline, so too is American Dream Machine an “imaginary story” that, for the most part, has nothing whatsoever to do with Doomsday Warrior. This volume also has the first real appearance of Kim Langford in the series since…well, since that imaginary story in #10: American Nightmare, I think, with the additional similarity that the “Kim” who shows up in American Dream Machine is also an imaginary figure, same as she was in that earlier “imaginary story.” 

Turns out I was correct when I guessed that there’d be no pickup from the closing events of the previous volume, which as we’ll recall ended with Rockson and his team still not having reached a neighboring city, where they hoped to gather resources needed to rebuild a ravaged Century City. There was also some stuff about a bunch of new recruits Rockson had to train. Absolutely none of that is even mentioned here. When we meet Rockson, he’s flying a commandeered “Sov” fighter jet, soaring west to meet up with pal Archer, whom Rockson hasn’t seen “in three years.” 

Yes, friends, three years have passed since the previous volume; it’s now “around 2096,” we’re told (Syvertsen has also thrown in the towel on pinning down when exactly the books take place), and boy it turns out a whole bunch of stuff has happened since last time. For one, the US and the USSR has entered a truce, with all occupying Soviet forces having withdrawn from the United States(!), though we’re informed that there are still guerrilla bands of Russian fighters out there who haven’t gotten the message. Chief among them would be Killov, who we are told without question is still alive (though he doesn’t appear this time), and also Zhabnov, onetime ruler of Moscow who hasn’t been seen for several volumes; both men have a mad-on hatred for Rockson and are determined to kill him. 

Not only that, but we’re told that President Langford is now the official, uh, President of the reformed US, but he’s so old and frail he’s in a wheelchair now…and gee, the reader must only assume it’s due to fallout from the brainwashing torture he endured back in #16: American Overthrow, a subplot Syvertsen never did follow up on. Also, we’re told that Kim, Langford’s hotstuff daughter, is in the reformed DC with her dad, where she plans parties and stuff – and Rockson figures he’ll “never see her again.” As for Rockson’s other “true love,” Amazonian redhead Rona, she too is out of the picture, off in some other liberated city. We also get the random note that Detroit, the black member of the Rock Squad, has been assigned by Langford to be the Ambassador to Russia, and given that Premiere Vassily is now so old and incompetent, the USSR is actually being run by his Ethiopian servant, Rahallah (who also doesn’t appear – we’re just told all this stuff). So, Rockson muses as he flies along in his fighter jet, the world is essentially run by two black men: Detroit and Rahallah. 

But man, all this is well established at the point that this story begins…it’s news to us readers, but it’s been Rockson’s world for the past three years. Indeed, things are so slow now that mountain man Archer plain left Century City three years ago, bored with the lack of fighting…and Rockson just heard from him for the first time, having received an urgent fax from Archer that Archer needs help! So there are a lot of problems here already…I mean, Archer has ever and always been an idiot, his bumbling stupidity a constant joke in the series. How the hell did this dude learn how to send a fax? And for that matter, since when did he even know how to write? 

Beyond that, though…I mean Rockson receives this urgent “Help!” message, and just all by himself hops in this “Sov” fighter and heads for Archer’s remote destination. No backup, no “new Rock Team” (we also learn Russian guy Sherasnksy has gone back to Russia…but Chen and McLaughlin are still in Century City, at least), just Rockson going solo for no other reason than plot convenience. And even here we get the series mandatory “man against nature” stuff, with Rockson crash landing in rough terrain and then having to escape a giant mutant spider…just “yawn” type stuff after 18 volumes of it. 

The entire concept of Archer having been gone for three years isn’t much followed up on; Rockson and the big mountain man are soon drinking beer and shooting the shit in the bowling alley Archer now calls home(!). There’s also a new character to the series – the absurdly-named Zydeco Realness, an elfin “Techno-survivor,” ie yet another new mutant race, this one having survived the past century in silos, hence their small nature and weird manner of speaking. Also, Ryder Syvertsen has discovered the word “diss,” which mustv’e come into the parlance around this time (I probably learned the word from the Beastie Boys at the time); Zydeco’s people are obsessed with being “dissed,” and will take affront if they even think they are being dissed. Rockson has never heard the word before, and Syvertsen has it that it’s a word the Tecno-survivors have created themselves. 

The titular “Dream Machine” is a device the Techno-survivors have created for people who are about to die…sort of like that bit in Soylent Green where you could have like a sensory experience on your way through the out door. So off the trio go, riding over 50 miles of rough terrain – but wait, I forgot! Rockson actually gets laid…indeed, quite a bit in this novel. But again demonstrating the marked difference between this and the earliest volumes, all the sex is off-page…well, most of it. The few tidbits we get here and there are so vague as to be laughable when compared to the juicy descriptions found many volumes ago. But Rockson makes his way through a few green-skinned wild women, of the same tribe he last, er, mated with back in…well, I think it was the ones way back in #3: The Last American

It's curious that Syvertsen often refers to earlier volumes in American Dream Machine, more so than in any past installment; we are reminded of how long ago certain events were. But then he goes and makes the rest of the novel completely unrelated from the series itself. Anyway, I realized toward the end of the book that Syvertsen was indulging in this reminiscence because he must have known the end was near, as by the end of the book you know we’re headed for a series resolution. However I’m getting ahead of myself. As mentioned instead of any series continuity, we instead get a bonkers plot that rips off Total Recall to a certain extent…which must’ve been quite a trick given that the movie hadn’t come out yet when Syvertsen was writing his manuscript. Or maybe it was the Total Recall novelization, published in hardcover in 1989, that inspired him. Or maybe it was just a coincidence. Or maybe it was just the original Philip K. Dick story. 

So Rockson gets in the Dream Machine, which looks like a big metal coffin, and sure enough as soon as he’s under none other than Zhabnov and his forces storm in – completely coincidentally! – and they take everyone prisoner. And when Zhabnov discovers Rockson in this machine, he has the Techo-survivors turn the dream into a nightmare. For the next hundred-plus pages we’ll be in this nightmare world, which is where the similarity to previous volume American Nightmare comes in…just as with that one, this one too will be a “nightmare” with no bearing on the main plot of the series, with even Rockson himself a completely different character. 

That’s because he’s now “Niles Rockson,” a wealthy playboy living in a penthouse in NYC in the pre-nuke 1980s, enjoying a romantic time with hotstuff blonde “Kimetta.” None other than the dream version of Kim Langford, with the curious tidbit that, despite having been plain ignored for the past several volumes, Kim is now presented as Rock’s soul mate, the love of his life. Well anyway when the nightmare begins…Kim suddenly becomes a mean-looking tough chick (still hot though, we’re informed – with, uh, big boobs despite her small stature!), and the action has been changed to…Venus

Suddenly Kimetta is angry at Rockson, meaning the dream has changed but Rockson of course is not aware he’s in a dream; reading the novel is a very frustrating experience. And it gets dumber. Some cops come in and haul Rockson off for the crime of being a “playboy!” He’s put on a “prisoner ship” and sent off into space, headed for the artificial planet Esmerelda, which is a prison colony. Yet, despite this being a nightmare, Rockson – in the narrative concocted by the Techno-survivors at the behest of Zhabnov – still gets laid. A lot. Hookers are sent into his room each night, a different one each night, and every time it’s fade to black. One of the gals happens to be from Esmerelda, the planet they’re headed for, and since Rockson’s so good in bed (we’re informed), she treats him to “the Esmereldan position.” Demonstrating how juvenile the tone of Doomsday Warrior has become, Syvertsen actually describes this screwing-in-a-weird-new-position thusly: “It would be difficult to explain.” And that’s all he writes about it. 

We’re in straight-up sci-fi territory as Rockson is taken to this planet Esmerelda…where he learns he’s going to become a gladiator. And at least sticking true to the series template he’ll need to fight a bloodthirsty monster in the arena. It’s all so dumb…and, well, at least it’s dreamlike, with non-sequitur stuff like Kimetta – who now has become the daughter of the prison warden on Esmerelda! – giving Rockson a talisman that will protect him against this monster. It just goes on and on, having nothing to do with Doomsday Warrior, yet not being strong enough to retain the reader’s interest; Syvertsen’s boredeom with it all is very apparent, and this feeling extends to the reader. 

At the very least I was impressed with how Syvertsen just wings it as he goes along…given that all this is a “dream,” he’s able to change the narrative as he sees fit. But gradually Rockson starts to figure something is amiss with this world, and begins to remember “The Doomsday Warrior.” But again it’s very juvenile, with Rockson suddenly certain that if he escapes Esmerelda, he will awaken into his real reality. The finale of the dream sequence features some unexpected emotional depth, when Rockson realizes that his beloved Kimetta is “just a dream, too.” This leads to a sequence where the series gets back to its New Agey roots; The Glowers, those godlike mutants also last seen in the third volume, show up to save Rockson – who is near death from his experience. This kind of goes on for a bit, with the Glowers and Rockson’s pals using a Medicine Wheel to put Rockson’s soul back together with his body. 

Here's where it becomes clear Ryder Syvertsen has the end of the series in mind. Well, first we get more juvenile stuff where the Glowers bring out a massive ship made of ice and snow and upon it floats Rockson and team back to Century City – where the Glowers have called ahead telepathically. Rockson is given a hero’s welcome, and what’s more Rona and Kim are there waiting for him, and we’re told they’ve “settled their jealous differences” about Rockson, and have decided what to do about him – but will tell him more later. The main Glower announces that Killov is alive, and only Rockson can stop him, thus setting the stage for the next (and final) volume. 

But man…here comes the scene we’ve waited so many volumes for: that night there’s a knock at Rockson’s door, and he opens it to find both Kim and Rona there in negligees, and they laugh and push Rockson back on his bed, and the reader is promised the Doomsday Warrior three-way to end all three-ways. But friggin’ Ryder Syvertsen ends the book right there!! (I’m currently working on my own 200-page fan novelization of this sex scene.) 

As mentioned, the next volume is to be the last…but the series has been over for Syvertsen for a long time, now. That said, I might get to the last one sooner rather than later, for American Dream Machine seems to be leading directly to that next novel – meaning, the next one shouldn’t open three years after this one. 

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