Action Hero Names And Backgrounds

So reading this Nader Elfhefnawy speculation on “Thrillers and Social Class” brought me to some of my thoughts I had on the subject.

  • A lot of character background in the pulpier stuff extends only to their ability to buy their arsenals. John Rourke somehow got the money to build his mountain bunker lair, his wife wrote children’s books, and that’s basically all we know of his pre-apocalyptic social status. It’s generally not mentioned that much.
  • W.E.B. Griffin preferred wealthy characters for the flippant explanation of “Rich people are more interesting than poor people. “
  • Irish names seem to be strangely common. John Rourke, Blake Murdock, John Brannigan, and of course, Blaine McCracken are some of the names I’ve seen. I honestly think this is a pure coincidence that wasn’t conscious on the part of any of the authors, but an interesting one nonetheless.
  • I’ve encountered three different main characters by three different authors who all have the last name “Stone”. Mark Stone, Luke Stone, and now John Stone. It’s a coincidence with a common name, I’m sure, but still interesting as well.
  • The worst cases have obvious author Mary Sues. For instance, Ben Raines in William W. Johnstone’s Ashes series mysteriously was a paperback book author before becoming Mary Sue Alexander Temujin.


The Most Strangely Prominent Book

David Alexander’s Marine Force One is not prominent or popular by any standard. The best you can say is that it led to a few more book in its series. It has its quirks, but it’s a very middling novel. That’s the reason why I cite it so much in later Fuldapocalypse reviews.

Like the elusive “replacement-level player” in sports analysis, the “51% book” is a term I use a lot, used to describe something that’s merely adequate in all forms. And this was one of the most 51% books imaginable. It’s so middling it somehow stands out as something that is the perfect example of a decent book.

Going Back To The Car Plant

I actually haven’t read any cheap thrillers I can remember that took place in car plants, or even had a scene that was inside a car plant. They’re big, there’s a lot of people there, and there’s a lot of automated heavy equipment that can spice up the more ridiculous set pieces.

What’s not to like? Even better, they can be everything from shiny, new, mechanized car plants to old, rusty, smoky and grimy ones. There’s a lot of possibilities for making the scenes work. I may have to include a significant scene inside a car plant for my next thriller project.


Five Thrillers

I’ve read so many cheap thrillers that arrowing it down to just five I’d recommend right off the bat is difficult, but here they are:

Team Yankee by Harold Coyle

This is one of the best Cold War hot books I’ve read. It showed me the perils of box-check thinking, because on paper it has every indication of the kind of “Boom boom goes the tank” clunkfests I’d read on the internet. Yet in practice, it’s a smooth-flowing tale that illustrates the best possibilities of the genre.

The Alpha Deception by Jon Land

All right, so most of Jon Land’s books, especially the Blaine McCracken ones, are goofy, crazy, ridiculous and fun. It was very difficult to select the goofiest, craziest, most ridiculous, and most fun out of them. But if I had to, I’d say The Alpha Deception, because Land pulls out all the stops, even by his standards.

Burmese Crossfire by Peter Nealen

Take a love letter to the “Men’s Adventure” books of the past. Now instead of a revolving door of  for-the-money ghostwriters who glanced at one issue of Guns And Ammo, take a veteran with heart and a knowledge of when to be grounded and when to be bombastic. The result is something excellent.

Tin Soldiers by Michael Farmer

Ok, so this is driven up by context, because a 2000s technothriller is surrounded by mediocre-to-terrible neighbors. It also has its share of problems. But it manages to do right what a lot of other thrillers did wrong. This is no small feat, and it’s the technothriller book from that time period I’d be the likeliest to recommend.

Valor’s Choice by Tanya Huff

A military science fiction book that has almost none of the baggage associated with the genre. This, apart from being good (if a little derivative-you’d know the movie/historical battle it’s inspired by very quickly), is one of the best cases of a fresh face revitalizing a genre.



I’ve reviewed a few of the Casca books at Fuldapocalypse. I guess I just couldn’t resist the notion of a series with the background of “Guy who sang The Ballad Of The Green Berets writes a series about an immortal soldier.”

Basically, it’s “the Longinus and Wandering Jew legends are fused into one person, who proceeds to have a lot of pulp historical fiction adventures.”And I do mean pop-culture pulp history. Trust me.

But as long as one accepts that these are historical popular pulp cheap thrillers and not expected to be the most accurate or deep, they often work. And they frequently succeed in turning tales of “Wolverine without claws” into something dramatic by emphasizing the ways Casca can be harmed rather than the ways he can’t be. They’re still often good as just fluff reading (although I’ve been on a “losing streak” with the latest few Cascas I’ve read).

But at the same time, the Casca series is just massively unambitious and formulaic. Now, normally, criticizing cheap thrillers for being formulaic is like criticizing candy for having lots of sugar in it. However, A: it’s a little worse even than the low norm, and B: the origins of Casca kind of set a higher standard. Imagine a series with someone who gets a form of superpowers from some religiously significant event-and then does nothing but shoot mobsters in one rote 70s thriller after another. It’s not even that over-the-top much of the time.

One of the secrets that reading a few Casca books will reveal is that its main character is surprisingly replaceable. You could write dozens of historical pulp novels with dozens of different main characters either connected by some Eternal Champion-style spirit/fate or just unrelated save for being pulp heroes, and about the only change you’d have to make is having them be concerned about dying outright and not just being trapped/harmed. There’s the millenia-old Brotherhood of the Lamb as a halfhearted attempt at recurring antagonists. That’s it.

This is like having the defending Super Bowl champions at 1st and goal and immediately deciding to kick a field goal. Yes you get points [readable books] where you possibly couldn’t have gotten any, but the opportunity for so much more was there.

I think of what a more serious and philosophical author could have done with such a figure (I mean, for one they could actually mention the religious implications in more than passing). On the other hand, I think of what a more bombastic writer could have done (Given that Jerry Ahern was desperate to stretch his writing legs and had plans for a continuous one hundred book series, having Casca’s struggle against the Brotherhood go from spears to Detonics to lasers would have been something).

Instead, the entire central gimmick, the one that attracted me (and no doubt others) in ways that a bunch of unrelated historical novels didn’t, is used for little more than not having to come up with new names and basic character backgrounds for each book. It’s a shame to let such potential go to waste.

Finishing A Series

Almost by coincidence I just finished all the currently written entries in two semi-similar series. Those series are Jon Land’s Blaine McCracken and Buck Stienke and Ken Farmer’s Black Eagle Force. (Many entries from both have been reviewed on Fuldapocalypse).

Unlike my 27-book megabinge with The Survivalist, it took me getting about halfway into the Blaine McCracken series before I started reading the books sequentially (it “helped” that some of the books I read that I thought would be more grounded as a contrast turned out to be just as crazy in some ways). The BEF books I never read more than two in a row.

There are more differences-McCracken is an individual action hero, while the Black Eagle Force series is, as I put it, “More Mack Maloney than Mack Maloney” and focuses around units and super-aircraft. But their structural similarities are clearer-they’re both series whose literary “fundamentals” aren’t the best (although Land is considerably better than Stienke and Farmer in that regard), but which have a knack for crazy action. Thus, their weakest entries are the most mundane, and the strongest the most crazy.

I benefited from reading both these series in all their “amazingly stupid to stupidly amazing” glory, and it always feels bittersweet to conclude something that I’ve enjoyed.


Skeleton Coast reviewed on Fuldapocalypse

So, I’ve finally reviewed Clive Cussler’s Skeleton Coast on Fuldapocalypse.

Cussler was one of my favorite authors growing up, and the first real cheap thriller author I read in bulk. I read lots of Cussler’s (even if, by this point in his career, most of the actual work was done by other people), and a book review is long overdue. So why not choose one of the most memorable?