The Backlog Is Even Bigger

It’s one of those times when my book backlog keeps growing and growing and growing.

As I’ve said many times already, I don’t necessarily view this as a bad thing. The few times I haven’t had a big backlog are times when I scramble around for new books. If I find a new book in a time without a backlog and it turns out to not be very good, then I have to scramble anew.

Yet if I read a backlog book and that turns out subpar, then, well, I can just grab the next book out of that. And frequently that turns out a lot better than the previous one. I try to balance my book purchases, even within the “cheap thriller” types so that I don’t get too overloaded by any one genre. It may be counterintuitive to have a big pile of unread books, but it works for me.


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.


The Megabinge

Around this time last year, I began reading Total War, the first book in Jerry Ahern’s incredible, and incredibly ridiculous Survivalist series. I ended up wolfing down all of the 27 numbered books there. Since then, the closest I’ve come is Jon Land’s Blaine McCracken series, but that’s eleven books and I read them over a (somewhat) longer period.

I’m wondering if I’ll ever megabinge something like the Survivalist series again. I’d need a series that, besides being long, had these factors.

  • Was well written enough to keep me following it.
  • Had a serial format and a overall plot interesting enough to keep me following it.
  • Didn’t face competition from another author/series.

So I haven’t slopped into the mood, but you never know…


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.

Reading SEAL Team Seven

The SEAL Team Seven series, two installments of which I’ve reviewed on Fuldapocalypse, is interesting. It took two declining genres-the military technothriller and the pulp action written by multiple authors under one house name-and managed to last quite a while.

For such a giant series, I’m following my rules of thumb for any series that isn’t in strict chronological order. When in doubt, pick something with either the most interesting blurb/premise, or one where there was a key change. First I read the initial installment. Then I read a book that had both an interesting blurb and was the first book not written by the original author, William Keith.

So far I’ve been quite entertained by the adventures of Blake Murdock (how’s that for a main character name) and his team.

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.


Thriller Character Names

Cheap thriller protagonists can have very “action-hero” names. Perhaps the most archetypal are Mack Bolan and Jack Reacher. Sometimes they can become ridiculously exaggerated, like “Dusky MacMorgan“. In the “middle” are these.

  • Mark Stone (MIA Hunter)
  • Luke Stone (Luke Stone)
  • Blake Murdock (SEAL Team Seven)
  • John Cody (Cody’s Army)
  • John Rourke (Survivalist)
  • David Saxon (Marine Force One)

But of all of these, my favorite character name has to be author Jon Land’s Blaine McCracken.

The Invasion Novel Itch

A while ago, my specific cheap thriller itch was military sci-fi. Now, more recently, it seems to be “invasion novels” (Red Dawn, Tomorrow When The War Began, etc…). They’re not crowding out everything else, but still, I’m reading more of them than I used to. Don’t ask me why.

Reading a long series

So, it’s not uncommon for me to face a long series. Many cheap thrillers in particular have huge numbers of installments in them. The pattern I faced with the Survivalist – grab the whole thing and read it all from start to finish – isn’t necessarily the best. And not just because I’m leery of repeating the gonzo “27 BOOKS I CAN DO THIS!” attitude. Ahern’s knack for long , connected “soap operas” was different from many other books aiming for each installment to be as self-contained as possible. So if there isn’t an explicit connection, then I tend to go for…

  • The initial one. First because it’s the sane place to start, and also because first impressions matter to me.

If it’s short, I just grab the whole series if the first book is good. If not, then…

  • The installment(s) with the most out-there premise. I can read five books about Mack Bolan facing mobsters/terrorists, or I can read a book where he fights some weirdly supernatural, out-of-character opponent. The latter seems more appealing.
  • Failing that, the installment generally considered either the best (obvious reason) or worst (Is it really that bad?).