Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Outrider: A Review

Richard Harding's The Outrider (1984: Amazon, Goodreads list) was the first of five in a series of Mad Max-like post apocalyptic men's adventure stories set in the aftermath of a nuclear exchange.  It is noted as occurring in the not too distant future.  But it is a not too distant future where people don't remember what birds, or radio, or television are, so we are probably at least a couple of generations past the apocalypse.  The country has collapsed into five or six warlord holdings with Chicago being the one free city on the North American continent. The first chapter is excerpted here.

Richard Harding (pseudonym for Robert Tine) (1954-) appears to have done a large number of movie novelizations, in addition to an unknown (under different pseudonyms) number pulp fiction style novels.  Different lists carry different numbers of novels by Tine. One biographical oddity I picked up, was that he was sued in 1978 by Lisa Springer, his ex-girlfriend, for portraying her (in a disguised form) as a high paid prostitute in one of his early novels State of Grace.  She lost the court decision 4-1 (further info), but she must have been an interesting girlfriend to presume the novel was about her, and get at least one vote in her favor. 

As an action adventure novel of the time, directed toward a male audience, one expects certain features:  from the Encyclopedia of Adventure Fiction (starting at page 147); we will check off the relevant points as we go:
With some exceptions pulp hero fiction for men was very similar across the board despite the genre in which it was being published. Little time was spent on characterization, not even the hero [], and often the villains were more memorable than the character [].  Women were generally plot elements rather than actual participants in the story []. They were there to be menaced and defended, captured and rescued [], or to provide someone to whom the hero could explain things [no check there, she is captured at the start]...
Our hero, Bonner, carries three knives that he throws with instant kill precision, and a cut down pump shotgun.  He is a professional scavenger (referred to as a smuggler) which is about as nice of a heroic occupation as one is likely to see in this post-apocalyptic world.  The novel, as seen in the excerpt, starts with an assassination attempt on Bonner.  Bonner responds by heading out to gather up a collection of like-minded folk, and we eventually get a post-apocalyptic dirty dozen  headed to the ruins of Washington D.C. to collect up his lost loved one, and exact revenge on his ex-partner, turned evil nemesis, Leather.

His vehicle of choice is all Mad Max.  Minimal frame powered by an 8 cylinder Lycoming marine engine.  Probably the last of the engines built for that company before they were bought out, the author is likely talking about the engines uses to propel the Navy hovercrafts of the day.  In a world short of gasoline (forget about the fact the gasoline hasn't gone stale) it would probably use up 80% of the Eastern Seaboard's supply in about a week as its fuel mileage would be rated in gallons per mile.  Although he notes he has a hard time keeping the 50 gallon tank full, the reality is that he probably wouldn't get much further out of Chicago than the dry lakebed that is now Lake Michigan.  He off course has a 50 caliber machine gun mounted with some sort of ad hoc pintle mount .  He shoots up a group  of marauders just outside of town - and of course drives off without scrounging their gasoline.

The fantastical, versus highly implausible, is kept to a minimum. There are hints of low level telepathy between two enormous violent brother, and the closest we get to mutants are some radiation sick crazies with bad skin: the radleps: who are Leather's shock troops.  Since the movie Star Wars was already out by this time, we get Storm Troopers, who are about as effective as Lucas', rather then the original World War 1 German ones.  On their journey, they have to wind there way through the abandoned vehicles left by those who died bugging out from the great cities, the Appalachian coal areas are permanently on fire, and water levels in lakes and rivers are low.  Most of the worst radiation is past, and there is no concern for continuing fallout.  So we have a suitably hellish, Mad Max world.

Is it worth reading?  Shrug...I don't know.  With brief a brief, descriptive text, the  213 pages it reads more like some other novels 140, so unless you count the sequels, you won't sink a whole lot of time into it.  Although the author names a variety of weaponry available for the period, there is not a lot of insight as to their actual usability, or function.  Bad guys miss, but tend to be able to overwhelm by shear numbers, good guys rock.  It is classic men's adventure with slightly better plotting, and characterization than the sub genre's reputation would normally lead one to expect.  Outside of the occasional curiosity read, it is not a flavor I would plan to spend much time with, and likely, the subgenre's day is past.

We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.

Realism is low for a non-fantastical novel.  There are no elves, not too much in the way of bizarre mutants, and the only telepathy is low key enough that it could be Bonner's imagination.  Since I don't give half-points, I will keep it down at a 2.

Readability I have already addressed above.  The plot, sparse as it is, is coherent.  There is not a lot to puzzle through.  The novel is obviously the start of a series, so there are a few minor threads left to explore for number 2.  But aside from those, it is works reasonably well as a standalone adventure.  It is almost a page turner, so we will call it a 6.


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