Thursday, October 3, 2013

Doomsday Squad: A Review

Dom Gober's Doomsday Squad is an apocalyptic tale that postulates a potential black revolution starting in Los Angeles in the mid-1970s.  There is a mysterious radical group and a lot of blood and explosions on the streets, but the revolutions success hangs on a knifes edge.

Doomsday Squad is one of a series of novels written by Joseph Nazel (1944-2006) (his real name) that involved unrest within the African-American urban community.  Some of them are linked strongly to the belief that the drug trade is used to keep blacks within the inner city in their place.  I chose this book because many of Mr. Nazel's novels are collectible, and this one by being listed under a different name was less expensive. Nazel mostly wrote under his own  name.  But as with many pulp writers, to disguise the immense output of sometimes rather similar novels, they would release some of them under a different name.

A brief biography (from here):
Nazel was a combat veteran of the Vietnam War who went on to become a prolific writer and chronicler of the black experience in America. He worked as an editor for a variety of black publications, including the Watts Times and Players magazine. But Nazel is best remembered for his books, of which there were at least sixty. 
There are more details at a Los Angeles Times Obituary .

The story begins with an attack on a local armory, an attack that ends with the death of some police officers who come on the scene in mid-crime. The revolutionary gang is mostly white idealists turned savage, and a lone embittered black Vietnam veteran.  Although in theory they all want the same thing, there is more than a little bit of a cultural clash within the group.

The second storyline of the novel involves a black narcotics police detective who recognizes the Veteran from a photograph and sets out to dissuade him from his plans.  The story is to some degree a race between the revolutionaries, and the black police officer.  The waters are muddied considerably because both the revolutionaries and the detective have people they are answerable to.

In the end, there is a lot of chaos, but the existing order is given at least a temporary reprieve.

Did I enjoy the novel?  I did up to a point.  It has a dated feel, but the writing quality is better than I expected of pulp fiction.   The novel is an interesting insight in to what would be acceptable to a black audience of the day, and shows fairly clearly why African Americans are culturally the most conservative section of the current Democratic Party's constituencies.  There is a strong desire for moral behavior, and  horror and general condemnation of the drug culture. There is a strong desire for social justice, but also an understanding that without the police, as racist as they might be, society would be much worse off.  So, I did enjoy it, but some that was truthfully because of the curiosity factor.  The story itself is clever, but not amazingly so.

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 difficult.  With modern police techniques, and our militarized police, this type of threat, would not be all that compelling today.  The actions occur within the modern world, and the activities take place within a modern setting, so I'll punt and call it a 4.

Readability is straightforward.  There is a fair amount of action, mixed in with equal amounts of philosophic dialog.  Fast and slow mix together for a 5.

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