Tuesday, February 27, 2024

WILD CARD by Raymond Hawkey and Roger Bingham

Here's a weird one: a parapolitics thriller starring an unnamed President, set in a delightfully gonzo 197X near future setting where urban guerrillas have gotten ahold of suitcase nukes and the traffic is still hell on earth! The Fortress of America is coming apart at the seams, so science adviser Nadelman proposes some necessary evil: a faked UFO invasion, complete with an alien infection! Only such an otherworldly threat could possibly save these disunited states. The President isn't quite sold, but one assassination attempt later he begrudgingly signs off, and Wild Card lets loose.

Once we're off, however, the story proves muddled and unfocused. I'm glad the authors avoided two fisted filler and potboiler beats, but most of the way through it feels like we're reading a short story that just happens to keep going. There's nothing wrong with their writing per se, but things never quite come together, and threads fail to develop fully before we move onto the next sequence. And for all the acknowledgments front and back dedicated to real life scientists about the techniques described within, not much of it seems to come out in the final product, save for a deadly reveal one of the characters overhears, and a sci-fi device that comes in at the end to put a little twist on things. The alien building is fun though, as the scientists in the story play around with science fiction tropes and attempt to create realistic fictional invaders.

To Hawkey and Bingham's credit, there is a crackerjack disaster sequence near the end, and the usual downbeat '70s ending with a little cynical twist. Those creative scientists are finely drawn, a midcentury mix of careerists, ex-Nazis, and idealistic babes in the woods, none of whom can fully understand the tenuous nature of their continued employment - or survival! The authors also handle the President and his cabinet well, leaving him nameless and letting the setting speak for itself as to political developments in the near future. There's a lovely sequence near the beginning where the President watches a news broadcast and pays special attention to the graphic design on the little screen behind the anchor - he sees the Statue of Liberty and the US dollar getting destroyed, graphically on screen just as they are not-so-metaphorically outside in the real world. Hawkey was a graphic designer in another life and can be credited with the modern look of the airport thriller!

From the MI6 HQ website

Wild Card's cover art from Ballantine Books is uninspired but gets the job done, and at least it's not as hackneyed as this Panther edition from 1976:

Ahhh, a skeleton!

Hawkey wrote two more thrillers in the same vein sans Bingham, and they make up the loose Presidential Trilogy:

Everything in this goofy ride is eminently plausible, from false flag UFOs (some may also remember Reagan's fixation on alien invaders as a conduit to world peace) to domestic biowarfare (more ably presented in other thrillers like The Nightmare Factor and The Black Death, and partially archived among other places under the Special Virus Cancer Program). It's just a shame that it doesn't congeal into a successful story. Wild Card tries to go all in but busts out with a mediocre 2/4 rating.

Ballantine Books, 1974

Tuesday, February 20, 2024


Hot on the heels of Warren Smith's Finders Keepers, ol' reliable Brad Steiger delivers his own treasure hunting text with the bold, fresh title of ... well, Treasure Hunting. Steiger thanks Smith for the use of his treasure archives, and I'm assuming they collaborated on writing their respective volumes because there's very little overlap between them. Steiger tackles the Oak Island mystery that Smith preferred to leave out, and the chapter here would show up slightly abbreviated in Steiger's pseudonymous 1972 Eric Norman title Beyond the Strange. Treasure Hunting is structured like any of Steiger's classic Forteana titles, just one short chapter after another, onward to the end, with plenty of cheesy dialogue and fictionalized reconstructions. Steiger also reuses the list of metal detecting/treasure hunting companies that Smith assembled in Finders Keepers. That humorously vague "tip" about some streams in some parts of South Carolina showing "good color" is also present in both volumes - don't make it too easy for us, guys!

Venturing abroad, Steiger gives us a pair of lost underwater nazi jackpots with Erwin Rommel's Corsican fortune and the lethal treasure of Lake Toplitz, which claims the life of diver Alfred Egner in 1963 as well as two unnamed men, brutally murdered, who may very well be completely made up for Steiger's storytelling purposes. Rumor and legend cloud the waters of the mind and provide Steiger with lots of plausible deniability ... he's not always sure if a treasure even exists at all, but he's just doing his part passing on the info! Again, these volumes are for daydreaming dads to fall asleep reading in their easy chairs, or maybe drum up a little business for Gardiner Electronics and the like when dad plunks down part of the vacation fund on a metal detector - "It'll be fun, Junior!"

The back page ads cover some UFO/Forteana and Old West titles, along with a classic treasure hunting title, Lost Mines and Hidden Treasure by one Leland Lovelace, originally published 1956.

Ace Books, 1967

Thursday, February 15, 2024

HELLSTONE by Steven Spruill

Ancient horrors meet the modern technothriller in HELLSTONE! Author Steven Spruill did loads of research on Nessie and crafts his own unique version of the monster, something much more surprising and horrifying than a surviving plesiosaur. Unfortunately the story is dogged by jittery pacing, tiresome thriller antics, and a hard man protagonist with a maudlin backstory. It's way better than Konvitz's Monster, but that's damning with faint praise.

We open with an evocative historical prologue and then settle in for some two fisted filler in the present day, before we can finally get back to the loch. But then things get jumpy and we haven't been out on the water for two seconds when the horror strikes! We go back and forth for a while and learn about pagan cults and corrupt authorities, while a bloodless cast of scientists stick around awaiting their inevitable dispatch. The monster hangs around too, more present than in Konvitz's garbage story but still frustratingly ephemeral. The thought and care Spruill puts into his creature is appreciated, but it's almost lost in the padded storytelling.

Spruill's historical vignettes of foreign invaders running afoul of the beast are the best parts of the story, and it's too bad the present day action seems so rote and drawn out. When a supporting character blows their brains out from the horror, the effect is null except to note that another plot thread has been cleaned up. Eventually everything ties up neatly and we're left dissatisfied, having slogged through a 300 page thriller with little to show for it.

Spruill's bibliography impresses even if the total package cannot. Hellstone earns a 2/4 for some swings and roundabouts.

Playboy Press, 1981

Sunday, February 4, 2024

THE BIBLE AND THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE by George Johnson and Don Tanner

We're getting back to our roots here for our big 400th post with some classic crank writing on the Bermuda Triangle courtesy Christian authors George Johnson and Don Tanner, as they run us through the connections between THE BIBLE AND THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE! Their religious POV gives us some great Triangle tidbits like missionary couple Warren and Betty Miller of East Lansing, MI, who fly their Beechcraft through a mysterious yellow fog over the Triangle that kills their instruments and leaves them SOL at 11,000 feet! The authors make some biblical interpretations of this yellow fog later on ...

I assume that "the movie" referenced on the cover is Richard Winer's 1971 documentary The Devil's Triangle, narrated by Vincent Price. Typical of '70s Christian authors, everything here is laid out plainly and flows logically within the busted frameworks of biblical literalism and young Earth creationism. Johnson and Tanner quote classic Triangle stories extensively from authors like Charles BerlitzAdi-Kent Thomas Jeffrey, psychic Page Bryant, Richard Winer, and most interestingly Lawrence David Kusche, whose skeptical book The Bermuda Triangle Mystery - Solved is used to deflate some of the Triangle myth making of the other authors. One example has Johnson and Tanner using the phony line "they look like they're from outer space" from retellings of Flight 19 in an early chapter (quoting Art Ford specifically) and then correcting it later with Kusche's work to prove a point about occultic lies. Our authors have us coming and going though, because both the fake Triangle myths and any genuine weirdness going on out there spring from the same source: Satan! Another heavily cited work is the Christian text UFOs: What on Earth is Happening? by John Weldon and Zola Levitt, which posits that flying saucers are emissaries of Satan.

Johnson and Tanner dredge up Ignatius Donnelly, of course, and W.S. Cerve's 1931 text Lemuria: The Lost Continent of the Pacific for evidence of sunken lands proving biblical catastrophism. Velikovsky and those old flash frozen mammoths also buttress this argument. Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monsters are bad portents of rising occultism, and monster hunting creep Frank Searle puts in an appearance for some satanic synchronicity.

Edgar Cayce and other psychics like Darwin Gross, ECK Master, are also quoted to support catastrophism and the idea of an imminent Atlantean resurrection in the Bermuda Triangle, with the authors disclaiming that, of course, any funny business involved is straight from Satan! Johnson and Tanner work in some Creationist cant too, with clumsy references to the coelacanth and "index fossils" that aren't fully explained. These and many other references come from the 1961 blockbuster catastrophist work The Genesis Flood by John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris.

There's plenty of well done maps and illustrations, including a mysterious deep hole in the Gulf of Oman (relevant to Revelation 9:14) and a diagram of the Devil's Triangle and Bermuda Triangle both leading to Sheol, the biblical underworld. This is Johnson and Tanner's big idea, that Satan and his demonic minions are luring lost souls with UFOs, USOs, sea monsters, Bigfoot, and assorted occult phenomenon into the Triangles and vile vortices of Ivan T. Sanderson, which lead straight to Hades, where they'll await the final judgement to be cast into the eternal lake of fire! The authors suggest getting right with God to avoid this fate, in their specific manner of course.

The back page ads are a snapshot of American Christian concerns in the late '70s, covering economic woes, Eldridge Cleaver's conservative conversion, effective ministry, and another book by Tanner called On the Other Side, dealing with the near death experience of one Martin Ford. Tanner cowrote it with Dave Balsiger, who was also behind In Search of Noah's Ark, which was adapted post haste by Sunn Classic Pictures into the smash hit documentary of the same name. Tanner mentions On the Other Side in the introduction to this title as a reason he began investigating the occult/biblical connections to the Bermuda Triangle.

The Bible and the Bermuda Triangle is available to read and download at archive dot org. Here's to a new year, and some new old friends. Don't step into any bottomless pits!

Logos International, 1976