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Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Ratbastards #4: Meat Grinder Hill


In an earlier post, I blogged the news about Len Levinson's march to e-book immortality. A couple of his western series have been translated to digital format on Amazon, and one of his war series. After his Sergeant paperbacks (originally released under the name Gordon Davis), his Ratbastards books top my list of guilty-pleasure war fiction.

His platoon of kill-crazy Jap-stabbing GIs now reactivated for a prolonged Pacific combat deployment, I'm still hoping Levinson cuts orders for MSGT Clarence J. Mahoney to resume his gory Kraut-killing campaign in the DTO (Digital Theater of Operations). In the meantime, I am tickled slappy that his blood-splattered prose can now grace the screen of my Kindle.

In this installment, both Master Sergeant Butsko and PFC Frankie LaBarbara are hospitalized in New Caledonia, leaving Texan Buck Sergeant Bannon in charge of the 23rd Infantry's Recon Platoon (the Ratbastards of the title).

US forces are mopping up the final resistance on Guadalcanal, and the regiment is using the Recon Platoon as a screen. In the attempt to catch up to an enemy patrol, Bannon and his platoon of cutthroats stumble right into the Japanese 17th Division, dug in on the Gifu line.

The narrative switches back-and-forth between the action on the 'Canal and the erotic adventures of LaBarbara and Butsko among the nurses on New Caledonia--two completely different plot lines, related only by the fact that these wounded Casanovas are from the Recon Platoon.

There is spectacular action...and not just with the lusty nurses. And not all the combat is against the Japanese. A cheese-eating first sergeant from one of the line companies sics his men on the Ratbastards and the gang violence that ensues is better than any rumble between Crips and Bloods, Outlaws and Hell's Angels, or Jets and Sharks. When the opposing combatants are Japanese, the bloody gore is brutal without the sick, graphic obsession of some more current fiction. And true to form, Len Levinson depicts more bayonet combat in the battle for Hill 27 than probably occurred in the entire island-hopping campaign.

I first read this long ago, in a paperback with Levinson's John Mackie pseudonym on the cover. Upon a recent perusal, it surprised me how many typos I found, and other mistakes (in the space of 3 paragraphs, 1 character's rank changes from captain to lieutenant back to captain, for instance). But it is a great read if you like over-the-top war scenes (without ALL the sickening details of what combat in the Pacific was really like).

As in all his books I've read, Levinson knows how to keep a reader turning pages, sprinkles in some nicely-researched tidbits, and litters the landscape with characters you will either abhor or admire...but always be entertained by.

Friday, October 12, 2012

SpecOps in Pre-Castro Cuba: Silvernail

Have I mentioned lately that the World Wide Web is what's up? One reason I say this is that it makes possible the interaction of bookworms like me with the authors of books they love. 

E-books and Print-on-Demand are what's up, too. Those make it possible for authors once pimp-slapped around by the New York Publishing Cartel to re-issue their backlist and make it available for a new generation of readers. I should say generations, plural, because there's no need for good books to go out of print anymore due to limited shelf space at brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Both of these phenomena (of internet-age coolness) come together in the person of Jim Morris. I've reviewed his Breeder, War Story and Above and Beyond here on the Two-Fisted Blog. With the help of Antenna Books, he is still re-releasing his earlier titles. One of the most recent to become available for the Amazon Kindle is Silvernail. Check it out:

The Green Berets' deadliest asset, he was chosen to do their most dangerous job...

The Green Berets sent Captain John Silvernail to San Sebastian to change the tide of history. His mission: to hook up with the rebel army that was whipping the pants off the U.S. backed dictator. His goal: to win its leader's confidence before Castro did.

But to get on Comachos's good side, Silvernail had to fight for him. And once the fighting had started, there was no telling where it would lead or when it would stop.


Jim Morris served three tours with Special Forces (The Green Berets) in Vietnam. The second and third were cut short by serious wounds. He retired of wounds as a major. He has maintained his interest in the mountain peoples of Vietnam with whom he fought, and has been, for many years, a refugee and civil rights activist on their behalf.

His Vietnam memoir War Story won the first Bernal Diaz Award for military non-fiction. Morris is author of the story from which the film Operation Dumbo Drop was made, and has produced numerous documentary television episodes about the Vietnam War. He is author of three books of non-fiction and four novels. He has appeared on MSNBC as a commentator on Special Operations.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Time and Again by Jack Finney

This post I'm giving you a brief respite from all the blood and thunder, to review a time-travel adventure written in the early 1970s.

Simon "Si" Morely is recruited by a super-secret government agency for a top secret project. He is asked to volunteer, though the recruiter won't even tell him what the project is about until he signs on the dotted line. It wouldn't be much of a story if Si did the logical thing and told them to take a long walk on a short pier, so he signs on and gradually learns the project involves experiments in time travel.

Si is the ideal candidate because he is both fairly intelligent, and artistic, which gives him the right sort of cognitive profile for the job.

Like Somewhere in Time, the movie starring Christopher Reeve, the method of time-wrinkling here is hypnosis. So I don't know if that makes it more or less science fiction than plots (improperly) invoking Einstein's relativity theory as a method of time travel.

If you're prone to mentally debating yourself on theoretical matters, as I am, then the hypnotic time travel premise can instigate quite an intellectual quandry for you. Who can define time? I dare you to try, in one coherent, easily understood sentence. It's the 4th dimension we exist in. We can't affect it, influence it, ignore it or define it. We can only measure it. And if it weren't for the law of entropy, it wouldn't be a big deal anyway.

But I digress.

Si travels back to the New York of 1882. His assignment is to observe a man mail a letter (a letter his antique-collecting girlfriend showed him). When he succeeds in his mission and returns, the project is delighted, and tasks him to return and do more of the same. As he does so, Si stumbles on a blackmail plot involving a man who would become a president's advisor.

This mystery becomes the centerpiece of the novel, though Finney gives us a glimpse into a lost, forgotten era with snippets of the early Industrial Revolution urban milleu. Si also develops feelings for a young woman he meets during his time travels ("young" being relative, of course). At one point, he brings her back to his time and it's fun, if not comical, to view the "modern" world through her eyes.

Finney's politics were absent until toward the end of the book, and very understated by today's standards.

In short, Time and Again provides the reader with a nice mellow escape for a while. And if I ever find the right venue, I might even try hypnotizing myself back to a bygone era. If I can take my laptop, I might never come back.