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Tag Archive: Tom Clancy


Review by C.J. Bunce

The Foreigner features the return to the big screen of two maturing lead actors: 63-year-old, international martial arts action star Jackie Chan in his first major English film role since 2010’s remake of The Karate Kid, and 64-year-old, international action star Pierce Brosnan, who, despite several smaller roles hasn’t headlined a major hit since his last stint as James Bond in 2002’s Die Another Day.  But The Foreigner is more–it’s a triumph–for the actors and for the action genre, providing a showcase of acting talent supported by a solid story that doesn’t miss a step from beginning to end.  What looks like it could be another entry in the nature of Transporter or Taken, it’s actually a great follow-up to Patriot Games or Clear and Present Danger.  If you can get past a title that doesn’t quite fit, you’ll find a fully loaded, political thriller like the novels of Tom Clancy in his heyday–timely, riveting, and satisfying on every front.

Both stars have an entire portfolio of performances they tap into, that they use to foster believability in their characters.  Jackie Chan has already shown audiences he has the physicality to portray an ex-special forces soldier with brains and savvy, part MacGyver and part Rambo, although it typically accompanies his trademark smile and a film full of laughs.  With his grueling physical feats in film after film, he must be the hardest working actor anywhere.  But only now do we see Chan convey a full spectrum of emotions as he portrays Mr. Quan, a happy, proud father who is devastated and left to seek out the people behind his daughter’s murder.  He’s immensely believable and gives audiences one of the best revenge stories in decades.  Think of the days of Chuck Norris fighting back in a decade of “payback” roles–but with Chan there’s an added level of authenticity.  Then there’s Pierce Brosnan, who has that charisma that early on forecasted his destiny to play James Bond.  Brosnan has now stepped into the rarity of being an ex-Bond actor but with similar class and style as exhibited by Sean Connery, who successfully forged a second acting phase of his career in films like The Hunt for Red October and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  At last Brosnan gets to show off that he, too, has an intense, commanding presence, a force to be reckoned with as a mature actor with gravitas, while maintaining his refined appeal and charm.  He also delivers some of the best lines of his career in a convincing, rapid-fire Irish accent as political leader Liam Hennessy.  Chan plays a good man pushed too far who must carve out his own brand of vigilante justice, and Brosnan a very real modern villain, but a layered villain who tries to follow a code within a dangerous cat-and-mouse game.  By film’s end audiences are left eager to find out what these two performers have for us next.

What appeared to be a standard dramatic trailer for The Foreigner served the film well, holding back why the story is so intriguing.  Unlike most trailers these days that give away too much, the trailer for the film provided only a hint at what the story entails, a mainstream drama about domestic terrorism in England and a search by one man to learn the truth when his daughter is killed in an explosion.  London has had more than its share of terrorist incidents and the jarring visuals in the film mirror real-life horrors in England, although the twist is that the villainy is from within, as some faction of the Irish Republican Army is returning out of the past, and ex-IRA leadership and the government in England must play a delicate game of practical politics to learn who exactly is responsible.  Few recent films have shown a balance of timely real-world atrocities while crafting such an intriguing fictional story.  Although not something on the front pages in the U.S., the real-life faction of the IRA began a return to hostilities in 2011, so the story is a bit “ripped from the headlines” and for a U.S. audience a surprising return of those early 1990s themes from Patriot Games.

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New Pompeii cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

In a thick 459 pages, British author Daniel Godfrey begins a new time travel series full of twists and turns in New Pompeii, his first novel from a major publisher (Titan Books).  Billed as a novel in the tradition of Michael Crichton, New Pompeii is evocative of Crichton’s early novels, but more closely follows the plotting and style of the time travel science fiction novels of Connie Willis (Lincoln’s Dreams, To Say Nothing of the Dog) and the pacing of a Tom Clancy thriller.  Fans of Crichton’s Timeline and Westworld, Philip K. Dick’s short stories and his novels Time Out of Joint and Man in the High Castle, Doctor Who’s “timey wimey” stories and films like TimeCop will appreciate this new entry in the time travel and parallel universe sub-genres.

Despite a daunting 75 chapters, New Pompeii is a quick read.  Godfrey follows Nick Houghton, a history scholar who has yet to earn his doctorate as he is inexplicably courted into joining a venture with a corporation that promises the impossible–Novus Particles plucks people from just before the point of death and brings them into the present, cheating the timeline manipulation restrictions like the field trips in Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder.”  Think Philip K. Dick’s Paycheck meets Final Destination.  The company is not a secret–it is well documented that it saved a flight of passengers from a plane crash.  But why are all the survivors now committing suicide?  Who is the ghost student that has been emerging from a bathtub at a college campus over the course of thirty years?  And how do you hide an ancient civilization in the modern world?

Told in short, alternating chapters from the perspective of Nick as he walks among ancient Romans in a secluded Eastern European town in the present day, and college student Kirsten Chapman as she appears unstuck in time across a span of time periods like Jennifer Jones in Portrait of Jennie or Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s Slaughterhouse Five, the truth behind the corporation’s purpose is slowly revealed.  You won’t find a lot of complexity in the time travel elements here, which makes this appealing for the most casual sci-fi reader.  Fans of any Star Trek or Doctor Who time travel story will be familiar with the rules here.

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Keira Knightley in Shadow Recruit

Whether or not Keira Knightley wins the Academy Award this year for her role as a World War II codebreaker opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game (which we reviewed previously at borg.com here) we’re confident she will have one or more Oscars on the shelf years from now.  She was one of our picks in our Best of 2014 review.  A lead actress who could pull off any role, she seems to opt for more quirky and challenging roles.  These include her role as a bounty hunter in Domino, but also classic costume drama parts, like Lara in the remake of Doctor Zhivago, Elizabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice, and an against-type Guinevere in King Arthur, genre roles like Padme’s double in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, a withering-away clone in the disturbing sci-fi drama Never Let Me Go, or Disney franchise star in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Last year Knightley also co-starred in a major studio release, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, as the future Mrs. Jack Ryan opposite Chris Pine, holding her own with the likes of Academy Award winners Kevin Costner and Kenneth Branagh.  The first expansion film of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan stories, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is now out on DVD, Blu-ray and On Demand.

Jack Ryan Chris Pine

As Cathy Muller, a role previously played by Gates McFadden, Anne Archer, and Bridget Moynihan, she’s the first actress to take the part beyond emotional support stalwart for Jack.  In a franchise full of large, in your-face-drama: a nuclear sub about to explode in The Hunt for Red October, battling terrorists in Patriot Games or drug kingpins in Clear and Present Danger, and a dirty bomb smuggled into the country taking out an entire city in Sum of All Fears, it’s a big surprise that Shadow Recruit’s big event is tied to a discovery in forensic accounting by Ryan, leading to a potential economic crisis and small scale bombing.  Yet unlike A Good Day to Die Hard, a sequel using a similar plot (proving that once popular franchise is too tired to continue), the prospect of a young couple working together within Ryan’s secret CIA world in Clancy’s universe of global espionage is a bit refreshing.  And Knightley is probably the highlight of the film.

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jack ryan shadow recruit poster

After Tom Clancy’s passing this week, fans of his biggest character, Jack Ryan, have been introduced to a new phase of the movie incarnations of his geopolitical thriller novels with this weekend’s release of the first trailer for Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.  Last December we at borg.com listed Jack Ryan as one of the ten characters to watch in 2013, and we included Jack Ryan, the movie, as one of the 24 films we predicted would be worth seeing in 2013.

Since last year’s announcement of Chris Pine taking on the lead, the title was changed to add the subtitle Shadow Recruit, replacing the prior subtitle Shadow One (we think Hollywood really needs to work on their subtitles).  The role of Jack Ryan was, of course, first played by Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October in 1990, followed by Harrison Ford in Patriot Games in 1992 and Clear and Present Danger in 1994.  Ben Affleck then played a younger Jack in the 2002 prequel film The Sum of All Fears.  All four of these movies were based on bestselling Clancy novels, The Hunt for Red October often being listed as one of the best thrillers of all time.  Likewise, The Hunt for Red October is one of the best, and most exciting, movies of all time, with Alec Baldwin’s performance still the standard for future Ryans to be measured against.

Costner and Pine in Jack Ryan

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Green Arrow and Superman

If there is a constant as we look ahead to movie franchises and other entertainment properties in 2013, it is the sequel, spin-off, and remake.  We’re sure someone will provide new content and stories for us for movies and TV from entirely new characters and worlds in 2013, but just take a look at the 24 biggest genre movies coming out next year and it is obvious that Hollywood is following the “tried and true” model of investing in current properties rather than investing money in “the new”.

So with that in mind, what are the big characters to watch out for next year–the characters we already know that seem like they can only get bigger?

Chris Pine as Jack Ryan

10.  Jack Ryan.  Back in the 1980s and 1990s it seemed like Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan was everywhere, first with Alec Baldwin taking on the role in The Hunt for Red October, then mega-star Harrison Ford in two sequels, followed by a big break and then Ben Affleck in the prequel Sum of All Fears.  With Star Trek star Chris Pine bringing us yet another prequel effort next December, we think a wide audience will come back again to see what this CIA agent has been up to.

Hugh Jackman as The Wolverine

9.  Wolverine.  I’ve always thought Wolverine should be Marvel Comics’ key property.  Spider-man always relied on Peter Parker (well, until recently) who seemed pretty planted in the psyche of the past.  The Avengers seemed too cartoony with characters with too little in common to really be a huge property (happily I was wrong!).  But Wolverine has a certain modern grittiness that readers, especially young readers, would seem to really attach to.  Audiences seem to like Hugh Jackman’s take on the character and his incredible fifth outing as Logan/Wolverine in July, titled The Wolverine should tell us if this will be the end of a big-screen Wolverine for a while or whether he will only get bigger.

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If you haven’t voted yet.  Go do it.  Longer than usual voting lines are expected today.  But who knows long lines better than Comic-Con fans?  Today is your day.  You can show the others how it’s done.  And why not drag your comic book-toting friends along?  Heck, bring along a stack to read.  It’s going to be a long day.

If you’re like me, you get a bit annoyed in the weeks prior to Comic-Con with people trying to hand out tips for your first Comic-Con.  Like we can’t figure it out.  So, in return, here’s a list you can send to your non-comic book-lovin’, non-genre-lovin’, the “who the heck is Buffy the Vampire Slayer voters” you’ll be stuck with all day.  Here’s a modified advice list snatched from lists of advice for first-timers at past San Diego Comic-Cons, a list which seems to apply well to your neighbors who think they know long lines but don’t:  Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Here’s the prologue of Volume 1 of the graphic novel adaptation of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s novel The Strain:

They have always been here.  VAMPIRES.  In secret and in darkness.  WAITING.  Now their time has come.  In one week, Manhattan will be gone.  In one month, the country.  In two months–the world.

If you’re like me, you’re tired of vampires.  Tired of zombies.  Everyone is writing about either zombies or vampires.  So if you’re going to read one of the several vampire or zombie books, you’ve got to have a reason.  I stumbled into The Strain in a sort of backwards way.  I don’t like horror as a general genre but will consider something new if a writer or artist I like is working on the project.  Usually cover artists entice readers to a book.  In this case, artist E.M. Gist’s grotesque characters in the cover art normally would cause me to move along to something else.  This is one reason I skipped Issues #1 to #6 of The Strain when they hit the bookstore shelves.  Then I saw the name Mike Huddleston as interior artist and I flipped open the new volume from Dark Horse being released November 14, 2012–Huddleston has created some of the best single pages of art I have seen over the years.  And checking out The Strain was a good call.  Reminder to self: You can’t judge a (comic) book by its cover(s).  Editor’s Note–A few spoilers ahead!

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By C.J. Bunce

When pondering what I want to see in the movie theater that hasn’t arrived yet I think a lot about several Philip K. Dick short stories, or TV series that I’d love to see continued on the big screen, like a big screen Magnum, P.I., or Simon & Simon or Chuck—although if it is as underwhelming as the last X-Files movie then maybe not.  I’d love to see some early twentieth century biopics of Bix Beiderbecke or Karl King (who, among other things, composed the circus themes for Ringling Brothers and played in Sousa’s band).  And it would be fun to take a bunch of Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass songs from South Of The Border and The Lonely Bull and make them the soundtrack to a modern spaghetti Western, sort of like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with She’s The One A good Green Arrow or Bionic Man movie, or a good sequel to Return of the Jedi would all be fun.  And some things have been done already, but not quite right.  Space Ghost had his own cartton then interview show, but how about an adaptation of the serious origin series by Joe Kelly?  A big budget movie based on Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air could be awesome (the TV version suffered a bit despite a good cast).  The Russian story of Lieutenant Kije was filmed more than half a century ago with music by Prokofiev, but it needs a good updating.  We’ve seen four Tom Clancy novels about Jack Ryan, but the creepiest of the series, Debt of Honor, has yet to be made.

A lot of films have been made, and in coming up with this list one of my ideas–a film featuring Super Grover and the cast of Sesame Street–seemed long overdue.  I figured Sesame Street got bypassed for the Muppets, as shown in a funny scene from The Muppet Movie where Fozzie the Bear offers Big Bird a ride to the west coast to break into movies, and Big Bird says no thanks, he’s trying to break into public television back in New York.  Well, apparently they made that movie back in 1985 and I missed it, Sesame Street Presents: Follow That BirdYou can’t know everything.

For me this list was tough until I moved away from books as source material.  I think the movies I see in my head are better than how some of my ideas would likely turn out produced by the studios.  But let’s get on with it–with a nod to Art Schmidt for his idea with DC Comics and Jason McClain for mentioning Connie Willis.

    

From the comic books:  DC Comics’ Dark Knight Returns and Hard-Traveling Heroes

At lunch in high school my friends and I fantasy-cast Batman: The Dark Knight Returns over and over.  Ultimately we arrived at (the now late) Paul Newman as the ideal retired Batman, in the graphic novel another wealthy race car driver type.  In real life Newman was very much the Bruce Wayne interpreted in Frank Miller’s four-issue series-turned required-reading—as suave guy, well-liked, a wealthy philanthropist.  In a different universe Clint Eastwood would be great fun as a superhero coming out of retirement to have that last hoorah with the Batman cowl.  Probably too late now.  Of all the Batman stories, The Dark Knight Returns is #1–it is so well-established as more than a cult favorite, even beyond Watchmen, you just have to ask DC Comics and the Hollywood machine:  Why can’t someone just put it on the big screen?

I’ve said over and over here at borg.com that the best Green Lantern story ever is his team up with Green Arrow and Black Canary in Neal Adams’ and Dennis O’Neil’s classic Green Lantern Issues #76-87 and 89, the so-called “Hard Traveling Heroes.”  Imagine Black Canary pulling up on her motorcycle.  Imagine Green Arrow defending the kid robbing the slumlord.  Imagine Green Arrow catching Speedy.  Imagine Hal, Ollie and Dinah driving across America in their pick-up truck.  And harpies.  And encountering a religious cult.  And more harpies.

I’ll echo Art Schmidt: DC Comics needs to catch up with Marvel Comics movies, with Iron Man (the first one), Captain America: The First Avenger, and with Fantastic Four’s brilliant realization of Human Torch and The Thing, maybe my favorite heroes to screen so far.  OK, they nailed it with Christopher Reeve’s Superman and Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson in Batman.  Hopefully with The Avengers, Marvel Comics sets a new bar that DC Comics will have to work toward with a multi-hero story, maybe even with the Justice League or Superfriends.  Art’s recommended Cry for Justice, which we have discussed here before, is a great choice for this.

From the sci-fi novel: Remake, by Connie Willis

If you haven’t read Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Connie Willis’s books then you are in for a great ride through one of several fun and varied works.  For me, the concepts and Hollywood prophesies in her novel Remake are too cool to pass up and I have no doubt represent a foreshadowing of the future of film only slightly touched on in the Ralph Fiennes film Strange DaysRemake is science fiction at its best, and was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1996.

In our near future, Hollywood no longer needs to make new productions.  A film technician rearranges classic films via computer manipulation, so that the viewer can select who he wants to watch the next time he watches Raiders of the Lost Ark.  How about John Wayne?  How about Humphrey Bogart?  Why not edit out all the cigarettes so we no longer encourage smoking for future viewers?  What other movies would be fun to manipulate?  This is the world of our future where Viacom and Paramount are now Viamount, where actors are reduced to stand-ins.  OK, so it probably won’t really be our future as totally envisioned by Willis.

The technician falls for a strange woman who wants to dance in a musical and he is continually sidetracked as he pursues her through the novel.  The love story is well done—but it’s the world of our future that would be fun to see, finally, on the big screen.  And you would not need to film an entire movie, simply clips, like the old soda pop ads that blended dead celebrities with living ones, and that allowed Nat King Cole to star in a modern music video with his grown daughter, the singer Natalie Cole.  Hollywood has the technology today—so why not see how far CGI can go?

I’d frankly love to see any Willis book adapted to film, and in addition those mentioned by others in this series, Bellwether and To Say Nothing of the Dog would be great picks.

From the sci-fi novel: Fantastic Voyage 2: Destination Brain, by Isaac Asimov

When the original Fantastic Voyage was in theaters in 1966, Isaac Asimov created the novelization.  He was not happy with it because he was adapting someone else’s work (it was based on a Jerome Bixby story).  The original film reflected Hollywood basically at its infancy with special effects related to the future of medicine.  In its day it was a good effort.  With the 1987 novel Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain, which was not a sequel but an entirely new story, Asimov created the world inside a microscope that only he could envision.  The book is like Dennis Quaid in Innerspace, but with a serious mission and tone.  A group of scientists, such as you would find in the typical multi-disciplined problem solving team from a Michael Crichton novel, shrink themselves down to microscopic size to enter into the brain and try to diagnose the condition of a colleague, Dr. Pyotor Shapirov, the creator of the very technology that finally allows man to transport to such a miniscule size.

In 2001 Imax theaters featured a documentary on its giant-sized screens called The Human Body.  Audiences were able to see (and sometimes be grossed out by) the inner workings of the body.  Filmmakers would hardly need much by way of CGI to show a voyage through the cells.  Maybe this would be fun to attempt for some creative producer, and a project showing yet another frontier of science to science fiction fans.

From the art gallery: the cinematic paintings of Edward Hopper

How about a story for stage or screen where each scene begins or ends as an Edward Hopper painting?  And the focal character is the girl from his Automat, maybe also the same girl from his Chop Suey painting?  New York Movie, First Row Orchestra, Summertime, Cape Cod Evening—they all tell some secret story.  Or at least they all could, in the right filmmaker’s hands.

Hopper’s cinematic compositions and use of light and shadow has caused filmmakers to mimic his style before.  House by the Railroad supposedly influenced the house in the Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the home in the Terrence Malick film Days of Heaven.  Director Wim Wenders’ film The End of Violence incorporates a tableau vivant of Nighthawks. Surrealist horror film director Dario Argento recreated the diner and the patrons in Nighthawks as part of a set for his 1976 film Deep Red.  Hopper has inspired both Blade Runner and Road to Perdition.

Turner Classic Movies uses animated recreations of Hopper paintings as introductions to classic films and in That ’70s Show the producers recreated the diner from Nighthawks.  But how about a full-scale movie showing us something about these characters we don’t know?  That’s something I’d love to see on the big screen.

From the ancient history books: the world briefly changed by Akhenaten

I could find a non-fiction work for the adaptation, but it’s the story itself I really want to see here.  The pharaoh Akhenaten was the leader of Egypt for about 17 years from circa 1353 B.C. to 1335 B.C.  He was married to Nefertiti and had six or seven daughters and at least one son–Tutankhamen.  In his reign he revamped the religion of his country like never before, moving from a polytheistic pantheon of gods to the worship of a single god, the Aten, or sun-disk.  Following his reign the empire was returned to its prior state and for Akhenaten’s blasphemy his name was chiseled out of a significant part of the written record.  Art during his reign became more expressive and naturalistic.  Images of the pharaoh show a realistic image that hid no flaws, a long face, not the typical glorification and heroic imagery of Egyptian leaders before and after.  Akhenaten is so interesting from a number of levels that it would be a great challenge to reflect his reign in film.  Certainly a rebel and not a traditionalist.  A stunning wife.  How do you show all the Egyptian relationships—including accepted inbreeding as a norm–without coming off as judgmental?  As pharaoh he was “one with the god Aten.”  How do you portray daily life in an interesting way where the ruler is God and what could you show about his family on film?  A great pandemic swept across the Middle East during this period, taking out the Hittite ruler Suppiluliuma, and how did they manage through that?  But even more interesting, with all the stories of the history of conflict in Egypt, what did life look like during the years of Egypt’s own version of Camelot?  This all would be incredible to depict.

From fantasy opera:  Richard Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung

I have only seen one version of The Ring that comes close to clarifying this odd and complex story composed of four epic operas for a general audience: P. Craig Russell’s two volume graphic novel of The Ring of the Nibelung.  A few years ago I discussed The Ring with Russell and he said it was a great effort to produce it and it became a sort of magnum opus for him.  But even an adaptation of Russell’s adaptation would need streamlined for mainstream audiences—yet, it would be a great starting point.  Predating that other famous fantasy ring series (the one by J.R.R. Tolkien) by decades, Wagner’s opera is epic in scope and length, taking four nights or 15 hours to perform the full opera.  We already have a superb soundtrack from Wagner, but can someone make a feature-length, meaningful adaptation in the English language that conveys the energy and power of the original without all the nonlinear bits and pieces?  The reward would be a giant vision of gods, heroes, mythical creatures and magic.

Other operas due for a good movie?  The Magic Flute, The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro.

More than any of the above I would love to see our own Elizabeth C. Bunce’s retelling of Rumplestiltskin, A Curse Dark As Gold (maybe a classic PBS/BBC series or Hayao Miyazaki anime film would be fun) or her fantasy noir Thief Errant series on-screen.  A Curse Dark As Gold has already been performed superbly in a full-length audio CD version by a Broadway actress so I’ve had a little taste of what it would be like to witness it fully played out.  And speaking of ECB, tomorrow she’ll give us her take on stories that should be adapted for the big screen.

Review by C.J. Bunce

Cyborg, by Martin Caidin, is the 1972 novel that was adapted into the television series The Six Million Dollar Man.  Long out of print, it is only available today via libraries or used online bookstores.  I managed to track down a copy via Amazon.com for only a few dollars.  My assumption was that this would be a dated story, but that it could be similar to the novels that it claimed to be like in its cover statement “In the explosive tradition of the The Andromeda Strain and Terminal Man.”  Both The Andromeda Strain and Terminal Man were by Michael Crichton, and having enjoyed both of those years ago I figured this was worth a try.  I was more than happy with this book.

First, it is a medical thriller more than a dramatic work of science fiction. Cyborg focuses on the details of witnessing the crash of a NASA stunt vehicle and an Air Force emergency response team’s reaction to a man who barely survived such a crash.  More than anything I have read before, this absolutely reads like an early Michael Crichton novel, including his way of incorporating scientific details, but not too much detail to bore the reader.  Cyborg has characters you care about, characters dropped into strange circumstances made very real.

Caidin’s description of the crash was as an eye-witness of sorts, and the first three chapters read like nonfiction.  Written before the space shuttle program, this type of mission reflected real missions of the time between the days of Apollo and the shuttle program, honing the technology leading to the first real mission with Space Shuttle Columbia.  Shockingly, the crash scene is like a foreseen account of the actual real-life disaster of the Columbia space shuttle.  The gritty realism of the first three chapters sets up the reader for a believable entry into the un-real that follows.

Colonel Steve Austin is a stunt pilot who had already served as astronaut on the last moon mission, the last man to walk the surface of the moon.  Waiting to go off as an astronaut on some Skylab mission he is now at a Mojave Desert test launch, which is vividly described.  Jan Richards is his girlfriend, all too familiar with being the spouse of an astronaut and the circumstances that come about on launch days, and although she has been there before, she is still nervous.  We learn quickly that Colonel Austin is a stunt pilot every bit like the Chuck Yeager as detailed in Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff.  He is confident if not cocky.  Like Han Solo, in response to his girlfriend’s “I love you, Steve Austin,” he responds, “Same here.”

The fact that author Martin Caidin actually participated in the real-life NASA counterpart to the program in which Austin crashes adds a heightened realism to the novel.  Caidin was on site when a pilot suffered a similar terrible accident–the same type of disaster that aired at the beginning of each Six Million Dollar Man episode and makes up the first part of the novel.

Steve Austin, seriously injured as a triple amputee, gets not prosthetics, but improved-upon artificial limbs and an artificial eye.  But first we get accounts of medical triage, a play by play account of the cutting off of Austin’s blood loss, the overall success of protecting the body from burns because of the NASA flight suit, loss of both his legs and left arm, loss of eye through metal debris in the cockpit, skull damage, jaw damage, skin damage, assessment of respiratory damage, standard procedures from placing the intubation tube to removing the space suit from what remains of his body.

Doctor Milton Ashburn, head of emergency response, after hours go by, finally utters the words “He’ll live.”  But then all the conflict and story begins, starting from the lowest of places: “If you love that man like I do… then pray that he dies.”

If you’ve seen people recovering from surgeries, it is all about pain and lots of recuperation time.  It’s what I thought was missing for the first third of the book, then Caidin goes into detail about nerve endings and compensation for missing limbs.  To the layman even in 2012 it all seems to make sense.  Instead of brushing over the details of creating a cybernetic organism–a cyborg–he details all the processes and only in the last 20 percent of the novel do we get to the reason the government is willing to pay $6 million to keep this one man alive, and more than that, make him superhuman.  It is of course to make him a super soldier.

As storytelling is concerned, Cyborg is part Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, part Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Sphere, part Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage.  There is something exciting when a team of experts in varying fields come together to achieve some purpose that no one initially believes will work.  It’s the formula that worked so well several times for Michael Crichton.

The second third of the novel brings the realization that this in a real and thoughtful sense is a modern retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, only it is the story you can imagine a young 19th century author wanted to tell, as she obviously thought this type of medicine would be possible one day.  As the science is concerned, if it was not exactly possible to do in 1972, it certainly could be more possible today.  Despite the fact that this was written before the pervasiveness of computing, Caidin includes many references to computers, to micro-electronics that would one day be microchips, and bionics that would one day become the beginning of nanotechnology.

Once we get past months of recovery, recuperation, and therapy, and Austin getting to know his new body and abilities, the last third of the novel is a cross between Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October and Clear and Present Danger mixed with any number of 1960s military intelligence operation stories, like The Guns of Navarone.  First Austin goes on a deep-sea mission, using mechanical dolphins, off the coast of Surinam.  He then moves on to a desert mission in North Africa–a Seal Team Six type operation mixed with a True Lies international arms story where Austin teams with an Israeli soldier named Tamara.   The ending is about survival, and whereas Austin upon learning of his triple amputee state remarked that the doctors should have let him die, when he finally is left in a hopeless situation he learns he really wants to stay alive.

Great survival references are included in the final chapters including a bit about the real-life B-24 bomber downed decades ago in the desert called the Lady Be Good (documented in an episode of the History Channel’s History’s Mysteries in the 1990s).

Cyborg is surprisingly not dated considering it was written in 1972.  There is the odd focus on male-female relationships reflecting 1970s men-women workplace relations, but nothing as cringeworthy as I’ve read in 1950s pulp novels.  It probably helps that Caidin doesn’t spend any time on things like clothing descriptions, the very thing that makes the TV series a bit hard to watch today.

I’ve had the fortune of meeting and talking to three of the 12 surviving United States Apollo program astronauts who flew to the moon, and their confidence and character were well mimicked by Caidin’s account of the fictional Colonel Austin.  Clearly Caidin spent time with these guys in real life, and it is reflected in his book.

Cyborg is a great candidate for re-issue.  The TV series opening episodes follow the novel very well, with only the most minor of differences, like which arm that is lost and replaced.  It was also good to see that Phil Hester and Kevin Smith’s Bionic Man comic book series, which we review here periodically, is faithful to the spirit of both the series and novel, although it takes more of the TV series changes on in its monthly story.

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