Sunday, June 14, 2015

Death Merchant #48: The Psionics War

I miss the goofiness of the earlier Death Merchant books. Joseph Rosenberger's later volumes, while following the same formula, are more serious. They lack the lightness and occasional silliness of, say, the first 20-25 books. But there is still enough to enjoy - and usually enough detailed violence - to keep going.

The Psionics War is a bit light on the carnage, however. Richard Camellion engages in only a couple of small skirmishes before the big finale. For most of this book, we follow the Death Merchant as he plans what he will do later in the book. Chapter after chapter of planning ...

Dr. Wayne Davis is a psionics expert whose research into mind control is of great interest to the U.S. military as a valuable new military weapon. Naturally, his knowledge is also desired by the KGB/Soviet Union. With Davis's Alpha One machine, an operator can focus in on someone miles away and kill him simply by thought. While the U.S. is ahead of the Russians in many aspects of the Cold War, psionics is not one of them. Davis's unit could give them the upperhand if he is willing to share his secrets. The U.S. appeals to his hatred of communism and he agrees. However, the doctor and his assistant (and two CIA men travelling with him) never show up to meet the Death Merchant at Kennedy Airport. Camellion suspects they were somehow kidnapped by the KGB, and it's up to him to find Dr. Davis.

While Camellion walks to his car in the airport parking garage, someone takes a shot at him. He returns fire and ends up killing three men and one woman. Camellion discovers that one of the shooters, a hood named Manny Rich, kept a veterinarian's receipt tucked into a hidden part of his wallet. Camellion plays psychologist and says that Rich kept the receipt safe because it represented his dog, and because he loved his dog, having the receipt represented "psychological comfort".

Camellion and CIA man Merle Duvane talk to the vet who notes that Rich made a strange request. After his dog's operation, he wanted the dog delivered to a different address, to an apartment building in Yonkers. Camellion and a few others go to this building (which Rosenberger calls both the Ark and the Arms at various points) and find KGB agents hustling Arnold Quincy (a friend of Rich's) through the lobby. During and after a brief shootout, Camellion has to kill nine innocent bystanders so there are no witnesses to their presence in the building and nearby alley. (Four of the dead are "black dudes" caught trying to strip their van. One remarks: "Bet they done kidnap that por man they is carryin." Camellion pronounces: "They were trash that interfered. The penalty for that is always death.")

They take Quincy and one of the unconscious Russians to a series of safe houses, including Amityville, New York. They pump the Russian for information, but he isn't cooperating. Camellion, remembering his aversion to rats when chained in the basement of one of the safe houses, devises a coffin-like structure into which the Russian is lain and several rats are let loose on his chest. He freaks out and talks. The Russians plan to take Dr. Davis and his assistant to a farm in Patten, Maine, then to St. John's, Newfoundland, on their way to a weather station on Resolution Island. There is a team of Canadian researchers at that station, but the Russians plan to overpower them.

The Russians plan to conduct an experiment with their own weapon, something called an L-Wave Disrupter, which will cause blackouts in the Canadian capital of Ottawa and also increase murder and suicide rates in the city by means of mind control. They will then take Davis back to Russia.

Camellion and a team of American and Canadian commandos attack a fish oil refinery in St. John's, where Davis was apparently being held. (The Death Merchant is not happy about the set-up: "A white blind honkey in South Chicago would have a better chance!") Nevertheless, they wipe out a lot of the Soviet enemy, and one of the wounded reveals the name of the vessel on which Davis is being transported. After considering all the angles, the Death Merchant decides that they must wait until the Russians take control of the weather station before moving in and grabbing Davis, as well as the Russians' L-Wave Disrupter.

After this decision is made, Rosenberger uses the next several chapters setting the stage. At length. What equipment will Camellion need, how will the various items function, in what order are their tasks going to be completed, what might the Soviets do, and what would each possibility mean, etc., etc. There is plenty of time for this as the men sail to the north. (I have read complaints about Rosenberger's over reliance on planning, and I finally see to what those readers must have been referring.)

The Death Merchant and his team get to Resolution Island at the perfect time - after some of the Russians have taken control of the weather station but before another group has come ashore with four scientists and the L-Wave Disrupter. On the island is "a landscape such as Milton or Dante might have imagined ... inorganic, desolate, mysterious". The Americans and Canadians hide among the rocks and when the Russians come walking along to the station, they open fire. Camellion's group also engages in a healthy amount of hand-to-hand combat. The second group storms the weather station and is able to surprise the Russians so completely that they are overwhelmed.

Having won the battle on the island, Camellion et al. notice that the Soviet submarine is moving straight towards the shore and soon begins shooting 75mm shells at the station building. The men get down to the shoreline, but realize that if they try to travel back to their ship, the submarine will likely target them. At the last minute, a wounded Dr. Davis speaks up - and offers his secret knowledge in order to destroy the submarine. It's pretty nutty resolution. Davis draws an outline of a submarine on a piece of paper and writes the name of the sub (Eugene Origen) on it. Then he asks Camellion to fire a bullet through the crude drawing of the sub. Davis then places the paper with the hole in it in the "well" of the L-Wave Disrupter and begins turning a few knobs. (Rosenberger spends two pages explaining the science behind all of this.) And sure enough, there is soon an explosion from out in the harbour - the submarine has exploded! As one of the men says, psionics "is the weapon of the future, and the future is now!"

The end.


While including a bunch of information on government mind control experiments and other parapsychological research (telepathy, precognition, telekinesis, out-of-body experiences, remote viewing), Rosenberger mentions, in a footnote on page 8, that while working as a "Security Officer", he "was forced to kill three men" and he had an out-of-body experience afterwards. He gives no other details.

"People need religion," [Camellion] said. "It gives the little morons the means by which they can halfway triumph over big bad death. The average man fears death because he fears the loss of human identity and integrity in a transient stream of atoms. He doesn't know it but his anxiety over so-called 'death' results from nothing more than the frustration of not being able to have life without death, that is, of not being able to solve a nonsensical problem. ... But the Cosmic Lord of Death gets them all in the end..."

While being held by the Russians, Dr. Davis refers to the Soviet Union as "that big pigpen" - an odd insult, yet similar to Camellion's often-used slur "pig farmers".

"Sweating more than a Black Muslim who had been caught spying at a KKK rally, Brown stopped, threw up his arms and tried to twist his gorillalike face into a friendly grin."

"Like people, neighborhoods change. While Tenth Avenue [in Yonkers, New York] was not exactly a slum area, the neighborhood was not of a type where one found the best people. ... Minority groups had moved into the area."

"Merle Duvane was busier than a one-toothed mouse in a roomful of cheddar."

"You might as well try to convince me that a doughnut is a pregnant Cheerio."

"He looked as oily as a corporate head and as scared as an Arab at a Barmitzvah!"

"I understand," Moan said, "sounding as cranky as an old maid who had discovered a man wasn't under her bed."

The Death Merchant calls out someone for making a racist remark, saying the speaker's mind is obviously not "cluttered up with facts and knowledge". However, after receiving a coded message about his next mission, Camellion muses, "I don't like the desert and I like sand crabs and their Moslem crackpotism even less."

During the final fight, a Russian yells, "Idyi zho ssat ya natyb yahachoo!" Rosenberger footnotes this (presumably nonsense) phrase: "Too vulgar to be stated in English."

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