Monday, May 30, 2016

Death Merchant #67: Escape From Gulag Taria

Gulag Death

Deep in the frozen wastelands of Siberia, in an impregnable hospital fortress, a would-be defector with a powerful secret is being held prisoner. He is a Soviet physicist whose work in weather control could give the Cold War a whole new twist. The CIA's problem: how to kidnap him from a psychiatric staff of Soviet sadists and KGB killers. The answer: Richard Camellion. Who else in their right mind would lead a ragtag band of fanatic dissidents against the whole of Mother Russia and find a deadly mission the perfect chance to go a little crazy?


In The Silicon Valley Connection (DM #58), Joseph Rosenberger wrote:
Throughout the length and breadth of the USSR, in thousands of camps, in prisons and on trains, was hidden a population larger than that of Canada4, as large as Czechoslovakia or Yugoslavia, or of Belgium and Austria put together; and in each prison and in each work camp were the KGB sadists, the parilka, or "sweat room," and an utter lack of hope.

4 In Death Merchant number 68, Escape from Gulag Taria—yet to be published—a full explanation of the Soviet slave system will be given—information printed for the first time anywhere.
Rosenberger doesn't deliver on that promise of "a full explanation" of the "slave system", although throughout the first half of the book, several Russians "traitors" working with Camellion continually tell him how awful things are in "this prison of a nation". We hear mostly about the pessimistic character of the typical Russian and his relationship to his repressive government, but we also learn about coarse toilet paper and women who do not shave their legs. (In an odd aside, Rosenberger states that Camellion's extreme, long-standing, and oft-stated prejudice against everything Russian was "based strictly on emotion and had no foundation in fact".)

So the Death Merchant is in southeastern Siberia, on a mission to rescue (or kidnap, in the KGBs mind) Dr. Georgi Ulomov from "Special Psychiatric Hospital UZh-15/5 ITK-14", where he has been imprisoned for speaking out against weather modification. ("The nation that could fully control the weather could control the world.") Much of the story takes place in the area of Yakutsk, located about 450 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle.

Camellion is working with several Russians, including an attractive woman named Zoya Beliyev:
Not immune to the charms of even a female pig farmer (or a roll in the hay, even if the hay was in the Soviet Union), the Death Merchant reflected that Zoya did have a nice body. Each breast was a good handful, and while her hips were a trifle too wide, her stomach was firm and flat, her navel so deep it could hide half a tongue. For a Russian woman, she did have slim legs, and shapely, too, not too thick in the calves and thighs. Nor was she unattractive facially either.
Zoya seems to be flirting with Camellion at one point, but nothing happens as the Death Merchant can't get past "those damned hairy legs"! (Actually, Camellion seems completely immune to the charms of females. He's not gay; sex plays almost no part in any of these books. Once in a while, maybe every 10 books, Rosenberger writes that the Death Merchant finds a woman attractive. I think Camellion has had sex maybe two or three times in the entire series.)

Camellion and two others attempt to get Ulomov out of the hospital by posing as three Russian officers with transfer papers. But the KGB (often referred to as the Kah Gay Beh) at the hospital see through their ruse and the three have to shoot their way out. They steal a jeep and escape. They go into hiding at Beliyev's grandmother's house as the KGB searches for the "terrorists" who killed roughly a dozen men at the hospital.

There are several ambushes or skirmishes that pop up every so often. Camellion and a Russian named Kirill Tarkovsky are driving and find the road has been blocked by an accident. They decide to wait in a cafe. The militia comes in and demands to see everyone's papers. The two men have fake papers and they end up having to blast their way to safety, leaving a pile of slug-stabbed bodies behind. Once the road is cleared, they drive on -- and are followed by more KGB agents. And so there is yet another bloody shootout.

Camellion's plan is to attack the hospital, assuming that while the Russians may think he'll attempt another kidnapping, he won't go all out and attack the place. With explosives and many weapons, he sneaks into the hospital grounds and causes much havoc. Camellion forces one guard at gunpoint to lead him to Ulomov and he gets him out of the hospital. While they are driving away with Ulomov, the Death Merchant and his group are set upon by the KGB. Cue the high-velocity projectiles and subsequent gore.

They eventually make their way to the coast where they are supposed to meet some Navy SEALs before swimming out to a waiting submarine. On the beach, they encounter - not Navy SEALs - but "Mad Mike" Quinlan and about thirty of his Thunderbolt Unit Omega mercenaries. Quinlan says his group has been hired by the CIA because they are "expendable". Soon enough, nearly ten armored KGB cars are converging on the beach. Rosenberger is once again at his best in describing the in-close gunfighting and hand-to-hand combat. In the finale to this volume, he gives us about 10 pages of meticulously described action.

Some trademark Rosenberger gore:
Five .45 THV copper projectiles had shot through the engine, turning two of the cylinders into junk. The other sixteen THVs had not increased the longevity of the three members of the militia and the KGB officer. The copper-points had poked through the door and the driver as easily as if the metal and cloth and flesh and bone had been soggy tissue paper. ... Neither man had time to cry out or even think of his mother.

Neither did the two men in the rear, three slugs hitting the man on the left and four striking Paul Raske, who was on the right. When the Death Merchant had triggered the Ingram, Raske had been bending over to pick up an AKR submachine gun. Three of the slugs that ripped through his seatmate bored through Raske's left side. A fourth projectile smacked him in the side of the head with such force that his skull exploded. There was a loud pop that no one heard, and pieces of ripped flesh and bits of bone and bloody brain were suddenly all over the floor, the rear of the front seat, and the right side of the dead dummy to the left. ...

Phyyyt. The first .22-caliber hollow point caught the KGB boob with the flashlight in the mouth and blew out the back of his neck. He dropped the lantern and was falling backward when Camellion fired four more times, the silenced Ruger pistol whispering. The second Russian went down with an exploded heart and a slug that had angled through his right lung and rested against the innerside of the scapula. The third guard took the last fall of his life with slugs that had cut through the thin zygomatic bone of his face and had tickled the pons, the brain stem. He, too, had become as useful as a parachute on an ocean liner. ...

On the left side of the cab, Alexey Perchany was rolling under the rig as slugs from the chattering Ingram chopped into the six troopers and the three KGB agents. Byhairin's head seem to jump six inches from his neck. It had. Three .45 THV slugs had almost decapitated him. He fell with his head held by only a strand of flesh and flopping like a football, bouncing back and forth between his shoulder blades. The blood spurting from the stub of his neck splashed all over Lieutenants Norvorzhev and Josef Perikiriv. Both men were stone dead, their upper chests having been ripped open by the axelike Tres Haute Vitesse projectiles. ...

Mad Mike Quinlan was having a slight problem of his own at the moment, in the form of a big Russian coming at him with an AKR assault rifle with a bayonet attached.
"You stupid son of a bitch!" Mike taunted Branko Voukelich. "I'm going to take that frog sticker away from you and use it to pin your ass to the sand!"
Enraged, Voukelich made a quick thrust at Mike's stomach, and instantly received his Big Shock of the day. Quinlan side-stepped and with lightning speed used the palm of his right hand to parry the thrust, shoving against the side of the barrel and the handle of the bayonet. At the same time he stepped to his right oblique. He was now in a position facing the bayonet, with his groin area protected by his right leg. Before the startled—and now a bit frightened—Voukelich could pull back and try for another thrust, Quinlan grabbed the upper portion of the assault rifle with his left hand and used a right sword-ridge hand to strike the inside of Voukelich's left elbow, the sharp slam causing the Russian trooper to let out a yell of pain and release his left hand from the forward underneath portion of the AKR assault rifle. Quinlan grabbed the AKR with both hands and, as he kicked Voukelich in the left kneecap with his left foot, twisted the assault rifle and its bayonet free. Just as quickly, Quinlan hooked the instep of his left foot in back of Voukelich's left ankle and jerked. Down went Voukelich, flat on his back. A quick reversal of the assault rifle by Mad Mike and an even faster downward thrust. Voukelich screamed a very short wail of agony as the blade of the bayonet cut through his colon and tickled his spine. His body jerked several times. His eyes rolled back and his mouth went slack. He was lucky. He would never suffer from cancer.
A well-hidden secret room at a church:
Only half listening to the conversation, the Death Merchant felt it was ironic that monks of the Russian Orthodox Church—dead for two hundred years—had saved his life. Their ingenuity in constructing the secret rooms beneath the Church of Our Savior deserved gold stars. A stone trapdoor in the floor behind the high altar could be opened by releasing a tiny catch concealed in one of the confessionals. Beneath the trapdoor was a square shaft, then down twenty-nine feet on a ladder to a low, narrow passage that stretched for sixty feet to the north. Twenty-three feet to the north was another trapdoor concealed in the floor; beneath it was the first occultated room. A cleverly hidden door in its south wall opened to another room. At the end of the sixty-foot passage was a door concealed in the stones of the north wall. The outer stones of the door were so finely cut that, when the door was closed, the edge of a razorblade couldn't be inserted. Beyond the door was a large crypt, behind its west wall a smaller catacomb containing the sealed sepulcher of four monks. In the north wall was still another hidden door, beyond it another vault filled with broken stones. The Soviet government knew about these five rooms. The KGB knew. What the KGB didn't know was that Yuri Gagarin had discovered two more tomblike rooms. In the floor of the rubble-filled chamber was a trapdoor that opened to a shaft. Ten feet below and at the end of the shaft was a large chamber. Beyond the south wall of this chamber was the last and final space. It was to this room that Gagarin brought the Death Merchant and Kirill Tarkovsky.
Camellion muses on some End of the World nonsense:
As silent as a shadow, the Death Merchant moved out and headed toward the east wall. There wasn't any need to linger. Either the guards in the towers would see him or they wouldn't. ... He moved south rapidly, thinking that success or failure really didn't matter. Both, like life and living, were illusory, as vaporous as Man's search for peace. In only a short time—on the scale of history, ten years is far less than a second—the world would be plunged into the darkness of death and destruction, of blood and violence and barbarism. The living would envy the dead, and the long night of horror would begin.
And the obligatory weapons porn:
A Slingshot APILAS—Armor-Piercing, Infantry, Light Arm System—was bulky and ungainly looking. The main body was a fifty-two-inch one-piece launch tube into which could be thrust a 108 mm missile with a shaped HE charge. The rocket engine of the missile was very fast burning and pushed the warhead along at better than 1,200 feet per second, to give a very short time of flight to its effective range of 300 yards. The warhead was so powerful it could dig right through 700 mm of armor or six feet of reinforced concrete. ...

Vito Rinletti turned and looked at Mike Quinlan, who was putting a cylinder into a CAWS (Close Assault Weapons System) Pancor Mk-3 Jackhammer shotgun, a weapon that looked like something out of the twenty-first century. For one thing, the magazine was a detachable cylinder that held ten rounds of twelve-gauge ammo. For another, the cylinder and all the shotgun's major subassemblies were injection-molded from a new high-strength synthetic material called Rynite SST. ...

Camellion aimed for the head, wanting instant kill-shots, his logic based on the fact that for most pistol calibers the maximum velocity of the bullet never exceeds 1,200 feet per second. At speeds between 400 and 1,200 fps, the bullet has a tendency to bore a hole through the body, creating a channel wound, with damage confined to the channel. At velocities over 1,200 fps, the bullet carries enough energy so that a more severe wound can result, but as a rule the bullet only passes through the body. It is only after the bullet has been accelerated above 2,400 fps that the high-velocity explosive wound comes into being, unless you're using special ammo—Arcane, THV, and so on. At the moment Camellion was using .45 caliber cartridges, and a .45 ACP projectile carries only enough energy to knock a man backward at a rate of about two inches per second. For this reason the Death Merchant wanted to be positive that the targets didn't have even a minimoment in which to fire—not even as they were going down.
They didn't. The .45 bullet from Camellion's left Gonez smacked the Russian with the assault rifle in the bridge of the nose. The slug zipped through the lower portion of his brain and blew out the back of his head. No human being could have died faster.

"Richard Camellion was as calm as a clam in a coma."

"Turkey turds ... Hopefully, they had an IQ higher than an onion!"

"A thousand feet ahead, the road turned rather sharply and moved past a thickly wooded area, the trees appearing to be almost to the edge of the concrete. Russians, pig farmers that they were, loved woods."

"Homo sovieticus is a special breed of moral coward."

"Get on that phone, spinach face."

"The Russians have as much chance against that sub as a jungle bunny in Harlem has of learning calculus!"

Camellion has "an absolute horror of urinating in front of a member of the opposite sex, even with his back turned. Better to face an entire division of KGB trash."

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Another Infinite Jest Reading Group: Poor Yoricks' Summer

In June 2009, Matthew Baldwin organized "Infinite Summer", an online group reading of Infinite Jest, the acclaimed novel by the late David Foster Wallace. I did not take part in IS, but the project inspired me a few months later to gather some of the Joy of Sox crowd and try an off-season read of the book. I called it "Infinite Winter" - and it (sadly) fizzled out at about page 400 (of 1,078). (A different and much more successful online reading experience entitled Infinite Winter wrapped up about one month ago.)

Now Philip Miletic, as part of his dissertation at the University of Waterloo, is organizing "Poor Yoricks' Summer", yet another online reading of Infinite Jest.
[Y]ou are all invited to join Poor Yoricks' Summer, an Infinite Jest reading group that is led by Canadians, from the West coast to the East coast (you will meet the guides in the first week of June). First time readers are more than welcome, as are second and third and fourth (and so on) time readers. ... This is not only a time to read a really big book together; it's also a time to share with others your thoughts and feelings about one of those really big books you like or have been hearing so much about. ...

You can use the hashtag #infsum (I prefer to continue the excellent conversations on #infsum rather than trying to jumpstart a new one). And we're over at twitter at @poor_summer.
Led by Canadians! How can I resist?

Miletic's reading schedule will be modelled on Infinite Winter, which covered approximately 75 pages per week. That is really a breakneck speed for this detailed novel, but I understand the need to move things along. You can't have the experience last a year or more and expect people to stick with it. Like the hosts of the previous reads, Miletic will have a group of "guides" posting their thoughts and observations.

I may also post stuff here.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Infinite Jest Audiobook On YouTube

Settle in. Parts 1 and 2 are each about 24 hours long.


Sunday, May 08, 2016

Death Merchant #66: The Cobra Chase

Red Fever

His code name is Cobra. Behind him lies a long, bloody trail of violence and assassination. Before him is a sinister rendezvous with the KGB. For the Russians have developed the ultimate weapon of subversion - a ferocious AIDS-like virus targeted at America's heartland.

But the CIA has a one-man antidote: Richard Camellion. Determined to stop his old nemesis, he will lead an international killing team on a break-neck, blood-soaked chase across Western Europe to deliver his own cure for commie terror: sudden, violent death!


Three months have passed since the end of the Death Merchant's last adventure, Mission Deadly Snow, in which Richard Camellion destroyed the Partners' huge cocaine processing factory in Colombia.

Now Camellion is working undercover in a Paris suburb - posing as an architect from Florida on vacation - hoping to find and kill the Cobra, who escaped from the "snow" factory before the big attack. The Death Merchant had refused outside help in tracking the Cobra (aka Adrian Mirocco) but he eventually ends up working with French intelligence. A raid on the apartment of a PLO terrorist (one of the Cobra's mistresses was also there) yields keys that fit lockers at RER Station. Three suitcases are found containing weapons, maps, various receipts, and photographs believed to be of the Cobra. The PLO terrorist and mistress are tortured, but they reveal no useful information.

The Death Merchant then gets word that a US General in the Air Force was murdered when his plane was shot down over Spangdahlem AFB in West Germany. A total of 32 people (in the plane and on the ground) were killed, but one person survived. That person overheard someone using Mirocco's nickname and something about being "safe in Istanbul". Convinced that the Cobra was behind the attack on the plane, the Death Merchant travels to Istanbul immediately. At an Istanbul safe house, an agent informs Camellion that the Cobra has been located "in a deserted han in the Beyoğlu district". In preparation for an attack, they actually drive past the building, but rather than storming it from the street, Camellion decides instead to walk through some underground rat-infested sewer pipes and come up into the cellar of the han. Sure enough, the Cobra and various Turkish revolutionaries are in the building and there is a massive shootout, complete with Camellion using CNB gas and thermit grenades. Somehow, the elusive Cobra escapes.

Camellion believes Mirocco has gone back to West Germany to get assistance from the KGB. So the Death Merchant's next move is to disguise himself as Mirocco and kidnap Alexandr Vensivik, a counsul general of the Soviet Union, at a performance of the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra. Camellion believes Vensivik will know where the Cobra is hiding. Vensivik does give the Death Merchant some information - after watching Camellion shoot his wife - but the reader is not privy to it.

The Cobra's previous plan to assassinate the Pope is put on hold because the Soviets want him to go to Sweden and take possession of a deadly virus (it gives victims symptoms similar to AIDS) and deliver it to a special KGB group in Wichita, Kansas. (Talking about the United States gives Rosenberger the opportunity to have Mirocco opine (as many of Rosenberger's characters do) that the US is "very stupid about its borders. They can't even keep out the trash from Mexico.") We learn that one of the KGB officials meeting with Mirocco told Vensivik, while tipsy, the details of this operation. This is likely the information that Vensivik told the Death Merchant. Mirocco also gets word that someone disguised as him pulled off a kidnapping. Mirocco realizes that only one person in the world could do this: "the mysterious Death Merchant"! He also wonders if the KGB is using him as bait to lure the Death Merchant to Sweden.

The handoff of the virus will be done in the ruins of Castle Vasa, off the shore near Härnösand on the east central coast of Sweden. A few days before the transfer, the Death Merchant and a small army of 14 others arrive at the castle. Rosenberger goes overboard describing the old castle as a "monstrous, silent sentinel enraged its privacy was being invaded". The structure is not attractive: "it looked as inviting as plague" and Camellion senses "a menacing perversion ... the Cosmic Lord of Death had many forms and shapes". In scouting out the many floors of the castle, they discover a secret room under the dungeon filled with Soviet weapons, as well as a stairway that leads down to the water. Camellion plants sound detectors and small packets of explosives all over the place and then it's time to sit and wait.

Once Camellion detects voices, he sneaks down to the lower level and tosses down some heavy stones to lure the Russians to investigate the first floor. When they do, the RDX packets are set off and the gun battle begins. Eventually, things come down to Camellion and Mirocco face-to-face. Camellion has the opportunity to "tweep" the Cobra, but he chooses not to. He wants the Cobra to know who is killing him, so they engage in hand-to-hand martial arts instead. "You're the reason birth control was invented", Camellion taunts him at one point. Of course, the Death Merchant wins the battle and blows the Cobra's head off. Success! (It is left unsaid whether some of the Russians in the underground chamber were able to retreat down the shaft and escape with the virus. Rosenberger drops the virus part of the storyline when the final battle begins and never returns to it.)


Right away, on page 9, we get some ammo porn to slow up the action:
The Death Merchant was using BAT cartridges, BAT being the acronym of Blitz-Action-Trauma. The BAT Safety bullet was a solid copper alloy, round-nosed projectile that did not contain any lead. The bullet was drilled all the way through with a stepped, two-diameter hole, thus leaving a cavity in the nose. This cavity was filled with a plastic-explosive plug that formed the round nose. A 9mm BAT bullet was deadly. Weighing 86 grains and having a muzzle velocity of 1,400 feet per second, the BAT slug could penetrate two car doors.
"The Cobra ... had only one religion. He was a fanatic who believed only in himself, only in Adrian Miroccoism!" [In an earlier book, Camellion says he follows only "Camellionism" and in a 1985 letter, author Joseph Rosenberger noted that his only religion was "Rosenbergerism".]

Camellion: "The only worthwhile pursuit that carries any reward is the avoidance of taxes."

"Working in the intelligence game, especially in the field, was always a carefully controlled nightmare, more often than not resembling a blind man's trying to walk on a tightrope that was never there in the first place."

Scherhorn, the eternal pessimist, was saying, "I don't care how well we've planned. There are so many unknown factors involved that it almost gives me diarrhea just to think about it".

"It's easy to be an angel when nobody ruffles your feathers. It is even easier to continue to avoid death when you've become a walking encyclopedia of dirty tricks and close-in combat tactics. But you had better have a very intimate knowledge of human nature and be familiar with how Evil thinks. Richard Camellion did have both."

"As far as Kröchen was concerned, the two Turks were as useless as pricks on priests."

"Adrian Mirocco was as puzzled as a man who has found Velveeta cheese in the gourmet section of a supermarket ..."

"Camellion, who would have dared to black-bag God, if the price for the job was right ..."

"If [the bald] Vensivik had been wearing a turtleneck sweater, he would have been able to pass for a giant tube of roll-on deodorant."

"As I see it, for us to even try to get to the castle can be equated with trying to take a bath in the middle of Yankee Stadium during the height of the baseball season."

"The Cobra knew he was doomed. Or, should be make a deal? Surrender? Do whales tap-dance?"

"And to think we're fighting men whose nation can't even manufacture a decent ballpoint pen!" Antoine Zegame muttered to no one in particular.