Saturday, January 02, 2010

"Iron Shadows" by Steven Barnes

In what had to be the most misleading and exploitative press release of 1998, the crossover horror novel Iron Shadows was described by Tor Books as "an action-packed adventure ripped from today's headlines." With that said, the desperate copywriters spent the next paragraph trying to tie the book to cult leader Marshall Appelwhite and the Heaven's Gate mass suicide - a tragedy that had been "today's headlines" over a year earlier - while shifting the entire focus of the story to a supporting character. On top of that, the page count was inflated by at least four chapters (the book being 200 pages too long to begin with).

Here, let me try to write a more accurate press release.

Right from the start, this was no ordinary case for the crack private investigation team of Porsche "Cat" Juvell and her ex-husband, Jackson "Jax" Carpenter. Their client, a millionaire electronics mogul, had paid them $15,000 just to listen to to his story -- something about the Golden Sun sex cult brainwashing his younger sister into forking over the family fortune. Then they met Joy and Tomo Oshita, the twin leaders of Golden Sun, who possessed godlike healing powers and -- from time to time -- commanded giant spiders to tear their enemies limb from limb. But nothing prepared them for the elderly "Mother" Oshita, who planned on using her mutant offspring as a weapon against the United States in retaliation for dropping atomic bombs on Japan during World War II.

Thirty years ago, in the hands of a quick but competent writer like Warren Murphy or Marc Olden, Iron Shadows would've been a fast, fun 187-page paperback original with flashy cover art and a starburst next to the title: #1 in the exciting Cat & Jax series! Unfortunately, author Steven Barnes took the high road with this ludicrous story, playing the whole thing straight while banging out dialogue like "The orgasticness you seek is a very real energy." Murphy would've had a field day dropping Remo and Chiun into the middle of a Golden Age encounter session, but Barnes (a writer for BAYWATCH) makes no attempt to turn any of this foolishness into satire. Even worse, he lets the idiocy go on for almost 400 pages. Tor, for some reason, issued this first as a hardcover instead of just shipping it out to airports and supermarkets as a mass market paperback right from the start. To be fair, at least Iron Shadows isn't the sleazy, unimaginative trash I was expecting. It's just too long, too dumb and far too serious for its own good.

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