Friday, October 12, 2012

Freaky Friday Post Apocalyptic Sauce - The Death Land Series

Pilgrimage to Hell.jpg
 I've been following the Death Lands series by "James Axler" since 1986. When my uncle gave me a copy it back in the day. There well over a 107 novels & the spin off series of novels Outlanders is up to 57 with Cradle of Destiny. Warning this blog entry contains some major spoilers for both Death Lands & Outlanders. Stop reading now! Or continue onward at your own risk. 
The whole thing saga begins with Pilgrimage To Hell whose plot goes something like this: 
"A major character of the saga who appears in this novel is the Trader, who apparently goes off to die alone near the end of the book, but is constantly referenced in future novels. It also brings Doc Tanner (a senile-sounding gentleman with knowledge of pre-war America) to the group, and gives us our first glance at one of the series' long running mutant menaces : Stickies.
This book also introduces the Redoubts, in particular the Cerberus Redoubt, and the MAT-TRANS teleport chambers that are a major plot device driving the series." 

The novel was done by Christopher Lowder, under the pen name Jack Adrian. Mr. Lowder became ill after developing the plot and writing most of the book. Laurence James, under the pen name James Axler then finished the story.  James went on to write the next 32 novels before dying on 9 February 2000. Under his own name and under the pen names James Darke, James McPhee, and James Axler, he also wrote books for the series "Dark Future," "Earth Blood," "Galactic Security Service" and "Survival 2000," as well as a number of independent novels and short stories.

Make no mistake these are "Men's Entertainment style Post Apocalyptic Novels" They're enjoyed by millions of people including an ex who got me back into these. Alternative Earth doesn't even begin to describe the plot & background of these novels. If there's a PA trope the Death series has explored it & stomped on it to hell & back. These paperbacks are rip roaring fun. The plot of the series history goes something like this  from wiki :
 "On the morning of January 20, 2001 the climax of the Cold War set the post-apocalyptic stage for the series. The end game began with a pre-emptive strike on Washington. Underground nuclear bombs were detonated from within the basement of the Soviet embassy, by an elite group of Spetsnaz operatives, destroying the central command structure and political system of the United States. For an indefinite period of time a nuclear exchangebetween the United States and the Soviet Union devastated both countries and subsequently the entire planet (but little details are known outside both countries). All manner of genetic contagions were released infecting the survivors of the firestorm with horrible illnesses. The remaining survivors lived harshly during a time of prolonged nuclear winter known as 'Sky Dark'. The geography, climate, and ecosystems of the world had changed dramatically. What was left of the United States came to be known as the Deathlands.

100 years later civilization begins again: brutal, short lived, morally confused and crazed from mutation. Between the many hot spots are small plague pits ruled by power hungry individuals who have no limits in order to establish their rule and expand their influence. These individuals are known as the Barons. Their rabble pits are known as Villes and Baronies. Civilization unknowingly resembles the Dark Ages. Trading resumes between the villes: Jack (a regional currency), Jolt (a hallucinogenic mixture of Mescaline and Heroin) and slaves are the primary forms of currency. Life is a strange mixture of ancient history and limited technology that is scrapped from the 20th century. Military technology is the most prized possession of all; success is often measured by the number of bullets he or she possesses. A man named Ryan Cawdor leads a group of companions across the deathlands. Ryan has extremely secret knowledge of the 20th century. The understanding of hidden underground complexes, known as redoubts, that contains Teleportation technology. He and this companions guard this knowledge with their lives. The technology is called MAT-TRANS.
Each novel usually begins with the companions arriving at a frequently unknown redoubt by MAT-TRANS. If the situation is impossible or hostile the companions can use the "last destination" feature of the transporter to return to the sending location. If the redoubt is unknown then the companions usually explore, looking for weapons and supplies which they rarely find. Sometimes they are lucky and find a working shower or stored food which they always utilize or take. The story picks up speed once the characters leave the redoubt and explore the surrounding countryside. Frequently the companions are captured or forced into a confrontation with the local barons. Each novel reveals a little of the characters' history, motivations and the regional location where they arrived."  
So basically lots of video games, DM's & especially the Fallout games have taken their PA cues from this series of novels but their the PA dirty secret. The guns, the girls, & the gadgets are all there. The ladies of this series are pretty damn strong & determined especially in the second series Outlanders! The fact that there are some pretty interesting situations that the party of characters finds themselves in time & again 
 The major characters of the series reads like a whose who of PA adventuring. Time lost characters, weird mutated folks, murderous psychopathic scum, & the rest. Here's the list from Wiki: 
  • Ryan Cawdor: the youngest son of a powerful baron in Virginia. He first appeared in the novel Pilgrimage to Hell by Jack Adrian. His middle brother, Harvey, is responsible for the loss of Ryan’s left eye after murdering Morgan, Ryan's eldest brother. Ryan’s nephew, Nathan Freeman now controls the barony of Front Royal. Ryan was named after his great grandfather, the original founder of Front Royal. He joined the Trader's convoy approximately ten years before the beginning of Pilgrimage to Hell, at the age of 21. Over the years, he climbed the ranks rapidly in Trader's convoy, soon becoming Trader's second-in-command. It was during this time that he met his best friend J.B. Dix, who joined Trader a little over a year later. Ryan is a master of many forms of combat, including knife fighting, and unarmed combat. He learned a great deal from both Trader and J.B. Ryan was portrayed by Vincent Spano in the Sci Fi Channel original movie version of Deathlands: Homeward Bound.
  • Krysty Wroth: A skilled and talented combatant and markswoman. She is a valued member of the companions' party for both her natural fighting abilities and her limited "feely" (precognitive) abilities. She was initially introduced in the first book in the series,Pilgrimage to Hell in 1986, and it was in that book that she established a mutually monogamous romantic relationship with Ryan Cawdor. She is a mutant, though possessing a rare combination of beneficial mutant traits, unlike the myriad mutilated and deformed “muties” the party comes across throughout their travels. Her most notable characteristic is her long red, semi-sentient animated hair as a result of her mutation.
  • John Barrymore Dix: J.B. Dix, also known as The Armorer, has been Ryan Cawdor's closest friend and travelling companion since both men worked for and travelled with the Trader. He is a thin, wiry, tough man who wears wire rimmed spectacles and a brown fedora. He is very quiet, never using four words when three will do. He is a living encyclopedia on weapons from pistols to tanks to missiles. He is also an explosives expert and good hand to hand combatant, although only an average shot. He carries a large canvas satchel containing his explosives and other weapons at all times. Born in Cripple Creek, Colorado, he spent his early years exploring the local area and salvaging trade goods(primarily firearms) from abandoned dwellings and shelters. He developed severe claustrophobia in one such incident as he was trapped in a cave-in with a corpse for several days while exploring an old mine. After serving several years serving with the Trader he entered the MAT-TRANS with Ryan and his other companions. He began a romantic relationship with Dr. Mildred Wyeth. He has also learned that he has glaucoma and will eventually go blind.
  • Dean Cawdor: the teenage son of Ryan Cawdor. Despite his youth he is a full member of the team of warrior survivors that comprise the primary characters. Dean is the result of an affair Ryan Cawdor had with Sharona Carson when Ryan was still traveling with his old mentor, the Trader. Dean's existence is first revealed in Time Nomads, and he first encounters the group in Seedling.
  • Jak Lauren: An albino distinguished in the books by his unusual syntax when speaking. Jak was introduced in the third book,Neutron Solstice. He is a young man, in his late teens, and is an extremely capable hunter and warrior. His signature weapon are his leaf bladed throwing knives, of which he has between 8 and 12 hidden on him at all times, and often uses them as thrown weapons or for melee when guns are inappropriate. He comes from the suburb of West Lowellton in Lafayette, Louisiana, where the group first meet him. At the time,he is leading a group of rebels against an extremely sadistic baron known as Tourment. When Ryan and the other's first met him, and saw just how skillful of a fighter and leader he is, they are surprised to find he is only 14 years old. He is later married to Christian Ballinger, and temporarily leaves the group to settle down Latitude Zero, but tragedy strikes and his wife and daughter are savagely murdered, and he rejoins the group. In the Deathlands: Homeward Bound movie from the Sci-Fi Channel, his personality was altered to that of a "savage".
  • Dr. Mildred Winona Wyeth: A stocky black woman, known for her corn rowed hair, and smartass comments to life in general. She is also a medical doctor from the twentieth century who was cryogenically frozen before the apocalypse event. After her introduction in the series she joined Ryan Cawdor and the other characters in roaming the Deathlands via the Redoubts. She has been romantically linked to J.B. Dix, one of the original characters of the series. Mildred is both a skilled physician and a person to contend with firearms wise, having been an Olympic pistol champion before her cryonic freezing, she has the ability to shoot with a level that almost defies belief, notably hitting Stingwings, small fast terrors that are generally feared in Deathlands, as they attack the group while in flight.
  • Dr. Theophilus Algernon Tanner: Also known as "Doc", was rescued by Ryan Cawdor and his people from the ville of Mocsin, where he was being kept captive by Jordan Teague, the ville's baron. Dr. Tanner speaks in a very strange, Victorian way. Physically, he is very tall and skinny. His face is deeply lined and framed by long gray hair. He has perfect teeth and speaks with a deep, rich voice which commands attention. He is a doctor of philosophy, as well as having studied ichthyology. Tanner was actually born on February 14, 1868 in South Strafford, Vermont. During a time traveling experiment by scientists, he was brought one hundred years into the future, to 1998. Since he proved to be a nuisance and kept trying to escape, the scientists pushed him a further one hundred years into the future, to the Deathlands. The time travel has put a strain on his body, and his memory has partly lapsed. His knowledge of pre-apocalypse redoubts (hidden government fortresses) proves invaluable to Ryan Cawdor and his team. He possesses knowledge of several other projects besides the one which "Time Trawled" him to the deathlands time period,notably TITAN, there is a past drug induced psychotic break whenever something brings that particular project to the forefront, and Doc fails to think clearly until the moment passes or he is distracted to another subject. Dr. Tanner was left out of the 2003 film Deathlands: Homeward Bound.
  • Trader


The spin off series Outlanders is slightly different from Death Lands. Its sort like chocalate & vinella are different flavors of ice scream. While it takes place in the Axlerverse its really got its own feel. The plot fills in some of the post apocalyptic strangeness of the Deathlands novels. The science fictional background that readers always felt were more in line with a hidden agenda in the background.
The plot goes something like this : 
" Two hundred years after a nuclear holocaust devastated the Earth, the chaos and barbarism as depicted in the Deathlands series gave way to a centralized, despotic government ruled by nine mysterious barons.
Material taken from redoubts, secret preholocaust military installations with stores of weapons and the home of the gateways, matter-transfer devices, supplied the baronial rule in what was known as the “Program of Unification.”
Rearmed from redoubt stockpiles, the barons consolidated their power and reclaimed very advanced technology created two centuries before by the so-called “Totality Concept”.
Their power bolstered by the invisible authority known only to an elite few as the Archons extended beyond the fortified city-states into what came to be called the Outlands. There, the rootstock of humanity survived, eking out an existence in hellzones and hounded by black-armored Magistrates, the enforcers of the barons’ laws.
When Cobaltville Magistrates Kane and Grant came across a piece of misplaced technology and Brigid Baptiste, an archivist began an investigation on their behalf, they found themselves branded as sedititionists, their citizenship stripped from them and they were reclassified as Outlanders.
Since 1997’s Exile To Hell, the first book in the series, the heroes and heroines of Outlanders slowly uncovered the truth behind the barons, the Archons and the nuclear holocaust and finally the hidden history of humanity.
They learn that Earth and humankind has been influenced since the dawn of time by the reptilian Anunnaki and the Tuatha Dé Danann. They realize that the baronies are a revival of the god-king system of ancient Sumeria.
Besides the nine barons, other threats arise in the early books, namely Sindri, a brilliant but deranged dwarf who rules a secret colony on Mars. First appearing in Parallax Red (1998), Sindri becomes the most persistent foe of the Cerberus warriors, appearing in several novels.
Other recurring enemies include Colonel Thrush, Sam the Imperator, Grigori Zakat and Maccan, the last prince of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
In Shadow Scourge (2000), the heroes contend with Ocajinik, apparently one of H. P. Lovecraft’s Old Ones.
In Children of the Serpent (2005), the Cerberus warriors discover that the nuclear holocaust and the institution of the baronies were part of an ancient plan formulated over a thousand years before by Enlil, the last Anunnaki on Earth in order to reincarnate the pantheon of Sumerian gods and re-establish their rule over the world.
The reincarnated Enlil becomes the Outlanders main villain. He is considerably more evil and powerful than any of the barons, and has much of the knowledge and technology of the Anunnaki.
Employing conspiracy theories and myths from all cultures as underpinnings, Outlanders quickly distanced itself from the survivalist tone of Deathlands and struck out in new directions, providing explanations and a back story for many of the unresolved science-fiction elements in the earlier series."
The series has a reputation among readers and gamers for the following : 
  1. Weird Technology & badass guns for Post Apocalyptic games 
  2. Strong & yet sexy female lead characters 
  3. Pot boiling conspiracy theory over arching plots 
  4. A gamable universe in the form of the Axlerverse 

    OSR In  The Axlerverse 
    Step one to gaming in the oververse of the Axler universe. Grab a copy of Deathlands or Outlanders. Step two read book & step three grab pen & write campaign. There isn't a PA trope that isn't used at one time or another. The games of Mutant Future, Carcosa, Metamorphosis Alpha, or even Mutant Epoch are easy to criss cross or play around with the Axlerverse. 
    There are a metric ton of resources on these books. Start with this one Here
    Please note that these aren't for kids,& are men's entertainment done by Golden Eagle the same folks who did the Able Team. There is a lot of violence between those pages & so use common sense..

    You can find even more information about  Death Lands
    Outlanders can be found Here

    For the love of God please ignore the Sci fry channel's Death Land movie. It sucks badly & not in a good way. 


  1. I've seen and heard about these, but haven't read any of them. They sound just as crazy as I imagined. :)

  2. I love the Deathlands books, though in all this time I never realized that James Axler was a pen name. I've seen the Outland books in stores, but thought they were a completely separate series. Not that I know they're connected with the Deathland books I'll have to check them out. Great post.

    -Ed Green

  3. Trey they're nutter yet but they do maintain a weird sort of internal logic of plot & form! They're about as close as I've gotten to a Star Gate/Marrow Project mash up!
    Ed there is a quite a few bits of cross over between the two. Millar did a decent job of getting them into a crazy quilt universe. I enjoy the hell out of both of them. They're right up my post apocalyptic alley! Glad you liked the post guys!

  4. I'm sadly ignorant of this series, but now I must seek them out!

  5. Its pretty good but grab a copy at the local libary & get a taste for it. If its got your interest then buy a copy. Thanks for the comment my friend. There's more to come Jay.

  6. Great post. This is a fun series and you're right--it is made for gaming! Wonder why no one has optioned it for a dedicated supplement or would be a lot of fun!

  7. Garrisonjames good questions could be.
    Licensing is a bit of a female dog these days & Sci fy's horrible adaption possibly hurt the property. There are more behind the screen stuff we don't know about it. There might be a movie stuck in development hell. So really its a total crap shoot? Maybe the fees on this one are too high.

  8. Thanks for the comment though Garrisonjames!

  9. I've read quite a few of these over the years, IMHO the early ones were better. I looted the series heavily for my Gamma World games over the years.

  10. Bill the early ones had a different feel from the other parts of this series ergo the science fiction elements were good but not solid. That came later. The elements of post apocalyptic goodness were there but it lacked cohesiveness of the later books. I have a pretty good chunk of the books & I've traded back & forth with friends for years. The whole series is worth a look at if only to mine! Thanks for the comment & there's more coming up


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