Monday, April 25, 2016


I've discovered a wondrous, wry Western, set in the foreboding but thrilling future: a novel that is epic, intimate and humorous in its vast "robotech" complexities.  

J. Scott Bennett, the novel’s narrator, actually recommended “Fighting Iron” to me, and through his mesmerizing performance, I've gained the immense pleasure of absorbing Jake Bible’s rollicking tale.

Actually, “Fighting Iron” smacks of one of my favorite film trilogies: the Charles Band produced “Robot Jox”; “Crash and Burn”; and “Robot Wars”. Like the trilogy, Bible’s story features giant, manned machines (in the wake of what's called the Bloody Conflict), but takes the post-apocalyptic concept to a richer, more character-driven plane. He creates a world that, for all of its austere outlandishness, is credible yet scary, and along its gutsy path, you're often apt to cringe and grin. 

Bible’s story also reminds me of the “Mad Max” sequels, in that it's populated by weird and greedy overlords. “Fighting Iron’”s hero, Clay MacAulay is, in essence, an expressive variation of Max: a futuristic cowboy, who instead of riding a horse, drives a fifty-foot war machine. His sidekick is an amicable A.I. personality named Gibbons, who helps operate the device, to which MacAulay attaches sentimental value, since he's inherited it from his dear mother. The machine now allows MacAulay to amble about harsh landscapes, and like any cowboy worth his irreverent salt, into dangerous discovery. 

The adventure is also highlighted by a series of feisty females. There's Nasta, a rough but cause-caring flirt; the cantankerous and quippy Fiora; and Bunting, a deadly mech pilot, who intends to give MacAulay a run for his money. However, my favorite of the bevy is the sexy General Hansen: a confounding cross between Max's Aunty Entity and your favorite Penthouse Pet. 

Though some may consider Hansen the novel's most unscrupulous character, she really can't match the villainous Mister: a quick-tempered, old son of a gun, who wants MacAulay and his mech to fight on his behalf in an annual, winner-take-all competition. Hansen also has a stake in the contest, desiring MacAulay and his craft for the same cause, but our hero won't play puppet to either of them. Alas, his resistance only deepens his predicament. 

To season the already crafty plot, MacAulay meets misguided "flower people", land-owning communistas, and a variety of weather-worn allies and henchmen along the way. The fun lies in determining who's good, who's bad and who'll remain alive by the conclusion, and a fine conclusion it is, rivaling even that of John Gatins' "Real Steel" and Guillermo del Toro's "Pacific Rim" in its explosive expanse. 

Indeed, Bible's vivid storytelling makes "Fighting Iron" one of the most satisfying of its kind, but the tale becomes further distinguished by Bennett's engaging tonality. The actor's voice swings seamlessly from humble roughness to amusing, Strother Martin-like drawls. He even renders the women with nuanced grace, accentuating their sarcasm, sensuality and wit, sometimes simultaneously: an impressive feat that few could so convincingly achieve. 

Through Bennett, Bible's escapade plays like a mega-buck movie within one's mind, blessed by the best possible cast. In this regard, the audio presentation stands as the best damn "movie" I've experienced in quite some time, and I've digested quite a few good ones over the past decade or two.

Even if you're not into post-apocalyptic, giant-robot romps, try this one on for size. It's one of those rare treats that upon finishing it, you'll be craving--no, demanding--more: an outcome I only wish more novels could emulate. 

(Bible's book is published by Severed Press and can be ordered through Amazon, along with Bennett’s highly recommended, unabridged reading.)

No comments:

Post a Comment