bullets broads blackmail and bombsNo, with that title, this column is not turning into some weekly affirmation. I’m talking about that red, sticky stuff that flows within us all: blood. I’ve got three books to cover this week that all have blood in common, and usually, there is a lot spilled. First up is a book where once I found out who the real author was, it really pissed me off, since his writing was central to my youth.

BALZAN OF THE CAT PEOPLE #1: THE BLOOD STONES by Wallace Moore — I grew up reading tons of science fiction — good and bad, did not matter. I found it funny that the bad stuff was always more fun to read. But I’ve never come across one that truly deserves the title of “worst book ever” in any genre. Sure, I’ve covered more than my share of stinkers, but wow, did I really hit bottom with this 1975 one.

To quote the cover, Balzan is “the Tarzan of outer space.” Yeah, let’s just take whole ideas from that Edgar Rice Burroughs classic and change a few things around, like instead of apes, it will be human-like cat aliens. Then set it in space and borrow whole ideas from that other Burroughs series — you know, the one set on Mars.

BLOOD STONES is one giant turd that, as much as you try and polish it, is still a turd. First off, we get no backstory at all. Let me correct myself: You need to read the back of the book for this character’s history, since when we do come to that part in the story, it’s a giant mess of ideas. Oh, and by the way, this is the first book in the series.

Its story is predictable to the point of overuse. Anyone who has read a Tarzan book or any adventure pulp has seen it before. The village is attacked and the prisoners are taken to another land, only to be used in gladiator games. That is the whole story, just with cat people and this human named Balzan. It’s totally glossed over how he came to be with these creatures.

I’d be better off rewatching the PLANET HULK movie, which brings us to who really wrote this pile of poo. If I were to say, “What do these things in common: The Punisher, ‘The Death of Gwen Stacy’ and Balzan of the Cat People,” what would your answer be? Yes, they were all created and written by one Gerry Conway. Yes, that Conway — the comic book writer responsible for one of the landmark SPIDER-MAN stories wrote this pile of swords and sewage.

I know this review is harsh, and I tried really hard to like the book, but it was just one misstep after another. I’ve seen this plot done before and better executed. Avoid this mess and, if Conway comes across this review, please note I still love all your comic work. But wow, did this stink worse then a Porta-Potty after a tailgate at Foxboro Stadium.

FIRST BLOOD by David Morrell — Let’s tackle the elephant in the room: If you’re only familiar with Sylvester Stallone’s movie version of this 1972 novel, you are seriously missing out. There are major differences between them, especially in the endings. Even Morrell, who would go on to write the novelizations for two of the sequels, brings it up right away; it’s more about the two main characters and how they deal with their own war experiences.

First, we have Rambo — no first name is given — who is just trying to get through town. He’s a Green Beret and Medal of Honor recipient who had a major breakdown because of the Vietnam War. Then, there is Sheriff Teasle, a Korean War veteran who is going through his own issues: namely, a divorce and delusions his wife will come back to him.

From the outset, Teasle just pushes and pushes Rambo to the point that the only thing Rambo can do is be defiant. That means going straight back into town after the sheriff drives him to the outskirts. This is how it all turns ugly, and does so very quickly, especially when Teasle makes it his point to somehow control this kid, as he refers to Rambo, all because Rambo won’t bend to the sheriff’s will. It’s even pointed out by one of the sheriff’s compatriots that there is no reason to give Rambo any grief.

The story moves into a massive manhunt when Rambo escapes the police station when he has been pushed far enough, and he has a flashback to his time as a P.O.W. This is a page-turner that begs to be finished before being put down. There is plenty of action and tense set pieces throughout. Morrell knows how to keep a reader engaged, that’s for sure. It’s simply amazing how such things from the book were changed around to make Rambo some sort of underdog onscreen. Here, he’s a truly damaged person just trying to scrape by, not bothering anyone while he lives off the land. From the inner monologues that Morrell provides, we see that Rambo was not one to be cheered. The book blows the movie away by light years.

EDGE #9: BLOODY SUMMER by George G. Gilman — The problem I sometimes have with this column is that there are so many series I own, I can’t spend a lot of time on one for a while. Case in point: EDGE. I would love to just tear through the stack of them I have, but I also know one goes a long way with its mix of blood, bullets and razors on various idiots who dare come between Edge and what ever he is set on doing.

This 1973 entry is no different. Edge is on a mission to hunt down a group of bandits who stole personal belongings of a pompous Army colonel. But along the way, he has to deal with other little flare-ups. First, a brother and sister who have come from the east to get justice for their dead relative who was killed because of the colonel, who forced his troops to drag all of his belongings to Deadwood. Along the way, they were ambushed by the killers that Edge is going to gun down. Then, of course, there are the other various bounty hunters who would rather not see Edge make any progress, including a local sheriff who is more tin horn than tin star.

You do get a lot of action in this short little read. In the 160 pages, you have a Sioux uprising, various gun battles, and then the big finale. This one is not as over-the-top as some of the others; it’s probably the mellowest I’ve read so far As much as you’d like to see Edge kick the ass of certain characters, that does not come to be. I really need to just go on one major EDGE reading fest, but I’ve got tons of other Western books I want to cover. —Bruce Grossman

Buy them at Amazon.

EDGE #2: TEN GRAND by George G. Gilman
EDGE #4: KILLER’S BREED by George G. Gilman
EDGE #6: RED RIVER by George G. Gilman
EDGE #7: CALIFORNIA KILL by George G. Gilman
EDGE #11: SIOUX UPRISING by George G. Gilman
EDGE #15: PARADISE LOSES by George G. Gilman
STEELE #17: SATAN’S DAUGHTERS by George G. Gilman

CREEPERS by David Morrell
SCAVENGER by David Morrell
THE SHIMMER by David Morrell

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Comment by Matthew
2010-02-17 13:44:37

Leigh Brackett’s Eric John Stark stories were essentially Tarzan in space. They were actually pretty good though.

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Comment by Bruce
2010-02-17 13:56:42

I don’t mind the idea of Burroughs ideas being used in other books. But this one was just one giant mistake after another. With total wholesale ideas being used with no regard.

Comment by Matthew
2010-02-17 16:23:21

The Brackett books are worth lookin for. She was best known for her movie scripts: She was Faulkner’s collaborater on The Maltese Falcon and wrote Rio Bravo with John Wayner.

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Comment by Matthew
2010-02-17 20:18:00

Actually, it was The Big Sleep not The Maltese Falcon. THere is also no actor known as John Wayner, but there is a John Wayne.

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Comment by Ken Zenuk
2010-05-29 18:25:52

Hello Bruce, I just read your take on Balzan of the Cat People. Everybody has there likes and dislikes and I won’t argue that one. The Ironic part of this is that I actually own the original cover painting to that book http://cafurl.com?i=14969 I’m more just reaching out grasping at straws trying to find out who the cover artist was. So far, no one has been able to identify him (or her) In all your book reading and reviews, do you have any ideas or directions that I might turn to on trying to figure that one out? I have contacted Gerry Conway and am awaiting a response from him also but figured I would look any where’s I can come across any thing on this book. Thanks either way, Ken

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