Wild Country

Review: Wild Country, Dean Ing, 1985. 

Cover by David Mann

The last novel in Ing’s Ted Quantrill trilogy is sort of a western.

Most of it is set in Texas on the border with Atlan Mexico with some brief excursions to Oregon (Ing lived in both Texas and Oregon) and Norman, Oklahoma. There are bar room fights, chases on hovercycles instead of with horses, a poor woman who doesn’t want to sell her spread to a rich landowner, and final showdown between two gunslingers.

And we have the old cliché of the gunfighter who may be running out of time as his reflexes slow, and he still faces men gunning for him.

The gunfighter is Ted Quantrill, now a deputy U.S. Marshall in the Wild Country. President Young’s administration ended after the events of the preceding book, Single Combat. Street, the leader of the resistance, is now Attorney General in the new administration though he mostly operates out of Alice, Texas. (Not, as I can tell you from visiting it, a major urban area.)

Being a deputy doesn’t pay that well, so Quantrill also works part time for Marrows, a former bull rider turned veterinarian. He tells Quantrill that one day he will get a “sign” that he’s not up to his marshall job just like Marrows got a sign when a bull mauled him.

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Single Combat

Review: Single Combat, Dean Ing, 1983. 

Cover by Howard Chaykin

The world has settled down in the second book of Ing’s Ted Quantrill trilogy. The Fourth World War ended about five years ago. Nations are picking up the pieces. Technology has advanced. There are even plans for New Israel – now on leased land in Turkey – to build L-5 colonies.

Ted Quantrill is no longer a teenager trying to survive and find a place in a post-holocaust world. He’s found his place. It’s killing people for the government.

The secret group of assassins, called T Section, he works for is at the center of the book. It hides behind the cover of Streamlined America’s Search and Rescue organization which goes out and helps people in the still devastated areas of the country. From Systemic Shock, there’s Sabado, the unarmed combat instructor who recruited Quantrill out of the Army; Seth Howell, political instructor; Marty Cross, an expert at covert pursuit; and, Mason Reardon, a master at surveillance. Most importantly, there is Marbrye Sanger, the first trainee Quantrill met, and the two have a relationship. It’s sexual with much unsaid because things can’t be carried further when your every conversation is monitored, and, if your lover goes rogue, they’ll end up dead – maybe at your hand. Any intimate discussion or thoughts of rebellion has to be in notes and sign language.

But, at a T Section briefing, Quantrill learns that resistance to President Young’s Streamlined America has gone beyond guerilla actions into a more organized phase. There are even rumors some T Section members have gone rogue. Perhaps, he thinks, the regime can be changed after all.

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Systemic Shock

In keeping with the whole plague and war theme, I finally finished Dean Ing’s Ted Quantrill trilogy having read the first two books years ago.

A novel from the 1980s with a nuclear world war and survivalists – I feel like I’m poaching on The Books That Time Forgot’s territory.

After writing the first draft of this, I checked out Ing’s Wikipedia page. He died on June 21, 2020.

Review: Systemic Shock, Dean Ing, 1981.

Cover by Paul Alexander

As Spider Robinson once noted in a review of an Ing work, Ing’s something of a moralistic writer. And there’s no doubt about the main moral of this story. It’s right there on the front page quote in the original Ace paperback:

Governments across the globe ducked for cover. Long-drilled and partly prepared, millions of RUS urbanites sealed themselves into subway tunnels, then slid blast-and-firestorm-proof hatches into place to ride out the blast-furnace interval. Most Americans were asleep, and in any case had only the sketchiest notion of adequate shelter. A few city dwellers – the smaller the city, the better their chances – sped beyond their suburbs before freeway arterials became clots of blood and machinery.

The American public had by turns ignored and ridiculed its Cassandras, who had warned against our increasing tendency to crowd into our cities. We had always found some solution to our problems, often at the last minute. Firmly anchored in most Americans was the tacit certainty that, even to the problem of nuclear war against population centers, there must be a uniquely American solution; we would find it.

The solution was sudden death. A hundred million Americans found it.

But this isn’t a Third World War fought with nukes. It’s the Fourth World War fought with nukes.

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“Utopia — and Afterwards”

Review: “Utopia – And Afterwards: Socioeconomic Speculation in the SF of Mack Reynolds”, Brian Stableford, 1979, 1995.

This essay is a fascinating look at an author almost forgotten today (I’ve only read his “Mercenary”) and mostly out of print (at least until ebooks). Dean Ing finished some of Reynolds’ unpublished works.

Stableford, trained as a sociologist, takes a look at Reynolds whom he sees as almost unique in trying to seriously postulate, using Marxian ideas, future societies and economies. He sees Reynolds’ Looking Backward from the Year 2000 – an updating of Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward — as the first utopian work in 40 years though it emphasizes the economics of abundance more than Bellamy’s model. (Now, of course, one could cite Ken McLeod, Charles Stross, and, especially for utopian works, Kim Stanley Robinson, as working in a similar vein.) 

Reynolds seems to have consistently view capitalism and Marxism as being two ideologies which must be overcome, propagated by the power elite of their respective societies, and both having abandoned the idea of progress. This conflict with Marxism and capitalism is often not well dramatized in Reynold’s action adventure plots involving turncoat agents who start out in the employ of orthodoxies but then shift allegiance to the true revolutionaries.

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It’s Up to Charlie Hardin

Review: It’s Up to Charlie Hardin, Dean Ing, 2015.It's Up to Charlie Hardin

Another February partly spent in Texas and parts between there and Minnesota. The books I took along were the Texas-centric Roadside Geology of Texas, Charles L. Harness’ Cybele, with Bluebonnets, and Dean Ing’s latest novel.

With the first sentence of the preface, Ing tells you this is not one of his usual books and what kind of book it is:

This is the sort of confession a man may indulge in if he is too lazy to commit the autobiography his grandkids asked for, and too self-absorbed to scribble the books his publishers wanted more of. It is also naked homage to Mark Twain, who in 1875 half-fictionalized the lively times he had enjoyed in his Missouri village thirty years earlier.
The setting for Ing’s version of Tom Sawyer is the Austin, Texas of 1944. (The book jacket has the wrong date.)
There are some typical Ing features: accident and the human emotions of pride, avarice, and ego tangling lives and leading to a collision of characters. This is not the first book of Ing’s to feature young characters in prominent roles.
But there are no fantastic elements. No espionage despite the mention of Nazis. And the only planes are model ones.
But it is a charming story told in a sardonic, wry voice not afraid to point out portentous connections to events the character are oblivious to and point out his characters’ foibles.
Our characters are
  1. The impulsive, stubborn, and prideful Charlie Hardin
  2. Charlie’s smarter and more prudent friend Aaron Fischer who still finds himself pulled into Charlie’s schemes
  3. Roy Kinney, sneaky, whiny, not too bright and 10 years old to Charlie and Aaron’s 12.
  4. Jackie Rhett, budding juvenile delinquent and something of a bully, fat, fast, and rather smart.
  5. Lint, Charlie’s clever and loyal dog.
Rounding out the cast is Charlie’s dad, a juvenile offender officer with the city, Charlie’s mom, a couple of criminals, and Eugene Carpenter, budding sociopath and criminal genius at age 13.
In the months between April and June 1944, Charlie and Aaron wander from diversion to diversion: model airplanes, combining melons and giant slingshots, flaming tires, wandering the capitol grounds of Austin seeking treasure and the storm drains of Austin responding to dares.
It was an age when kids like Charlie and Aaron weren’t feral or neglected — just normal, and a kid like Charlie wouldn’t find himself with a Ritalin prescription.
Ing tacks on an afterward hinting at the lines of between autobiography and invention.
I recognize the spirit of Dean’s story even if my boyhood, three decades later and in a very different setting, shared few of the events in Charlie’s boyhood.
All in all, a book that should appeal to many beyond Ing’s usual readership.
A Small Criticism
Charlie and Aaron seem a bit too naïve about the nefarious doings they come across. I’m not sure I would have been that naïve. Perhaps that’s what those three decades did in eroding innocence. Or maybe I just spent more time in the library than Charlie and Aaron.

“Silent Thunder” & “Universe”

This is the last of my Dean Ing-related material though it’s possible you will get a review of his 2015 Tom Sawyerish It’s Up to Charlie Hardin. I started reading it after finishing Charles L. Harness’ last novel, Cybele, with Bluebonnets. Not coincidentally, both are novels based on their authors’ Texas boyhoods since I just got back from that state. (And the Harness novel is something of a masterpiece in many senses.)

The Quantrill books referred to are Ing’s post-apocalypse trilogy Systemic Shock, Single Combat, and Wild Country.  I have plans to look at those soon too.

Heinlein’s “Universe” got reviewed, of course, as part of Orphans of the Sky.

Sometimes you can figure out some underlying rationale for Ace Double and Tor Double pairings, but I can’t think of any here except for the purely commercial one of publishing an Ing novella. (Though both stories have religion as an element.) Tor has gotten into publishing novellas again, and that’s a welcome development.

Raw Feed (1992): “Silent Thunder” by Dean Ing/”Universe” by Robert A. Heinlein, 1991.Silent Thunder

Silent Thunder”, Dean Ing — I liked this techno-thriller by Ing.  It works mainly because Ing knows the clichés of the thriller story and knows his readers are aware of them too. We know Pam Garza is President Harry Rand’s ex-lover and Walter Kalvin’s toady, and Ing doesn’t try to futilely fool us. We know that Laurie Ramsay is going to get kidnapped, so that plot turn is done early.  Again, Ing doesn’t try to fool us. But Ing does tell a fast-paced, exciting story. The sf element, the Donnersprache, is an interesting device, and I wonder how much reality there is in the background details of German research into electronics and psychoacoustics. Spider Robinson once said Ing wrote moral fiction and that’s true. Here Ing uses the Donnersprache to get in a few truthful observations on the manipulability of democratic populaces and how not everyone has the right to his opinion if it’s founded on emotion and not fact. (Interestingly, Ing never gets into an obvious application of the Donnersprache. If it can electronically enhance the credibility of someone’s voice, why couldn’t the same techniques be used to create a very negative impression of a speaker? Perhaps this is what Kalvin does when Rand deviates from the former’s scripts. ) The violent way in which Laurie escapes her captor was surprising, and Ing’s way of showing the error of her former non-violence stance (a stance fostered by her mother). A child forced into violence to survive is something of an Ing theme as witnessed in his Quantrill books. I liked Ramsay being able to forgive dupe Garza and marry her and how traitor Terrence Unruh tries to kill Kalvin. Ing makes a nice point that a man may sell out for personal reasons (Unruh wants money for his family after he dies), but be unwilling to totally sell out his country. This statement has a counterpoint to Ramsay not saying anything until his daughter is safe. And Rand is furious at being unwittingly manipulated and used by Kalvin. He may be a dopy, repressive preacher, but he’s got integrity that helps save the day. But the very best thing about the story is that America is saved from fascism by a conspiracy of moderate-minded Masons — who assure a cabinet member that their handshake and promise has been good enough for centuries. It’s nice to see this much maligned group (the villains of many a fictional and alleged conspiracy) being the heroes.

Universe”, Robert A. Heinlein — A true classic. I liked the medievalism of the society in the spaceship:  a religious based hierarchy with our hero being hauled up for trial about his views of the nature of the ship and world outside a lá Galileo, storytellers with amazing memories who serve as judges too, and an easy acceptance of slavery under the muties. I also liked mutant Jim-Joes who seems a curious Heinlein character:  a learned man with little ambition (but capable of decisiveness). I liked him (them?) unable to realize the difference between fact and fiction in what he (they?) read.
More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Firefight Y2K

More Dean Ing.

This time a book of fiction, speculation, and advice.

Raw Feed (2001): Firefight Y2K, Dean Ing, 2000.Firefight Y2K

“Preface” — Rather perfunctory introduction to the collection noting its diversity of fact and fiction pieces including historical fantasy and science fiction.

Fleas” — Almost literally a biter bitten story. This tale is also about a vampire-like predator preyed on himself, fleas on fleas since both are parasites.

“A Report on Advanced Small Arms Concepts” — Interesting article on some advanced concepts in military armor, transportation, and small arms. The article talks about a brainstorming session conducted for the U.S. Army by engineers and science fiction authors and addressing future military hardware for infantrymen. I thought the most interesting idea was the ramjet bullet which contains primer on the inside surface of a cylinder. After being propelled to velocities roughly matching a .45 Auto round, the propellant begins to burn and the round increases in velocity for more power, longer range, and a flatter trajectory for a round that would probably be about a .38 caliber.

Manaspill” — This story didn’t do much for me at all. I found it tedious. It used a fairly typical plot for a prehistoric story: plucky orphans discover talents while facing a tribe’s scheming shaman who knows much less about magic than orphan girl Thyssa. This story is set in Larry Niven’s When the Magic Goes Away universe (specifically it was first published in the shared world anthology The Magic May Return) which is based on the notion that magic is powered by concentrations of a material called mana.

Malf” — I rather enjoyed this story of nifty tree harvesters (they limb, cut, and stack the trees in place and walk on legs as well as roll on wheels) engaged in combat and how a skilled operator of the experimental machines turns out to be a vicious ex-getaway driver for the Mob. Real tree harvesters exist (this was a 1976 story) but not this elaborate or large. I presume, Ing being a former engineer, that the engineer jargon of the narrator is accurate to the profession. Villain Infante’s psychological instability turns out, in another case of literalized metaphor, to cause the instability of handling in one of the Magnum harvesters.

“The Future of Flight:  Comes the Revolution”, Dr. Leik Myrabo and Dr. Dean Ing — A brief article about, amongst other future transportation technologies, using laser powered rockets. Continue reading


Another Dean Ing novel. This one has no real fantastic elements.

Raw Feed (2002): Spooker, Dean Ing, 1995.Spooker

I’ve liked Ing’s realistic details on espionage tradecraft and organizations, and this book didn’t disappoint in that regard — though, of course, the world of spies depicted is much more violent than it is in reality.

What was most striking about this book was its ending. Normally, you would expect hero Gary Landis to save, at the last moment, his new girlfriend (and long time friend) Janelle Betancourt from the clutches of Andy Soriano and his mother, Skander Masaryk. Not only doesn’t Ing do that, but, in the attempt of her grandfather, Swede Halvorsen, to save Janelle, he kills her with a stray shotgun pellet into the brain. If Landis were a series espionage hero who was habitually unattached, the killing of Janelle would simply be a resetting of his affairs for the next book. Here it’s a lingering tragedy.

It’s not the only thing strange about the presentation and structure of this espionage thriller. The initial spooker killings are referred to in the narrative voice of an unidentified narrative “we”.  We never do find out (and this, I think, is the biggest flaw of the book) who makes the attempt on Masaryk’s life after she defects to the CIA (we assume it’s the KGB but that’s only a guess). Continue reading

Butcher Bird

There are plenty of technothrillers and science fiction novels now about drones.

They weren’t very common when Dean Ing wrote this novel.

Sentient weapons have a history in science fiction going back to at least 1942 with Murray Leinster’s “The Wabbler”.

Raw Feed (1994): Butcher Bird, Dean Ing, 1993.Butcher Bird

This is the third in a series of related technothrillers from Ing, and it was a good, quick read though I liked it the least of any book in the series.

I liked the technology (though not detailed enough for me) of the Butcher Bird, a small, robotic, stealth craft designed for assassination via a nuclear powered x-ray laser.

Its designer and rogue user is Roland Clement who is a renegade aviation/weapons designer for Syria. He takes the Butcher Bird to South America, ostensibly to field test it by killing a French aviation designer who may be able to figure out the technology behind a spate of Mideast murders. Clement, though, has other plans. He manages to slip away from his Syrian masters with his Syrian assistant Selim Mansour and girlfriend Odile in tow. (He lies to Mansour to get his cooperation.) He embarks on a program of both assassination for hire (including the drug cartel of Ing’s The Nemesis Mission) and anyone who has ever laughed at him or can figure out his design. (He’s a borderline psychopath.  )

In the latter group is a hero from the other two books – aviation engineer Ulmer. His company is hired by the NSA to evaluate technology behind the Mideast assassination.  The Science Fiction Encyclopedia mentions the humane aspect of Ing’s work. I was reminded of that comment when Colleen Morrison and Wes Hardin – both heroes of The Nemesis Mission but minor characters here – almost quit their research project when they suspect they’re designing a craft for sole use in assassinations. Raoul Medina and Kyle Corbin from The Ransom of Black Stealth One (some of the best parts of the book involve Petra Leigh’s deceptions being discovered and a meeting between Ullmer and the presumed dead Corbin) try to stop a federal witness from getting killed. But plans go wrong and soon Ullmer is a target at the Oshkosh, Wisconsin airshow (a good touch that).

I liked the final scene with the Butcher Bird, narrated from the machine’s near sentient viewpoint (it has a complex program for target acquisition and stalking). I thought it was another good installment in a good series. I didn’t even mind the contrived cure of Corbin’s brain cancer via the radiation from Butcher Bird’s breached reactor. However, I did think it was a bit much for Medina to take up with Odile at novel’s end given that she helped hold him prisoner most of the book and is a fugitive.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.