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Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC 82/83 OUT NOW

The Late Review: Gestapo Mars

15th Sep, 2023

Author: Peter Tennant

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Published by Titan Books in 2015, Gestapo Mars is the first book I've read by Victor Gischler, whose back catalogue includes loads of work in the comics field and novels such as Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse and Vampire A Go Go. Given that kind of pedigree and a contentious title like Gestapo Mars you'd anticipate a pulpish satire along the lines of Spinrad's The Iron Dream (or, perhaps more appositely, similar to the book within that book, The Lord of the Swastika).

Fast forward to the future. Earth is pretty much a nuclear wasteland while The Third Reich, based on Mars, rules over a galactic empire with some four hundred human occupied worlds. There's a strong resistance movement with many planets in open revolt, while the alien Coriandon, with their own notion of racial purity, are intent on killing or enslaving all of mankind. And finally there's a secretive group of so called Dragon Nazis, who think the Mars guys are lightweights and want to take over and inflict their own brand of fascism on the masses, as a way to save us all from a fate worse than freedom, or something like that. Enter Carter Sloan, a deadly trained assassin, reawakened after 258 years in cryogenic stasis for a mission that only someone with his skill set can succeed at - his mission, to infiltrate the revolution and locate the Daughter of the Brass Dragon, and having done so calculate the level of threat she poses to the Reich and deal accordingly. Cue lots of violence and lots of sex, plus satire and black comedy undercut with beaucoup toilet jokes, plus the occasional bout of philosophical introspection and endless invention, plus a kitchen sink or two for good measure.

I'm not sure why a review copy of this book was sent to Black Static when it's clearly science fiction rather than horror, unless somebody saw the word 'Gestapo' in the title and thought horror, and if so then I applaud them for right thinking. In fact I'm not sure of a lot of things regarding this book, including how much, or even if, I like it, but hopefully I'll work through any issues before we reach the end of this review.

One issue is Carter Sloan's 258 years in cryogenic stasis. Imagine a person from 1765 resurrected in our present day - they wouldn't even be able to operate an electric tin opener, let alone a computer. But Carter has no problem flying various spaceship, or using advanced weaponry and communication systems. Okay, there are implants available that provide instant expertise if not instant karma, but if he's fitted with them then I blinked when that scene took place, and doing so would be contra the ostensible reason for reviving him - use of modern technology would instantly expose an agent, hence the revival of a man from 258 years ago to fool the rebels.

And then there's the whole thing with the Nazis, which is pitched at us with absolutely no context. Did they win WW2 or what? Apart from reference to a statue of Himmler, none of the other fascist bastards of yesteryear get so much as a name check, not even Adolf, while the Reich at various points in the book has a Chancellor and an Emperor. In the abstract, it looks as if Nazi/Gestapo is just shorthand for evil, allowing the writer to tell not show that these are really bad people. A lot of the time the book seems to be parodying Star Wars and that totalitarian state would pass muster as a template just as well, without the Nazi stuff to complicate matters.

And it all takes place in a sort of moral vacuum or ambiguity - yes the Nazis are evil, but the rebels seem almost as bad, while the Coriondans and the Dragon Nazis are worse. For moral exemplars we need to look to individuals - the admiral in charge of repelling the alien invasion seems a decent sort, as are the grunts who do the fighting, while a spaceport engineer who wants to save his family is a fine example of the common man. Even here though, such conclusions are tainted - the admiral and his men are still Nazis, even though they're fighting a far worse enemy, and the engineer wants the Reich to reassert its sovereignty so that his family can be safe again.

Then there is Carter Sloan who, at least superficially, appears to grow as a character during the course of the book, and starts to care about other people regardless of their relevance to his mission. But the impetus for this change of heart isn't any realisation that fascism is simply wrong, but a growing resentment at the way his political masters have screwed him over and continue to do so. If they'd treated him right, Carter would have continued to goose step to the Third Reich's tune, unless he'd decided that the Dragon Nazis were snappier dressers and threw the better orgies. Regarding the latter, there's a lot of sex in this book, with Carter seldom meeting a woman he doesn't get to fuck. It's all of the wham, bam thank you ma'am variety though, and I would hazard a guess intended as a piss take of the whole James Bond thing with women rather than meant to be taken seriously.

In fact there's little here that is meant to be taken seriously, with the book's title and cover image of flying saucers superimposed on goose stepping women in high heels offering big clues as to intention. It's very much pulp style fiction and simplistic (though not simple), and you're probably not meant to think too much about political or any other subtext, as I appear to have done.

Some positives on which to close. There's a lot of humour here, with Star Wars parodied, most obviously in a scene where Carter takes on this book's equivalent of the Death Star, so that readers can have fun picking up on the various references planted in the text. Some of the other humour worked fine, as with a joke about the Kardashians that tickled my funny bone, while at times, as already observed, it went a bit too far into the water closet for my taste, as with the drill sergeant named Kolostomy whose first line of dialogue has him referring to his men as 'useless bags of crap'. There's a lot of invention too, as with the dinosaur squad and the talking dog that relays a message to Sloan before doing a Mission Impossible. And if I had to pick a character to like it would be feisty Meredith Capulet, who I guess you'd describe as the book's Sloan Girl, her family fortune acquired from making bowel movements smell fragrant (and before you ask, no they didn't invent curry), and who during the course of the book goes from wealthy octogenarian playing at rebel supporter to genuine gun toting freedom fighter. She also got to fuck Carter more than once, so you know it's serious between them, or at least as close to that as our hero is ever likely to come (pun intended).

So, did I like this book? I guess, all those reservations aside, I had fun with it. It's a fast paced and mostly entertaining slice of pulp fiction, that might have worked better without all the Nazi nonsense (as would history). At the same time, I don't think I would have missed out if I'd read something else instead, and if there ever is a sequel I won't bother to seek it out. But if Meredith Capulet branches out into her own franchise, that would probably be another matter.




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