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Literature: Deathlands

Long-Running Book Series of action-adventure novels set in an After the End North America, now called Deathlands. A detailed prologue in the first novel explains how a hardline communist faction tried to decapitate the entire US political and military command structure by detonating three briefcase nukes during the Presidential inauguration, as a preliminary to a surprise nuclear attack. Things Go Horribly Wrong and the resulting nuclear, chemical and biological conflagration turns Earth into the equivalent of a Death World.

In the year 2104 life in Deathlands is nasty, brutish and short (not to mention frequently mutated) but the Hired Guns of the Trader have things better than most. Travelling from one feudal barony and fortified town to another in their heavily-armed wagon train, they've become adept at locating the hidden stockpiles of weapons and equipment left by the now-defunct US government.

After an attack on their convoy the Trader's war captain, Ryan Cawdor, saves (and is saved by) a stunningly beautiful female captive called Krysty Wroth. She is convinced that a gateway to a better world lies in the Darks (formerly the Glacier National Park in Montana). This is an old Urban Legend and Ryan is naturally skeptical, but events force him and several companions (most notably 'Doc' Tanner, a traumatised former captive who appears to have unusual knowledge of pre-war America) to seek it out. It turns out the gateway is actually a Redoubt; a hidden underground complex containing teleportation technology called MAT-TRANS. The series follows their adventures as the group use the MAT-TRANS Portal Network to travel at random from one part of Deathlands to another. In doing so they battle an endless array of power-hungry warlords, kill-crazy marauders, mutant monsters, Mad Scientists and various other villains. Expect loads of Gorn and Gun Porn, over-the-top characters, cool events and some crazy landscape. To date the series has reached 100 books with multiple authors, making for some interesting adventures for the characters.

There is also Outlanders, a spin-off series set a hundred years on from the events of Deathlands. Lost Technology has been used to bring the chaotic Deathlands under the despotic rule of a centralised government backed by mysterious forces; the series depicts the efforts of a group of renegades operating from the Darks to oppose them. Employing conspiracy theories and myths from all cultures as underpinnings, Outlanders quickly distanced itself from the gun-fixated survivalist tone of Deathlands and struck out in new directions, providing explanations for many of the unresolved science-fiction elements in the earlier series.


These novels provide examples of:

  • After the End: Civilization as we know it is gone.
  • A.K.A.-47: Plenty of weapons get this treatment, as in the HK G-12 (a fictional variant of the Heckler & Koch G11 caseless rifle) wielded by Ryan in the early novels.
  • All That Glitters:
    • The group find some sealed crates and J.D. starts going into excessive detail over what exotic weapons might be in them. Everyone (except J.D.) bursts out laughing when the crates turn out to be full of thousands of plastic zippers.
    • Any number of the Redoubts that are scattered all over the U.S. and other locations. The companions frequently find nothing of real value in the old foritifications.
  • Alternate History: Premier Gorbachev dies in a plane crash in 1993, and a bloody civil war in the USSR presages the elevation of a hardline Soviet government, though it is another faction within this group that starts the war, alarmed over the decline of the Soviet Union and other events such as a civil war in South Africa, the assassination of Fidel Castro, and an active Strategic Defense Initiative.
  • Angst? What Angst? (In-Universe): When Action Girl Hunaker gets killed, Ryan says it's "like losing my blaster", telling Krysty he can't afford to feel anything more.
  • Annoying Arrows:
    • Subverted Outside the very first redoubt one of the party fleeing into the darks is critically wounded by arrows. They are forced to leave them behind because the arrow wound is so bad.
    • In Film of the Book, where Krysty Wroth yanks a crossbow bolt out of her shoulder).
  • Anti Matter: Implosion bombs use Anti-Matter in some fashion.
  • Anyone Can Die: Any character is not part of the long running group of characters frequently referred to as "The Companions" can be killed off during the course of a single novel or survive fore a few novels before dying.
  • Apocalypse How: A Planetary Societal Collapse. While modern civilization is pretty much obliterated as we know it, there are enough remnants such as vehicles, weapons, ammo, books and other items that they have not completely lost it all. There is even widespread organization and recovery on a scale sufficient enough to fuel small cities and large towns.
  • Badass Longcoat: Ryan is known to wear a longcoat that he scavenged, on occasion he takes it off when the heat is too much, such as the beginnings of book three when he leaves the coat at the redoubt due to the humidity and temperature of the swamps.
  • Base on Wheels: The Trader uses a converted military command vehicle as base and living area while on the move.
  • BFG: M-60s, .50 caliber machine guns, auto-cannons, and grenade launchers to name a few.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: Doc Tanner's sometime girlfriend, Lori, runs off and has an affair with a local bad boy. She then returns to the group, complaining that his big dick came with a small brain. Ryan dryly remarks that he "hears that's often the way".
  • Black and Grey Morality: The nature of the Deathlands makes this a fact of life. People are flawed but there are some really bad people out there who just need killing. Expect to see a shoot first and ask later attitude due to the often justified belief that others will do the same to you.
  • Boom Head Shot: Done with often gory details about eyeballs, teeth, and fragments of bullets and bone doing nasty things.
  • Car Fu: The drivers of the Trader's caravan use this to great effect. Also used in general through out the books.
  • Chekhov's Volcano: The Wizard Island Research Base. It is stated that when they blow the dooms day weapons intended to finish off the world that it would very likely set off the dormant volcano. Sure enough when they blow the facility the volcano erupts.
  • Cold Sniper: The snipers that do show up are usually this.
  • Cool Gate / Portal Network: The MAT-TRANS.
  • Cool Gun: The various personal fire arms of the characters get this treatment in the novels.
  • Crapsack World: Among the weather, landscape, mutants and other humans, the world is not a nice place to live.
  • Cult: There are plenty of various and sundry cults through out the death lands.
  • Deadly Gas:
    • The Soviets use chemical weapons along with their biological and nuclear weapons in the event that turned America into the Death Lands.
    • When the Trader finds a stash of nerve gas, he buries it and destroys the evidence that lead him there in the hope no-one will ever use such weapons again. Unfortunately it doesn't work; half his convoy gets gassed with nerve agents
  • Depopulation Bomb: Large numbers of the worlds population are killed off in the apocalyptic war that spawned the Death Lands.
  • Double Tap: Sometimes the characters really need to make sure something is dead. This applies especially to mutants because their internal anatomy is not always the same as humans. Also the events and chaos of battle means not every hit stops enemies cold and some are able to continue fighting unless a follow up shot is made.
  • Emergency Weapon:
    • People who work for the Trader have enough hidden odds and ends to make a door breaching charge. They conceal plastic explosives, wires, detonators and a signal detonator in their clothing shoes, seams, and gear.
    • Easily Concealed small weapons like derringers and knives also are used in this role.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Modern civilization is gone; see Apocalypse How entry above.
  • Eye Scream:
    • One of the nicer things that can possibly happen to your eyes is getting them put out
    • Neutron Solstice, the third book in the long-running series, is chock full of this. This happens to a raven, Jak Lauren's father, The Dragon Mephisto, and the Big Bad Baron Tourment after attempting to shoot his brains out.
    • The description of what happened to Ryan and how he lost his eye, as well as his ocasional nightmares about it when his remaining eyes is threatened.
  • Film of the Book: Sci Fi Channel did a fairly decent adaptation of Homeward Bound, where Ryan Cawdor returns to the barony from which he was outlawed. Be prepared however for Narmish acting, too much red tint, no Doc Tanner or Lori Quint, ex-porn star Traci Lords as a Lady Macbeth-style baroness, and a complete absence of giant mutant monsters.
  • Forbidden Zone: The United States of America, also known as The Death Lands.
  • Frickin' Laser Beams: Finnigan is killed by a faulty one in Crater Lake, and the effects are depicted with graphic details.
    Finnegan: "FFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK-! (death gargle)"
  • Future Imperfect: The leader of a Russian war party declares his intention to invade the former United States, having read in the old books about how it's a land of wealth and beautiful women instead of the Crapsack World it is in reality.
  • Future Slang: Muties, cannies, sec men, war wag, blasters, chilled, and fireblast.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: The first novel was written in 1986 and states that WW 3 began in 2001, so the series has now become 'honorary' Alternate History.
  • Grenade Launcher: They are present but not widely used.
  • Gun Porn: Oh so many weapons. Many fire arms are given detailed information through out the novels from descriptions to how they work. Rare, high quality, or unusual guns are often found on assorted key characters at any one point.
  • Gun Stripping: Characters will frequently clean and maintain their weapons.
  • Hand Guns: Everyone seems to carry them for one reason or another.
  • Human Sacrifice: A popular practice with various cults. If there is a cult there is a very good chance they practice human sacrifice of some sort.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • Kelber, Strasser's chief torturer, dies in this manner when he accidentally swallows a carnivorous insect he'd been planning to force feed to his prisoners.
    • Baron Zeal, who previously burned one of Trader's men alive with his special torture chamber of doom, eventually tries escaping imminent explosion and being the victim of a violent and goretastic explosion, jumps in same torture pit; however, the torture pit eventually winds up in a crater, burning alive as the door was wedged shut, giving Zeal the irony treatment of burning alive for weeks.
  • Hope Sprouts Eternal: Seen in the first novel, and used as a continuing theme in book covers and the Riding into the Sunset ending for the Sci Fi Channel adaptation.
  • Hostile Weather: Weather conditions include violent hurricanes that reshape the landscape, acid rains that strip the flesh from the body, and sandstorms that can literally abrade the flesh from a body.
  • Humans Are Bastards: After the survivors of the nuclear winter came back out, apparently the bad got worse. It is noted that those that try to live peacefully and morally are frequently wiped out by those who choose not to live so.
  • I'm a Humanitarian:
    • This wonderful line on the history of Jordan Teague, Baron of Mocsin.
    "He took up with a band of mutie marauders who had a rather more liberal attitude to norms than most — that is, they accepted him, instead of slow-roasting him over a fire and eating him..."
    • A few cannibals show up in the books sometimes linked to the human sacrifice practice of various cults.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Described in the various gun battles with gory details. Villains and Mook alike suffer this death through out the book.
  • Kick the Dog: The various villains and miscreants do this to one degree or another simply because they can.
  • Mad Scientist:
    • In the Crater Lake Volcano Lair there's a whole Elaborate Underground Base full of them. Their madness is amplified thanks to inbreeding and isolation.
    • The Cerberus Scientists are described as mad scientsists through out the stories.
      • Dr. Tanner is a victim of the Cerberus scientists time travel experiments that violently ripped him from his time. His recollections of the scientists of Cerberus and their related projects paints a picture of a veritable army of MadScientists.
    • The Scientists in Genesis Echo are this. They have a cloning project that they have going with some of the Guards and at the end of the novel.
  • Military Mashup Machine: The Trader's assorted caravan vehicles called war wagons. A personal transport, shelter, trading vehicle and weapons platform.
  • Moe Greene Special: Happens with gory detail through out the books.
  • More Dakka: Auto-Rifles, Assault Rifles, and Sub-Machine Guns are favored for their ability to spit hot-leaded death.
  • Mutants: More mutants than you can shake a smoking gun barrel at. After the nuke humanity and nature both mutated in unpredictable ways. Shown as either victims of Fantastic Racism or the standard sci-fi pulp Always Chaotic Evil opponents.
  • Mr. Smith: Ryan Cawdor secretly returns to the barony from which he was outlawed. One of his companions suggest he use the alias "John Doe", and Ryan is less than amused to be told it's a pre-Apocalypse term for "corpses that have no name".
  • Mysterious Past: Ryan Cawdor and Doc Tanner. Ryan is the son of a wealthy baron, forced to flee after a palace coup by his Wicked Stepmother and Evil Prince brother. Doc turns out to be from the 19th century, and had been time-trawled into the 20th by Project Cerebus scientists. When he kept trying to escape to his own time, the scientists sent him a hundred years into the future simply to get rid of him.
  • No Range Like Point-Blank Range: Sometimes making sure it is nearly impossible to miss is the best option.
  • Not Quite Dead: The Trader is dying of radiation poisoning in the first novel, and walks off into the woods when the pain becomes too much. He meets up with Ryan again in Trader: Redux.
  • Nuclear Option: Both sides in the war used this to blast each other to hell and back.
  • Plot Driven Break Down: Expect this to happen to modes of transportation, the redoubts themselves, and other potentially useful items a lot. Vehicles will work just long enough in most cases before giving out. This is often justified by a lack of maintenance after a nuclear war, over use, and long periods of neglect.
  • Poisoned Weapons:
    • Ryan mentions there are some marshland mutant groups who poison their weapons.
    • In Neutron Solstice a type of mutant fires poisoned crossbow bolts at the group.
    • Poisoned weapons are a serious worry and any melee weapon or non-fire arm projectile wounds are frequently checked for a possible trace of poison.
  • Putting on the Reich: The Sec forces of Mocsin. They were the patently obviously evil black uniform-wearing bad guys.
  • Prehensile Hair: Krysty Wroth has bright red hair that moves according to her mood, wrapping tightly around her head when she is in danger.
  • Psychic Powers: Some mutes have these. Sensors, precogs, Doomies who vaguely sense bad events before the happen, and Krysty has powerful telekinetic abilities as well as potent precognitive powers.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Standard practice for raiders and bandits. The Trader however believes that Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil and forbids his men to do so on penalty of death. This earns him the trust of many otherwise hostile towns.
  • Rare Guns: They usually fall under a form of A.K.A.-47 trope as weapons like the H&K G-12, which is the Real Life G-11, and Calico series weapons are also mentioned.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: In the Film of the Book it's the only outward sign of mutation presumably to save on special effects.
  • Rule of Cool: The book contains plenty instances of this to help keep the story interesting.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism:
    • All of the Traders' vehicles have these placed into them to keep the wagons and their contents from falling into the wrong hands. When the switch is not activated after a certain period of time (because everyone's been nerve-gassed) the convoy blows up in front of the Big Bad who'd hoped to seize it.
    • Some of the redoubts are rigged with such a system either built in or added manually after the redoubt was evacuated.
  • Shoot the Messenger: In "Neutron Solstice", Baron Tourment delivers this fate to a Bocor seer who brings him bad news.
  • Sniper Rifle: Proper sniper weapons are a bit more rare as the scopes are fragile or easily damaged but those that do exist are functional enough to be deadly. Krysty Wroth tends to be depicted in cover art holding a bolt-action Sniper Pistol, despite the fact that she'd have little use for such a weapon.
  • The Starscream: It's so normal for a Baron to be overthrown by his Head Blaster, that it's become something of a tradition.
  • Steam Punk: Steam-powered trucks.
  • Survivalist Stash:
    • Various military stockpiles and old bases have gear and weapons stashed.
    • The Redoubts were to serve as a network of stashes of supplies, weapons, personnel, and other secrets to ensure the government could survive a nuclear conflict.
  • Teleporters and Transporters:What they find in the hidden redoubt beyond the Cerberus fog defense. It's later revealed they provide the ability to Time Travel as well.
  • True Companions: Although Anyone Can Die the more permanent members of the group are:
  • Volcano Lair: Wizard Island is home to an elaborate underground research base filled with inbred mutant scientists. It is a remnant from before the nuclear holocaust and is filled with decaying tech and insane scientists.
  • Weaponized Car: The War Wagons, War Wags for short, and the assault buggies.
  • Wretched Hive: Mocsin, and many other towns on the eastern seaboard.
  • Young Gun: Ryan Cawdor the main character started out as this. Quite a few people often start their careers young.
  • Vulnerable Convoy: Noticeably averted with the Trader's convoy, which is attacked by mutant marauders who assume his reputation is exaggerated. They turn out to be very, very wrong.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Mutants are discriminated against and subject to pograms. Even Ryan lets some prejudice slip through on one occasion; Krysty Wroth is not amused.
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alternative title(s): Deathlands
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