BEN SLOANE – Hot Zone.

Gold Eagle; paperback original. First printing, March 1990.

   As they would say in the world of comic fandom, this is Max Horn’s origin as a superhero. What he is is a cop in 21st century New York who, after getting augmented parts (a la the Six Million Dollar Man), goes out to wreck havoc (and revenge) in a city so decayed and dying it looks as though Mad Max had been living there for years.


   Since the book takes place that far in the future, he even goes out into space, and most of the action takes place on a mining asteroid called New Pittsburgh. I’ve seen only bits and pieces of the movie Total Recall, but on the basis of the little I’ve seen, I think they could use the same background sets in making a film of Hot Zone. (To give Mr. Sloane (a pen name) some credit, maybe the book came first. (Or did Robocop?))

   There are some moments of rather sardonic humor in Hot Zone, but mostly what this book is about is violence and killing and body parts scattered all over the place (as in all of the other action/adventure books that Gold Eagle publishes).

   If you are not up to it, this is 300 pages of sludge. Books like this do sell, however, and they are direct descendants of certain superhero pulps of the 30s and 40s. If you enjoy those, I think you might like this book, too.

   I didn’t much care for it, though. What I find objectionable in stories of this sort is the underlying contempt there seems to be for human life. The descriptive scenes are well done (those not involving murder and mayhem), and I can’t deny that there’s plenty of raw power in the telling.

   But the dialogue is exceedingly poor (“holy shit” being the most common phrase some of the characters can manage to come up with), and there’s just no getting around it, plain and simple, this is a terribly grim view of life.

   Let’s put it this way. I felt as though I needed to take a shower when I was done. I probably don’t know you well enough to be able to say for sure, but you may feel that way too.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File 33, Sept 1991 (greatly revised).

[UPDATE] 12-22-08.   When I say “greatly revised” I don’t mean to suggest that I changed any of the essence of the review. A lead-in paragraph was deleted, I changed the order of some of the original phrasing, and I rewrote the last line. (I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of my opinion as it wrote it then, as opposed to now.)

   Since I brought it up, I thought I’d do some investigating. Mad Max came out in 1979; Robocop in 1987; and Total Recall premiered in June 1990. This makes the latter too late to be a source, but not the other two.

   As for Ben Sloan and the “Max Horn” series, there were only four. Perhaps books like these stopped selling, or perhaps the general consensus of the intended reading public ran along the same lines as mine. In the spirit of full disclosure, though, here are the titles, taken from the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin.

   From which I have also learned the true name of the author; Mr. Hubin lists no other titles to his credit.

SLOANE, BEN. Pseudonym of Stephen R. Cox.
      Hot Zone. Gold Eagle, pbo, 1990.
      Blown Dead. Gold Eagle, pbo, 1990.
      Outland Strip. Gold Eagle, pbo, 1991.
      Ultimate Weapon. Gold Eagle, pbo, 1991.