At least it was only 99 cents: Kenneth Von Gunden’s The Last Resort.
Hey there, my tens of loyal readers! As I said before, August is going to be a treat, as I’ve decided it’s gonna be a theme month. And the theme?
There’s no particular reason August is dinosaur month, aside from the fact that I happened to have a couple of books in my to-read pile with dinosaurs on the cover. I’ve also got at least one ‘bonus’ article planned out, and if I get ambitious, I might do an Unfair Compare on Jurassic Park vs. Jurassic World.
But for now, we have …. Kenneth Von Gunden.
Okay, so maybe Dinosaur Month isn’t off to the most impressive of starts. But that’s just because you’ve got to save the best stuff for last, right?
So y’know how I was complaining a few reviews ago about how hard it was to find an entertainingly-bad book, versus a boring-bad book? I guess I was ‘lucky’ enough to find this one solidly in the former category. I picked this book up for all of 99 cents at the same time I nabbed that Dr. Bones novel, again, based entirely on the cheesy cover. Incidentally, both The Last Resort and Journey to Rilla were both the last books written in their series, and both of them end on a somewhat anti-climactic note that kind of suggests the series were canceled prematurely. Somewhere there’s a draft of a fifth K-9 Corps novel that may never see the light of day. And to judge by The Last Resort, this might not be a huge loss.
The Last Resort is the story of a dude named Ray Larkin, a hot-shotting space-spy, and his team of genetically uplifted talking dogs, consisting of: Beowulf, Grendel, Mama-san, Gawain, Ozma, Robin, Frodo, Sinbad, and Tajil. The fact that there’s nine names on that list was the first thing that threw up a red flag on my reading. It’s like Von Gunden watched 101 Dalmatians and said to himself, “you know what this needs? Laser guns.”
I’m a dog person, so I will admit the idea of talking future-dogs is fun. If Von Gunden had just stuck to one talking dog, or even three talking dogs, he would’ve had a much more manageable setup. As it is, the nine dogs just sort of blurred together, personality wise (at least as much personality as you can expect from a talking dog). And what makes it worse is that there were apparently more talking dogs in the previous books, who got killed along the way while fighting genetically enhanced bears or something.
And on top of that, the damn dogs talk exactly how you’d expect talking dogs to speak, which gets as obnoxious as you’d expect. Here’s an example:
“What happen back there?” Ozma wondered aloud.
“I dunno,” said Grendel, gulping down air. “I think Kate was tellin’ us that there’s somethin’ under the landing field, somethin’ hidden that looks out over the ocean where we wuz.”
“Somethin’ hidden underground?” Ozm considered that for a moment. Then the big yellow-and-brown dog gasped. “Ya mean it could be somethin’ like that ‘spear-a-mental place in Bos-Wash?” She appeared stunned by her own speculation.
“Not ‘xactly.” Grendel Replied. “That Swo-bo-da guy’s dead and he wuz one of a kind. But somethin’ like that, some hidden fac’tree or somethin’ else.” (Page 180)
Gah. My fingers pain me even transcribing that mess of apostrophes. I don’t envy whoever had to edit this manuscript.
So yeah. As if a gaggle of talking dogs straight out of a Don Bluth movie wasn’t enough, their human leader, Ray, is an insufferable asshole. At the start of the novel, he’s apparently a multi-millionaire ex-space-spy with his own ship, and psychic powers he gets from a bag of magic rubies he hangs around his neck. Because why not?
And if that wasn’t enough, every other line that comes out of Ray’s mouth is a joke. Or, I should say ‘joke.’ More often than not it’s Ray quoting some movie that nobody else gets, because of course Ray is a 20th century movie (or “sinny,” as the book calls them in horrible future slang) nerd. I get the feeling this was supposed to make Ray seem witty and fun, but the fact that he has a smart-ass (and really not all that smart) comment whenever he opens his mouth just makes him even more obnoxious than the gaggle of dogs following him around.
I guess I should get to the actual dinosaurs, because they’re on the cover, which is why I read this for Dinosaur Month. See, after Ray and the dogs rescue a bunch of people from some Strawman-Christian bad guys (seriously, they come from the planet Cromwell), they’re rewarded by one of the prisoners with a stay on planet Neverland (ugh), which is a big amusement park planet. The gimmick to said planet is that it’s broken up into zones, one of which has the dinosaurs on it.
For the record, Jurassic Park (the novel) came out in 1990, while The Last Resort was released in 1993. Von Gunden doesn’t just rip off Crichton, however; he throws in some Westworld as well! There’s also a bunch of war-zones where you can re-enact various wars, as well, with androids serving as the opposition. I’m sure you can tell where this is going.
So yeah, Ray and the dogs and Ray’s buddy Ake and a psychic named Kate with bad skin dink around Neverland for about a dozen chapters, as they try to find out how something mysterious is going on. It takes entirely too long for the big plot-reveal, and man, is it a doozy.
See, a bunch of Space-Presidents have come to Neverland in order to have talks about a Space-UN. And so, some of the crooked people who run Neverland have teamed up with the Space-Strawmen of planet Cromwell, and some Space-Mafia-Nazis and a cloned mad scientist in order to sabotage the peace talks. So far, this is a plot that kind of makes sense.
The problem is, all of the Space Presidents immediately start playing the fancy LARP games, and- lo and behold, they’re attacked by the animatronic robots with laser guns. Because nobody thought THAT would be an issue. It’d be like if the President of the USA invited a bunch of world leaders over to Camp David for a political summit … but first, they decided to play paintball. With live pyrotechnics. (To be fair, depending on who the Republicans nominate, this could be more plausible than it sounds. Zing!)
Oh, and on a tangent, it’s worth noting that Ray spends a good couple of chapters with delegates from the planet Uhura. Clever name for a planet. It’s just that all the Uhurans have the surname of “Freeman,” and the President of Uhura goes on about how he and one of his ministers grew up in the same village, and he makes exclamations like “by the prophet’s beard!” It’s one of those odd things where a well-meaning author tries to make his work more diverse but it spirals around to be kind of oddly racist in its own ignorant way.
Anyway, Ray and the dogs stumble onto the evil plot, shoot some bad guys, fight some dinosaurs, and presumably save the day. I skimmed the last couple of chapters, because I was more or less sick of the book by this point. All and all, The Last Resort is an incoherent mess of a book, filled with grating characters. At least the book was entertaining enough in a “what the shit is this?” sort of way. It’s even educational, as it points out a whole lot of stuff you SHOULDN’T do if you want to write your own not-terrible sci-fi adventure novel.
As for the dinosaur content? Well, there’s some on the cover, and Ray spends a good chunk stomping around the dinosaur section of the park, but it’s really not a focus of the book. So I guess that makes The Last Resort a pretty crappy pick for Dinosaur Month, but I’ll cover some far more relevant stuff before long!