MARTIAL ARTS NOVELS
As a wee tad enamored of Bruce Lee and Five Fingers of Death, I sought martial arts fiction. There was damn little. The first decent kung fu novels I encountered were by Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes. The mixture of Fuentes’ knowledge and Anthony’s literary craft delivered fast entertainment in the Jason Striker series, including Mistress of Death, The Bamboo Bloodbath, and Ninja’s Revenge. Fuentes was a Cuban judo specialist, but like all masters had some understanding of all the arts.
In the seventies I discovered Marc Olden, a writer who had emigrated to Japan and immersed himself in the martial arts experience. The first Olden book I read was the magical Poe Must Die that found Poe fighting the unholy powers of darkness under the sinister Jonathan. Poe’s quest to stop the forces of hell led him through the slop factories, boweries and bars of lower Manhattan accompanied by broken-down bare-knuckled English fighter Pierce James Figg. Olden’s villains were memorable, no moreso than a huge black female fighter named Black Turtle.
“During those prolific early years Olden also produced BLACK SAMURAI. The book follows the exploits of Robert Sand, a martial arts expert and the only non-Japanese trained by a Japanese samurai master. It became a successful novel series and was later made into a film, starring actor/karate-stylist Jim Kelly. Many of Olden’s books, such as the eastern-influenced GIRI, DAI-SHO, GAIJIN, ONI, TE, KISAENG and KRAIT, reflect his twin passions for eastern culture and philosophy.”
Giri was about NYC cop Manny Decker, the first of many novels incorporating Olden’s deep understanding of Eastern culture. Oni is so cruel it is almost unreadable, but for thriller fans it is essential.
I once spoke to Trevanian by phone. A friend of a friend knew him and he said it was okay to call. I was just a snot-nosed punk thinking about writing and he was very generous with his time. “I knew a little bit about mountain climbing, I knew a little bit about cave exploration.” The latter was in reference to his masterpiece Shibumi, about mysterious assassin Nicholai Hel, master of the esoteric martial art, naked/kill. Trevanian knew a little bit about martial arts – just enough to convince the reader that Hel was indeed bad news. But that is the gift of the writer—the gift of imagination. Trevanian didn’t really have to know martial arts to write about them convincingly. His narrative voice was convincing. The story was convincing. He needn’t supply the type of technical detail Olden did.
Don Winslow, an excellent writer, tried to resurrect Hel in the lamentable Satori. But Satori never came alive like Shibumi.
The next writer to tell convincing martial arts stories was Richard La Plante, an accomplished martial artist. La Plante’s first novel Mantis starred his recurring hero medical examiner Josef Tanaka, and the freak known as Mantis. Leopard raised the freak factor higher with an opening scene in which an impossibly muscled samurai bursts a man’s head with his hands. The next Tanaka story, Steroid Blues, is some kind of weird psycho-sexual masterpiece with one of the greatest twist endings I’ve ever read. I’m in contact with La Plante who says he has no plans to return to writing novels. A great loss.
My protagonists know how to fight but they don’t dwell on martial arts. I have taken the liberty of incorporating my old friend the Zhong Yi kung fu master Nelson Ferreira into several of my novels. This will come as a surprise to Nelson, whom I recently saw on a trip to Madison. (http://zhongyimartialarts.org/)
The Badger gives me an opportunity to show martial arts in action and there is no better example than Bill Reinhold’s work on Badger #9, “Hot August Night.” If there is a more kinetic and realistic depiction of martial arts in comics, I haven’t seen it. Except for maybe the Bruce Lee series Val Mayerik and I did for Malibu. Val is an accomplished martial artist. Sadly, the Lee Family no longer sanctions his fictional exploits.