By Colin Salt
I’m calling this an author commentary instead of an author review. I really don’t feel like authors should “review” their own books, as the dynamic is just completely different. I say this as both an author and a reviewer.
What is men’s adventure? Like all genres, it’s arbitrary but in this case means a type of book that was first popularised by Don Pendleton’s War Against the Mafia. What separates them from other thrillers is usually short length, rapid publishing, and the frequent use of pen names shared by multiple people to enable said rapid publishing.
Pendleton’s Mack Bolan, the Executioner, set the stage for the first wave. These were defined by usually solo action heroes fighting mobsters. These tended to have a lot of badly done sex scenes – even by the standards of 1970s fiction, which is saying a lot.
Mack Bolan, The Executioner. War Against the Mafia. Book 1 of - apparently 453.
Inspiration for Marvel's Punisher.
By the mid-1970s, the first wave sputtered out. You could only kill so many mobsters, and the low margin books were walloped by economic problems. The survivors got weird. Box Press , with its sportswriter serial killer, was meant as an homage to this period.
In the 1980s, the field roared back. Mobsters were replaced with terrorists, and heroes tended to gather in teams of secret agents. Sex scenes were reduced massively in favour of giant descriptions of weapons. The original Smithtown book was definitely inspired by this.
After 1991, the genre appeared to go belly up completely. Oh, cheap thriller still existed, but the thin men’s adventure books vanished save for a few inertia-driven clunkers (Mack Bolan somehow lasted to 2020). A closer look shows that they simply adapted. They grew larger and more expensive, with the gap in pages and prices between them and other books shrinking. Teams of heroes tended to be explicitly military.
And the biggest change was the author crediting. More and more these abandoned their pen names and piggybacked on well-known writers. Yes, that means that the successors to men’s adventure novels are all those “Tom Clancys” and “James Pattersons” books.
Looking back on the Smithtowns, I think they were a good stepping stone as I turned to full-length novels. But I also wrote them before I really realised how length could be an asset, even for genre fiction.
Men’s adventure novels can be fun guilty pleasures when you just need to rest your brain with a 51% book. They can also be shallow messes that are short and still have tons of obvious padding. Since I’ve written Smithtown, I’ve soured a little on them, as a good one is just “OK time passing”, while a bad one is truly horrendous (some 1970s serries were done so rapidly that they couldn’t keep the main character’s name consistent).
But I don’t regret reading or writing them.
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