The drug lords’ worst nightmare: Cybernarc by Robert Cain

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(Harper, 1991)
I have Joe Kenney’s great review at Glorious Trash to thank for picking up Cybernarc by Robert Cain at my local used bookstore. I stupidly passed over it when I first saw it, but fortunately it was still there on my next visit after reading his review. This late-era “men’s adventure” series really is going to be a great read if this first novel is any indication. While I don’t think it did too well when it was first published, it’s a great book and a hell of a lot of fun.

I remember the late ’80s/early’90s as being a very robot-friendly time. We had Robocops and Terminators running around. We also had buddy-cop movies like the Lethal Weapon franchise. And guess what–we also had robot buddy-cops! I was recently reminded by a friend of a show I had nearly forgotten, the short-lived 1992 TV series Mann and Machine and the formula is still alive today, apparently. There is a brand new sci-fi show on Fox called Almost Human about a human cop partnered up with a robot cop.

Anyway, Cybernarc is a robot buddy-cop story, a familiar premise but one that never gets old. Navy SEAL Chris Drake is assigned to a super-secret program called RAMROD to instruct robot soldiers in combat. Due to astronomical costs, however, there is only one such robot operational, named “Rod,” (short for RAMROD–get it?). Drake can “teach” Rod tactics through a cybernetic link called PARET, or “PAttern REcognition and Transfer,” where Rod can learn from Drake’s memories and experience.

Rod the robot, technically an android, is described as looking like a perfectly normal, “ruggedly handsome” man in his mid-thirties, undistinguishable from humans. He does, of course, have more-than-human abilities, courtesy of his robotic origins. He is super strong and resilient, has telescopic and infrared vision, and can access computer systems through cellular networks, among other abilities. Furthermore, Rod can be outfitted with “Combat Mod” on tactical missions, which is basically an armored body that makes him a walking tank. Despite these amazing physical abilities, Rod is still learning to behave like a human, and comes across similar to Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Robots learning to be human. See? This stuff ever gets old.

When a joint DEA/Navy SEAL anti-drug mission in Columbia goes awry and Drake is the only survivor, Drake and his superiors suspect treachery and corruption in the ranks of the CIA. Drake’s men were double-crossed, someone was working for the drug lords. But who? Things get personal when the drug thugs go after Drake in his own home and his wife and daughter are murdered. From then on, Drake pledges to bring them down, with Rod as his partner in justice.

Since this is the first volume of the series, it’s sort of an origin story and those often take a little while to get moving, but Cain seems to have a good grasp of pace and we never get the feeling that this is just a novel-length set up for the series. The whole thing is pretty entertaining and fast moving all the way through. While it’s a familiar premise, it’s a fun premise. This is well-done action schlock at its finest and I could easily see this as a TV series or a movie. A lot of the dialogue made me smile:

“You should not have joined me, Lieutenant Drake,” the robot said quietly, not turning his head from the scene below. “The chances of your death or incapacitation are–”

“Never mind the odds, byte-breath,” the human responded. “I damned well have as much at stake in this as you do!”

There’s also a part when Rod, nearly drained of power, detaches his robot fist to throw at an enemy holding a gun on Drake, thereby smashing his head and saving Drake:

The robot’s eyes tracked, focusing on Drake’s face. A strange sound came from Rod’s throat, then words. Drake had to lean closer to make them out.

“It looked like…you needed…a…hand…”

Ah, that’s the stuff. Action movie dialogue gold.

The fight scenes are pretty crazy as well. Rod is a bruiser and rips a head off of a thug and throws it as a weapon. In another instance he punches a dude straight through his chest. And in probably one of the coolest action-schlock moves I can think of, he rips a .50-cal machine gun from an armored car turret and fires it from the hip at the enemy drug soldiers. Cybernarc is full of everything that makes action-schlock great!

Robert Cain is the pseudonym of an author who lives in Pennsylvania” reads the rather cryptic author page in Cybernarc. “Robert Cain” is, in fact, author William H. Keith and he recollects on Cybernarc at his website here. There were six volumes in the series and although I hope to find them at my local used bookstores it looks like they are pretty available through online vendors at fairly reasonable prices. Cybernarc is a fun, fast-paced read that fortunately defies the downward trend of late-era action novels. If you see it around check it out!

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