Thursday, 31 July 2008

The Amtrak Wars to resume?

Now here's a blast from the past. When I was a teenager I loved The Amtrak Wars series by Patrick Tilley. Six books long, this series was a seriously enjoyable mix of a Western, a high-tech SF post-apocalyptic scenario and Shogun. Set in the 30th Century, nine centuries after the world was devastated in a nuclear exchange, it saw the North American continent become the battleground for three very different factions: the primitive, Native American-like Plainfolk, the high-tech underground Amtrak Federation (based in and under Texas) and the nation of Ne-Issan (a Shogunate-era Japanese-derived culture dominating the Eastern Seaboard). Whilst not exactly great literature, it was a tremendously fun series with interesting worldbuilding, intricate political maneuvering and an action-driven pace. Its setting was vivid and compared to some other works of SF or epic fantasy (the series is heavily derived from both) it had some originality going for it. It was also quite brutal and ruthless, killing off major characters at a rate that would even put GRRM to shame.

Unfortunately, after the publication of the sixth volume in 1990, the author apparently abandoned the series. He published one more novel, a middling SF comedy called Star Waltz, in 1995 and nothing since then. Tilley later revealed that the series was supposed to be a twelve-book series divided into two natural stages: the setting-up of the Talisman Prophecy and its later fulfilment. Apparently he had started writing Book 7, Ghost Rider, and had been hoping to publish it before the end of the century but he lost faith in the project after being turned off writing violent stories by real-life events (specifically the Balkan wars).

Last year, The Amtrak Wars was optioned by an Australian development company to be turned into a series of feature films, although at Tilley's request the series was renamed The Talisman Prophecy. It's unclear if, as with some reprints of the original series, the Amtrak Federation will be renamed. The scriptwriter set up a Facebook group to reveal progress on the project. Apparently emboldened by this development, Tilley claims to have restarted work on the latter books, but has shortened them to a trilogy. Since he just turned 80 years old, he decided to hedge his bets and finish the series as succintly as possible.

Whilst these developments are encouraging, they may come to nothing in the end, but if this interesting and 'different' SF/fantasy crossbreed series can be brought to a more definitive conclusion it would certainly be worth taking a look. I remember reccing this series to friends with the tag-line, "Lord of the Rings with flamethrowers and samurai," and even my more cynical, older self has to admit that's still pretty cool.

The original series seems to be out of print, but I've rarely found a second-hand bookshop that didn't have at least a few of the volumes in stock (it was a huge seller back in the 1980s) and Amazon seems to have second-hand copies readily available. Intrigued by this news, I'll be re-reading the series in the near future and hoping it lives up to my fond memories of it.

The Amtrak Wars by Patrick Tilley
1: Cloud Warrior (1983)
2: First Family (1985)
3: Iron Master (1987)
4: Blood River (1988)
5: Death-Bringer (1989)
6: Earth-Thunder (1990)

Dark Visions: An Illustrated Guide to the Amtrak Wars (1988)


Anonymous said...

Maybe this will inspire David Gerrold to get off his ass and finish the "War against the Chtorr" series.

Adam Whitehead said...

And then Harlan Ellison can deliver The Last Dangerous Visions. And airborne bacon could become commonplace :-)

Anonymous said...

Wert, would you recommend them even if he never finishes the series? It sounds like a lot of fun but I doubt I would be interested if there are an excruciating number of loose ends.

ThRiNiDiR said...

Great news Adam, I'm all into retro lately. I'm looking forward to your reviews.

Adam Whitehead said...

kmgrey: yes, I'd say so. My original thought was that the sequel series would pick up 20-odd years later after the first, so the 'immediate' storylines that begin in Book 1 are all resolved at the end of Book 6. The storyline is about a prophecy and the series as it stands sets up the prophecy and the sequel series would have resolved it, but the setting-up works well as a story by itself. I know other series which have finished for good which had less closure than The Amtrak Wars.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Adam! Might need to look at picking this up second hand then. Sounds like a lot of fun. Also sounds like it's ripe for someone to put out in omnibus form...

RobB said...

Every few months, somebody drops into the SFFWorld forum asking about these books. I haven't seen any US editions anywhere, but I've been intrigued for some time.

mongoose said...

I've been having a hard time finding the books that aren't super expensive but i really want to read them.
they sound amazing story wise.

C Whitehorn said...

Late to the game on this post, but the ebooks are now available in the US, but just for books 1-3 so far.

Still no news on the rest of the series, or a possible film!

Dom said...

The Amtrak Wars are available on Amazon in kindle format. I just purchased all six of the books. I had read these books about 20 years ago and just found them again. Haven't been able to put them down. helped on my long commute to work and back on the train.