Monday, 27 May 2019

Bamboo Guerillas

1st Edition
Author: Guy N Smith
First Published: 1977
Pages: 144

Most people will think of the 'Crab' series of horror novels from the seventies and eighties when you mention the name Guy N Smith. The Crab books were very popular and their glorious covers were instantly attention grabbing and unforgettable. Personally, my own encounter with him came about through his novel The Locusts, another novel in the same vein but with.... well.... locusts. I still have one clear memory of a sequence in that book. I think it was a tramp who decides to take refuge in a car in order to avoid the oncoming swarm of insects. There is no escape, and he is consumed horrifically, with detailed description by Smith of the man having his testicles eaten before he loses consciousness. As a school-boy teenager that left quite a impression! I took the book in to school and it became quite a hit with my class, being passed around avid readers for a number weeks before I got it back all creased and bent.

Bamboo Guerillas was published in 1977, only a year after the first Crab novel, and just a few years after Smiths first few werewolf novels. It is quite a departure, being basically a Second World War story set in British Malay (now part of the federation know as Malaysia).

According to one of Smith's entries on his blog, he was asked to write a new War series and eventually ended up writing two stories of which only this first part was published. He was told by his editor to "go over the top, there are no boundaries in these books". I can confirm he did not hold back! I get the impression Guy N Smith is not someone that you have to tell something twice to. Give him an inch and he will run a mile as they say. This book is bonkers!

There is a genre of books commonly referred to as "Sex and Shopping". Well I think with this one Smith invented the genre "Sex and War and Sex and Sex and a bit more of War".

The story opens in Malay with the news that the Japanese Army are closing in on the local British Army. Two officers, Colonel 'Jungle' Carter and Captain Cole discuss options and decide that its their duty to attempt to rescue a group of British nurses who have stayed behind to tend to the injured despite the threat of capture and torture by the Japanese. Their fears are well grounded as Smith has populated his book with the most sadistic fictional character I've read about in a long time. To me, the fact that this a story based around historical events made it feel more harrowing; I would say reading a fictional account of things that probably did happen has a stronger effect on a reader, it certainly did for me.

2nd Edition
One point to make is that as the book progresses Colonel Carter begins to be referred to as 'Jungle' Carter more and more often. I found this slightly off-setting as it conjured up images of Tarzan and John Carter of Mars (perhaps this was a deliberate homage by Smith?), which this certainly is in not unless there were 'X' rated versions!

Carter and Cole enlist the help of common man Sapper Sanders and set off to join up with a Malay/Chinese guerilla band led by Li Chu. By the time they meet (and we are talking chapter three here) the nurses have been captured. This is where the bonkers starts.....yeah, chapter three.

Japanese camp head, Colonel Sika, is a sex maniac. Just the sight of the nurses gets him aroused, he immediately chooses one to be his mate, and then orders his men to tie the male prisoners to a barbed wire fence and force them "get aroused" in front of the stripped naked nurses. It doesn't end well for the male prisoners.

The book then follows a very simple plot covering the attempt of the guerillas to rescue the nurses and escape. Colonel Sika devises further torture for the men and women he has held prisoner; we are treated to more sex scenes, some battles, more sex, and more torture scenes. At one point we are introduced to another torturer and I thought "this can't get worse for the prisoners, surely?"

I've never really read anything like this before. Guy N Smith certainly took his brief to heart. He even mentions in one of his blog entries that he refused to tone down the sex and violence. Things changed at the publishers and the second book was never published. The writing is very sparse of description, I honestly cannot describe any of the characters, but then I suppose this is what the publishers wanted, a fast exploitative story to fill bookshelves and hopefully sell.

As someone who is very interested in all things Japanese, I have to say it was a difficult read initially; the language used is of its time, and probably would be hard pressed to get published nowadays. Smith is clearly a talented author as his back catalog and recently published material evidences. But I still felt genuinely uncomfortable reading this in certain places. The action scenes involving jungle warfare were good, but mainly the book contains stereotypical characters designed for the age it was written and the length of the story required to print. If you are a fan of Smith's horror books (and clearly in the late seventies I was caught up in that with The Locusts) this might be of interest, but I feel his style is much more suited to that genre than any other.