When A Series Leaves You Behind: Repairman Jack And Why I Stopped Reading Something I Enjoyed

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I’m a big reader.  I teach English for a living, and reading a lot is required.  I write articles for Gabbing Geek, so I read even more.  Many of the books I read are part of ongoing Geek series, usually in the urban horror or fantasy realm.  My first column here was on urban fantasy and had a whole paragraph recommending various book series.

So, why’d I skip recommending one of the first series I read, the Repairman Jack novels? I used to recommend those books all the time.  Why skip out here when I had the chance?

Well, I had some reasons…

OK, here’s the lowdown:  Repairman Jack was the creation of author F. Paul Wilson.  Originally, Jack was the featured protagonist in the second book in a series called The Adversary Cycle.  That series ran a few more books and ended, with Jack himself only appearing in the second and last novel.  The other novels dealt with an ancient evil rising up and threatening all of existence in certain ways.

However, Jack turned out to be a popular character, and there was demand for more, so Wilson opted to write a series of novels depicting everything that happened to Jack between his appearances in the other series.

Now, I’d only read the first book in The Adversary Cycle, and that was only after reading a good chunk of Jack’s novels.  That one didn’t do much for me.  It was about some Nazis in an old castle that appeared to have a vampire in it and the only man who knew anything about it was an old Jewish guy.  It turned out the creature wasn’t really a vampire, and another ancient warrior rose up to deal with it, and so on.  I think there’s a movie version of that one, but I’ve never seen it.

But Jack was interesting.  Described as a very average looking guy, Jack was a man with no listed last name who lived in New York City and managed to stay completely off the grid.  He did “repairs” for people.  If someone or something wronged you, and you needed help getting out of it, and you could find him, you could hire Jack.  You had to pay cash.  He didn’t accept other forms of payment for a number of reasons, not the least of which was many of his “repairs” were illegal activities.  He had a number of illegal firearms, used fake IDs, and didn’t pay taxes.  While he was more than capable of dealing with things using force, he preferred the art of the con.  His average appearance meant he blended into the background very well since he didn’t stand out in any way based off his appearance.  He had a girlfriend, Gia, whose daughter he adored, and his best friend was an older Jewish man named Abe, something of a stereotype who ran a “sporting goods store” that was really a cover for his illegal weapons trade.

Wilson went to great lengths to keep Jack’s full identity a secret.  That last name thing was no joke.  As far as the reader could tell, Jack didn’t have one.  If a relative appeared in the book, as Jack’s father, brother, and sister all did at different points, only his sister got a last name because she changed it when she got married.  It was sort of weird how none of them ever had a full name, but it went along with Wilson’s concept of an anonymous avenger.

Jack’s adventures, for the most part, dealt heavily with the supernatural established in The Adversary Cycle.  Two immensely powerful beings were, apparently, playing some sort of game to claim the Earth.  Neither really had great designs on the place.  It was one world among many, only this one had sentient life, so it was “worth” more.  One was the Adversary, also known as the Other.  If he won, the Earth would be corrupted into a Hellhole.    The other player was called the Ally.  Despite his name, he wasn’t a benevolent force.  More like an apathetic one who wouldn’t mess with his property if he claimed the Earth.  Both had their agents on the ground.

A third force existed, that always took the form of a woman of various ethnicities with a dog of some kind.  These women would always claim to be the mother of whoever they were speaking to, and provide some information on whatever was happening involving the Other and the Ally.  The women tended to take damage as the environment was damaged.  Jack never seemed to realize she was probably a representative of Mother Nature, but that’s neither here nor there.

Wilson always managed to make the series fun and exciting.  So why did I quit?

For a couple reasons.  For one, he was filling in the blanks between two novels he’d written a while earlier.  That wasn’t a deal breaker, but it didn’t help.

Basically, I had two problems that I couldn’t reconcile.

The first was that the conversation with the woman with the dog always seemed to repeat the exact same information, as if Jack was so darn stupid he couldn’t remember it from a previous book.  That stalled plot tended to take away from the adventure in the rest of the book.  Jack was supposed to be a smart guy who could think on his feet, and it wasn’t like he was given a ton of evidence that the Other stuff was…wait, he saw first hand that all the stuff with the Other and the Ally was true!  Why did he need constant reminding?

The second had more to do with Jack’s basic premise that never rang true and shattered my personal suspension of disbelief.  I could believe Jack had managed through a wide variety of connections to never pay taxes, get whatever weapons he needed, convert his cash payments into gold to pay for things, and so forth.  What I couldn’t believe was Jack’s often-made claim that he didn’t have a Social Security Number.  Social Security Numbers are generally given to infants.  If his parents had gotten him a birth certificate, which they almost certainly had, then somewhere he had a Social Security Number.  Jack had gone to college for a period after high school.  Enrolling without a Social Security Number is pretty hard to do in a lot of colleges.  If Jack had insisted that he never used his number, or he couldn’t remember it, that would have been fine.  Instead, he repeatedly claimed he did not have one.

Now, Wilson apparently has some Libertarian political beliefs, and these are often reflected in his writing.  A tough guy who lived off the grid, didn’t pay taxes, got all the guns he wanted, and berated many a common New Yorker for being a stupid sheep that wanted other people to protect him or her…that sure sounds like a Libertarian Action Hero if ever I saw one.  The Social Security Number refrain really grated on me after a while.  Funny how the series seemed to cause no problem for me when it dealt with a guy getting a illegal flamethrower to barbecue some giant monster men, but as soon as he claims to lack a basic form of American identification, I drop right out.

Suspension of disbelief is a funny thing.

As time wore on, and I discovered more and more series in the urban horror/fantasy realm, I found myself leaving Jack behind.  I may go back to read more someday, but don’t feel the need.  I can’t even say I really didn’t enjoy them.  I did enjoy them.  I just couldn’t get past the constant repetition and the legal complications.

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