Monday, 11 January 2021

Novelisation Review 4: The Six Million Dollar Man: Wine, Women And War, by Mike Jahn

The fourth in an occasional thread celebrating old-school paperback novelisations from the 70s and 80s, which are now mostly forgotten.  We're not talking great art but these books have their place - they were a fantastic resource from a time when you couldn't watch your favourite film or TV show whenever you felt like it - and I think they deserve to be remembered.

This time, I'm looking at The Six Million Dollar Man, by Mike Jahn, adapted from my favourite childhood TV series.
Star Books 1975 (2nd printing), originally published by MCA Publishing 1972
cover scan of my copy
To dictator, oil-rich sheik or Third World revolutionary, Arlen Findletter will sell weapons of nuclear destruction.  He's even ready to deliver a complete nuclear submarine if the bidder will wait until he's stolen it.  To combat this international bandit, the US sends its most sophisticated weapon, The Six Million Dollar Man.  Steve Austin's brief: Find him; locate the arsenal; stop him before it's too late.

After a mission to steal an arms dealers catalogue in Egypt goes wrong (the safe is empty) which results in the death of his lover, Colonel Steve Austin is resentful when Oscar Goldman wants him back in the field.  He escapes from Dr Rudy Well’s bionics facility and heads for a friends Caribbean holiday home, not realising the trip is being manipulated by OSI agent Harry Donner.  On Paradise Cay, Austin meets up with an old Soviet colleague, Alexei Koslov and Katrina Volana (Undersecretary for Special External Security) and soon finds himself back on the trail of the arms dealer, Arlen Findletter, with revenge on his mind.

I should make it clear that growing up, Steve Austin was my hero - I had posters from Look-In and the TV Times on my wall, I had the figure and I made the appropriate noises when I ran anywhere or jumped.  That was back in the mid-70s and having not seen the show for years (decades, even), I revisited it a couple of years back with Day Of The Robot (which is very slow) and didn’t particularly enjoy it.  Around the time I got that DVD, I also picked up this paperback though I’ve resisted reading it until now in case it was rubbish.  Thankfully, it isn’t.  Although it’s never going to be considered great literature, it wasn’t all that bad as ‘entertaining pulp’, full credit for which must go to Mike Jahn, the Edgar-winning writer who doesn’t get his name on the cover.

Yes elements of it are contrived - you can see where he had to stick to TV teleplay logic - and there are some telltale sexist elements - this was published in 1972 - but for the most part it holds together.  The paperback Steve Austin is much more brutal than the TV show version I recall (though, as mentioned above, I might have forgotten it), he kills one guard by throwing a safe at him and shoots many others.  His desire for revenge relates to a character we only see very briefly and he picks up with helicopter pilot (and fellow agent) Cynthia Holland and Katrina without too much trouble, whilst his relationship with Oscar Goldman is difficult, at best.  Koslov works well as a character, though isn’t used much but Findletter is an odd villain, mentioned a lot but infrequently seen and his big moment comes right at the end in the clumsy climax.  In a lapse of logic, having mentioned how seeing the Earth from orbit has turned Austin off the idea of nuclear weapons, it’s odd that he puts into motion events which lead to Paradise Cay being destroyed by a nuclear explosion (it’s explained away as “the crater was deadly now and would remain so for some time to come.  But years would heal it, water would fill it and some day fish would swim in it.”).  Otherwise, Austin is decently crafted, with more bionic attributes than I recall - it’s his left hand that’s bionic, he has all manner of kit hidden away in his legs and he has a CO2 powered gun in his middle finger - and a chapter gives us his backstory, including the amusing line “what took longer was what the doctors euphemistically termed Austin’s emotional adjustment.  In short, he was furious.”

Based on the teleplay by Glen A Larson for the second pilot, this is good fun, with a decent pace, nice touches of humour (“I'm sorry I had to violate your porthole!”) and decent sense of location.  It won’t be to everyone’s taste, obviously but as a good piece of pulp this reader with warm (if perhaps misguided) memories of the TV show enjoyed it.

* * *
Joseph Michael Jahn was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on 4th August 1943 and studied journalism.  He spent the first decade of his career covering cultural issues then, in 1968, became the New York Times' first full-time rock journalist.  One of his first assignments was covering the Woodstock Festival.  He wrote several non-fictions books before switching to mystery/suspense fiction, eventually publishing fifty novels and film/TV adaptions, under his own name and several pen names. His first mystery novel, The Quark Maneuver, was published by Ballantine in 1977 and won an Edgar Award.  After writing the ten-novel series "Bill Donovan Mysteries", he began working on a memoir of the last century and a half of American history.

He wrote five Six Million Dollar Man books (becoming, aside from Martin Caidin, the most prolific writer of Steve Austin fiction) which are notable for combining the television series continuity with the bionic attributes of the original Cyborg novels.

* * *
Martin Caidin was born in New York City on 14th September 1927 and began writing fiction in 1957, publishing more than fifty fiction and non-fiction books as well as more than one thousand magazine articles.  Cyborg (1972) was his most famous novel and he wrote three sequels Operation Nuke, High Crystal and Cyborg IV.  He died in Tallahassee, Florida on 24th March 1997.

For a few years now, after finding out charity shops sometimes pulp old books because the market for them is so small, I've been collecting 70s and 80s paperbacks through secondhand bookshops, car boot sales and ebay.  I set up a thread for the horror titles (which you can see here) but novelisations were a rich vein in those decades, before the advent of home video, when viewers wanted to revisit the adventures of their favourite TV show or film.  I realise we might not be talking great art here but, on the whole, I think these books deserve to be remembered.

To that end, on an irregular basis, I'm going to review these "old-school" tie-ins with, hopefully, some background material on each one.


  1. I've got the book in hardback, plus another two. I bought them all in John Menzies around 1975 and all three are okay reads. I confirmed this by re-reading them not that long ago, over 40 years after first buying them. Originally, the TV Steve Austin was going to be more of a Bond-type character (which is obvious in one of the pilots), but this idea was abandoned when the TV show went into production. Watching them now, most of them are incredibly turgid, aren't they? There were a few good ones though.

    1. I loved it as a kid then didn't see it for years and, I think, left it too long. I got a DVD a few years back and watched one and it was incredibly slow, so it put me off watching any more. Unfortunately. Quite enjoying the novelisations though.