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The Survivalist is the generic title of Jerry Ahern's long-lived series of pulp novels. While he was pre-dated by six years by the novel The Survivalist by Giles Tippette (1975)[1] Ahern was the first novelist to create a series of novels with an iconic central character with distinctive survivalist attributes. These attributes have become so often imitated by writers such as D.B. Drumm ("The Traveler" series) David L. Robbins (the "Endworld" series), Victor Milan aka Richard Austin ("The Guardians" series), Ryder Stacy—a pseudonym shared by Jan Stacy & Ryder Syvertsen (the "Doomsday Warrior" series) that they have become cliched.



Ahern produced twenty-seven novels in numbered sequence, plus two un-numbered novels which fit between 15/16 and 21/22, selling 3.5 million copies in total[2]: despite this, and probably important for the pulp marketplace, there's usually enough recapping at the start of each novel to read them out of sequence.

The story centers around John Rourke, ex-CIA officer turned weapons and survival expert, in the aftermath of a nuclear war. The first few books cover Rourke's attempts to find his family, on the way fighting invading Soviet troops as well as typical post-apocalyptic villains such as biker gangs, mutants and cannibals in extended scenes of graphic violence. Later books head more into science fiction with cryonics, doomsday weapons and underwater cities.

Aside from leading the 1980s fad for survivalist fiction, the series is probably most notable for Ahern's attention to detail on weapons and survival techniques, and the inclusion of sympathetic Soviet characters instead of what could have been typical Cold War propaganda depictions of 'Godless Communists' -- nevertheless, most are still just cannon fodder and some are shown as sexually sadistic against women. Ahern also includes strong, positive Jewish and African American supporting characters, going against the anti-semitism and racism found in some small fringes of survivalism.

A 2007 audio version has been created by Graphic Audio covering the first 18 novels.[3]

The series has been long out of print.

Major characters

John Thomas Rourke

Doctor, survival and weapons expert, and ex-CIA paramilitary operations officer. He has keen sight, but is consequently sensitive to bright light and is usually wearing sunglasses, even at night. He is always armed with a pair of Detonics Combat Master .45 pistols in Alessi shoulder holsters, Colt Python and Colt Lawman revolvers, an A.G. Russell Sting 1A knife, and a shoulder sling with either a CAR-15 assault rifle or a Steyr-Mannlicher SSG sniper rifle.

Sarah Rourke

Rourke's wife.

Michael Rourke

John and Sarah Rourke's son.

Annie Rourke

John and Sarah Rourke's daughter. Paul Rubenstein's eventual wife

Paul Rubenstein

John Rourke's side-kick, fellow survivor of the Albuquerque airliner crash on the night of the war. Fond of his looted MP-40 submachinegun.

Major Natalia Tiemerovna

Adopted surreptitiously as a niece by General Varakov, after her real parents were killed by the KGB. After her surrogate parents died in a road accident, Natalia trained as a KGB agent, reaching the rank of Major by the beginning of the war. Married to the unpredictable and often exceedingly ruthless Vladimir Karamatzov -- the head of the KGB in America -- whom she eventually left after being beaten and otherwise mistreated -- she developed a close relationship with Rourke. Tiemerovna's favorite weapons include a silenced Walther pistol, an M-16 and a Balisong knife.

General Ishmael Varakov

Natalia's uncle, and leader of the Soviet Occupation Forces in America, Varakov many times shows himself to be is a patriotic, honorable and reasonable Soviet soldier, who at times helps Rourke to stop some of the more extreme plans of the KGB. Varakov is when Varakov spews withering insults upon one of his country's intelligence assets who has survived to become a person of importance in the remnants of the US federal government. Varakov tells this spy (controlled by blackmail due to his pedophilia) that if the spy makes the slightest error for any reason, Varakov will reveal him to the Americans. On the other hand, if the spy ever harms another child and Varakov learns of it, Varakov will personally find the spy and torture him to death.

Vladimir Karamatsov

Husband of Natalia Tiemerovna, head of the North American branch of the KGB. Rourke shot Karamatsov at Gen. Varakov's request, since it was politically impossible for Varakov himself to take revenge for the mistreatment of Natalia. Karmatsov somehow survived Rourke's attack, but was later killed by Natalia herself.

Colonel Nehemiah Rozhdestvenskiy

Head of the KGB after Karamatzov's death. So power-crazed he even shoots down an airliner carrying the surviving members of the Soviet Politburo to America.

Plot overview

After Red Army troops cross the Khyber Pass from Afghanistan into Pakistan, John Rourke is conducting classes in Canada when an American and a Soviet nuclear submarine fight in the Arctic, causing a nuclear explosion.

The Soviet leaders launch a nuclear strike against America, and the American President retaliates: nearly two hundred million Americans and over a hundred million Soviet citizens are killed, and tsunamis hit California and New York. Rourke is on a 747 bound for Georgia when the missiles hit, and the pilots are blinded by the explosions. Rourke manages to crash-land the plane near Albuquerque, and teams up with Paul Rubenstein, another survivor of the crash.

With Soviet airborne forces landing on American soil, and almost every other major American politician dead, the President commits suicide to prevent a forced surrender. Rourke's family leave for a safer home after a gang of looters attack their farm.

Searching for a NASA astronaut who knows about a mysterious 'Eden Project', Rourke enters Soviet-occupied Athens, Georgia, and is captured. Varakov has a job for him: Rourke is to kill Karamatzov, who has beaten Natalia on suspicion of adultery with Rourke.

A National Guard officer joins forces with a cult of wild-men to infiltrate a remaining nuclear launch site and use the missiles to destroy Chicago. While Rourke's family fight with the resistance and the Soviets experiment with cryonic suspension, Rourke and Natalia fight the wild-men to save the city.

Rourke finally finds his family in Tennessee, and takes them to his survival retreat. To save themselves from war-induced climate change, the KGB loot 'Eden Project' cryonics research from the Johnson Space Center, while Rourke and Natalia fight through Soviet troops, feral dogs and cannibals to discuss the coming 'end of the world' with Varakov in Chicago.

Rourke and Natalia break into 'The Womb', a Soviet survival habitat in what used to be NORAD, to prevent the KGB from destroying the 'Eden Project' shuttles on their return to Earth. The two steal cryonics equipment allowing the Rourkes, Paul and Natalia to survive the impending climatic catastrophe. Most life on the surface is wiped out, Varakov dying in Chicago and Rozhdestvenskiy dying while searching for Rourke.

Having planned a five hundred year cryogenic sleep to await the returning 'Eden Project' shuttles, Rourke wakes Annie and Michael early, raising them to teenagers and then returning himself to cryogenic suspension so they'll be adults by the time the others wake. Michael explores the post-apocalypse world, finding tribes of cannibals surrounding a pre-war bomb shelter where the occupants rigorously maintain a limited population, sending excess workers outside to die.


  • No.1 Total War (1981) ISBN 0-450-05573-6
  • No.2 The Nightmare Begins (1981)
  • No.3 The Quest (1981) ISBN 0-450-05638-4
  • No.4 The Doomsayer (1981)
  • No.5 The Web (1983)
  • No.6 The Savage Horde (1983)
  • No.7 The Prophet (1984) ISBN 0-450-05811-5
  • No.8 The End is Coming (1984) ISBN 0-450-05830-1
  • No.9 Earth Fire (1984) ISBN 0-450-05867-0
  • No.10 The Awakening (1984) ISBN 0-450-05887-5
  • No.11 The Reprisal (1985) ISBN 0-450-38997-9
  • No.12 The Rebellion (1985) ISBN 0-450-39988-5
  • No.13 Pursuit (1986) ISBN 0-450-40577-X
  • No.14 The Terror (1987) ISBN 0-450-41123-0
  • No.15 Overlord (1987) ISBN 0-450-41348-9
  • Mid-Wake (1988) ISBN 0-450-49736-4
  • No.16 The Arsenal (1988) ISBN 0-450-42141-4
  • No.17 The Ordeal (1988)
  • No.18 The Struggle (1989) ISBN 0-450-53088-4
  • No.19 Final Rain (1989)
  • No.20 Firestorm (1989)
  • No.21 ...To End all War (1990)
  • The Legend (1991)
  • No.22 Brutal Conquest (1991)
  • No.23 Call to Battle (1992)
  • No.24 Blood Assassins (1992)
  • No.25 War Mountain (1993)
  • No.26 Countdown (1993)
  • No.27 Death Watch (1993)


  1. ^
  2. ^ The Survivalist
  3. ^


Other than the books themselves:

See also

External links

  • NUKE POP - Popular culture of the nuclear age.
  • Radioactive Rambos - Examples of survivalist fiction in general.
  • - Features synopsis of all of the Survivalist books as well as the ability to review and read reviews of each book in the series.
  • Graphic Audio - Graphic Audio is slowly converting The Survivalist into audio book format, complete with sound effects, different voices.

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