Review: The Amtrak Wars

The Amtrak Wars Logo

“The Amtrak Wars” by Patrick Tilley is a six-book science fiction series based years after a devastating nuclear holocaust in the United States. This is one of the most enjoyable sagas I’ve read and read againover the past few years, and joins my list of favourite science fiction.

The main thread of the story revolves around Steve Brickman, a wingman with the Amtrak Federation (or more informally, the Trackers), an underground civilisation bred to hate the overground mutants (Mutes) and fear the radiation apparently spread by their presence. The Federation is an extremely strict militarised culture, going so far as to ban certain types of music dubbed “Black Jack” (and known to us as the works of Greek synthesizer musician Vangelis). The story begins with Steve’s graduation from the Lindbergh Field academy, his posting to a Federation overground convoy, and subsequent crash while flying over Mute territory.

Captured by the Clan M’Call, Steve meets an interesting trio of Mutes, Cadillac DeVille, Mr Snow and Clearwater. If Mr Snow conjures up images of Roger Hargreave’s cute white snowman replete with red striped scarf and bowler hat, think again. This wily old white-haired man is the M’Call wordsmith, teller of tales from the “Old Time” before the holocaust. Cadillac is the clan’s abnoxious wordsmith-in-training, learning the tales by heart from Snow. The gift of the wordsmith is more like a photographic memory than simply being able to remember a story or two, these individuals have an encyclopaedia-like knowledge of what has gone before. Two other types of gifted mutes are rumoured to exist, summoners and seers.

Despite being fractured into many disputing clans, the Mutes all believe in the Talisman Prophecy, which states that a “Thrice-Gifted One”, who exhibits the gifts of wordsmith, summoner and seer, will come to lead them in the fight against the Amtrak Federation (or in Mute terms, the Sand Burrowers). They also like to use names of power from the Old Time, so watch out for wonderfully named Mutes such as Awesome-Wells.

An enthralling series, with a huge range of realistic characters, see if the first volume Cloud-Warrior is to your liking and progress from there.

The Amtrak Wars Series

SPOILER ALERT! Scroll down no further if you intend to read the Amtrak Wars series.


The one thing most people mention when commenting on the Amtrak Wars is the abrupt way in which it ends. I had to re-read the climax of the story a number of times before realising that that was actually it! After being engrossed in the adventures of Steve for six volumes, revelling in his escapes from both the First Family executive and the Iron Masters, it was hard to believe that he came to so simple and quick an end. In a way, it was reminiscent of the way the Preacher died in the Dune series, soon after confirming that he was the hero, Muad’Dib (and providing a sense of renewed hope to the reader, soon to be dashed!).

Another fan of the Amtrak Wars series who felt the same way was Shaun. He actually wrote to Patrick Tilley to let him know about his reservations, and was surprised when Mr. Tilley replied with this interesting letter explaining the reasons behind Steve’s demise:

26th August 1991

Dear Shaun,

Thank you for taking the time to write to me about your reaction to the Amtrak Wars series. I’m sorry you were disappointed by the ending of Earth Thunder but can assure you it wasn’t “rushed” in the writing and I agonised long and hard over the fate of Steve and Roz. To be fair, it was signalled as far back as Books 1 and 2 but I know many people feel a keen sense of loss – “Why did they have to die?” they ask. In a way it’s a compliment to me for having created characters readers actually care about. In fact I’ve had so many protests I may have to revive them as Conan Doyle was forced to do with Sherlock Holmes! Sphere Books, (and many readers) want more volumes so perhaps the story will continue – if I can make it good enough. And yes, I’m working on other books.

I really do appreciate you getting in touch. Spread the word!

Best wishes, Patrick Tilley.

We will indeed spread the word and hope that Patrick will continue to entertain us with more novels to come. Interestingly enough, Bookpages has a listing for:

“The Amtrak Wars, Volume 7” by Patrick Tilley
Price – £15.99
Availability – Not yet published – but why not place an advance order today?
Format – Hardback
Publisher – Orbit
Date Published – March, 1999

As well as writing the Amtrak Wars, Patrick Tilley is the author of Fade-Out, Mission, and The Illustrated Guide to the Amtrak Wars. I’m currently reading his latest book, Star Wartz, which starts off in Terry Pratchett mode, but gradually turns more serious towards the end. Another review to come! You can also view the Amtrak Wars cover art by Steve Stone.

Categories Literature

16 thoughts on “Review: The Amtrak Wars

  1. Bill McCormack May 31, 2006 — 12:23 pm

    Hi John,

    If the ‘Black Jack’ was in fact Vangelis then I am not surprised that the Federation banned it. I always thought it was more likely to be ‘The Door’ or ‘The Grateful Dead’ or ‘Pink Floyd’ or ‘Val Doonican’ :-).

    I also have really enjoyed these books and I am now browsing around to see if there is any follow up novels.


  2. It’s funny to find out that there are so many people that got hooked on this serious. I can still remember the feeling of loss when Steve got killed. Come on this is Steve Brickman !!! It’s good to know there are other people who felt this way. I thought it was just me :o) I so want to see the Federation get its ass kicked by the Thrice Gifted One. And what will Clearwaters baby end up doing inside the Federation ?

  3. Just re-reading the series and I forgot how glorious a double trilogy that it is. I was glad to see that Tilley was not adverse to killing off a major character as the story just would not have continued, in the same fashion, if Brickman has been left alive and limped along (as a character). I would really like to see another trilogy come out as I have always wondered how Clearwater’s child would survive being conditioned by the federation. Come on, Mr Tilley, give us the next three to buy and read!

    I even have a copy of the Dark Visions book that came out. Now that is dedication! 🙂

  4. Hey what’s up? I too share your love for the Amtrak Wars Series. I must have read through it at least 5 or 6 times. I do have one major complaint however. It revolves around the Character of Steve Brickman. We see that from a young age, he has trained himself to be the best of the best. He doesn’t trust or need anyone but himself.

    Then John Chisum comes along and plays Brickman like a well tuned Violin. The Brickman that we were introduced to in Volume One would have never let his guard down and trusted a complete stranger. Infact, Brickman puts his whole career on the line to meet his Kin Sister Roz which was all arranged by John Chisum, a complete Stranger, who basically says to Brickman ‘Trust me’.
    Brickman also so quickly unloads his tales about Mute Magic to this complete stranger knowing that it was a Code One Offense to do so.

    Chisum also comments to himself how easy it was to manipulate Steve and Roz who supposedly are Specials….


  5. I have loved this story since the first day i read book one from the local library. It was around-about 1990. I just had to own them so i went out and bought the whole lot. I’ve been reading them regularly ever since (about once a year). Now i’m looking out for the Illustrated Guide book. Some are selling it for over $200!

    I agree with Mike that Steve was somewhat easily led upon his return to the Federation but he was being manipulated from above pretty much from the start. I would love to see an extension of the story but I seriously doubt there will be one as Patrick Tilley is now approaching 80 years of age. If he hasn’t released a sequel by now he’s not likely to…

  6. Why has such a great story not been made into a movie series as I think it would be a hit at the box office without a doubt I can only hope and wait for the day…..

  7. Greetings,
    Just came across your website and wanted to thank you for your sympathetic review of
    The Amtrak Wars – and all the readers who posted comments.

    You might call this a blast from the past. To end speculation, I am not dead and am
    still writing. True, this July I will turn 79 but the brain still works and, as long as there is
    breath in my body, Book Seven is still a runner – along with Eight and Nine.

    The original scheme was for 12 books but to my great regret I let things silde.
    Life intervened…”Event’s, dear boy.” as MacMillan reportedly said to explain why things didn’t go as planned during his premiership.

    I think three books will see me out – and make everybody happy.

    Warmest regards to the fans of Amtrak everywhere – Patrick Tilley
    (Him wot rote ’em all…)

  8. amtrak wars and “gordon.r.dicksons” dorsai cycle (childe cycle) are the finest sci fi i have ever read, eaqualled only by james clavell in plotting and story telling ability and far superior to Dune

    i am glad to hear that Mr.Tilley is planning on completing another trilogy and the stories told far did much to educate me in the plots and connivances of the adult and world when young…….yep they had more than a momentary usefullness and were infused with a love of humanity beyond the superficial cynicism

    the last I read about Mr.T was that he was a Welsh sheep farmer…..a hard hard chocie of a living but so demanding I could understand the gap in writing (and the angst the author had over the bosnian eyhnic conflict)

    I leave you with a link to a site that may be of interest to those of a talismic speculation

    (1) /
    In 1973 in B.P., seeing the unavoidable bureaucracy that was created, I wrote a letter inviting him to put an end to his relationship with the schools and Foundations. Few days after he said to me: “Do you know why I do all this? I don’t, really, I answered. In a very low voice, almost a sigh, he said: – “I know it. I know it. I do it out of love”. The word love was the fact and it came with That indescribable energy which dissolves all separation or division. ( Reflections about
    J. Krishnamurti)

  9. Great to hear an update from patrick. Lets hope we see book 7 in the near future. In the meantime I’ve started a blog for people to discuss the series and where it could go from here. Look forward to your comments Neil.

  10. any more news on a reales date for vol. 7

  11. Wow, just finished reading the series for the first time, and must say it’s one of my favorites. I feel a little odd finding out about the series so long after it was created and “ended.” I would love to see the next trilogy of the series produced, as well as a film version, but must say I’m content as it stands. Steve’s demise was shocking, to say the least, but not disappointing in any way. His was a brief and glorious life. The character I wish we would’ve gotten to learn more about was Roz. Her particiapation in the early books was minimal, and her new-found appreciation for the life she should’ve lived was all too brief. But, such is life…

    Thoroughly enjoyable, and definately worth a re-read in a couple years. I loved it.

  12. Borrowed & read these books about 15 years ago, loved them, always wanted to track down my own copies & re-read them (I’m in the proceess of ordering the first three books at the moment). Just wondered if anyone had heard any new news on whether Patrick is in the process of writing the 7th book & whether there are any plans to make the six books into movies?

  13. I started reading these books back in the nineties, having borrowed them off of a flat mate. I only got as far as book 3, but the story has never left my mind. I have purchased them all for myself this year and have started from the beginning again. Im just about to finish book 5. Im a bit fed up that the story doesn’t end with the final book. Come on Patrick get your finger out, or sell the rights to someone who will finish it! This series is better than star wars. I cant get enough.

  14. There are finally films in the works! It will be known as The Talisman Prophecy. Sign up and keep updated on progress at

    If you’re on Facebook, you can also join the Talisman Prophecy fanpage:

    or The Amtrak Wars fangroup:

  15. I have read so many articles on the topic of the blogger lovers except
    this paragraph is genuinely a nice article, keep it up.

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