Showing posts with label Lester Dent. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lester Dent. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Doc Savage #12 - Quest for Qui

“The Quest of Qui” was originally published as the July, 1935 issue of “Doc Savage Magazine”. When Bantam Books reprinted these classic stories in paperback novel format, this title became #12 in their series (July 1966). It was written by Lester Dent under the house name of Kenneth Robeson.

Tourists aboard a yacht called Sea Scream find what appears to be a Viking Dragon Ship off the coast of Long Island, NY. Venturing closer, they discover the ship's passengers resemble Vikings and they are holding a beautiful blonde as prisoner. The mysterious discovery leads to the threat of violence when the Vikings exchange boats with the Sea Scream's passengers. The Viking ship, and it's passengers, arrives safely back to harbor while the Sea Scream goes missing.

In the opening chapters, Johnny (William Harper Littlejohn) finds some clues that suggests the Viking ship may have sailed near the Labrador Coast, an arctic area in the Canadian Northeast. He flies solo to the area and discovers a wounded man and a bunch of bad guys. Escalating the mystery further, the rest of Doc Savage's “fabulous five” crew are all attacked in New York by phantom like entities that throw knives and spears. What!?!

After aligning with a wealthy business owner, Savage and company fly to Labrador searching for Johnny, a missing plane and some evidence that the theft of the Sea Scream is connected to the personal attacks the team experienced. Once there, the gang fights with greedy criminals, dwarves, and Vikings while trying to survive the harsh conditions.

I can't help but feel as though Dent just gets in his own way while writing this story. After the entire 119-pages, I still don't understand any of it. Why? Because Dent spends most of his time fixating on the adventure without explaining any of it. Who are the criminals? Why are the Vikings ageless? What is the mysterious glowing liquid found in the New York harbor? Why and how are invisible entities attacking the team? None of this is explained. It's as if Dent just wanted to get out in front of this story and provide atmosphere, wild adventure and an epic fight...without actually designing a coherent plot.

I'm just a casual Doc Savage fan and have enjoyed prior installments. But this novel was really difficult to enjoy within the murky haze of an undeveloped plot. Whoever said the most beautiful view comes after the hardest climb never read “The Quest for Qui.”

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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Doc Savage #08 - The Land of Terror

I’m notating this review as “Doc Savage 08” due to Bantam releasing these in paperback order. “The Land of Terror” was originally released as the second ‘Doc Savage Magazine’ issue in April, 1933. The confusion may lie in the fact that Bantam released their books out of the series' original publishing order (under house name Kenneth Robinson). I’m still a new reader of this character and many sources advise me to just read them in any order. So, with that explanation clearing the air…

“The Land of Terror” picks up after the events of the series debut, “Man of Bronze”. Savage is now receiving his pipeline of funds and can afford to travel the world righting wrongs. In one early effective scene Savage hands a fistful of cash to a woman experiencing blindness. He encourages her to use the money and a personalized handwritten note to seek out a surgeon friend of Doc’s. He does this while chasing a bad guy, which is ultimately the book’s setup and early premise. It turns out Doc’s friend and chemist Jerome Coffern is melted by a mysterious substance released by the villain Kar. In furious opening chapters, the reader is tagging along as Savage is on a highspeed foot chase to capture Coffern’s murderer. The killer is attempting to dodge Savage’s advance by running through New York streets, downtown apartment buildings and onto a tourist ship in the Hudson River. It’s a long but entertaining sequence of events that culminates in the killer escaping.

Later, Savage does a little detective work and learns that the melting substance being used is called the Smoke of Eternity and Kar’s gang plans to use it for robbing banks and other dastardly deeds. As a gumshoe, Savage learns that Coffern, a taxidermist named Bittman and a guy named Yuder traveled to a remote New Zealand location known as Thunder Island. After asking Bittman, an old friend of Doc’s father, about the trip, Bittman suspects that Yuder could really be the mysterious Kar and that the Smoke of Eternity could have originated from Thunder Island. After another furious chase scene that involves Monk being captured, the team pursue the bad guys from New York to Thunder Island. From here it falls into what I perceive as the typical Doc Savage adventure tale - exotic location, strange creatures, gunfire and a quest or chase to thwart some evil mastermind.

It’s only Dent’s second issue of writing this character but it’s clearly evident he has a firm grasp on what he wants to express to the reader. The first half of the book works really well as a simultaneous chase scene while still asking probing questions as an investigative pursuit of plot. The second half is by far the best as Doc’s team faces dinosaurs and Kar’s henchmen inside of a volcano. Fans of the series often point out the fact that this entry includes five killings, something Doc’s team doesn’t do much (if any) of in future volumes. High body count on a pursuit of vengeance. I’m okay with it.

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Doc Savage #01 - The Man of Bronze

Predominantly, my Paperback Warrior musings are catered to 70s and 80s fiction, but I’m leaping through time to cover this iconic pulp warrior. Shamefully it has taken me 41 years on Earth to read my very first Doc Savage title. Over the years I’ve discovered the character while browsing a multitude of media including novels, comics, magazines and audio. For some reason, I just never had any interest in delving beneath the surface until now.

‘Doc Savage Magazine’ was first published in March, 1933 via Street & Smith publishers. Street & Smith was a New York company formed in 1855. It released its first pulp, ‘The Popular Magazine’, in 1903. By the mid-20s the pulp market had exploded, led by what many claims as the “Big Four” – ‘Argosy’, ‘Adventure’, ‘Blue Book’ and ‘Short Stories’. Street & Smith publishing agent Henry Ralston and editior John Nanovic had a hit on their hands with ‘The Shadow’ and were pursuing a second title. They pitched their Doc Savage hero concept to author Lester Dent with a dangling carrot of $500-$750 paychecks per book. It was a triumphant transaction that led to Doc Savage appearing a whopping 181 times for the magazine and related media. In 1964, the title regained popularity with Bantam reprinted each magazine as an individual novel. The books were handsomely presented with new artwork by James Bama and listed under house name Kenneth Robeson. These books are mostly out of chronological publishing order except the first – ‘The Man of Bronze’.

As the forerunner to the modern superhero, ‘The Man of Bronze’ starts the series as the obligatory origin story. It begins by introducing us to Doc Savage and his “Fabulous Five” team members. Each are introduced by name and what their overall skill is. Monk is a strong type that doubles as an industrial chemist. Ham is an accomplished attorney with a sword cane. Renny is the team’s brawn and construction engineer. Long Tom is an electrical wizard and Johnny rounds it off as the team’s archaeologist, complete with magnifying lens over his damaged left eye. Savage himself is sort of the conglomerate of all his team’s skills, only he has perfected each due to a strenuous two hours daily spent exercising his body and mind. Author Lester Dent describes Savage as a physical specimen with a chiseled “bronze” body.

Savage and his teammates served together in WWI, yet it wouldn’t be until Philip Farmer’s 1991 novel, ‘Escape from Loki’, that the full details are explained. The group is assembled on the 86th Floor of what is presumably New York’s Empire State Building after learning of the murder of Savage’s father. Doc, in distress, learns that his father was poisoned while exploring a remote location called Hidalgo in Central America. During the assembly, a red-handed assassin attempts to assassinate Doc. Through the book’s opening chapters, the group run from building to building chasing the assassin before learning that Savage’s father left a hidden message behind. This message pushes the book’s focus to the team traveling to Hidalgo to investigate not only the murder, but the land that has been willed to Doc.

From one fast-paced frenzy to another, Dent presents a riveting adventure for the team. From deep underground caves and primitive villages to sea and air battles, ‘The Man of Bronze’ covers a lot of ground and, for the 1930s, took the imagination into foreign and exotic lands. Collectively, the team uses all of their resources to foil the enemy and solve the inevitable mystery. Who’s the assassin? Why did he murder Doc’s father? All of this comes to fruition in a climatic, mountainside finale that finishes one chapter while introducing elements that will be key in future editions. The author’s clear boundaries of good and evil are questionable in 2017, but one has to remember this was written in a much simpler time with black and white social and cultural outlines. It’s easy to dismiss the fantasy and incredible writing style, often putting Doc Savage at Godlike strength and mind, but that’s the whole idea, right? It isn’t really supposed to make sense.

It’s written as an escape from the factory work and mundane daily rituals. For my own interpretation, Savage is one-part Indiana Jones, one-part Bruce Wayne and one-part Captain America. His skillset or power? I think it could easily just be perfection. He’s seemingly human perfection. Who wouldn’t want to be this bronze, intelligent hero? I say bring on book two – ‘The Land of Terror’. I can’t get enough of this stuff.

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