Thursday, March 01, 2007

Doc Savage vs. the neocons

Nostalgia Ventures is performing a great service in republishing the pulp magazine adventures of Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze, for the first time since Bantam launched its successful paperback reprint series back in the 1960s (with those fantastic James Bama covers). This time, the Lester Dent “novels” are being packaged two to an oversized volume, including the illustrations from the original magazines. I read a lot of these books when I was in grade school, and it’s terrific fun to revisit Doc Savage and his crew again.

Before this week, I’m not sure I’d ever read the two 1938 stories that make up Nostalgia Ventures’ first volume. Both tales — Fortress of Solitude and The Devil Genghis — feature John Sunlight, Doc’s greatest adversary and the only villain to appear twice in the Savage saga. Get a load of this final exchange between Doc and Sunlight in Genghis:

“...we have the same aims in life, you and I,” John Sunlight said.

Doc Savage looked incredulous.

“The same aims, you and I!” John Sunlight repeated. “You strive to right wrongs. And I — I am trying to right the greatest wrong of all.”

John Sunlight paused for emphasis.

“The wrong I am going to right,” he said impressively, “is the fact that mankind lives under different flags and speaks different languages.”

His voice became louder, acquired a kind of burning fervor. There was fanaticism in the voice.

“I am going to conquer the world,” John Sunlight said.

He threw up his jaw.

“Then I shall disarm all of mankind,” he announced. “I shall take every rifle, revolver, cannon and machine gun, and I shall make it a death penalty to own a firearm. Mankind has advanced far enough that it does not need firearms.”

John Sunlight lifted both arms dramatically.

“Next, I shall make every person in the world learn to speak English,” he shouted. “English shall become the common language of all mankind.”

He shook his fists.

“I shall wipe out every state and national boundary. I shall make all mankind of one nation, one language, and without arms.”

He paused, lowered his arms and smiled.

“There will be no more wars,” he said, “because there will be nothing left to cause wars.” ...

“A dream,” Doc Savage said suddenly, “that many men have had.”

“Eh?” John Sunlight scowled.

“It will not work.”

John Sunlight drew himself erect. “You are mistaken. With these weapons which I took from your Fortress of Solitude, I can conquer, beyond a doubt. With your help, I cannot fail. You will help me. ...”

Doc Savage shook his head slowly.

“Your plan,” he said, “is unworkable. Millions would die, and violence is not the way to accomplish anything lasting. Look, for example, at the World War. Did it settle anything? No. The nations fought until they were exhausted, then were quiet only while they rested. Now they are getting their strength back — and the same hatreds.”

“You won’t help the world?”

“Only as much as it can be aided by eliminating John Sunlight,” Doc Savage said grimly.

John Sunlight is, I think, a pretty good fictional portrayal of what Isabel Paterson would have called the “humanitarian with a guillotine.” Or what we today would call a neocon. (To be honest, Doc Savage suffered quite a messiah complex himself. But hell, he was the Good Guy!)


At 10:05 AM, Anonymous tom novak said...

Whaaaaaat????????? There were no neocons in 1938.

Anyway, All hail Street and Smith!! My bantam paperback copy of The Devil Genghis from 1974 (just prior to the George Pal Doc movie) is author credited to Kenneth Robeson. I guess that was the generic copyright name for all the authors in Doc Savage Magazine when they were republished. I'm not really sure though.

At 10:20 AM, Anonymous B.W. said...

There were about a half-dozen other "Kenneth Robesons" over the years, but the vast majority of the stories were written by Lester Dent. Once he devised the formula he was an almost unstoppable writing machine!

At 3:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read some of the novels in middle school, but I missed this one, not surprising since there were only about 170 of them.

I think I'll pick up a copy of this one. Even if Dent was mostly a pulp SF writer, it sure looks, from this except, that he was far ahead of his time.

Bob Wallace

At 11:46 AM, Anonymous Dan Petitpas said...

Dent was indeed the greatest of the Pulp writers. Because of his style, his material is still enjoyable today.

At the time, Walter Gibson, who wrote The Shadow pulps as Maxwell Grant, may have been considered the greatest, but his prose is difficult to slog through today and his stories are dated.


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