Review: Doc Savage: The Desert Demons
Doc Savage: The Desert Demons (The Wild Adventures of Doc Savage)
by Kenneth Robeson (Will Murray, and credit given to Lester Dent)
published by Altus Press
original publication: 2011
size: 502KB (271 pages)
categories: genre fiction (incorrectly listed as a graphic novel)
simultaneous device licenses: 6
part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library: no
real page numbers: yes
Doc Savage is one of my fictional heroes.
I truly believe that I am a better person for having read the 181 original pulp adventures.
Part of why I set myself goals for every day that are designed to improve myself, with the intent of using those improved abilities to help others, is thanks to the Man of Bronze. Okay, it isn’t exercising two hours a day, but averaging a thousand words a day in this blog is a similar discipline…right?
So, I was excited to be able to read new adventures of Doc and his team.
I was also a little trepidatious.
There are a lot of things that can go wrong in revisiting an old property. For one thing, part of what we remember about reading a book is based on who we were at the time…and that’s changed.
There is also a tendency to want to make it something more than it was…to go to extremes in some way. You can amp up the special effects, and the world-shaking importance of the situation…but if you don’t maintain the basic relationships, you lose what made the story work in the first place. See the William Hurt Lost in Space or the Roland Emmerich Godzilla…or perhaps, it’s just as good if you don’t.
On the other hand, people can be so careful to try to be true to the original that they aren’t original themselves. You can check off the boxes, but you still have to write a story.
Will Murray clearly knows the Doc Savage universe. He should: he has been the literary agent for the Lester Dent estate (Dent wrote the majority of the original adventures). He has been writing Doc Savage or writing about Doc Savage since the 1970s.
That’s a good thing. Fans will be happy to see the familiar gadgets and characters.
I think he wisely keeps the story set in the 1930s. While I do believe Doc stories set in the modern day could work, it would make it tremendously more difficult. You would have to predict technology in the same way that Dent did, and that’s not easy.
Is this a great book?
No, I wouldn’t say that. Especially in the beginning of the book, it’s a bit stiff. Hands don’t have fingers, they have “digits”. Instead of people, there are “persons”. That may be an attempt to match a period style of speaking, but it felt awkward to me.
Murray seems to enjoy the opportunity to be politically incorrect in a way that’s appropriate for the period. You may find that a bit jarring.
The story is also a lot longer and more complex than the original pulps. There are many characters, and a lot of set pieces. It makes you work a bit harder than perhaps you want in a popcorn book.
There are also times when the characters don’t ring true. Doc replies “Nothing doing” to somebody, which seemed too slangy…and it felt to me like the question would likely have been simply ignored (Doc is famous for not answering questions, even from his own team).
That said, it was also not a bad book. The story hung together, and there were times when I was genuinely wrapped up in what was happening.
Bottom line: if you’re a Doc Savage fan, it’s worth a read (although don’t go into it expecting it to be your favorite Doc adventure). If you aren’t, I think I wouldn’t start with this. Hopefully, the originals will come to the Kindle store (they are not in the public domain). I’d love to see them offer a super-bundle with all 181 adventures for fifty dollars or so, with individual adventures for maybe $2.99 (they could offer some bundles in that, as Bantam did with their reprints).
Before I go, I do want to tell you a bit about Doc, for those of you who don’t know. There is supposedly another movie in the works (George Pal did one starring Ron Ely), but it doesn’t seem too solid yet.
Doc was essentially raised to be a superhuman. As you can imagine, that doesn’t make him a normal person. Arguably, he was warped by his specialized upbringing…but is also vastly superior to the average person, both physically and intellectually.
He and his team (five war buddies from World War I) travel around the world investigating mysteries and helping people. The team members are each very distinct personalities, bound together by their loyalty to Doc.
Doc also is the forerunner of Superman and Batman (and others). Superman is one of the clearest connections, but Doc isn’t an alien or an actual superhuman. However, he was called the “Man of Bronze” (Supes is the “Man of Steel”), he has a Fortress of Solitude, and his name is Clark. Superman couldn’t fly in the beginning, either…that came later. They also both have prominently featured female cousins…Pat appears in The Desert Demons.
Batman has special vehicles and a “utility belt”. Doc Savage has special vehicles and a “utility vest”. They’ve both trained themselves to physical superiority, and are extremely knowledgeable. Oh, and they are both rich.
I could draw connections to others…the X-Men are a team of specialized heroes, and you can’t miss Beast’s similarity to Doc’s Monk. Scooby Doo investigated apparent supernatural happenings.
Doc has a “no kill” policy (after the first book). Like others of my fictional heroes, he considers himself a failure in important ways. That doesn’t stop him from doing what he can to make himself better and to help others.
That idea that, like Spock and Kwai Chang Caine, others are amazed by him…and he is disappointed in himself…it keeps you humble, and I appreciate that.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.