The Doc Savage Binge

I haven’t bothered to look up a lot of other people’s reviews of Doc Savage novels. However, I have liked the ones I’ve seen over at Brian Lindsey’s Groovy Age of Horror, so I’ll link to them. Be warned, though. All those scans of Italian fumetti earn the adult content warning for the site.

These aren’t my reviews of Doc Savage novels, just impressions. Plenty of spoilers are ahead.

Cold DeathCold Death was not a good return to Doc after eight years. The superscience weapon of VAR, the villain, was not really explained even by pulp standards. Some combo of a mysterious element and a ray. Or so I remember and I couldn’t be bothered to check that memory.

And we never leave New York City. I was relieved that this was authored by Lawrence Donovan. If a Dent-penned Savage novel was so disappointing, I would have been worried. Great James Bama cover. Continue reading “The Doc Savage Binge”

Visiting Doc Again

I haven’t just been reading Ambrose Bierce during the last three months.

I’ve been hanging out with the Bronze Guy, Doc Savage.

The excuse was preparing for Arcana 44 about three months back.

Anthony Tollin was a Guest of Honor. A former comic book colorist and editor, these days he’s an expert on old time radio shows, the sinister pulp hero the Shadow, and an editor at Nostalgia Ventures where he oversees the reprinting of various pulp magazine stories including Doc Savage.

I hoped he’d have samples of those Doc Savage reprints. He did. The advertising worked. I’ve since bought several including some with stories I already had from the Bantam Book reprint series.

So Who Is Doc Savage?

The Doc Savage cycle starts in March 1933 and continues today. It includes radio shows, comic books, reprints of pulp stories, and additions to the saga written yet today. Continue reading “Visiting Doc Again”

World War One in Fantastic Fiction: “The Crevasse”

“The Crevasse”, Dale Bailey and Nathan Ballingrud, 2009. (With Spoilers)

This story, seemingly set in the 1920s in the Antarctic, matches not only Lovecraft’s settings (specifically, of course, his At the Mountains of Madness”), but his mood and themes.

A team of four men has separated from an expedition and, with one of them injured, is making its way back to a base camp.  A dog falls in a crevasse but doesn’t die right away.  After listening to its whimpering for hours, the protagonist, a doctor in World War One, goes into the crevasse to put it out of its misery  In the shadows at the bottom, he thinks he sees something move and evidence of a stairway leading down.

He is not believed by a companion who also goes into the crevasse, but it is fairly clear the companion doesn’t want to believe in what he saw or its implications.  A nice, effective – in plot and setting – working of a Lovecraft theme.

The crevasse is a Nietzschean abyss one should not gaze into, a literalized metaphor for the abyss the doctor feels from the war and death of his wife, a chasm beckoning self-annihilation.

World War One Content

  • Living Memory: No.
  • On-Stage War: No.
  • Belligerent Area: No.
  • Home Front: No.
  • Veteran: No.

World War One mainly serves to explain the psychological state of the protagonist, his vulnerability to revelations of cosmic horror in the wake of exposure to world horrors.

There is, incidentally, a close link to Antarctic exploration and World War One. Photographer Frank Hurley took photos of the famed Shackleton expedition and the war. Indeed, the Shackleton expedition left Portsmouth Harbor shortly after England entered the war.


World War One in Fantastic Fiction.

Crime Novels Set in World War One

Soon I hope to be adding a page about fantastical fiction with some connection to World War One. However, I will not be living long enough to do that with mystery novels.  (It’s not a taste thing; it’s an opportunity cost thing.)

However, if you like mysteries, there’s no reason you shouldn’t read ones set during the Great War.

Here’s a place to start:

Reading Bitter Bierce: Two Grotesque Narrators

A couple of Ambrose Bierce stories don’t fall neatly in the categories I’ve covered. They are not weird fiction. They are not science fiction. They are not really satires though they attack, by implication, Bierce’s society.

They are, however, extreme examples of the barbs of irony forestalling any specific emotional effect on the reader. Their plots are straightforward enough and full of black humor. It’s their narrators and what Bierce wants us to think of them that are not so straightforward.Bierce LOA

Both are murder tales related by murderers. Continue reading “Reading Bitter Bierce: Two Grotesque Narrators”

Reading Bitter Bierce: The Science Fiction Stories, Part 2

“For the Ahkoond”

If you’re one of those sticklers who think satire must have some kind of call or plan for reform, you might not find this Ambrose Bierce story fitting the bill. However, Bierce calls it a satire in a footnote he inserted when he included it in his Collected Works in 1909.Bierce LOA

On the surface, given the number of gadgets he mentions and invents, you might think this is his most science fictional work and shows something of his friend Robert Duncan Milne’s influence.

You would be wrong, though. Continue reading “Reading Bitter Bierce: The Science Fiction Stories, Part 2”

Reading Bitter Bierce: The Science Fiction Stories, Part 1

The most anthologized of Bierce’s science fiction works are “The Damned Thing” and “Moxon’s Master”. I suspect that is a function of both their relatively short length and timeless themes. Bierce’s other science fiction works, some of which I will be covering in my next posting, are satirical vehicles for political issues we either no longer care about or vehemently disagree with Bierce on.Bierce LOA

“The Damned Thing” (with Spoilers)

This tale is justly celebrated, one of Bierce’s most controlled in terms of tone. It concerns a lethal, invisible entity in the hills around San Francisco.

H. P. Lovecraft’s description of Bierce’s weird fiction in his “Supernatural Horror in Literature” as “malignly supernatural” works for this particular story. But so do the words of James Gunn in introducing the story in his The Road to Science Fiction #1: From Gilgamesh to Wells:

“The Damned Thing” is typical of a kind of science-fiction story that focuses on a fantastic event that has no explanation — except one or more that science has not yet discovered. The story has its psychological basis in the observed fact that new discoveries about the nature of the universe, continue to be made, and the most profound of the discoveries were unpredictable and would have been incomprehensible to an earlier generation.

Continue reading “Reading Bitter Bierce: The Science Fiction Stories, Part 1”

Reading Bitter Bierce: Second Thoughts on Bleiler and Bierce

I favorably mentioned, in the first installment of this series, E. F. Bleiler’s introduction to the collection Ghost and Horror Stories of Ambrose Bierce.

It seems that Don Swaim, proprietor of the justly titled Ambrose Bierce Site, has some unkind opinions on Bleiler’s opinions of Bierce. While he “might accept some of Bleiler’s pungent but snarky literary analysis”, he regards Bleiler’s statement’s on Bierce’s life and character as flat out wrong.Bierce

He says Bleiler relied too much on two Bierce biographies: Adolphe de Castro’s Portrait of Ambrose Bierce and Walter Neale’s Life of Ambrose Bierce.

Since I have read no Bierce biographies, I have no opinion on the matter. I will say that I have heard a fan of Bierce the man and his work recommend both.

Reading Bitter Bierce: Bierce and Science Fiction

If you look up some standard reference works on science fiction, you will see a few Bierce tales mentioned. They always mention “Moxon’s Master” (1909), an early robot story, and “That Damned Thing” (1898), an early invisible menace story.

Robert S. Coulson’s entry on Bierce in the James Gunn edited The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction mentions both as well as “The Realm of the Unreal” which I’ve already discussed. 

The Bierce entry, authored by Peter Nichols and John Clute, in The Science Fiction Encyclopedia mentions several weird tales I’ve already discussed using the justification that “the speculative environment they create is often sufficiently displaced to encourage the interest of sf readers”. But they also mention “John Smith Liberator: (From a Newspaper of the Far Future)” aka “John Smith” (1873), “For the Ahkoond” (1888), and “The Ashes of the Beacon: An Historical Monograph Written in 4930” (1905) which is a radical revision of “The Fall of the Republic: An Article from a ‘Court Journal’ of the Thirty-First Century” (1888). I will be talking about all these stories in future posts except “John Smith” and “The Fall of the Republic”, neither of which I’ve gotten my hands on yet.

For now, though, I want to briefly talk about Bierce’s place in science fiction as an editor, critic, cheerleader and, in a sense, imitator. Continue reading “Reading Bitter Bierce: Bierce and Science Fiction”

Reading Bitter Bierce: Was He a Proto-Fortean?

Bierce, as mentioned in the first installment in this series, is a Fortean phenomena — not for his art so much as his mysterious death. (I recently learned that science fiction and mystery author Fredric Brown wrote an entire novel on the idea of an “Ambrose Collector”.)

But was Bierce a proto-Fortean, a man who collected oddities?

He did do serious, non-fiction pieces on mysterious matters. Continue reading “Reading Bitter Bierce: Was He a Proto-Fortean?”