Doc Savage: So who was this Kenneth Robeson guy, anyway? (#SFWApro)

ManofbronzebamaIf you’ve followed my Doc Savage posts, you’ve doubtless noticed that the writers I credit include Lester Dent, Laurence Donovan and Harold Davis. But the name on every book is Kenneth Robeson.

The reason is simple. Lester Dent was Doc’s creator and the primary writer, but back in the pulp days, it was standard operating procedure to publish series like Doc Savage under a “house name,” a fictitious author. That way nobody was going to object if the publisher changed writers or, as frequently happened with Doc, Dent couldn’t get an issue in. Likewise Walter Gibson wrote well over a couple of hundred Shadow novels as Maxwell Grant, with ghost writers filling in the rest (Lester Dent was one of them, contributing The Golden Vulture)

This can make identifying the real authors of particular stories or series a challenge. Street & Smith also used the Robeson house name for The Avenger pulps, but most pulp histories I’ve read credit that series to Paul Ernst. Nevertheless, people do sometimes assume it’s Lester Dent’s work (heck, before I knew about Dent I assumed Kenneth Robeson had written both).

Dent is now primarily known for Doc, but he also wrote the Gadget Man series of adventures (I haven’t read them) and some serious hardboiled fiction for Black Mask magazine. I’m glad that he’s now able to get full credit for his work on the Man of Bronze.

(Cover by James Bama, all rights with current holder).

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The Mad Eyes of the Land of Fear: Doc Savage, with spoilers (#SFWApro)

I don’t usually post my Doc Savage reviews this promptly, but after a productive day, the deeper post I had in mind is a no-go, so …

4340896MAD EYES is another story by Laurence Donovan (cover by James Bama, all rights with current holder) and very different from the usual. Doc only appears for a couple of scenes in the first half of the book, which is a wildly chaotic tale involving insane men seeing terrible monsters, suspicious cops, impossible thefts (it’s not easy to move five tons of metal equipment without drawing attention), mysterious, seemingly invisible vehicles and a female lab assistant who claims Doc kidnapped her.

On top of that, the appearances turn out to be a Doc imposter. The Man of Bronze, we eventually learn, is tightly bound with rawhide in a cellar somewhere in New York’s tenements; the imposter gloats that by the time Doc’s body is found, it’ll be nothing but rat-gnawed bones. Of course, it doesn’t work out that way, but that is one of the most terrifying death traps from the series (I can envision getting gnawed alive by rats much easier than getting disintegrated by the Smoke of Eternity in Land of Terror).

It turns out that Jane, the young woman, is the real ringleader of the plot, which involves making tiny protozoans visible to the naked eye (the monsters everyone screams about) and a bacterial weapon that paralyzes its victims—after which the fake Doc will miraculously cure everyone, for a fee.

There are some details of the villains’ tech that don’t quite work; a bigger problem is the scientist on the bad guys’ side is a hideously deformed man whom the text informs us was hopelessly warped mentally by his warped body (paging The Cinema of Isolation …)

timthumbTHE LAND OF FEAR by Harold Davis (cover art—William Baumhofer?—rights reside with current holder) unfortunately uses another Doc Savage impersonator, though in a much smaller role. A bigger problem is that the African city of Genlee where the climax takes place is actually founded by Confederates fleeing the fall of the South (the name is a corruption of General Lee) to set up a small plantation in Africa. While they refer to the black workers as “field hands” rather than outright slaves, it’s hard not to assume they are. Whatever the concept of GenLee meant to the readers back in 1937, it’s now disturbing as heck.

The novel starts nicely with a very Lester Dent-ish opening (“Customs inspectors can stop contraband coming into the country. They can’t stop fear.”) and the familiar set up of someone trying to reach Doc with a plea for help. As usual, it doesn’t go well; approaching Doc’s skyscraper, the man suddenly transforms into a skeleton.

The skeleton death is an effective gimmick, more so because it’s not presented as a super-weapon in itself: its real power is that it scares the hell out of everyone, including the villain’s mob-boss sidekick “Greens” Gordon (he has an affectation for wearing green). For some reason I liked Greens’ description as a ruthless but cautious killer, always sticking with low-risk, modest-profit jobs until this one came along …

The McGuffin is a hybrid rubber tree the leader of Genlee has developed that will allow the United States to produce its own rubber supply, regardless of what wars and other issues do to foreign sources. This is an interestingly practical prize (reminiscent of benlanium in Mystery on the Snow) though obviously dated now.

Curiously, although the big bad is a master of disguise, able to impersonate Ham and Doc, he never actually uses it that way—instead, he simply uses his disguises to keep his real identity a secret. It’s odd, though not as big a problem as having an Old South plantation in the middle of Africa.

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The Power of the Pen: Writing Links (#SFWApro)

detective398(Cover by Neal Adams, rights with current holder).

Some news stories are already written by robots. As someone who’s written a lot of dull fact-regurgitating stories (So how is the real estate market in Destin this month?) this doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Though I could also see it being overused—it might seem like a logical way to cover city budgets, but those really need in-depth analysis (I’m unconvinced by the company that claims its robots can do that too—though of course I might be wrong).

•The current Hugo games have led to a heavy imbalance in men’s favor.

•How long should a pitch for a nonfiction story be?

•A look back at a writing scam from the past.

•How to write a brief synopsis (hat tip to Walk of Words)

•You can get away, maybe, with having a douchebag protagonist, but acknowledge he’s a douchebag.

•Studios suddenly realize women buy a lot of movie tickets.

•A musician says a copyright claim from Universal (which apparently licensed his music for something) kept him from playing his own songs on YouTube.

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Political links (and others) on Sunday Eve

Too bad, sponsors—a company collects $1 million on kickstarter but doesn’t deliver on the product end.

•AT&T argues that net neutrality violates their First Amendment right to decide who it can transmit over the Internet and at what speed, the same way a paper gets to decide what news gets in.

•Uber says that as it doesn’t own its cars and isn’t the employer of the drivers, it’s not bound by disability-rights laws.

•The GOP has been talking more about economic inequality lately, but it’s still fine with tax cuts for millionaires.

•Digby points out that the Obama administration wants details of the US’ torture activities covered up (because it might make someone angry, and lead to attacks!) the White House doesn’t stop Dick Cheney or CIA officials from openly bragging about torture. More here.

•There’s also torture in South Sudan.

•I’ve discussed before the way some conservatives live to make the poor suffer. Although Kansas’ new policy—not allowing Kansans to access more than $25 in welfare benefits at a time, by ATM withdrawal—may be just a way to give the banks’ bottom line a juicing, I suppose. Either way it’s a horrible policy, based on the possibility that someone receiving welfare benefits may have cheated. This is what happens when you design programs on the assumption that if even one person abuses them, the policy is bad.

•Human Rights Watch reports on Ruth Evans, a soldier whose career was deep-sixed when she reported sexual assault.

•A lot of virgin olive oil isn’t that virgin.

•A battle between the big credit bureaus and multiple state attorney generals results in new rules on how the bureaus handle disputes.

•Bikers going at each other with guns? Not thugs and not a riot, according to the media. Ta-Nehisi Coates wonders why white people can’t follow Martin Luther King more?

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A short and dreadful list of time-travel movies (#SFWApro)

Short because I started watching the Outlander series on DVD, and had a project that sucked up time I’d otherwise have spent watching films. And dreadful because—well, just look at ’em:

Contrary to my memory, MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987) wasn’t any sort of a parallel-world tale (they’re quite specific Eternia is another planet) and while I’m not a He-Man fan he definitely deserved a better live action version (even TYG, who’s no fan either, was disappointed they left out Prince Adam and Cringer). This story of He-Man (Dolph Lundgren) and Skeletor (Frank Langella) entering our world as part of their final battle could as easily be Beastmaster II and the effects are sub-par. With Courtney Cox as an Earth friend, Meg Foster as Evil-Lyn, James Tolkan as a cop and Jon Cypher as Man-at-Arms. “You are no longer my equal—I am a god!”

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE II (2015) is the execrable sequel in which a murder attempt on Lou (Rob Corddry) sends the cast (excepting John Cusack, who’s sorely missed) stumbling into the future in pursuit of the killer only to learn their lives will come to suck even worse by 2025 than they did at the start of the first film. A hamfisted, heavy-handed, unfunny raunch comedy that thinks anal rape on national TV is a laugh riot; also a lot more logic holes than the first film (how does one character “steal” a Lisa Loeb song that’s 15 years old?). Chevy Chase once again plays a hot-tub repairman, now clearly a Cosmic Person. The things I watch for my art … “Oh my god, you think everything is like TERMINATOR!”

It clearly says something about The Asylum’s business model that TERMINATORS (2009) is the third mockbuster of theirs I’ve watched for this book, even if only The Land That Time Forgot actually qualifies as time-travel. This is a tedious near-future thriller in which an android army (all played by the same beefcake actor) suddenly turns rogue and begins killing people, forcing the protagonists to struggle to stay alive, then to deactivate the threat. “You’re a good man — a good man.”

THE DOUBLE HOUR (2009) didn’t grab me but this Spanish film is more competent than the rest of this week’s crop, focusing on a woman who finds herself living two different lives after a shooting—but it turns out one of them is just her imagination.

SOUTHLAND TALES (2007) is a very 9/11 influenced tale in showing a US collapsing into a mix of anarchy and oppression after a nuclear attack on Texas, with porn star Sarah Michelle Geller (“The Puritans put an end to the native American orgy of freedom!”), actor Dwayne Johnson, cop Justin Timberlake, eccentric Warren Shawn, Miranda Richardson, Amy Poehler, John Larroquette and Nora Dunn among the wasted. This does have a time-travel element but it’s strictly appendix-material—suits me as this is both pretentious and uninteresting. ”Where in the Bible is it written that you have to have a bowel movement?”

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Recent Reading (#SFWApro)

43aTHE BOATS OF THE GLEN CARRIG (cover by Robert LoGrippo, rights to current holder) was William Hope Hodgson’s first novel, which wastes no time plunging us into the action: we open with the Glen Carrig gone and the two lifeboats carrying the crew into uncharted waters where islands thrive with carnivorous plants and monstrous sea-people and other horrors lurk. Some of the practical details of survival get a little too mundane, but overall an effective debut. The intro to this Ballantine Books edition reveals that Hodgson’s work was completely forgotten after his death in WW I until an admirer submitted Glen Carrig to a fantasy magazine’s reprint feature some 30 years later. Good for him.

ALL ABOUT ALL ABOUT EVE: The Complete Behind the Scenes Story of the Bitchiest Film Ever Made by Sam Staggs traces the history of the movie (which you may remember I saw recently) from its genesis (a based-on-truth short story, “The Wisdom of Eve”) to the movie (among the changes were Eve not seducing Celese Holmes’ husband into her arms) and then to the later Broadway musical Applause.. Very exhaustive work, including an interview with the struggling young actress who sparked the original short story, discussions of the possible gay subtext and whether Margo Channing is based in part on actress Tallulah Bankhead (the concluding chapter reveals that Margo was actually heavily modeled on direct Joseph Mankiewicz’ wife) and Bette Davis’ short and disastrous marriage to leading man Gary Merrill. Too fannish about how awesome this film is (Staggs strains to argue it had a significant influence on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for instance) but overall thorough and interesting, including making a case the movie’s sexism is exaggerated (Staggs points out that Davis says nothing about quitting to get married, only that she no longer wants to play 20-year-olds on stage).

There’s an old rule in writing that when you write short, you can’t afford to meander or waste space. Stephen Erikson’s DUST OF DREAMS proves the same is true when you’re writing at close to 400,000 words: low-comic banter or political debate I’d have been okay with in a shorter book now feels like it’s padding the word count. While there’s a fair amount of action in the book, none of it really feels tied to anything—the Malazan army is wandering aimlessly, the Letherii have endless political discussion, uninteresting races have uninteresting battles, and the gods wander around talking ominously (it doesn’t help that the sheer size of the cast and the multiple plot threads make this sprawling anyway). Things pick up at the end, and it’s quite possible the final volume will pack a punch, but this was a real disappointment.

Erik Larsen’s SAVAGE DRAGON: A New Beginning was my first reading of his Savage Dragon series, which is slightly ironic as it has Dragon’s son Malcolm replacing his father in crimefighting. While some of the character bits were good, this relies heavily on spectacular action and that wasn’t so good, feeling mostly like recycled Kirby.

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The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglee, as Robert Burns said (#SFWApro)

Which is to say, plans don’t always work out, as witness today …

I got a call from TYG while she was walking the puppies this morning, which was a little alarming: she usually texts unless there’s an emergency. It turned out she and the dogs had encountered a shiba inu running loose; as there was no owner in sight, she wanted me to bring a leash so we could hold her in the back yard until we could find the owner. We didn’t want to take him inside because who knew how he would react to us, or the dogs, or …

So we put him on the deck with water and food, shut the garden gates, and posted to various local forums. After a couple of hours we called the Durham shelter because it was getting hot outside, and we figured they could read his microchip if he had one. The owner did call in the afternoon, so I steered her to the shelter.

Anyway, all of that used up a surprising amount of time, running to find TYG, walking the dog home, figuring out what to do, recovering from going off schedule (I don’t reset easily) … so my morning was largely shot.

Fortunately yesterday we took the dogs to puppy day care for the first time, so I had the whole day to myself. Despite the 40 minutes or so to take the dogs there and back, this was very productive. It’s not just the time I don’t spend walking them or feeding them or petting them, it’s … I don’t know, there’s just a surprising amount of focus drained by having them around. Worth it, of course (see pictures below for how adorable they are) but definitely a fact.

IMG_0422IMG_0416So we’ll probably doing a lot more doggy daycare. And it was a good thing this week because the work was intensive enough I still made my 40 hours despite today’s distractions and a contractor we had to have in on Monday (nothing major).

So I faced the unexpected and for once I came out ahead. Pretty cool.

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Filed under Personal, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing