Doc Savage: The Living Fire Menace of the Mountain Monster (#SFWApro)

Both this month’s books were Harold Davis writing under the Kenneth Robeson pseudonym:

8680136THE LIVING FIRE MENACE has a federal agent contact Doc for help …while wearing bizarre clothes cobbled-together out of pieces of rubber. He gets the message through, but dies almost immediately. Next thing you know, Doc’s been targeted by crooks, and by men (similarly dressed in rubber) with fantastic electrical powers. And everyone, from the FBI man to the villains, seems to be steering Doc in the same direction.

Unusually, it’s not a ruse: the villains want Doc to find their base. They’ve discovered a metal which a)turns people into living lightning, a condition that doesn’t go away—the rubber is the only way they can survive outside the mining operation where they work as slaves; b)it’s incredibly hard and they have visions of turning it into armored vehicles and the like. And they need Doc to work it for them. Of course, this proves something of a bad idea for them …

This was a lively, fun adventure, one of those that stands or falls on the gimmick—and the gimmick is a good one. The weird energy mine, staffed by men who know they can never leave to live a normal life again is a very eerie setting. It does have one weird bit however. One is an off-hand revelation that Doc has an invisibility device—not based on the Spook Legion tech, but some supposed breakthrough in the news at the time.

084THE MOUNTAIN MONSTER has an oddly dated feel to the setting—Alaska at the time the federal government apparently recruited people for “colonies” in this untamed territory outside the United States (though I don’t think you’d have to update it much to have a besieged wilderness settlement). As the cover conveys, the monster is a giant spider of Native American legend, attacking the colonists and crushing them within its jaws. Legend says it will only rest when it has the heart of a bronze man to eat …

Needless to say, one of the colonists goes to Doc for help, with a giant spider hair to showhim. And the colonist dies mysteriously on the way. And villains are trying to stop Doc from going to investigate, but eventually he does. And while a giant spider wouldn’t be out of line for a Doc Savage adventure (remember The Monsters?), it turns out this one is a fake. The schemer behind it has set up a secret base in the Alaskan wilderness for his SPECTRE-style crime cartel; the growing presence of American colonists forced him to Take Steps.

This is a rather chaotic one, with lots of chasing and running around and then back the other way to no real good measure. It’s also another where the racial issues don’t age well: lots of superstitious Native Americans running around and the Eurasian villain, “half-Oriental, half-white combined the worst features of both.” And dramatically the villain doesn’t appear enough for me to care who he really was: Davis could just as easily have had him turn out to be nobody we’d seen before.

An odd bit in this book is that Monk and Ham actually engage in telepathy. Though this could be a tongue-in-cheek treatment of the way they both know what each other is thinking, I think we’re meant to take it seriously.

Covers by James Bama and Boris Vallejo, all rights to current holder.

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