Fifty years ago this month: the Doc Savage pastiche that wasn’t

Fifty years ago this month, I turned fifteen, and knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a writer, and was filled with intense energy which I focused on that goal.

In addition, I knew exactly what I wanted to write…a pastiche of Doc Savage, but one that I aspired to make in tune not with the 1930’s and 1940’s of the pulp era, but the dynamic (and to me, irresistibly powerful) shifting mores and sensibilities of the early 1970’s.

Doctor Fenris was born that year, his first novel written in longhand (which is the way I still write)…and in the same year he faded into oblivion, as I just couldn’t make the concept work.

I was, of course, pretty young, and though no doubt I would have resisted being labeled thus at the time, I was a tyro. I’d read Phil Farmer’s A Feast Unknown that same year, and that was the type of tone I wanted to take with Fenris. I chose the name of the Norse Wolf of Ragnarok because I wanted the character to have an edgier, more dangerous feel than the traditional pulp Doc. And yes, I resisted the urge to call him “Doc”, as at that time I felt “Doctor” had a little more gravitas.

I made up pastiche names for the five aides and Pat…which hung in there in my memory until circling back to the creation of Doc Talos, in 2015. So those were the first echoes of Rickie, Andy, Theo, Big John, Bill and Tom.

The Fenris novel was called, in pulp fashion, “The Manhattan Goblin”. The plot included a brutal serial killer, a lot of intense sex, and great stuff like obsession, revenge…and balancing that, the underlying idealism that was a great part of my love for Doc Savage, as well as an equally integral part of the 1970’s counterculture sensibility.

It was all pretty much a train wreck…way too ambitious for me to pull off with my teenage writing chops. When it was done I set it aside in pretty much a state of authorial dismay.

I never came back to Doctor Fenris. A dozen years later, flushed with more ambition and hubris, I set out to write actual Doc Savage stories set in the present day (of the 1980’s at that point). That became the novel “The Day of Black Sunlight”, which I thought was a better effort, but when I approached Conde Nast with it — this was before the Will Murray novels had begun — they ignored the very idea of an unknown scribe taking the reins of their brand.

So Doctor Fenris, and Doc Savage in the 1980’s fell into the literary abyss. But this month, marking a half century since Fenris (and with a whole shelf of Doc Talos books done, with no end in sight)…it’s fun to look back, and wonder what might have been.

4 thoughts on “Fifty years ago this month: the Doc Savage pastiche that wasn’t

    1. Thanks Jeff! Looking back that far is fun…and a little embarrassing. I was wildly ambitious (Fenris wasn’t even my first novel…I had done an “epic fantasy” novel at age fourteen, which was even more of a train wreck, though my 8th grade English teacher was impressed). With that good ol’ hubris, I envisioned book after book, story after story in my favorite genres. The reality was, I needed to pay my dues, hone my craft, steep myself in techniques of writing. So it was a cautionary tale…but one with a happy resolution here five decades later, as I have never been happier as quite a different author than the one who wielded his pen in 1973.


      1. I also tend to think in series, and virtually every book I’ve written, I’ve got ideas for more. I think out of the 70 books or so I’ve published, only 2 were really planned as standalones!


      2. I can certainly relate to the love of series projects, Jeff. No doubt influenced by the many series characters of my youth (both in pulp literature and the comics, both of which were quite addictive to me). It was fun and exciting to come back to characters I grew to love in the reading (and later the writing), with an opportunity to continually expand and deepen their stories.


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