The fifteenth book in the Doc Talos series will be releasing in June, and between now and June 15th, Annihilation can be pre-ordered at a significant discount.
The book revisits and channels concepts from the classic Doc Savage pulp story The Annihilist, but beyond the foundational theme of Doc’s “crime college” — the institution he maintains for the rehabilitation of criminals — Annihilation strives to be far more than a pulp yarn.
The setting is the late 1960’s, early 1970’s, and it tells the story of the first patient that James “Doc” Talos, Jr. gives the choice of undergoing his treatment or declining it. His motivations for this are complex: the criminal in his charge, Faith Carnahan, is the daughter of a brutal gun moll James himself killed in the 1920’s. He sees in her a chance for a kind of redemption far more personal than a life devoted to the grand abstract of “righting wrongs”.
From her perspective, Faith does not see this as either an opportunity or a gift in her life. She has committed a horrific crime, and fully expected — even desired — to pay for that in a way she feels appropriate within a society she rejects and condemns. Strong-willed, deeply perceptive, driven…Faith has made her life-choices based on a belief that she lives in a world on the precipice of annihilation. The concept of a new beginning for her — particularly one which will be achieved through the surgical erasing of her memory — is all but beyond her comprehension.
The backdrop for this story is a period in time when the cultural mores of right and wrong were being challenged in every aspect of society. Annihilation reflects this, immersing itself in upheavals of the time that included radical movements, crime, cults, music, comix, and more.
James, with his heartfelt belief that people are essentially good and decent, and Faith, whose belief is that they are cruel and vicious, struggle to find ground where they can understand one another…and a choice can be made between the polar extremes of redemption and destruction.
ANNIHILATION, by R. Paul Sardanas, with full color painted illustrations by Iason Ragnar Bellerophon, 149 pages, 6 x 9 deluxe paperback. Includes the short photostory Faith: Crime College Dark Angel from a 2014 independent film.
Adult content — for mature audiences only.
After June 15th, this book will retail for $30 plus shipping, but for this pre-order period, is available for $20 plus shipping. If you would like to pre-order Annihilation, or have questions regarding it, please send an email to: email@example.com.
Excerpts for review are also available on request. And please check out the other 14 Doc Talos books, as well as Omnibus and Collected Art editions, in our bookstore.
Montage, by R. Paul Sardanas and Iason Ragnar Bellerophon
— review by Grace Ximenez
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of penning a very short story for the Talos anthology collection Mona, and when author/publisher R. Paul Sardanas sent me a contributor’s copy of the book (which was lovely), he also included a review copy of the latest full Talos opus, Montage. As a long-time book reviewer quite enthralled with the Doc Talos series, I’d offered to review any new books as they appeared, thinking, after doing two reviews already (of the exciting anthology from last year, Rickie, and the almost outlandishly sophisticated Fortress, a re-telling of the Doc Savage classic Fortress of Solitude), that nothing R. Paul and Iason could create could knock me for a total loop.
So much for that vanity.
I have never seen a book that even vaguely resembles Montage. I’m not sure how to even begin to describe it. A prose-poem? A collection of eclectic screenplay fragments? A meditation on the power of both pulp-mythology and a century of film? It is, literally, dizzying…in form, a “double book”, with half of the story on one side, and the other half to be reached by physically flipping the book over and starting at the other side. One side focuses primarily on the character of James Talos Sr., in 1932…the other side being an elegant mirror-tale featuring his son, James Talos Jr., in 1964. It doesn’t really matter which side you start on…I predict it won’t take long, whichever side you choose, for you to begin flipping the book over and over to bounce between the two.
I struggle for cultural touchstones to compare it to. Icons of creativity I might invoke that have brought me similar levels of transport might include T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, or Alan Moore’s Watchmen…heady company indeed. And to be using those as experiential reference points while reviewing a pulp pastiche is quite a statement all its own. A quality of each is a relentless faith in the intelligence and perception of their audience…in each (as with Montage) I fully admit to not understanding everything that is going on in their narratives, but what I do perceive is that important, powerful insights are being presented.
That statement is made right on the cover of Montage. Or covers…like the story within, it’s both singular and dual. The cover painting (reproduced above…of course it doesn’t really move like the .gif image that represents it…that would really have freaked me out) is not of either Talos Sr. or Jr., it is a portrait of Damaris Emem — or in the framework of the Gnostic Archon organization that she is a dominant force within, Ruha. The positive/negative effects within the dual portrait actually feel more than a little hypnotic, and Iason has used a whirlpool of paint splatter effects to draw the eye toward the center (a theme which will repeat)…directly into her challenging gaze. Inside the book, a full page nude of this pose appears…this time with a black bar over her eyes (the way they used to show both criminals and victims in the old “true detective” magazines). More positive/negative character imagery appears on both sides of the book, and more black bars come and go over eyes…the inescapable harbingers of both perception and blindness among these characters.
Damaris is the prime mover of everything in this book, and if it is the story of a troubled father/son relationship, it is even more her story: a masterfully complex autobiography translated into the language of film. For those not yet well versed in Talos lore, Damaris/Ruha is a pastiche very loosely based on the character Anana from Philip José Farmer’s A Feast Unknown. Beyond that origin, Damaris bears almost no resemblance to Anana, the latter being an intriguing, if fairly straightforward (and incredibly ancient) villainess, whereas Damaris is more complex than an Escher painting fused with a Picasso Cubist fever dream.
The story revolves around thirty years of film (from the Thirties to the Sixties, a parallel to the ’32/’64 time scheme of the story), in which Damaris manipulates everyone from titanic figures in movie (and real) history, to obscure unknowns…in order to offer a parable of understanding to both Talos Sr. (her husband), and Talos Jr. (unbeknownst to him, her son). At the climax of the Senior side of the book, she will murder him — I don’t consider this a spoiler, as it is a re-creation of a famous never-before-seen part of Doc Savage history, in which Doc’s father is killed by Mayans using the poison called the Red Death — and in the Junior side of the book, she is apparently trying to redeem that act.
The means for that redemption is film. And this is where film itself becomes the engine powering the story. At one point in the narrative, Damaris tells James, “Film is quite capable of capturing the soul of the world”…and it’s clear she means it.
Woven into this are four movies…two real, two that never happened. The real ones, bracketing the ’32/’64 window of history, are Victor Halperin’s White Zombie, and Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace.
Amazingly, the medium for messages of deep psychological understanding between father and son are a Bela Lugosi horror film, and a stylish giallo. Or perhaps not so amazing…doesn’t it mirror what Sardanas and Bellerophon are doing with the Talos stories in their entirety? Taking genres that are considered “disposable fiction”, and infusing them with remarkable weight and power.
Within the archetypes of the two films are echoes of James Senior’s history as Jack the Ripper, along with subliminal messages about the reprehensibility of disempowering women…the addictive and dangerous nature of power dynamics of control within relationships…and much more.
And then there are the “fake films”. One, a horrifying plunge into what might have happened behind the scenes of Orson Welles’ never-filmed pre-Citizen Kane movie: a film adaptation of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Welles himself is behind the camera in this segment — it stars Damaris — and it is a terrifying descent into nightmare.
The other false film is a subversive Biblical epic called The Wife of Christ, also starring Damaris, alongside a guy who bears a distinct resemblance to Doc Talos co-creator Iason Ragnar Bellerophon. This segment is richly intellectual and in contrast to the Heart of Darkness piece, surprisingly gentle and tender.
Layered into this is a scene that takes place in 1945 in war-torn Berlin, where Damaris actually puts the film she made with Welles in Africa to use. The film itself is actually a lethal weapon — anyone who watches it dies (and after seeing the details of its creation, that is quite believable). In a reboot of history, it’s implied that Damaris uses the film to slaughter the Nazi high command in their Berlin bunker. Holy shit. Her goal? To rescue children from that hellhole of an ending place for that equally hellish war.
All the stories weave together in the end (or two ends). James Senior dies…James Junior lives, to continue with a career that in many ways embodies hope. The rest, as Damaris says at the conclusion of the Junior side, “is all in the movies”.
As if all this was not enough, there are more unique qualities to the book. At its physical center are two full-bleed flip sections of Bellerophon’s paintings, which have taken the photo-still/transformed-to-art visuals of the two stories to another level. After your mind has been blown by the stories, this section reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s “ultimate trip”. You’re swept into the whirlpool of images teased by the book cover…what Sardanas describes in one of his Forewords (yes, there are two) as “a place of nonlinear perceptions”.
As if all THIS was not enough, there are two Introductions to the book(s)…one by Atom Mudman Bezecny, the other by André Vathier. Both are quite brilliant younger authors, and each has written Doc Talos stories of their own, which appear in other books. Bezecny, a very erudite film scholar, discusses the unique qualities within the three-decade period between White Zombie and Blood and Black Lace. Vathier, on the other side, talks about qualities that can make storytelling powerfully iconic (the primary quality he cites being audacity). I found the presence of these two writers framing a book like this to be very inspiring. They are the generation of authors that will drive the future of not only pulp storytelling, but I suspect storytelling in a vastly broader sense as well.
I would not recommend this book as a starting point for experiencing the Talos universe. It does no pandering through exposition of what has come before in the Doc Talos canon (and a LOT has come before). Start with what Sardanas and Bellerophon call the “core” six novels of the saga. But when you’ve been through those and arrive at Montage, you’ll find yourself at a zenith of sorts. This book may ultimately be perceived as the crown jewel of the series, and a truly remarkable statement about what innovative storytelling can become.
MONTAGE, by R. Paul Sardanas and Iason Ragnar Bellerophon, 222 pages (a precisely crafted 111 on each side), 6 x 9 paperback, full color. Inquiries about the book can be sent to Gromagon Press at firstname.lastname@example.org
Grace Ximenez hosted a noir/story/roleplay/film site for almost a decade, and headlined three pulp-peril short-story collections called The Grace X Anthologies. She is the author of the Doc Talos stories Esperanza and Into the Deepest Gold, and was the primary inspiration for the character “Grace X” in The Talos Chronicle.
Part 9 of this long revisit to the Doc Savage black and white magazine of the 1970’s finished up the tale from Issue #2, “Hell-Reapers at the Heart of Paradise”. Almost exactly two years ago, in May 2021, I took a special look at Issue #3, “The Inferno Scheme”…so we’ll pick up now with Issue #4, “Ghost Pirates from the Beyond”.
The cover was by Ken Barr, and very much in the Bama/Bantam tradition, with bold figures and intense colors. The “Doc Savage” belt buckle was the only thing I found questionable about the cover design…did we really need that to know which of the figures is actually Doc? Oh well, no big deal. A teenager when these magazines first appeared, I was incredibly excited for each new issue, which, in that era, I always found at a drug store magazine rack. This one practically leaped off that rack to grab my eye.
By the time of this issue, the 1975 Doc Savage movie had tanked spectacularly, ending hope for an ongoing film series. But the magazine, which had been birthed in the craze preceding the movie, continued on.
As with each issue of the magazine, the author was Doug Moench. John Buscema, who had done issues #1 and #3, was now gone, with the pencils now being done by Marie Severin. I was a little dubious about this…Marie was noted for a degree of wild, kinetic excess in her penciling, and while those were qualities not wholly unsuited for Doc Savage, her work for Marvel during the Sixties (on series like Dr. Strange, The Hulk, and Sub-Mariner), had been more on the cartoony side. Nevertheless, in the same time period as the Doc Savage magazine, she was doing remarkable work in conjunction with her brother John on the full color King Kull comic for Marvel. In addition, inking was provided by Tony DeZuniga, who had penciled Issue #2, and provided visual continuity for almost the entirety of the Doc Savage Magazine’s run…so to my mind, I was ready to dive into the adventure without reservation. And as it turned out, Severin was to pencil only the first eight pages.
One thing about the magazine that remains a little annoying is its recurring problem with typos (note the misspelling in the contents of Morocco)…since the magazine was quarterly, leaving plenty of time for production, this was perplexing, but many of the issues were let fly with simple and obvious errors overlooked. In retrospect, this might have been an indicator of lukewarm commitment to the book by Marvel after the failure of the movie and short-lived nature of Marvel’s full color Doc comic some years earlier. It was not a problem that plagued other more high-profile Marvel magazines of the time, likes its Conan and monster-themed books.
Still, there was great stuff within, like this dynamic splash page introducing the story to come.
The story itself gets underway from an oblique angle…a prelude with none of the regular cast appearing. This was not unheard-of even in the original pulps, where opening chapters (usually written by Lester Dent) frequently focused on setting the story groundwork by presenting the tale’s theme amid bursts of outlandish or violent action.
“Ghost Pirates from the Beyond” opens in Casablanca, where forces of law and order (none too affectionately presented as pretty narrow minded and dumb) are quickly dispatched by assassins, who come off as far more dedicated and competent (if quite ruthless).
So the stage is set, and the scene shifts to the familiar environs of New York…specifically the Empire State Building, where Doc’s aides are gathered there at his office.
Another odd little glitch…take a look at where the dartboard is placed on the wall. Hm…just where does Renny plan to throw that dart? In any case, it moves to another wall on the next page.
I thought Moench had a nice touch with the aides (despite succumbing to inevitable horseplay between Monk and Ham, that was offset by Johnny’s wry, smart assessment of such antics two pages down). “Consummately puerile altercations”…quite so, Professor Littlejohn.
The dart/knife panel layering is what’s known in the movies as a “shock-cut”…and it was well done here, shifting the tone of the tale adeptly into darker and more deadly territory.
We then get an eerie view of the ghost-pirate…and the adventure is well and truly off and running.
Upcoming in June of 2023 is the Doc Talos book “Annihilation”, which on the surface is a re-imagining of the classic Doc Savage pulp novel “The Annihilist”…but in actuality takes the basic premise of the original into a far more challenging cultural landscape. Set not in the 1930’s but in the period from 1968-1972, it dives deep into the cultural zeitgeist of that time, using the focal point of the Doc Savage “crime college” to explore the nature of criminal insanity (both of individuals and of society as a whole).
Below is the Foreword from the book, which looks at some of the building blocks of history and philosophy — pop culture in the form of comics and music quite prominent among them — that went into the crafting of this tale.
Following last year’s special collection of tales featuring Rickie Talos (avatar of Pat Savage) comes the second in the series of Doc Talos Files anthologies, each featuring a single character from the Talos Chronicle. Mona spotlights the series pastiche of the classic Doc Savage character Princess Monja.
Perhaps one of the oddest not-quite-love-stories of the pulp era, the relationship of Doc and Monja, in its original form, spanned three pulp tales a decade apart, and never came to fruition. Despite that, generations of readers have envisioned Clark and Monja as a perfect couple…a love story that never was, and should have been.
The Doc Talos stories take as their basis a much more realistic re-imagining of classic pulp characters, and Mona is true to that tradition. Instead of a lost-civilization Mayan princess, Mona herself is a Guatemalan woman of Mayan descent, daughter of a powerful 20th Century gold magnate. She and James Talos meet in the 1920’s, and though immediately attracted to one another, both are shy and reserved…and this begins a long, slow building of their bond across the years.
Through a series of short stories, vignettes and artwork, five authors at last fill out the tapestry of this amazing woman’s life. Perhaps the most introspective of all the works in the Talos canon (with only a little of the intense sexuality and explosive violence of other Talos tales)…it reflects the quiet dignity, warmth and grace of Mona herself.
Doc Talos co-creator R. Paul Sardanas captures scenes like that first meeting in Guatemala, as well as a sojourn at the 1939 World’s Fair, a glimpse of James and Mona’s separate lives across World War II…their devastating parting, and an emotionally complex re-uniting in spirit, remarkably, after Mona’s death. Author Atom Mudman Bezecny’s tale of a meeting between Mona and the Talos pastiche of Tarzan/Lord Grandrith — John Grersoun — is intense and visceral. Marissa Sarno contributes a charming moment during a Guatemalan festival when James proposes to his lady-love…Grace Ximenez provides a deeply touching look into Mona’s heart and soul on the last day of her life. And André Vathier leaps far into the future in the book’s final story, which questions and illuminates the qualities that comprise both memory, and life itself.
The book is illustrated with dozens of black and white line drawings crafted by R. Paul Sardanas to deepen the connection of reader to characters.
A beautiful, sometimes heartbreaking, ultimately uplifting book, Mona is a 6×9 paperback, 153 pages. It will ultimately retail for $19 plus shipping, but is available as a pre-order for $12 plus shipping until May 21st, 2023.
In addition, for those who might have missed the first Doc Talos Files book, Rickie, a special package deal is also available until May 21st of both books — a $40 value, for only $25 plus shipping when purchased together in the Mona pre-order period.
To order either or both books, or if you would like to inquire about any publication in the Doc Talos universe of tales, please send an email to email@example.com
All Doc Talos books have mature content, and are for adults only. Review samples are also available by inquiring at the same email address.
Enjoy this unforgettable look at the life of Doc Talos’ great love…the brilliant and passionate Madonna named Mona.
A persistent dream of most Doc Savage fans, I believe, would be to see stories that continued the iconic character’s saga beyond the 1949 end of the pulp magazine. The second half of the 20th century was virgin territory, as the copyright holders, Conde Nast, seemed to have no interest in telling the rest of the story of the bronze man’s life. They reprinted the whole pulp run in paperback, and toward the end of that second run through the canon, Will Murray also began writing “new” Doc Savage tales, and Philip José Farmer turned the clock back to the WWI era for a single novel…but again, the boundary never crossed was the year 1949. Murray’s work was in large part mined from unpublished Lester Dent story ideas, and Farmer’s was an extrapolation from his theories about Doc’s early experiences.
Comic books tried various updatings, but they were so inconsistent and contradictory it was hard to consider any of them “the real story”. What happened to Doc between ’49 and the end of the century? What was he like as an older man?
Enter Doc Brazen.
With the original character under firm copyright, author Jeff Deischer created a pastiche of Clark Savage, Jr. named Ulysses Brazen, Jr.
Brazen was indeed an embodiment of the classic Doc, but brought forward, plausibly aged, to the end of the century.
Two years ago Jeff talked about his creation, in a Forbidden Pulp post that can be read HERE. At that time, the series was just beginning…and I was entranced. All the names had been changed of course, but in every aspect that mattered, the first book of the series, Millennium Bug, was remarkably true to the history, style, characterization, and excitement of the original Doc Savage pulps. New, engaging characters had been brought on stage, but the old ones were remembered with the type of affection one gives to family. And Ulysses Brazen himself was a tonally perfect evocation of Doc as an older man.
I loved the book, loved that it was projected as a series…and was very afraid that it would be a one-shot wonder.
I needn’t have worried.
Much in the pulp scene has evolved over the past two years. Most notably, Doc Savage copyright holder Conde Nast has launched its own updating of the series at long last…and it was to my mind a resounding failure. The new series was a continuation in name only, with the spirit and vitality of the beloved pulp creation jettisoned in an effort to churn out a generic 21st century thriller. To me, that avenue for revisiting the joy of pulp-Doc took a bullet right to the heart. And Doc Brazen, now even more the “true Doc”, became more precious than ever.
There is not just one, two, or even just a few Brazen novels out in the world now…there are seven, with many more to come. And they have faithfully continued the promise of the first, offering strong, well-plotted and exciting pulp adventure…best of all, continuing to honor the legacy and spirit of what came before. Once again I have the joy of anticipating each new book in the “Doc” series, and when it arrives, revisiting the thrill I felt reading the original pulps.
That is something to be savored. As long as Jeff Deischer continues to write Doc Brazen tales, I’ll be adding them to my bookshelf, right at the end of the pulp run. 1949 isn’t a barrier that ends a dream anymore.
And here is a preview of what you can look forward to.
The world’s most famous crimefighter, scientist, and adventurer from the Thirties and Forties comes out of retirement after fifty years. Aided by a new group of aides, Oz and Noble, two young Aztec men; Robert Lafitte, a semi-reformed cat burglar; Thunderbird Crale, a female stunt pilot; and Henry Prevost, a computer scientist, Ulysses Brazen, Jr. returns to his career of righting wrongs and punishing evildoers.
Ulysses Brazen, Jr. finds a genius equal to his own at work with a plan to take control of the world without firing a shot.
The dead return to life to assassinate those who would disturb their peace and contentment. Who is behind this plot — and why?
When Oz and Noble come across the corpse of a young starlet in unusual circumstances, they feel compelled to investigate the murder. Who killed her and more importantly, why? What secrets do the Eleusinian Ministries hide, and what does the internet guru Jazz Phoenix have to do with EM’s Los Angeles Parthenon?
When Brazen’s Institute for the reformation of criminals is attacked, the question is not only who — but why? The trail leads to a ruthless mastermind who wants the Golden Man’s most private secrets!
When a tabloid reporter discovers Hell, no one believes him. Until a devil appears in New York City. Then Doc Brazen believes him, propelling him to solve a fifty year-old mystery.
A plea from a missionary whose brother disappeared in the Andes searching for lost Incan gold sends Doc Brazen and his aides to South America, where a mysterious man known as the White Jaguar haunts the jungle.
When one of Doc Brazen’s aides disappears during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, he races to the Crescent City to investigate! He finds that the Cat was kidnapped by zombies! And the wealthy elite of NOLA have fallen prey to the Deathmaster!
And coming later this month!
Doc Brazen and his aides are drawn into a mysterious web that leads to an uncharted island that gives power over the Atlantic Ocean to whoever controls it.
“An amazing weaving of diverse cinematic texts, which creates a web of living, breathing, heartfelt fiction.” – Atom Mudman Bezecny
“Audacity always audacity…” – André Vathier
The newest Doc Talos book is now available for pre-order!
Montage is the first Doc Talos Double — a sophisticated take on the classic “Ace Double” format, where you flip the book over to read a second story.
Epic in scope, Montage tells the story of the night James Talos Sr. died — poisoned by the Red Death — atop the Empire State Building in 1932. On the flip side, his son, James Talos Jr. (Doc) has a fateful meeting with his father’s murderer thirty-two years later, in 1964 (not so coincidentally the year that Bantam began reprinting the canon of Doc Savage pulps). All of this is set against a backdrop of three decades of subversive, life-changing film…including the secret behind “the greatest film that never was”, Orson Welles’ Heart of Darkness…a trip deep inside the underworld of film in war-torn 1945 Berlin…a controversial Biblical epic…and two horror films, obliquely exposing the man who was once Jack the Ripper.
Special features include two Introductions (one on each side). Atom Mudman Bezecny explores the connections to a remarkable period of transition in 20th Century filmmaking…and André Vathier looks at qualities that can make pulp literature and art uniquely memorable.
Author R. Paul Sardanas also provides two Forewords, exploring the background, history and emotional impact within the montage of story elements.
Montage will release on April 21, and after that will retail for $30 plus shipping. If you pre-order before release day, your cost will only be $20 plus $5 US shipping (international shipping will be calculated for you if you reside outside of the United States). You can make inquiries or place your order by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
A PDF download of the book will also be available for $10.
Montage, presented by Gromagon Press in partnership with Tetragrammatron Press, is a 6 x 9 deluxe paperback, 222 pages, by R. Paul Sardanas, with 60 stunning full color painted illustrations by Iason Ragnar Bellerophon, as well as over 100 in-narrative artistically-enhanced color images from film sources. The book has mature content, and is for adults only.
Last weekend author/critic Dr. Arthur Sippo interviewed me for his podcast ArtsReviews, and we had a great, far-ranging talk about pulp writing, the creation and evolution of the Doc Talos series, some of my own personal history from the 1960’s to the present, and more. A link to the interview is below…and here are some highlights with photo accompaniment.
We chatted about my adventures as a teenage writer in the 1970’s, including my happy addiction to the Doc Savage novels and the pulp creations of Phil Farmer…which led me to attempt a Doc pastiche called “Doctor Fenris” at age fifteen.
In my personal life, we explored some of my strange upbringing, including nine years beginning in my teens basically on the run from the law (my father was a somewhat notorious character…a uniquely brilliant but troubled con man, who pretended to be both a doctor and a scientist — he was neither — and secured university and medical clinic positions until he was found out, and he went off the grid to escape prosecution, dragging his wife and children into the wilds).
Despite the privations of those years, they were also the beginnings of my authorial life…submitting (and being rejected by) a number of legendary SF magazines of the day.
We chatted about my attempt to interest Conde Nast in an updating (yes, I was pretty cocky in those days) to the then-present 1980’s of the Doc Savage series (a concept which — of course — they rejected outright…)
My writing career then took a turn in new directions, with classical, poetic, historical and philanthropic works, and a long stint as a very active member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association.
Ultimately we discussed my joining forces creatively with artist/creator Iason Ragnar Bellerophon, and the wildly audacious project we have undertaken for the past eight years…to craft a massive pastiche universe based on the Doc Savage canon and in the adult style of Farmer’s powerful A Feast Unknown.
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.
R. Paul Sardanas and Iason Ragnar Bellerophon are putting the finishing touches on a special short story/mini graphic novel featuring the incomparable Rickie Talos (pastiche of Pat Savage). It’s a wild tale of 90-year old pulp colliding with modern virtual reality, for an intense story-and-art experience. Here’s the Foreword for the upcoming special book release of “The Hills of the Unconsoled Dead”.
Rickie Talos and Pat Savage share the same birthday, naturally enough: August 13, 1915. When thinking about her teenage years for the anthology book Rickie, I wondered what might have been her preferred reading material…her favorite authors? Given her wayward and headstrong nature and her intense love of adventure, the answer about her absolute favorite author seemed obvious: Robert E. Howard. So for the opening story of the anthology, set in 1930 when she was fifteen, I had her reading (and fantasizing fiercely about) a Howard tale of Solomon Kane, The Moon of Skulls.
A year later, Doc Talos co-creator and illustrator Iason Ragnar Bellerophon and I were having one of our always-wild brainstorming sessions about all things Talos, and he came up with the idea of resurrecting a character from our novel Savages – Miles Harmon. Miles was a pastiche of Philip José Farmer’s Tchaka Wilfred, described thus in Chapter 14 of A Feast Unknown:
Tchaka Wilfred was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He had been a professional football player until he had been caught after holding up a bank to finance a militant black organization. He escaped from prison and joined another organization in Harlem. There he had run afoul of Doctor Caliban, who had taken Wilfred prisoner but had not turned him over to the police. Instead he had sent Wilfred to the private sanitorium, where Caliban rehabilitated his criminals. By surgery.
Wilfred has a relatively small but memorable part…his personal history, behavior and speech pattern were a bit stereotyped in the mold of late Sixties “blaxploitation” books and films, but that was a quantum leap from the blatantly racist stereotypes of the 1930’s pulps. Wilfred dies fairly early in Feast, and that is mirrored by Harmon in Savages. So he was certainly a character left largely undeveloped.
The idea at first was to have Doc Talos use a serum similar to that which Doc Savage developed in the pulp story Resurrection Day to bring Harmon back, so he could have an African adventure alongside Rickie. Incredibly tantalizing notion…but as I tried to work it out plot-wise, I kept running into continuity issues with the timing and methods used by Talos in the later novel Madonnas, which also carries a resurrection theme.
But the answer was straightforward. Rickie has been shown in many later Talos tales to be enthralled by Virtual Reality tech – and given her literary love of Robert E. Howard, it would be perfectly natural for one of her earliest forays into VR play to have a Howardian theme. She would be a little embarrassed at playing out her pulp-style fantasies with Doc (who, throughout the Talos saga, has often expressed exasperation with the pulp stories of his literary doppelganger, Doc Savage). She had liked Miles – a rough-edged, tough-talking individual not unlike herself – so why not choose to include him in her VR fantasy?
Iason, with a burst of his characteristic artistry, had created a number of AI images of pulp-feverish scenes featuring Rickie and Miles, which were both thrilling and inspiring. In some of them, menacing figures with an undead-like aspect could be seen lurking in the background. Lights of course, went off in my head at the sight of these, when considering the Rickie/Robert E. Howard connection. Another Solomon Kane story, 1930’s The Hills of the Dead, would certainly also have been devoured in that year by pulp adventure enthusiast Rickie.
Young Rickie, I imagine, would have happily cast herself in the role of Kane (as I did myself when first reading the story in the 1968 Donald Grant hardcover collection Red Shadows – cover art by Jeffrey Catherine Jones; and a little later in a splendid Marvel Comics adaptation by Roy Thomas and Neal Adams). So the pieces were suddenly in place for a rousing tale of violence and passion. Just the way Rickie likes it.
But as is often the case with Talos tales, a layer of very sophisticated 20th Century literature has worked its way into the narrative…in the form of Kazuo Ishiguro’s deeply bemusing, strangely moving book The Unconsoled. I consider it one of the most difficult books to follow that I’ve ever encountered (almost on a par with Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake), as it takes the form of scenes that change and shift with a sense of being unmoored from reality, while simultaneously being deeply immersed in it. At times you have to look very hard…to focus, in order to not become cut adrift. At other times, if you let yourself go, anything feels possible.
Pulp fiction can feel that way too, taking us to places where the dead can walk side by side with the living, where bodies can be interchanged…where souls are lost but can, almost beyond hope, be regained.