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Tag: public domain

New to Me in 2018: The Beetle

Hey kids, what was the top-selling horror novel of 1897?

No, not that one…the other one: Richard Marsh’s masterpiece, The Beetle

Like this but bigger, is occasionally trying to kill you and is often a person

What? Never heard of it? Don’t worry, outside the UK, which occasionally reinterprets it as a radio play, it really hasn’t lingered in the popular culture.

The Beetle is a complex telling of a simple revenge tale with a whole lot of themes of sex and gender identity running throughout. It will remind you of Dracula, but I think it is a tad easier for modern readers to grasp. Instead of ancient vampires you get an ancient Egyptian pagan cult prone to orgies, human sacrifices, and werebeetlery.  It begins with mind control, nerve gas and a comedy of errors, and ends with a chase that must have made British trainspotters squeal with glee. I enjoyed it, and I suspect you might as well, if you are into this sort of thing.

Structurally, it is told as four entangled tales told in the first person. Marsh does a good job of developing unique voices for each of the characters, although the story threads are interwoven functionally but not necessarily smoothly.  In fact, each narrator is a fun little archetype: the doomed, noble bum; the mad inventor; the rebellious young woman trying to find love, identity and purpose in an honor-driven patriarchy; and a hard-boiled detective. Good stuff, generally well told.

You can find it in a variety of formats on   Project Gutenberg and listen to it on LibriVox. I have a fondness for public domain fiction, particularly that of the horror, scifi and weird variety, so this ranks right up there. One of my goals of 2019 is to start up a podcast on the topic. Of course, that was also a goal of 2018.

 

Pitch: Doc Savage and the Land of Terror

I’m a fan of public domain pulp weird, horror and adventure fiction.  My Kindle can hold a vast reservoir of books and I’m exceedingly cheap, so the public domain is a great source of good stuff.  Last night, I just finished reading my son the first two Doc Savage novels, which were published in these monster 100-page magazines for 10 cents a pop in the early 1930s.
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I admit, I tend to do a little editing as we read along, as these books are a product of the time. I know we look for racism in every corner nowadays, and the first novel, at least, would generally be considered racist by today’s standards–Doc Savage and his team find a lost kingdom of Mayans. After killing some bad guys that were trying to exploit the tribe for their own end, Doc is named a member of the tribe and promised a never-ending supply of gold to right the wrongs of the world with his team of adventurers.  I see it more along the lines of Western imperialism, which was more of a cultural default position back then, but there you go.

What is perhaps more striking is all the inadvertent homo-eroticism. To put it in context, Doc is the first superhero–essentially Superman without much of the Christ allegory (although, some!). He had a Fortress of Solitude in Arctic, where he would go to devise new inventions or create new medical cures.  He, like Buckaroo Banzai 50 years later, had a super-mind. He was a surgeon-scientist-engineering-legal mastermind wrapped in bodily perfection. It is the bodily perfection part that gets a lot of play in these first two novels. “Kenneth Robeson” (Lester Dent) never misses an opportunity to point how physically perfect Doc is.  Superheros are new, I get it, but it gets a little weird. Doc is, in reality, quite asexual, although I’m sure, if the character were more popular, it could fill entire queer studies lectures.

OK,  so here’s the pitch, based off of the second Savage book, The Land of Terror, which is essentially a criminal mastermind-meets-Lost World novel. Here you go Hollywood, a ready made Avengers meets Jurassic Park/Kong script:

Summary: Adventurer Doc Savage and his band of adventurers chase a criminal mastermind Kar and his army of disposable goons across 1930s New York and to Thunder Island, home to dinosaurs, prehistoric animals and the secret of the Smoke of Eternity, Kar’s mysterious murder juice.

Think Dieselpunk: Doc’s world is full of incredible post-WWI gadgets and gizmos. This will be a New York in the Art Deco sci-fi mold of Metropolis or the Shape of things to Come. Let’s replace Doc’s conventional tri-motor plane with a full-on amphibious flying fortress.  Doc and his team carry his machine pistols, which will look like 45’s with little curved magazines attached. They’ll each hold 100s of tiny yet high-impact rounds.

Characters:

Doc Savage, Man of Bronze. Full on earnest boy scout of a character driven to the point of being a little dark. Frankly, the Rock was a great choice, but he needs to be leaner in muscle tone, like his muscles are of metal themselves. And yes, it needs to be played by an actual bronze-skinned person.

Doc’s Team: Monk, Renny, Ham, Long Tom and Johnny. I want to see a multi-ethnic cast. Whereas each of them are experts in their respective fields, they posses the foibles Doc doesn’t: womanizing, drinking, etc.  Renny usually carries a sword cane. Give each their own distinctive weapons and talents.

Monk, chemist. Ape of man, he doesn’t need a weapon to fight

Renny, engineer. He’s huge. Give him a big machine gun, like a Lewis gun to lug around

Ham, lawyer. He’s average height and slim built. Vaguely aristocratic he carries around a sword cane. Ham and Monk have dueling personalities

Long Tom, geologist. Electrical engineer. Give him a goddamn ray gun.

Johnny, anthropologist/archaeologist. He’s nerdy with glasses (one lens is a magnifying lens). He’ll carry a machine pistol but make him a martial arts master.

Kar: the main villain. The twist in the story is that Kar turns out to be the man the team has been protecting all along. The script would need to build clues up Shyamalan-style, but not has hamfisted as in the book (Ben picked up right away that Bittman was Kar all along).

 

 

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