Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pulp of the Week - Doc Savage #33

Warning - unlike my usual reviews, this one is spoilerific!



Murder Melody is another great science-fiction Doc Savage super-saga, and another hidden civilization story. We first find Doc and his men confounded by earthquakes where there shouldn't be any, and then by men with technology that doesn't yet exist. This is my kind of stuff. This novel is the first in the series to be written by Lawrence Donovan, Donovan also penned stories about the Skipper and the Whisperer.

The tale opens with a series of strange earthquakes. One in Provincetown, Massachusetts and one in Vancouver, British Columbia. Strange men with flying tube-like ships that float in the air seem to be behind them. These men have a kind of power over gravity.

Doc gets involved and the fabulous five are along for the tale; no pets, hazah. During a fight, Monk exhibits a rare bit of racism from our heroes. It is explained that the labor force in Vancouver (still a part of the British Empire) is formed of many people from India. Monk calls one a "greasy Indian." The bulk of the text calls them Indian or Hindu.

This tale, from 1935, is also the oldest story that I have read that uses the term, "smog," for that lovely combination of smoke and fog popularized by the air of many cities in the 1970s. There is a whale rendering plant in Gray's Harbor, Washington as well. That is certainly not there any longer. We also get the first (I think) use of "Mercy Pistol" for Doc's super-firer pistols loaded with anesthetic rounds. This is a far cry from the savage Doc of The Man of Bronze.

Also of note are Monk's ear that we are reminded (several times) has a finger sized bullet hole through the lobe and Ham has a signet ring with a hidden blade in it. 

Doc is a bit more more super in this story.  Twice he climbs with virtually no hand holds. First, he climbs up the inside of a ship using only the steel rivets holding it together, and later he climbs a tower in the underworld. As the book said, "The human eye showed the tower of gold and mica to be as evenly surfaced as tranquil water. Vision indicated no hold whatever. But the cabled wrists of the bronze man made steel-like claws of his fingers. The gold and mica sank under their pressure." Now that is strong.

Other items of techological wonders include powering ocean going ships to travel at thousands of miles an hour and devices with a "gravity button" that allows men and machines to float weightlessly. There are also ships that travel though the strata of the earth. This trip sends Johnny into heaven as the ship travels through the geological eras and then deep down through the earth to the hollow core where a great civilization, the Kingdom of Subterranae, flourishes. The Earth is not as Johnny has known it with a molten core. The Earth's crust is only 200 miles thick and is hollow (shades of Burroughs). The residents of the inner world have lived in harmony for eons - until now. One of their own, Zoro, has gone rogue and escaped banishment to the Land of Beyond. He stole some of Subterranae's ships and has come to the surface to get what he needs to destroy his enemies. Doc isn't going to let that happen.

Then there is Princess Lanta, who has taken a shine to Monk which of course makes Ham crazy. In the end, the hidden civilization remains just that, and so it stays unti this day.

The pulp cover is by Walter Baumhofer and the Bantam paperback is by James Bama. I read my bantam paperback for this review and I'll give Murder Melody an 8.5 out of 10. The middle is a bit slow, but once we get headed to the inner world the story freight trains along.



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