Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

She was in my mind for years before I finally wrote her story

I must have been in the United States little over a year when I picked up my first Doc Savage novel, Devil On The Moon.

It may have been pure coincidence that I picked this out of the various action-adventure series on the paperback racks in 1970. Quite possibly it was that striking James Bama cover. Either way, I read the story and became a lifelong Doc Savage fan.

When the novel first appeared in 1938 in Doc Savage Magazine the series was five years old. Doc was an established pulp hero and Lester Dent (the primary writer behind the Kenneth Robeson pseudonym) was willing to play around with the formula. It’s one of several novels where Doc and his team stay off-stage for the first few chapters, which puts the focus on the bad guys. When we first see Doc’s crew, it’s from the POV of the crooks.

The crooks work for the so-called Man in the Moon, who runs an international “strong arm operation.” An unidentified foreign power hired them to distract an enemy nation by triggering a colonial uprising, but then made the mistake of not paying for services rendered. The Man in the Moon’s current scheme is all about making that foreign power very sorry.

It’s a fun yarn but loses much of its oomph at the end when Doc and his friends wind up at a supposed prison camp on the moon. By today’s standards, the fraud is completely unconvincing. On top of that, when the Man in the Moon is unmasked, he’s such a complete nonentity it’s unsatisfying. That didn’t stop me buying more and more of the Man of Bronze’s adventures. A few years back, I finally acquired the handful I didn’t own, part of my plan to reread them all.

It was in the 1980s, after I’d started writing fiction, that I began thinking about what Doc Savage’s daughter would be like. A girl, maybe 18 or so, with all the natural ability, skills and some of the training of her father. The same itch for adventure. A little overwhelmed at living up to her dad’s record of accomplishment; I doubt Doc would put that pressure on her but plenty of people might.

As for dating, I imagine her “uncles” Monk and Ham watching her like hawks. Like so many lechers turned parental figures, they’d be suspicious of any guy asking her out (“Doc’s got no idea what creeps most boys are at that age. She needs us!”) and very willing to intimidate them out of getting even a little bit fresh.

The end result: she hits the road seeking freedom, fun and maybe some adventures. But I was never able to figure out what sort of adventures, so I set the idea aside.

A little over a decade ago, it hit me. Team Diana Savage up with Artie West, direct descendant of James West (yes, the Wild, Wild West guy). Artie, like his creepy uncle Herbert, has magical aptitude, so the Secret Service uses him as an occult investigator. He’s on his latest case when he meets Diana and they wind up working together.

Somewhere on the way to the finished version that came out in 2017, Artie got sex-changed to Artemis West. Rather than being an occult investigator, her Secret Service role is dull as ditch water. All she does is touch up the magical wards Native American shamans used to bind various Lovecraftian horrors. It’s routine stuff, with zero chance anything will escape — except on this particular day in 1968, someone’s ripping the binding loose. This is very, very bad, especially as the sorcerer has henchmen and Artemis isn’t in her ancestor’s league as a fighter. Fortunately a bronze-skinned, golden-eyed teenage girl shows up to help … But will Artemis and Diana (yes, they do notice the name mirroring) be enough to stop a disgruntled British imperialist unleashing the apocalypse?

“The Savage Year” eventually sold to Lorelei Signal and now it’s out again at Metastellar, hence this post (note: it’s supposed to be out today but as of 8:40 EST it’s not up). Because it seems like the kind of thing that would appeal to some of us here besides me.

I’d originally thought of the Mayan princess Monja (from the novels Man of Bronze and The Golden Peril) as Diana’s mother: she’s clearly in love with Doc and her two appearances make her more prominent than any other woman in the series except Doc’s cousin Patricia. Doc, however, is clearly not into Monja. He does, however, show interest in some of the women he runs into during the 1940s, when he was pushing back against his childhood training and trying to be more human. The chance of him falling in love with someone, even if we didn’t meet them in a published story, is pretty good.

Diana has been well educated and well trained, but not to the level of her dad. He’d come to realize his training could easily have broken him or turned him into a monster (I forget which book he says this in) and that’s the last thing he’d want for his kid. Doc himself has largely retired from adventuring and gets his excitement from cutting-edge research — I wanted to include a reference to him “working on something called an ARPANET” or the like, but it didn’t quite fit.

Feel free to check out my story. But I promise not to hunt you down if you don’t.

#SFWApro. All cover images by James Bama.



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