Murder Melody of the Fantastic Island: Doc Savage again (#SFWApro)

4917487 Have I mentioned how awesome Doc Savage cover artist James Bama was? I’m not surprised that he later went on to become a successful Western artist because I think he’s great. This month, for example, he’s just as adept at showing Doc facing flying men with killer flutes as showing Doc fighting … iguanas. Which is not his fault, that’s what’s in the book.
MURDER MELODY by guest-writer Laurence Donovan opens with Doc and the gang investigating a series of mysterious earthquakes in Canada, in places where the geology doesn’t allow quakes (the book references Man Who Shook the Earth for comparison). We readers get to see a man killed by some kind of sonic weapon shortly before Doc and his aides get to hear it for themselves. The mystery killers can also defy gravity and they have super-magnetic tech than can yank a gun from your hand or pull a boat off course. They also have a weird silver skin.
After several fights against an enemy whose tech outclasses him, Doc and the others wind up taking a mechanical mole ride into the center of the Earth. Because that’s where the mysterious “Zoromen” come from, a secret, super-advanced subterranean civilization. Surprisingly the villains aren’t out to rule the surface, they just want to steal explosives because their realm doesn’t have the technology. Using a few bombs, they figure to take over.
While SF has been a staple of the series (as in these two) this is way more than the usual madman with a super-weapon, or even a lost civilization like the Land of Always Night. There are no human criminals other than a couple of henchmen. And the SF level of the subterranean world is way advanced—like I said, they have antigravity, super-magnetism and sonic attacks (which are puzzlingly called chemical attacks as well).
For some fans, according to Robert Cotter’s book, it was too SF to work. For me the issue’s more that it’s very talky SF, with lots of gasping at the mysterious tech and the amazing civilization living under the Earth. There’s a reason SF tries to avoid that these days.
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THE FANTASTIC ISLAND, written by Ryerson Johnson, looks like it owes a great deal to the classic short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” in which the mad Russian General Zaroff lures men to his isolated island to hunt (as the only challenge worthy of a great hunter). We open in the Galapagos, where Johnny has disappeared and Monk, Ham and Pat are sailing to find him. As in the short story, fake navigation lights (plus a trick radio beacon) lure them into a channel where the yacht gets trapped, leaving them prey for Count Ramadanoff. A massive brute of a man, he enslaves shipwreck survivors, forcing them to dig for a treasure called “the Devil’s Honeycomb.” Those who resist have to face killer crabs, the count’s men, various booby-traps in Ramadanoff’s castle, the mysterious “thumb hole death” (a hole about the size of a thumb forms in your skull) and of course, the killer iguanas.
Which is, of course, a weakness in the book. Even given there are dozens of iguanas and they’re much more savage than the usual species, they’re … iguanas. Likewise, the thumb-hole death is a very unimpressive and unconvincing trick when explained.
Still, the overall mood of the book and the formidable cunning of the villain makes it on the whole a strong story than Murder Melody. And a good note to wrap up 1935, the third year of Doc’s adventures.
(Covers by James Bama, all rights with current holder).

2 Comments

Filed under Doc Savage, Reading

2 responses to “Murder Melody of the Fantastic Island: Doc Savage again (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: Enter John Sunlight: Doc Savage in Red Terrors and Fortress of Solitude (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Continuity and Doc Savage: The Boss of Terror, The Awful Egg (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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