HE COULD STOP THE WORLD was either the first or second Doc Savage novel I ever read. It was Laurence Donovan’s final work on the series, and he pulls out all the stops … unfortunately he didn’t remove all the flaws (cover by James Bama, all rights with current holder)
No questions, it’s pretty epic. It opens in the “one of Doc’s men gets in trouble” vein as Johnny, taking a high-altitude research flight in an experimental ship, discovers the guy in charge has a sinister agenda. Which, of course, Johnny doesn’t get to do anything about.
The whole world soon learns what’s going on, though. The villain can shut off all radio transmissions (a very big deal in the 1930s) and also broadcast his agenda (benevolent dictatorship for the good of the human race) on all channels, a trick countless comic-book villains would pull in later years. He can control minds and apparently disintegrate his enemies anywhere. When the good guys reach his base on Mt. Shasta, the mad scientist has created giant warriors, the mountain’s snowy peak is bright red and hot … and Donovan even works in an elephant stampede (it makes sense, trust me).
Unfortunately reading this in sequence I can’t avoid noticing that it’s largely a remake of Donovan’s Haunted Ocean, in which the villain can shut down all electrical power and again plans a benevolent world takeover. Plus elements from multiple other books, most notably the mind control of Donovan’s Men Who Smiled No More.
On top of that, there are the errors. Pat Savage is now golden-haired. Johnny, an archeologist/geologist has no particular reason to go on a high-altitude research trip. And the mountain folk living around Mt. Shasta seem more like Appalachian hillbillies, right down to the accents.
A final flaw: There are so few suspects for the real villain behind it all, it’s easy to identify him.
Lester Dent wrote the next book, Ost, published as THE MAGIC ISLAND, which Doc-expert Robert Cotter says was to avoid sounding like “Oz” (I don’t know the cover artist; all rights to current holder) The opening is one Dent used several times, devoting several paragraphs to describing a character whose actions kick off the story. In this case, sailor Ben Brasken: “He was meek, absurd and did not have many manly qualities of the hairy-chested kind. He was short. He was thin. He had never won a fight, although he had had several. He was as poor as a church mouse and somewhat resembled one … Ben Brasken had one quality. It was this one thing that got him into all his trouble. And got some other people into theirs. Which also caused a few heads to turn grey and a few people to die.”
Technically this is Telling Not Showing, but I find it works.
The ship Brasken is working on has already seen what the crew assume is a mirage, the floating city of Ost above the ocean. One day, Brasken jumps into the ocean and swims to Ost, then swims back carrying two heavy pieces of iron, the Keys to Ost. Doc’s aides catch a mention of this in the papers and highlight it as possibly something to look into. The gangster Lupp and wealthy thrill-seeker Kit Merrimore also take an interest in finding the mystery city of Ost and its rumored treasure. Merrimore, like Velma Crale in The South Pole Terror, is presented as a spoiled brat (Doc declares she needs a good spanking) rather than a competent adventurer like Midnat in Mystery on the Snow or Retta Kenn in The Roar Devil.
Needless to say, both the good guys and the bad guys eventually find the lost city of Ost in New Guinea. It’s distinctive features are that it’s built out of lodestone so buildings can cling to the iron cliffs above it, and that some of the strange inhabitants have psionic ability. They don’t like outsiders much, either, so Doc has to deal with them as well as the bad guys.
Overall, it’s a fun read, one of those where Doc and the crew come across much more like ordinary pulp adventurers than super-heroes. But that’s not a bad thing.