By Mark Eidemiller (free download here)
This book was something of a bittersweet experience for me, on several levels. I must admit I went into this last published – so far – book in The Bronze Saga with a bit of a sense of foreboding. From 'way back when I first heard about The Bronze Saga through Eidemiller's guest appearance on The Book Cave podcast last year, I remember him telling hosts Ric Croxton and Art Sippo that this story leaves Doc Savage and his companions in a rather darker place than previous books. And it does. Not to spoil specifics, Doc himself is left severely injured by the end, while another member of his original band of brothers shuffles off this mortal coil. Moreover, the primary villain of the piece – who is indeed Doc's opponent in the last adventure published in the original pulp series – escapes and will doubtless return, almost certainly in the next volume which is rumored to be the last book that Eidemiller foresees for the “Christian Adventures of Doc Savage.” We unfortunately cannot know how long it might be before that next story appears, however.
Briefly, in this story we find out more about Perry Liston's background and confront the problem of quasi-Christian cults of the likes of Jonestown and the Branch Davidians. To give away much more than that and what I say above would be to give away too much. As usual, I'd prefer you read it yourself. It's good. But I must also admit that for whatever reason I found this a slightly less engaging story than usual.
Perhaps it was my not wanting the ride to end for now that made it so. That's the only real explanation I can come up with. I first speculated that it was the very different overall feel that results from the new circumstances our heroes find themselves in, commanding what is essentially a secretive futuristic paramilitary humanitarian aid organization based on a flying Fortress of Solitude I can only liken to the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier. My gut reaction was that that departs too much from the typically well-grounded realism that pervades the earlier books. Of course as quickly as I thought that, I recalled Perry's “magic” ring* as well as the other fantastic elements that have appeared so far, from the Time Tunnel to Superman. I've read that, if Doc Savage were a character in the modern age, in order to duplicate the pulp-era fantasticism he would have to be delving beyond such cutting edge scientific frontiers as parallel dimensions and space travel, at the very least – for all intents and purposes he and his band would be having adventures much like the Fantastic Four. There has of course been a great deal of that all along in The Bronze Saga, including the sense of family that is at the core of the best F4 stories. In fact it has been a slow and steady build from the first story, that had little of that as Doc is reintroduced to the world from which he'd been absent for half a century, through gradual introduction of more and more until the current book unleashes the high tech full force. Actually, come to think of it it wasn't quite so steady of late, because there is quite a shift from the down to earth legal wranglings of the previous story to this one, with barely a scene at the end of Trial revealing what was to come. Maybe a story of them getting acclimated to their new life would have smoothed the transition? Of course, I can understand Eidemiller, once he'd come up with the new toys (with the help of Barry Ottey, credited on the website with the design of the Orion), wanting to play with them! Or maybe it was the greater sense of the inexplicable, with their adversary this go'round being literally a demon from hell with all kinds of supernatural abilities including the ability to launch an assault via stone golems become animate!
I've not actually read the last original Doc Savage adventure that this one plays off of, only knowing it through Eidemiller's frequent references to it as setting up the circumstances for Doc's long sleep, as well as Philip José Farmer's discussion of it in his faux biography, Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, so I have no real idea how much of a comparable sense of the truly supernatural (as opposed to seeming supernatural that usually turn out to have reasonable if pseudoscientific explanations) is present in Up from Earth's Center. My gut reaction was that here it changed the tone of the story a bit too radically, but hopefully that's just my reaction and not that of most readers, because overall this is another enjoyable addition to the continuing story, and given the character and story histories one that needed to be told in some form or another.
And we definitely are left with unanswered questions: Will Doc recover? What malevolence is Wail going to unleash on him next? If the next is indeed the last time we'll be able to visit these characters in this setting, what rousing climactic sense of closure will Eidemiller achieve?
In the meantime, now that I've finished The Bronze Saga as it currently stands, I will soon turn my attention to Eidemiller's first professionally published novel, As Iron Sharpens Iron. I purchased the Kindle edition a long time ago, but have hitherto held off reading it because as I understand it the main character is Perry Liston but not the Bronze Saga Perry Liston. …? My understanding is that the name was originally used by Eidemiller for earlier writing attempts long before The Bronze Saga, and that since his use of the Doc Savage characters is totally unauthorized this must be a separate continuity altogether, but I am curious if there is any unspoken relationship (is it perhaps “our” Perry's uncle?), and if there is not I would have expected him to have changed the character's name. It's his choice, of course, but I didn't want to blur my conceptions of the characters before I had to, hence my delay in taking on Iron.
Cheers, and Thanks for reading!
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* Random Rambling: Wouldn't it be cool if it turned out that the One Ring had somehow reformed itself after being cast into Mount Doom and passed down through the ages, ultimately into Liston's family? We could tie the Bronze Saga into J. R. R. Tolkien's great work! Maybe Wail is really Sauron? Maybe Perry's uncle discovered it and when he used it the first time it allowed Sauron to return and bedevil Doc the first time? Maybe Perry's own use of late has allowed Sauron to return again...? Feel free to use this idea if you like, Mark – although I'm sure you have your own much better backstory for the Liston Ring. Whatever it is, please make it something that will be revealed before you wrap up this series. - Kent