Man of Bronze

People ask me, they say “Hey Bob, when did you become a reader?”.

Actually, they don’t ask me that. But I ask myself that when I talk to myself, while conducting imaginary interviews with myself. The interviews are quite fascinating. And as I write this — right now – I shit you not – I just realized I am dangerously close to taking the Rupert Pupkin turnoff on the the Highway of Life (if you don’t understand this reference, I implore you to watch the film “the King of Comedy”).

My reply? I became a reader in the 6th grade, when I found my uncle’s copy of Doc Savage: Man of Bronze in my grandfather’s book case. This was the first novel of any kind that I read.

In the coming years I would read dozens more Doc Savage novels. Bantam Books had been reprinting them for years, and it was typically very easy to find them in used book stores during the 1970s and 1980s.

Doc Savage, as painted by Boris Vallejo.
Doc Savage, as painted by Boris Vallejo.

The Doc Savage stories were originally printed in the “pulp magazines” during the 1930s and 1940s. Authored by Lester Dent, under the pen name “Kenneth Robeson”, one needed not read them in order. After reading the first one, each novel was standalone. One spent a lot of time rereading the introductions of Doc’s assistants, the Fabulous Five (that sounds really gay, doesn’t it?) as well as explanations of various conventions of the Doc Savage Universe.

As you will learn if you read the above-linked Wikipedia entry, Doc was a scientifically created superman. A beyond-perfect physical and mental specimen, master martial artist, scientist, inventor, surgeon, etc, etc. Basically, he was the best there was at everything there was.  From infancy he was raised by a team of scientists, who charged with his education and physical development, created a man to deal out justice and improve the condition of humankind.

Usually when tracing the foundations of my own personal world view I go back to Carl Sagan and his TV series Cosmos. Certainly this show helped define my way of thinking, but upon reflection I think that maybe Doc Savage provided the foundation. You see, it was early science fiction with a very humanist bent. Here is Doc’s oath:

“Let me strive every moment of my life to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit by it. Let me think of the right and lend all my assistance to those who need it, with no regard for anything but justice. Let me take what comes with a smile, without loss of courage. Let me be considerate of my country, of my fellow citizens and my associates in everything I say and do. Let me do right to all, and wrong no man.”

For 1930s pulp science fiction it doesn’t get much more Humanist than that.

During Doc’s adventures he encountered all manner of weird mystery, yet in each one there was a rational, scientific explanation. No magic. No magical thinking. Just investigation and science. I remember in one novel, when someone suggested the supernatural to Doc as an explanation for something, Doc’s response was “hokum”. hahahaha. I laughed my ass off when I read that. Yes – Doc Savage novels fairly trampled on the notion of the supernatural.

Whether Lester Dent intended this, or if it reflects his own ideas, I have no idea. Dent had no illusions about the long-term value of his work. He considered what he wrote to be “reams of sellable crap”  — something to pay the bills. Yet many ideas in the novels have turned out to be kind of prescient. And whether “crap” or not, the novels are imaginative and fun to read. Compared to the stuff many kids read today, I would say the vocabulary is somewhat advanced.

I guess that’s all I have to say about this topic. Laters.

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