“The Man of Bronze,” by Lester Dent, or How in the Bloody Hell Did This Series Sell So Well?

I love the idea of Doc Savage.A man trained from birth to build his mind and body to perfection, in order to pursue a life of adventure and righting wrongs. 

A man surrounded by top minds in numerous fields, each an expert in one or more areas of science or engineering or some other useful skill. 

A team of adventurers, dodging bullets, thwarting schemes, battling monsters, wielding and facing all the bizarre scientific devices a 1930’s pulp fiction author can devise.

But the author, Lester Dent under the pseudonym Kenneth Robeson, cannot write. His characters are paragons, perfect to the point of spoof. His imagination runs wild, but his sentences often make you read them twice. His stuff is fun, in short doses, but not fun enough to get me through a novel.

And no, I am not a snob. I can handle prose that shades toward the purple. I can be fully satisfied with a tale in which a big strong man rips a monster’s jaws apart, or a supremely skilled woman outsmarts a crime syndicate while seducing cops and gangsters left and right. I love the pulpy stuff, I really do.

But it has to be written by a wordsmith, someone with a knack for storytelling and enough sense to give his characters a few flaws. Dent has Doc traveling with a crew of five, and except for the guy built like a gorilla and another who carries a sword cane, I can’t tell them apart. Their sole function in the story is to supply Doc with gear and provide tons of explanatory dialogue. 

I read some of these books long ago, and remembered them as sort-of comic books without the pictures. In trying to re-read as an adult, inspired by a Facebook friend’s recent sharing of many of the great book cover images painted by James Bama, I find I just can’t do it. I can’t read this stuff. Life is too short.

I love pulpy stuff, but plenty of pulp writers managed to write grammatically and add some level of depth to their characters. Not so with this book.

So I will henceforth enjoy the cool cover arts. And I will spin my own Doc Savage adventures in my head, where they will be mercifully short and feature great special effects, and perhaps guest appearances by Indiana Jones and The Shadow.

But with God as my witness, I will never try to read one of these novels again.


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