Thursday, February 26, 2009

DOC WILDE AND THE FROGS OF DOOM

DOC WILDE
& The Frogs of Doom
By Tim Byrd
G.P.Putnam’s Son
186 pages
Coming May 2009

Sometimes the twist and turns of fate can make you sit back and ponder those magical things we call coincidence. Early yesterday morning, via the internet, I learned that one of our finest fantasy, science fiction writers had died; Philip Jose Farmer. Amongst his many popular works, Farmer had invented a strange heroes mythology wherein he surmised not only were all the great literary heroes of the late nineteenth and twentieth century based on real people but that they were also related in one fashion or another. This was called his Wold Newton Mythology.

In this fanciful theory, Farmer postulated that there had actually been a 1930s globe trotting adventurer who was the basis for the pulp hero, Doc Savage. Farmer also suggested this man was related to the jungle lord we call Tarzan. Amongst his elaborate genealogy of heroes, Farmer several times replaced the name Savage with Wilde, again to indicate historical personages and their fictional disguises.

So why bring this all up now? Simply because on the day I learned of Farmer’s passing, this book arrived on my doorstep; DOC WILDE AND THE FROGS OF DOOM by Tim Byrd. In his action-packed story, Byrd tells us this Doc Savage figure not only existed, but that he went on to marry and have a son and grandchildren. The son is one Doctor Spartacus Wilde, a golden hued chip off the old block. Like his dad, now ninety-nine but still fit as an Olympian athlete, he is a famous scientist, inventor and world traveler. He is also a widower raising two fantastic kids, Brian and Wren, both of whom have inherited the family adventuring genes.

As the book opens, Doc and his children learn that Grandpa Wilde has disappeared at the same time they are attacked by a variety of bizarre, hybrid frogs. Surviving these bizarre assaults, Doc, Brian, Wren and Doc’s aides, take up the search from the Empire State Building, where they interview Grandma Pat Wilde to the halls of Harvard. Oh, and the two aides I mentioned are a red-headed Irishman named Declan mac Coul and a natty, debonair lawyer named Phineas Bartlett. (Of course any self-respecting pulp fan will recognize them immediately.)

The trail of the missing senior Doc leads our group to the South American jungles of Hidalgo, as yet another well known name from the Savage canon. The innocent fun of this book, which is a Young Reader’s offering, is that it does not attempt to shy away from its origins and is a worthy pastiche for all Doc Savage enthusiasts. Byrd is having a grand time offering us a satisfying what-if adventure that rings true from start to finish and left me wanting more. All the trappings and clich├ęs of the hero pulps are here, but presented in such a fresh and carefree manner, the reader will be swept away by the outlandish exploits performed by this one-of-a-kind family. The Wildes are old fashion heroes in the best sense of the word and their adventure is sure to thrill pulp fans, both old and new. Don't miss it!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

THE DEAD MAN' BROTHER

THE DEAD MAN’ BROTHER
By Roger Zelazny
Hard Case Crime
252 pages

Ask any knowledgeable reader who was Roger Zelazny and you’ll be told he was a brilliant science fiction writer who won six Hugo Awards during his career. Which is why when the late author’s agent uncovered an unpublished manuscript the surprise was not so much in it’s discovery as the fact that it was a crime thriller. There is even some doubt as to when the book was written, although the author’s son, believes it was produced in the early 70s.

THE DEAD MAN’S BROTHER is a mystery thriller that moves across three continents and embroils its hero in murder, embezzling, espionage and militant revolution. Ovid Wiley is a respectable New York art dealer with a criminal past. When an old associate shows up on his gallery floor dead, Wiley soon finds himself a pawn for the C.I.A. He is sent to Rome to investigate a missing priest who has stolen millions of dollars from the church. Wiley soon learns the man has been murdered and then barely escape a hit on himself. When he discovers that Maria, another face from his criminal past, was the priest’s mistress, things begin to get complicated.

Eventually Wiley, with Maria in tow, is forced to fly to Brazil in search of the dead man’s brother, the leader of a group of anti-government revolutionaries. Although the book has many twists and turns, Zelazny was a competent storyteller and he never loses his main plot, dropping just enough clues to keep the reader following the bread crumbs along with an often-times befuddled Wiley.

This is not the best such book I’ve read and there were places I wished the author would have quickened the pace. No writer ever wants to limit his or her range and that Zelazny had a crime book in him is no surprise. Still, it comes nowhere near the originality and daring of his science fiction work, in which he excelled. In the end, neither a success or failure, THE DEAD MAN’S BROTHER seems a personal experiment he needed to get done, which I suspect is why he never pushed getting it published. Thus it now surfaces as a literary oddity and that may truly be it’s only worth.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

STARFINDER

STARFINDER
By John Marco
DAW Books
326 pages

Every now and then a book comes along that you know was somehow written solely for you. Such is the case with this wonderful fantasy adventure from John Marco. He has masterfully taken my love of airships and woven them into a story that pits mankind and its sciences against the magic of wizardry and a fantasy world inhabited by very familiar mythical creatures.

Moth lives in high atop the cliff city of Calio and dreams of one day flying a dragonfly, the single-seat aircraft of the Sky Knights. Moth is an orphan being raised by an old airman named Leroux who spins tales of the fantastic world beyond the Reach. The Reach is a fog enshrouded no-man’s land from which only a handful of explorers have ever returned. Leroux’s yarns tell of beings called the Sky Lords who rule the land beyond the Reach and claim the skies for themselves.

When Leroux dies, he leaves the boy a strange navigational device called a Starfinder and a charge to go into the Reach and save Lady Esme, his Kestrel Hawk. Leroux claimed the bird was in actuality a Sky Lord Princess who had been cursed by the King of the Sky Lords because of her love for Leroux. Moth, using the Starfinder, must find a dragon wizard named Merceron who will help Lady Esme regain her true nature.

Fortunately for Moth, he has a courageous ally in Fiona, the fiery red-headed granddaughter of Calio’s governor, Rendor. What neither of them is aware of is that Rendor was Leroux’s companion during that long ago expedition into the Reach and that he wants the Starfinder. The Starfinder possesses unique arcane powers that, in the hands of the Sky Lords, could enslave the human world. When Rendor learns Moth and Fiona have fled into the Reach, he immediately organizes a search and rescue operation aboard his newly built, massive airship, Avatar. Among the military cadre under his command is Moth’s closet friend, Sky Knight pilot Captain Coralin.

From the first page to the last, this book weaves an incredible tale filled with truly amazing characters; beautiful mermaids, wise dragons and brave warrior centaurs. Each is brought to life with deft, sure strokes and the story propels itself gracefully along much like the giant airship at its center. Before Moth and Fiona can achieve their goal, they will have to grow up fast, face many dangers and bear the heartache of sacrifice and loss. STARFINDER stands leagues above similar fantasy books. It is the first of a new series and if subsequent sequels are this good, then sign me up now. This is a journey this airman is very eager to get started.