Reading Doc Savage: Land of Always-Night

FullSizeRender (49)In packing for a trip, I discovered I’d somehow bypassed some of the earlier Doc Savages, so we backtrack now to book 13: Land of Always-Night. On the cover, Doc, wearing torn shirt and steampunk goggles, looks back and away from a grove of giant mushrooms, not noticing the several odd figures vaguely resembling the Monarch from The Venture Brothers menacing him with raised hands.

This one has to be my favorite beginning yet:

It is somewhat ridiculous to say that a human hand can resemble a butterfly. Yet this particular hand did attain that similarity. Probably it was the way it moved, hovered, moved again, with something about it that was remindful of a slow-motion picture being shown on a screen.

The color had something to do with the impression. The hand was white, unnatural; it might have been fashioned of mother of pearl. There was something serpentine, hideous, about the way it strayed and hovered, yet was never still. It made one think of a venomous white moth.

It made Beery Hosmer think of death. Only the expression on Beery Hosmer’s face told that, for he was not saying anything. But he was trying to. His lips shaped word syllables and the muscle strings in his scrawny throat jerked, but no sounds came out.

The horrible white hand floated up toward Beery Hosmer’s face. The side street was gloomy, deserted except for Beery Hosmer and the man with the uncanny hand. The hand stood out in the Merck almost as if it were a thing of white paper with a light inside.

The man menacing poor Beery, who Beery calls Ool, is odd in many ways, including being skeleton thin and having enormous, pale eyes. He wants something back, something Beery has stolen to take to Doc Savage and is currently carrying on a money belt around his waist

Beery is standing in front of a candy store; when the inevitable happens, he reels back and smashes into the plate glass. After a struggle, he dies, “becoming as inert as the chocolate creams crushed beneath him.”

Ool takes his possession back from Beery, which turns out to be a peculiar pair of goggles with black glass lenses. He tastes one of the scattered chocolates, smacks his lips, and gathers as many chocolates as he can into his hat. As he departs, he eats the candy “avidly, as if it were some exquisite delicacy with which he had just become acquainted.”

In the next chapter, we are introduced to one Earl Maurice “Watches” Bowen. This sort of nickname usually signals a crook, and Watches, who gets his name from his obsession with timepieces, is no exception. He’s in his New York penthouse, conferring with Ool. Ool tells him he killed Beery because the man was about to involve Doc Savage. Being a criminal, Watches is shaken by the news, but reassured to find Beery never reached the man of bronze.

Changing the subject, Ool asks how their plans are progressing. Not so well, it turns out:

“I’ve canvassed all of the big airplane factories,” Watches explained. “They can build us a true gyroplane, sure. This true gyro will rise straight up and hover. It can be controlled fairly well. But here’s the rub. The darn things won’t carry more than two men, and they won’t lift hardly any fuel at all. The things are still in the experimental stage.”

I’ve got a plan, Ool says. “We will make use of this Doc Savage.” Watches is understandably dubious, but off Ool goes to Doc’s warehouse, where he is captured on the roof by Ham and Monk. As they square off, he threatens Monk with his empty right hand. After they subdue him, they examine his hand and find nothing in it. At the sight of the goggles that Monk has just pulled from his pocket, though, he reacts oddly:

Ool stared blankly, but his right hand, held high above his head, started wavering like a butterfly’s feeble fluttering when it feels the first warm rays of the morning sun on its wings.

Monk and Ham take their captive to a specific skyscraper, a building “taller and finer than all the rest, and astounding mass of polished granite and stainless steel towering nearly a hundred stories into the sky, a structure that is possibly man’s proudest building triumph.” Up on the 86th floor are Doc’s headquarters.

As they enter, they overhear a news story on the radio involving an escaped prisoner, Demeter Daikoff. Doc enters; Monk and Ham tell him what’s happened so far and give him the goggles. When he asks the captive what they are, Ool says “just a toy.” He goes on to explain that he wanted to get caught, figuring it was the easiest way to contact Doc. He tells Doc his name is Gray Forestay, but that, “In Mongolia my name, as nearly as can be translated, was Lleigh Foor Saith.” The flakes of gold in Doc’s eyes swirl a trifle faster, but otherwise he does not react.

Ool, who says he is part Mongolian, explains:

“You have heard of the Lenderthorn Expedition, lost in the pack ice north of Canada? I, Gray Forestay, was the only member of the expedition to escape. In recent months, as perhaps you have read in the news, I headed a rescue expedition to search for the lost men. We found that airships were utterly impractical in that region. We could not effect a landing upon the rough ice. But where an airship has failed, a dirigible would succeed.”

So what, an unknown interlocutor asks. Doc has not just a dirigible, but “what is perhaps the most superior aggregation of brains and brawn in the world,” Ool explains, and goes on to reveal that the expedition was not lost through natural causes, but an encounter with mysterious “things” that carried off the expedition members, one by one.

After making this revelation, Ool pauses to observe what effect his words have had on Doc and his men, but just then the radio in the background puts out a pickup order for the murderer of Beery Hosmer, providing enough detail to make everyone in the room pay much more attention to that than the mysterious things. Doc raps out a few words in “a softly musical, but unintelligible jargon.” It’s ancient Mayan (I had forgotten about this ongoing detail), and he’s warning his pals to hold their breaths while he sets off a sleep gas bomb, which knocks Ool out.

Time out for a Ham/Monk interchange as they look at Ool’s “prostrate form”:

Ham remarked in a voice that was heavily with disbelief: “Yes, sir, he’s even uglier than you are, Monk. I don’t know how it’s possible, but he is!”

“You clothesrack!” Monk growled. “You don’t know masculine beauty when you see some. I exude virility, I do! I’m an example of the dominant male.”

Unfortunately, before they can begin making out in a corner, Ool proves to be awake, the first man to ever resist the power of Doc’s sleeping gas. Doc orders his men into the other room, throwing the goggles in with them and locking the door.

They hear the sounds of a fight and then “a chilling sound, unnamable, a dry clacking more than anything else.” They realize it’s Ool’s laughter as he departs.

Cut to a new chapter and Ool prowling Sixth Avenue by night “with his characteristic animal prowl, gaunt head hunched far forward, spidery limbs dangling. He enters “Bill Noonan’s Tavern” and has this exchange, as we meet one of Watches’ own righthand men:

A fat Negro, his head seemingly a ball perched on his multiplicity of chins, dozed on a stool near the cash register. He opened one red-rimmed eye as Ool approached.

“Are you Ham-hock Piney?” Ool questioned.

The Negro betrayed no surprise at Ool’s appearance or voice.

“Dat’s right, boss,” he said. “Ham-hock Piney, dat’s me.”

“I want to see Watches Bowen,” Ool stated.

The Negro yawned cavernously, said nothing.

“Did you understand me?” Ool snapped.

“Cou’se I understan’,” the Negro grinned. “What you want me to do about it — put a fly in your beer?”

Ool expressed quick anger. As though propelled without volition, his right hand started drifting about.

The Negro laughed sleepily, said softly, “All right. Ah see yo’ knows de pass sign. Yo’ can go on up. Take dat door in de back. Go up de only steps yo’ll see.”

Ool goes up to see Watches, who’s guarded by several men, including Honey Hamilton, who “can shoot fly specks off a hundred-watt bulb.” Ool tells him about the visit to Doc Savage and declares “emphatically” that Savage is dead. They begin to bicker about various things, when a buzzer sounds. Watches is alarmed; it’s a button that Ham-hock can press with his toe in an emergency and this is the first time it’s ever sounded.

It’s John Laws, aka the coppers, speaking in strong Irish voices. The men seek various escape avenues, finding themselves thwarted at every turn. Then an opportunity presents itself:

Across the thirty-foot space between the two buildings, a window was open. A man leaned from that window. He was a dark-skinned man, very big, smooth-shaven, with very dark eyes, black hair, and a scar which started at the lobe of his right ear and slanted down across his neck. His appearance was utterly villainous.

In his hands*, the man held a coil of fire hose of the type often affixed to reels inside office buildings.

They escape via the hose, even the wounded Honey Hamilton, who the newcomer fetches:

It was a remarkable feat, for the dark man held Honey gripped in his legs, suspended in the air above the alley. The hose sagged and groaned as, hand over hand, the dark man pitted his gigantic strength against the swaying. But slowly, like a cable car over a quarry, he finally made the other side with his wounded burden.

They make their way to another of Watches’ hangouts, “a fifty-foot cabin cruiser tied up at a City Island dock.” The mysterious dark is the infamous Dimiter Daikoff:

…the man stood up. He held his head proudly. His black eyes flashed with an almost fanatical glitter. The light from the overhead electric bulb glowed on the smooth skin covering his high cheek bones. Like many of his race, this man’s cheek bones were so prominent that his cheeks looked hollow. They were thrown into shadow.

“I am no murderer!” he proclaimed tragically. “I simply liquidate one who was traitor to our party. I, Dimiter Daikoff, am no criminal. In my country, I would be honored, receive a medal. But here, they hunt me like animal.”

Watches invites the handy Daikoff to hang around. He’ll regret this later, we know, and our suspicions are confirmed when Daikoff retrieves “a small compact dictograph device” that he’s been using to listen to whispered conversations.

Back to Doc’s men, who are in his headquarters. They’re standing “in the early morning sun which streamed through the ‘health glass’** windows of Doc Savage’s eighty-sixth floor headquarters.” All five are there, and Renny, Long Tom, and Johnny are giving Monk and Ham crap for not escaping.

The passage which has my vote for most awkward of the book occurs:

Suddenly, from somewhere outside the reception room door, came a burst of scuffling. Then a long-drawn screech of terror reached them. There was something about the screech which put a strange feeling around the roots of their hair.

“I’ll be superamalgamated!” exploded big-worded Johnny.

“Holy cow!” echoed Renny.

Each had used his pet exclamation for moments of great excitement.

Investigation finds a man fleeing up the stairs toward them:

The fleeing man had no hat. His thick gray hair flopped over his forehead. He had a close-cropped gray mustache, and was wearing smoked glasses.

A fight ensues, and the attackers get the drop on Doc’s men. Then Doc arrives, “a bronze cyclone,” and men go “down like shingles wind-whipped from a barn.” Only the threat that Monk will be shot stops our cyclone; the criminals get away, and Doc stops his men when they want to give pursuit.

Wondering where that gray-haired man went during all of this? So does Doc, and they find him in Doc’s workshop-laboratory, looking at Ool’s goggles, which Doc takes from him in order to display the depth of his biological knowledge.

“Were you interested in these?” he asked.

“Yes — no!” the man stammered.

“You will notice that they are unusual,” Doc went on. “The lenses are fully two inches in thickness, and black — so black that no light penetrates them.”

“I — I picked them up by mistake,” the man said. a little hoarsely. “My own smoked glasses fell off. I don’t see well without them. The light hurts my eyes — snow blindness. I picked these of yours up by mistake. For a minute I thought they were mine.”

Doc turned the black-lensed goggles over in his great sensitive hand.

“This flexible material in which the lenses are imbedded — can you identify it?” he asked the stranger.

“I don’t know anything about them,” the man declared. “I picked them up by mistake –”

“The material seems to be fish skin,” Doc said. “It somewhat resembles the skin of a species of deep-sea fish with a habitat in the Arctic Ocean.”

The man identifies himself as Gray Forestay and says that he would like to use Doc’s dirigible. Very well, Doc says and invites him to lunch at “eleven o’clock in the Cafe Oriental downstairs.” Sorry, can’t make it, the second Mr. Forestay says and decamps.

But I don’t like chop suey, Monk complains. “I doubt that we will do much eating,” Doc says in his usual obscure fashion.

A brief scene shows us Watches and his men huddled and planning the next day. All the while:

Dimiter Daikoff, easing around unobtrusively, filling glasses, emptying ash trays, heard much.

Two hours later, “a hard-lipped, ferret-eyed young man” stands outside the Café Oriental, making an unobtrusive hand signal to the black sedan full of men rolling by on the street. They park and enter the skyscraper holding Doc’s headquarters, making their way up to the 86th floor. Just in case they’re still worried Doc is there, there’s a note pinned to the door reading, “Lunching downstairs in the Cafe Oriental.” Doc has signed his name to the note to make it perfectly clear it’s from him. Much like the reader, the criminals suspect a trap, particularly when they find the door unlocked, but Ham-hock growls out a particularly grating bit of dialogue: “We come heah to get dem black goggles, an’ we gwine get ’em.”

They enter and find a glass case containing the goggles:

They stopped in front of the case. Ham-hock, with a gloating in his eyes, sent a sepia paw toward the goggles which lay unprotected on a glass shelf.

His hand passed through the goggles. Through them, as though they were air. His clawing finger nails scored the glass of the shelf.

Ham-hock jerked his hand back as if it had touched flame.

As if that’s not enough, more supernatural shenanigans ensue:

Directly in front of them, beside the door and barring their path to it, a weird blue flame, pencil thin, had leaped from a shiny plate embedded in one wall, across the door opening to another plate.

The flame remained suspended, a lance of crackling, hissing blue. It rippled up and down. Other blue lances zigzagged like chain lightning until there was a whole pattern of blue flame leaping and rattling, barring an exit from the door.

Doc and his men appear and take them prisoner, threatening to tie one in a chair and put them in the path of the blue flame in order to electrocute them. They pick Squirrel Dorgan as their victim. He resists at first, but a sheet of blue flame right in front of his face convinces him.

Doc questions him, but Squirrel really doesn’t know that much. He says Ool can kill a man by touching him and that their second visitor was Watches Bowen himself. But he and Ool want Savage’s dirigible. Monk’s about to take the men away post-questioning, but Ham-hock makes a desperate effort and he and the rest of the men flee. Monk wants to pursue, but Doc dissuades him. Johnny and Monk ask why, and we get a very very Doc Savage reply, “It is a rather long story and, unfortunately, there is not time for it right now.”

Ham-hock and Squirrel decide not to reveal everything about their failure to Watches and Bowen, who pick them up in a car. They head back to Watches’ yacht lair, where Ool and Watches huddle in a corner, unaware that Dimiter Daikoff is reading their lips.

By now, even the slowest reader should be aware that Dimiter is Doc, and it’s fun to imagine the backstage shenanigans, much like a bad sitcom where someone’s invited two people to the same prom, as Doc races back and forth between the two roles. Once he’s done lipreading, he races back to his office, where an Irish cop, one Lieutenant O’Malley, has dropped by to mack on Doc a bit:

O’Malley’s eyes held open admiration as they rested upon the bronze giant.

“Brother,” he said, hesitating as if doubtful of the propriety of the term of address, but unable to resist its honest expression,” I’m sure feel safe with a man like you walking the beat with me.”

O’Malley’s come to investigate a report of the sighting of Ool. He starts to depart, then turns back:

“Say,” he grinned, “mind if I use your telephone to call my wife? She’s got corned beef and cabbage cooking tonight. It looks like I’m going to be late. I want her to keep it hot.”

Doc waved at the desk phone. “Help yourself.”

O’Malley spun the dial and got a number. He talked briefly regarding the conservation of corned beef and cabbage.

After he had spoken, he listened. He listened a much longer time than he had spoken. The sound of a high-pitched, querulous voice could be heard from the receiver. O’Malley squirmed, looked sheepish. His free hand went into his side pants pocket and out again.

Finally, he banged the receiver in a show of temper. The receiver missed the prongs, struck the phone, rocked it on the desk top. His right hand reached out to steady the instrument. With the right hand gripping the inside of the mouthpiece, he hooked the receiver on the fork and stepped back.

After he departs, Doc tells Monk to follow him. Monk does so and is surprised to find out it’s actually one of Watches’ men in disguise. Watches holds Monk at gun point in order to deliver some exposition: the man has smeared poison on the telephone and when Doc answers it, it’ll be his last minute on earth.

The phone call is made; Monk tries to warn Doc but is knocked out before he can do so. At the other end of the line, they hear Doc Savage collapse, then:

…excited shouts coming over the wire, the noise of men moving about rapidly in Doc Savage’s office. Finally, there was a cry, hoarse and filled with horror.

“He’s dead!” A voice shrieked. “Doc Savage is dead!”

Back at the yacht, though, Dimiter is in evidence, despite this conversation:

“I know my poisons,” Ool said flatly.”This one, in my land, is known is ssll-yto-mng.*** That name means ‘the poison that cannot fail.'”

“He’s dead, all right,” said O’Malley. “I heard his men howling that he had croaked.”

Another crook enters to say Doc is actually alive and sending radiograms. Watches sends him back out to get copies of the radiograms. Ool talks more about his culture’s poisons:

Ool’s voice crashed flatly. “There is another poison from my land, a sister poison to this one which has failed. We call these poisons the ‘twin sisters.’ The one which has failed is volatilized by moisture. The other one is turned into a deadly gas by the application of heat. I shall prepare the heat poison.”

Early that evening, Squirrel returns with the radiograms:

One of the radiograms was addressed to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment at Aklavik, at the head of the Mackenzie River on the Arctic coast. The other three were addressed to United States government authorities and settlements on the mainland of Alaska and on the Aleutian Islands. The text of all four radiograms was the same:


A bit later, “shortly before ten o’clock that night” Doc and his men get a phone call telling them to “go to that warehouse thing owned by the Hidalgo Tradin’ Company down on the Hudson River water front.” Despite the fact they know it’s a trap, they head on down, only to be drawn on a chase with a green coupe holding the white-skinned figure of Ool. A high-speed chase leads to an almost wreck accompanied by sundry dialog:

“Holy cow!” Renny gasped.

Long-winded Johnny blinked his eyes. “I vouchsafe a kindred articulation!”

Turns out it’s not Ool in the car but someone with their face chalked up. Cue almost car crash, then Doc stops the car and enacts one of those moments that his team must bitch about amongst themselves:

What he did then was a surprise.

“Slide over here in the driver’s seat, Ham,” he directed. “Take the car back to town. You will hear from me at the office.”

He opens the door, swung out, glided across the road and disappeared in the shadow of a high hedge.

Ham hesitated, then drove away, caring with him a puzzled and disgusted Long Tom, Johnny, and Renny.

Savage investigates and falls into the trap involving the second poison:

Doc bent close to the light while sorting over the papers. So intent was he upon the documents that he did not see the faint vapor which crept out from the frosted bulb as it warmed.

He did notice it, finally. His arm slashed out. He smashed the bulb in his bare hands. But the vapor was already in the air.

The bronze man took two staggering steps, then keeled over, to lie inert on the floor.

Watches and Ool investigate to gloat over the corpse, which surprises them by coming to life and knocking them both out. He takes them back to the headquarters and reads through the answers to his radiograms. It turns out Watches is indeed Lenderthorn, the leader of the only expedition to leave the Arctic-American coast in recent months.

As to Ool, the radiogram from Point Barrow has some extra information:

The weirdly white-skinned man, so the radiogram informed, had arrived mysteriously into the settlement some months ago.

Ool had carried a strange pair of black goggles. He had been acting strangely seeming to have not the slightest idea of what modern life was like, and being unable to speak any intelligible language. But during the short time he had remained there, he had learned language and customs with amazing rapidity.

He had refused to divulge much information about himself except to infer vaguely that he had come from off the Arctic ice pack, which was obviously a lie, it being regarded as an impossibility. He had disappeared from the settlement as mysteriously as he had come.

Several strange deaths among the Eskimo population had been credited by them to Ool, but this was thought to be superstitious fancy on their part, since no direct evidence of Ool’s guilt could be obtained and the fatalities in each case having been attended by severe local inflammation and swelling, and no autopsies having been performed, death had been credited by settlement authorities to pernicious infection, or simple blood poisoning.

While they’re reading the radiograms, Ool rouses and grabs Ham by the ankle, threatening to kill him. With Ham as a hostage, he makes his escape, leaving Ham behind.

Doc somehow manages to beat Ool back to the yacht in time to become Dimiter again, pressing 80-year-old brandy and cigars on the entering pair. Despite this pleasant hospitality, they grow suspicious and decide to kill Dimiter by shaking hands. The attempt is made and Dimiter’s true identity is disclosed:

Watches worked his jaw spasmodically, trying to talk. When he wrenched words out, they came in a horse rasp.

“It’s Doc Savage!” he choked.

“Yes,” came the tragic-voiced patriot’s affirmation. “It is Doc Savage.”

In the ensuing struggle, we find that Watches has derived his name not just from his love of the object:

The watch was one of Bowen’s weapons. The mechanism had been removed from the case and a quantity of molten lead inserted. Bowen could hurl the watch as accurately as he could aim a revolver.

The leaded watch plummeted toward Monk with the speed of a projectile. Monk ducked as the missile struck his chair. The watch splintered entirely through the thin wcker of the boat chair and struck Monk lightly on the chest.

The criminals escape in a speedboat. Soon after, they take off in a plane, headed northwest. Doc and his men lend pursuit in their dirigible, resulting in a sentence that starts off lovely then lumbers into infodumpland: “Like a moonbeam caught, congealed, and set adrift again, a cruising dirigible, a silver sliver against the bleak, sub-Arctic sky, drove over the Canadian Northwest at a rate of speed highly unusual for such ships.”

Monk has Habeas Corpus along as well. As they zip along, he tickles his pig with a toe and asks Doc how they know where they’re going. Doc explains that in his role as Dimiter, he discovered bills for a device that monitors for static disturbances and has created his own. They land in Point Barrow and confer briefly with an old Scotch trader who sheltered Ool when he first arrived. He confirms that Ool was unfamiliar with the trappings of civilization, including fire, which he tried to catch “as though it were a bird.”

Back on their journey, they listen to the static on the radio****.

A hodge-podge of noises, conventional static disturbances, came through the loud-speaker. There were buzzes and burrs and whines and crackles. But they could have been duplicated at almost any point on the earth.

Suddenly, the dirigible filled with a soft low note which throbbed and ran high up the musical scale and back again; the sound was not new static disturbance, but Doc Savage’s trilling, that weird sound, so unconsciously a part of him, which he made in moments of surprise or puzzlement.

The bronze man’s inordinately sensitive ears, conditioned by intensive training to catch sounds above and below the usual range considered possible for human reception, had identified a peculiar static sound coming from the finder.

Guided by static, they head in a more westerly direction. As they go farther, the static becomes perceptible to everyone’s ears: “a high, rhythmic thrumming, each note being throttled off in an entirely unearthly manner, only to swell again in a fashion even more unearthly.”

Monk, fiddling with the black goggles, puts them on and discovers something even stranger, only visible when wearing them: a writhing column of apparent fire erupting from a spot on the ice.

At closer range, the thing which seemed to be fire took on more detail. There seemed to be a living, liquid, white-hot core swelling out smoothly in a golden blush, tinged with flashes of opalescence — glazed yellows, purples, red, greens, and blues. The predominating tone, however, was golden; not so much the gold of solid flame, but a thick fog in which every separate particle of moisture was a floating globule of gold.

At about the hundred-foot level, the writhing pillar, in a thinning golden haze, blurred into nothingness.

They descend, investigating further, when a plane from nowhere attacks them, forcing them to land: “As softly as a leaf falling through a golden autumn haze, the dirigible came to rest on the crevice floor.”

Above them, Watches’ plane circles, occasionally dipping out of sight. Doc and his men try to make a break for it during one such moment. Before they get to their objective, the plane spots them and machine bullets fly. They duck for cover and the criminals land, intent on mayhem. Outnumbered, Doc and company fall back into the crevice, which widens into a place of such solemnity that Monk and Ham must immediately start bantering:

Stalactites and stalagmites looked like massive ivory columns. There were whole domes of crystalline formation which glittered like massed diamonds under the prying glare of the flashlight beams. Some of the rooms were cathedral arched, and so high that the white pencil paths of light from the hand flashes could not delineate them.

Monk craned his bull neck in rapt admiration.

“King Solomon’s temple must of been like this,” he said, and turned to call to Habeas Corpus, who was lagging behind. “Yeah,” he continued soulfully, “this sure would be a swell set up for a harem.”

“You would think of that,” Ham said dryly, aware of Monk’s weakness for women, singly or in numbers.

They stop to gawk too long; Watches and his gang come up from behind and trap them in a tunnel, using a grenade gun to create an avalanche sealing the tunnel’s mouth. Ool guides them through the Stygian gloom, tossing back sundry remarks over his shoulder:

“These particular caverns,” Ool said enigmatically, “are known as the Land of the Lost*****. No man penetrates them far and comes out alive.”

They find footprints, apparently made by someone wearing “skintight moccasins.” This turns out to be a girl:

She had long flowing hair, gold in hue, and she was clothed in some sort of gossamery stuff which clung close, moulding lithesome curves as she ran. She wore goggles with enormously thick lenses.

They capture her. When Ool identifies her as Sona, a princess in this land, they realize she’ll make a valuable hostage. At this point “the hooting sounds of Doc Savage’s submachine pistols” can be heard in the distance. Doc and his men enter, having escaped the tunnel trap, and rescue the girl, who turns out not to speak any language they know, but clings to Doc “with the instinctive trust of a child.”

Something begins knocking their flashlights from their hands and then attacking them in the darkness. Sona is torn from Doc’s grasp by an invisible force.

There, in the cavern of unknown terror, something soft and slimy enveloped them, an odious material at which they tore helplessly, accomplishing nothing by their most desperate efforts. They could not use the machine pistols.

The material, whatever it was, pressed closer and closer to their faces with a softly insidious force which burned their eyes, seared their throats, and imparted weakness to their limbs.

One by one, they fell to the floor of the cavern, tumbling down and squirming grotesquely to grow weaker and weaker and eventually became slack.

They revive to find themselves “on a smooth, hard floor in utter darkness.” Only Doc has some idea of where they are: “Judging from the pressure against my drums, and from the change in the temperature, we are a great deal farther down in the earth than when we were captured.” Most of their belongings have been stripped away, but Habeas remains.

Though they can’t see anything, someone can:

From all sides their clothing was plucked as though by tiny pinchers, and tiny, hammerlike blows rained on their faces and bodies. New sounds broke through the blackness, strange, unintelligible sounds – squeaks, hushed whistlings, harsh clackings.

They manage to find their way to a door and get outside, where they find themselves in the middle of a dark mushroom forest. The invisible thing attacks them again; this time Doc is prepared with a pair of goggles:

Instantly, to his gaze, the air became filled with a weird, golden yellow haze. The blackness vanished! In its place there was the fantastic golden aura, shot through and through with a faint opalescence.

After the first moment or two, Doc began to identify objects in the uncanny light. He saw the ghost-stuff which his aides were fighting. He recognized it for what it was — a gigantic species of the fungus growth which dangles like soft moss from decaying overhead timbers in coal mines. This fungus, Doc knew, thrives on a total absence of light.

This particular growth, revealed to Doc through the black goggles, had obviously been cultivated in the exotic cavern, and had attained gigantic proportions, reaching tensile strength.

The black things turn out to be man shaped; a multitude of them overwhelms Doc. They stop their attack at “The sound of a compelling voice of pleasing musical quality”: it’s Princess Sona.

She stood there like a fairy book figure seen through a golden autumn haze. The curves of her youthful body were alluring, revealed by a clinging robe. Her golden hair, silken heaps of it, fell down to her waist and seemed a part of her diaphanous garb.

Her lips were perfect, her features exquisitely chiseled. Her appearance was marred only by the presence of a pair of the grotesque goggles.

In pardonable feminine vanity she removed the goggles. For a moment while she flipped imaginary dust from their thick lenses. The effect to the battery of admiring masculine eyes was annihilating.

“Holy cow!” Renny breathed.

“I’ll be superamalgamated!” Johnny intoned.

“I’m in love!” Monk advised.

Unimpressed, Doc explains the scientific phenomenon which produces the glow. He tries to speak to the girl, but they do not share a language. She leads them into another roomWhere they find her two bodyguards resemble Ool. Sona orders a feast of mushrooms and shows them around the underground city.

On all sides, bathed in the soft golden haze, smooth walls towered. They were white, and shimmered in the golden atmosphere. Just as inside the room they had left everything was laid out in strict geometrical conformity — here straight lines and broad sweeping curves were beautiful in their gaunt simplicity.

“It’s — It’s plenty modernistic!” Monk stammered.

“The most striking example of functional architecture I have ever seen,” Renny, the civil engineer, said in admiration.

Doc said,” “They had to build within the limited confines of this underground cavern. Also, being cramped as to quantity of building materials, they have abandoned all frills and false fronts. In every instance, they have used the least amount of material possible for the purpose.”

They continue to explore the futuristic city, when they are interrupted by the sound of machine guns. They race to the source of the sound, an attack on the Central Mechanical Plant. Only a few paragraphs earlier, this sentence has occurred: “This was called in the local language, they learned later, the equivalent of “Central Mechanical Plant.” How Doc knows the correct name right now is anybody’s guess. You’ll also notice that goggles have become somewhat optional despite the einsistence on their importance earlier.

Doc proposes his usual sort of plan: he’ll slip away while his men hold the fort, then glides****** away before they can protest. Ool appears and manages to turn every person in the caverns against Doc’s men by claiming they’re allied with Bowen and his gang. Out come more fluttering, menacing hands than you’ll ever see this side of a convention of close-up magicians.

Dog sneaks up on Watches and his men by climbing a wall that, Dent says, would’ve defeated a professional human fly. Everything’s well until someone spots him:

A cavern dweller, looking out, sighted the bronze man. The observer was a woman, a housewifely sort of person who looked as if her life might be devoted to the care of her man and her children. The spectacle of the great bronze man mounting******* the side of the building unnerved her, and she clutched her children closely and screamed shrilly and repeatedly. This occurred only a few stories from the top of the building.

Everything goes dark unexpectedly and Watches curses the fact that he hasn’t had a chance yet to use his brand new watch, specially designed for this occasion, down to having Doc Savage’s name engraved on it. In the dark and silence, poison darts are flung at them, knocking some unconscious. After some time, they realize they’re being suffocated; the cave dwellers control the ventilation system and are using it against them.

As they make their way downward, Watches is unnerved for a moment when he thinks he counts an extra gang member. It’s Doc, of course. But they make it to safety, whereupon one of the gang members requests an infodump: what are they doing there? They’re after the secret to the cold light science, Watches explains. When someone spots Savage in the shadows, Ool sets a trap for him.

For once, Doc falls into the trap. He grabs Ool only to find himself surrounded by twenty other men. Doc is taken prisoner and finds himself locked up with his men. We’re nearing the end of the book, which means things are about to be wrapped up in a frenetic and somewhat sketchy fashion. While they sit in their cell, Ool’s off delivering exposition in a section that suggests Dent had leanings towards an SF novel:

…Ool faced the dictator, Anos.

Anos, father of the girl Sona, wore a red cape as mark of high position. The girl, Sona, had acquired her name by a simple reversal of the letters of the male parent’s namey, a custom in all father-and-daughter relationships in the cavern metropolis.

Anos, the dictator, occupied a low, thronelike affair which stood near a design on the throne room floor, a mammoth fourteen-pointed star inlaid with an opalescent substance. Around the points of the store were arrayed the chairs of the government council, the Nonverid, the members of which wore slightly less gaudy capes.

We find out that Ool was exiled for attempting to take over the government. He says he has repented, adding, “And I have proved it by bringing you the giant man and the other five, and the strange insect with fur upon it which they call a ‘hog.'”

In return he asks for the forumla for cold light. Nope. says Anos. How about the deaths of Doc Savage and his men, then, Ool counters. Maybe, Anos says, but it depends on what the council decides. Ool swears “a good mule-skinner oath” and stalks off.

Sona shows up to free Doc and his men, mysteriously giving him the same powers on his right hand that Ool bears. They use it to escape, making their way back to the Central Mechanical Plant. In the process, Habeas is struck with a poison dart. They make their way inside to the cavern dwellers laboratories and somehow revive Habeas (the exact mechanism by which this occurs is somewhat unclear.)

Meanwhile outside the cavern dwellers lay siege. Doc directs his men to direct a liquid he’s concocted before they surrender to the crowd. They’re led off to be judged by the council. Sona tries to intervene and is thwarted. Judgement is passed and each falls to the touch of one of the poison darts.

No longer worried about being thwarted by Savage, Ool, Watches, and the rest break out their machine guns and begin cutting people down. They take over, but are surprised to find the bodies of Savage and his men have disappeared.

The myserious liquid has in fact saved them from the poison’s effects, and they pop up again. Finally, Watches says, he’ll get a chance to deliver his special watch:

The timepiece which Watches Bowen brought out was the one which he had repeatedly assured members of his gang was a special gift destined for Doc Savage. The watch was unusually large. Bowen drew back an arm to throw it.

Doc Savage saw the move.

“Don’t!” His remarkable voice was a crash of sound.

“Sure!” Watches yelled. “I’ll do that.”

With a quick twist of thumb and forefinger, the mob chief turned the stem of the watch as if he were winding it. There started a faintly audible whir. His arm arched back, and he prepared to throw.

It was doubtful if Watches Bowen ever fully comprehend what happened next. Ool, apparently sensing Watche’s intention, clawed out desperately to stop the throw. Their arms collided.

The grenade watch sets off an explosion that causes liquid air to envelop the crinimals in a wave of unearthly cold.

Things wrap up pretty quickly, as usually happens. We do find out the secrets of the death hands:

The secret of Ool’s handwaving death was a bit complicated, but simply understood. It was a tiny pneumatic cylinder, discharging a dart, and this, being a color almost identical with his hands, would escape ordinary eyes. It was held in place by a particularly strong adhesive which did not harden, and thus being quickly detachable, could be removed and hidden quickly.

Sadly, it turns out the cool light only works under arctic conditions. The cavern dwellers decide not to leave their fungal utopia, and ask Doc not to reveal their location to anyone.

Sona requests a souvenir of the bronze man. Ham gives her Habeas, but the pig is reclaimed by an indignant Monk.

Thoughts: Dent plays fast and loose with what Doc knows and doesn’t know at times, but it’s worth it for the mental spectacle of him as first a morose Russian patriot, then racing across town to put his torn shirt and jeans back on. The civilization here is sketchily drawn, but very reminiscent of Golden Age SF. The totally unnecessary Sona/Anos thing is a little weird and I wished we’d seen her speak at least once. But so it goes.

Next up, unless I stumble across an earlier one, is The Secret in the Sky. This one will be posted sooner! I know I took a long time with this one.

* As opposed to in his feet. Sometimes Dent is a lesson in how to pad sentences.
** Google was unilluminating on the nature of “health glass,” or at least yielded no results.
*** No pronunciation guide is supplied.
**** Sorry, I just really like this song.
***** Disappointingly, there is no overlap whatsoever with the children’s TV series by that name.

****** This is the actual verb used.
******* Heh. “Mounting.”

Facebook Twitter Email

Related Posts:

About Cat Rambo

I am a science fiction and fantasy writer and editor. My three collections of short stories are THE SURGEON'S TALE AND OTHER STORIES (with Jeff VanderMeer), EYES LIKE SKY AND COAL AND MOONLIGHT, and NEAR + FAR (forthcoming this September).
This entry was posted in you should read this and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.