Oh, the Old Man of William Preston’s cycle of Asimov’s novella isn’t exactly Doc Savage, but rather an update on the original pulp superman. Doc, the pulp hero of the 30s and 40s, was in no sense a supernatural being, an alien, nor was he the product of experimentation or exposure to radiation, he was just… realized. Perfected. Self-actualized. A polymath genius and a perfect physical specimen. His coppery skin earned him the name, the man of bronze, rescueing him from unpleasant comparisons to Aryan supermen. (the Doc is a miracle of multiculturalism compared to, say, E.E. Smith’s Lensmen, the original Green Lanterns, who are are super-white.)
Preston intersects the Doc Savage myth with mythic elements of the post millennium; 911, camp x-ray, and explores some of the craziest aspects of Savage; namely his ability to heal certain kinds of criminals through psychosurgery.
His novellas, Helping Them Take the Old Man Down, Clockworks, Unearthed, and Each in his Prison, Thinking of a Key, tell pieces of an as of yet unfinished cycle, though each story is more or less self-contained and can be read and enjoyed on its own.
The latest installment, I think, suffers some if one hasn’t read the second story, Unearthed, and the text more or less tells you to read the previous installment first, by having the protagonist unearth a pulp magazine titled The Stone Avenger, which is this Doc’s origin story; this gives you the background needed to fully understand the resolution of the third novella.
If this all sounds meta-texty and post modern, it isn’t, at least, it isn’t what the stories seem to be about. It’s not campy either. All these pieces feel heartbreakingly sincere; Preston’s protagonists are a rarity in modern literature. They’re good people. Not cardboard cut outs, either; they’re people confronted with moral choices in difficult situations who more or less figure out how to do the right thing; if barely, and often at great personal cost.
Now that I type that, I think, huh, isn’t that what literature is really for? (More painfully, I think, why the hell don’t I do more of it?)
The stories evoke a primordial sense of wonder, at least, in people of my cohort. And yet, paradoxically, the prose is modern, lean, tactile, full of showing and not telling; in places these texts demand close attention; but this attention is rewarded, always, and the effort is enjoyable.
They combine action sequences with reflection and interiority, deep character and genre crunchy goodness, forging a delightfully new thing under the sun.
Seriously, just buy these things and read them. They’re cool.