Friday, February 12, 2016

Doc Ardan: The City of Gold and Lepers (Guy D'Armen, 1928/Jean-Marc & Randy Lofficier, 2004)

I hope you'll forgive the scarcity of posts around here lately, readers - I've gone from reviewing pulp fiction to writing my own, and will be contributing stories to a couple upcoming anthologies.  That's all I'll say about it for now, but expect notices here when the books become available.  I am still reading every day on my "coffee" and lunch breaks at work, however, and yesterday I finished an excellent French novel, featuring an interesting precursor to Doc Savage.

Exploring the Kunlun mountain range in China/Tibet, physician and physicist Doctor Francis Ardan is captured and brought before the diabolical Dr. Natas, a cruelly brilliant Manchu scientist using atomic fusion to turn base elements into gold.  Ardan is told, quite frankly, that he will never be able to leave Natas' high-tech "City of Gold" - because it is also the City of Lepers, every slave-inhabitant infected with a gruesomely virulent form of leprosy, which only Natas' miraculous "Z-Rays" keep in check.  To leave the city is to rot to pieces in minutes.

Ardan's every effort to escape is thwarted - Natas has thought of everything.  But when physician Louise Ducharme is kidnapped to serve as an assistant, he finds his chance - unbeknownst to Natas, Ducharme has developed a cure for leprosy, and had two doses in her pocket when she was kidnapped.  Quickly curing herself and Ardan, they set out to bring an end to the fiendish Dr. Natas and his City of Gold and Lepers.

This book came out in France five years before the first Doc Savage novel was published.  There's almost no way Lester Dent could have come across this.  And yet Ardan (whose surname could be translated into English as "Savage") mirrors his American counterpart almost perfectly, down to having bronze skin and weirdly colored eyes, in this case amber instead of gold-flecked.  His ingenuity, his humanity and his all-around polymathism all could have been taken straight from Doc, or the other way around.  Indeed, the two characters are linked in some New Pulp, with "Francis Ardan" being a pseudonym used by Clark Savage Jr. when travelling abroad, and the Lofficiers, via their publishing house Black Coat Press, have gone with this with a wink and a nod to the reader.  In essence, one could choose to read "Doc Ardan" stories in their Tales of the Shadowmen anthology series as "Doc Savage" stories if one so chose.

The story here is pure pulp - Dr. Natas (and I'm ashamed of how long it took me to realize his name is "Satan" spelled backwards) is essentially Dr. Fu Manchu with a name change, and his super-science is of the grandest sort.  Above and beyond turning base elements into gold and creating a high-octane strain of leprosy, he's developed a dozen new alloys, advanced radio science by decades, has perfected the teletype machine, discovered new bands of the electromagnetic spectrum - and turned all his learning and science to ABSOLUTE EVIL.  He even at one point refers to himself as the Yellow Peril, personified.  His sneering arrogance and callous disregard for human life alone make him the perfect pulp villain, but the fact that he's producing all this gold to A) finance a new Mongol Horde to sweep the Western World with sword and flame, and B) to throw western economies into catastrophic disarray in prelude to the Mongol Horde attack - that's not just icing on the cake, that's like getting a whole ice cream cake on top of your regular cake.  For pulp readers like me, it's pure delight.

I purchased my copy directly from Black Coat Press; my big New Year's Resolution this year was to buy directly from independent publishers like Black Coat Press, Meteor House, Pro Se Press, Airship 27 Productions, etc., wherever I can rather than ordering their books through Amazon.  If I'm going to voice my support for these companies, then it's imperative that I put my money where my mouth is.  I would rather see my money going directly to these companies rather than have a middle-man take a cut, especially given that I know Black Coat Press has had issues in the past with people using Amazon as a lending library for their books, buying them and then requesting a refund.  Hearing that sort of thing makes my blood boil, and while I can't bludgeon the people who do that sort of thing, I can resolutely continue to buy from the companies that put out the books I enjoy.

I didn't really intend to end this review with a rant, but I'm going to let it stand.  In short, buy more books.

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