LESTER DENT BROUGHT DOC SAVAGE TO LIFE
While discovering new books to read, there’s nothing I like better than a good series. Back in the early seventies, when I first walked into the Stars and Stripes bookstore in Torrejon, Spain, it didn’t take me long to discover Doc Savage. I didn’t know at the time, but there were a total of one hundred and seventy-nine of them! The series, a pulp collection started in magazines back in the thirties, hadn’t yet all been brought back to life in what was probably their umpteenth reprinting. That was okay. The limited taste presented to me along with my limited budget would already be sorely tested.
When I first spotted them, I already liked the covers. They all had the same basic artwork. Doc, an imposing figure with bronze skin and hair that looked like a metal skull cap, posed below a super-fantastical and sometimes bizarre title that just begged to be read. The book blurb on the back only heightened the mystery. Most tales revolved around a shocking scientific mystery and Doc would go in with his friends, in great jeopardy, of course, and save the world. The formula was the same for each book, yet I never got tired of it. I never missed a book, at least of those the store stocked, and accumulated at last count, seventy-plus books before we left Spain in Christmas of seventy-four.
I sometimes wish I still had all those paperbacks as they go for a nice price on e-bay. Oh well…
All of the novels were written under the pen name, Kenneth Robeson. Lester Dent, along with a few other co-authors, was under contract from the publisher to write these high-adventure pulp shorts for a magazine starting in the thirties. He did so faithfully until the publisher finally stopped production in, I think it was 1949. Lester wrote all 179 of them except for twenty, and those co-authors followed his style and pattern so as not to upset the readership (as far as I know).
The series was wildly popular at the time and Lester made quite a bit of money off them. He used that dough to take classes, obtain trade licenses, and do a lot of travel, all in the name of research to include in the novels. I can say it probably made a difference, especially in a time without access to the Internet or e-mail or with the relatively primitive telephone systems.
His plotting technique was quick and dirty, and is highly-touted by the likes of Michael Moorcock. Seeing as how the novels are so short, Lester had to cram a lot into a short space. He did it well. That pacing is a philosophy I adhere to. I believe in getting to the point. My stories are a lot longer, but I still don’t like to spend endless pages on internal thoughts and rambling about minute detail. Lester never did. That’s one reason I get so bored with writers like Stephen King (sorry King fans). Those two writers are polar opposites.
Lester Dent was a huge influence on me, not only for pacing, but for the adventure /thriller style. I’m not the only one either. Just check out James Rollins sometime. Neither of us knew at the time but when I met him for the first time and we got to talking back in 2005, we discussed favorite authors. One of the first names that came up was Lester Dent! Go to his web site and look at his influences and you’ll see Lester mentioned there somewhere.
I’m sure you’ll find Lester mentioned in other adventure/thriller author bios like Philip Jose Farmer. He started a style that is still in use today.
My hat’s off to you Lester!