THE EDITOR’S WORD by Mike Resnick
Welcome to the thirty-ninth issue of Galaxy’s Edge. We’re pleased and proud to present new and newer writers such as Lou J Berger, Shawn Proctor, Floris M. Kleijne, Christopher L. Bennett, Eleanor R. Wood, R.D. Harris, Rick Norwood, Auston Habershaw, and Robert Jeschonek, as well as old friends Joe Haldeman, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Nancy Kress, and Kevin J. Anderson. We’ve also got our regular features: Recommended Books by Richard Chwedyk, science by Gregory Benford, literary matters by Robert J. Sawyer, and part two of the Joy Ward interview with Gordon van Gelder. And we’ve also got the sixth segment of our serialized novel, Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Hugo winner Charles Sheffield.
So what will your great-grandchildren do to amuse themselves?
The answer is: pretty much what your parents did—and that includes the heroes they dream about. (No, not basketball players and the like. HEROES.)
Let me explain.
You see, there was a time when heroes were springing up all over the landscape—and the good ones never leave. The 1930s were an exceptionally fertile time for the creation of heroes who struck a responsive chord in the public’s hearts (which, after all, is where one responds to heroes). Everyone knows about the comic book heroes, Superman and Batman, who are well into their 60s now with no signs of slowing down.
But I have in mind another batch of heroes, who began a little earlier, and who give every indication of lasting just as long: the pulp heroes. We’ll come to their present and their future in a moment, but first let’s examine their past.
It all began with a radio announcer known as The Shadow. That’s right; a radio announcer.
Street & Smith Publications owned a title called Detective Story, which also became a radio show. And to introduce the show, an announcer would come on in a creepy voice, ask the audience if they knew what they were about to experience, laugh maniacally, and tell them that “The Shadow knows…”
Then someone decided that this shadowy announcer was such an interesting property that they ought to copyright him, so they planned to do a one-shot magazine called, not surprisingly, The Shadow. The head honchos at Street & Smith decided that if they were lucky, they might even get a second issue out.
They miscalculated by 323 issues. That’s right; before the Shadow bit the dirt, he’d appeared in 325 issues of his own magazine—and had been portrayed by Orson Welles on his own radio show. (The radio show didn’t have a lot to do with the real Shadow. The Shadow of the pulps didn’t have the power to cloud men’s minds, he had no romantic interest in Margo Lane, and although it got quite complicated, he wasn’t even Lamont Cranston.)
Well, with sales taking off to the point where the magazine was soon selling a million copies per issue and was so popular it had to go semi-monthly, it didn’t take long for Street & Smith to figure out that the public liked continuing heroes. So they created another—Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze. While the Shadow was cast in the traditional mold of the detective (though there was nothing traditional about his slouch hat, his fiendish laughter, and his blazing guns), Doc was a worldwide adventurer who righted wrongs all over the globe, usually against super-villains who seemed, at first glance, to have supernatural powers (but who never really did—until the very last adventure, “Up From Earth’s Center”, where Doc goes mano a mano against Satan himself). Doc and his band of followers appeared in 188 “novels” (many were really novellas) before his magazine vanished from the stands.
Most of the Shadow novels were written by Walter Gibson under the house name of Maxwell Grant. (Why? Simple. One day Walter notices that the Shadow is making Street & Smith rich, and he’s still getting five hundred dollars a novel, so he goes in and demands a raise. They say no. He threatens to leave. They say, “Fine, and next week there will be another Maxwell Grant, and who will know the difference?” He stayed.)
By the same token, Lester Dent wrote most of the Doc Savage novels, though the only byline ever to appear was Kenneth Robeson.
Pretty soon other publishers were jumping onto the hero bandwagon. There was the Spider, a paranoid version of the Shadow, who killed people if he thought they were even contemplating crimes, and who had body counts that dwarf the average Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. (New publisher, same principle: none of the Spider’s readers knew that Grant Stockbridge, the official author, was usually Norvell Page.)
There was Ki-Gor, a Tarzan clone who appeared in far more novels than the original ever did. There was Captain Future, who traveled the solar system righting wrongs that were out of Doc Savage’s domain. There were flying heroes such as G-8 and His Battle Aces, and Dusty Ayres; group heroes like the Secret Six; undercover heroes like Operator #5 (who spent thirteen full issues—a wordage total approaching War and Peace—fighting back The Purple Invasion); there were the Phantom Detective, and the Ghost, and the Whisperer, and the Black Bat, and Captain Satan, and Taboo Dick, and Doc Harker, and tons of others.
And then one day the pulps were gone, and so were the heroes. If you wanted to find heroes in the 1950s and 1960s, you had to look at the comic books, where the plots were watered down, the characters simplified, and everyone wore colorful long underwear.
But there is something in the hero pulps that refuses to die. By the 1970s, George Pal had made a Doc Savage movie, and had purchased the rights to make a lot more. (He never did, but he planned to. I know; I have the screenplay to the unmade sequel.)
Then the comic books, seeking something that didn’t have the proportional strength of a spider (whatever that means) and wasn’t a visitor from Krypton, discovered the hero pulps, and soon Doc Savage and the Shadow had their own magazines again—only this time they were comic book magazines.
Bantam began publishing the Doc Savage books, and while it took them a quarter of a century, they eventually brought out every last one of them—and a couple of brand-new sequels. James Bama made as much of an impression on a new generation of readers with his interpretation of Doc as Walter Baumhofer pulp covers had made on their parents’ generation.
Other publishers followed suit, though none had quite the same phenomenal success. Three or four different ones picked up the Shadow over the years (and Belmont actually commissioned some new—and truly dreadful—Shadow novels). The Spider found a number of paperback publishers, including one who tried unsuccessfully to update all the references in each story.
But, anachronistic as they were, the heroes refused to die. In the 1990s the Spider came back in book form again, this time with the original pulp cover illustrations. The Shadow became a big-budget movie starring Alec Baldwin, Tim Curry, Sir Ian McKellen, and Jonathan Winters. Tarzan, a pulp hero before there were pulp heroes, was a huge success as an animated film.
And what’s on tap? Dwayne Johnson has signed to take his shot at playing Doc Savage. There are Shadow and Doc and Spider fan clubs all over the world.
My guess is that all of the major pulp heroes will soon have their own interactive computer games. Most of them are already featured in role-playing games.
The one thing you can be certain of is that as entertainments continue to evolve—as they have evolved in the past seventy years from pulps to comics to books and movies—the heroes who refuse to die will evolve with them. I don’t know exactly what your grandchild’s relationship to the Master of Men (the Spider) or the Man of Bronze will be, but I know that he’s going to have one.
You want a guess? The computer jockey of the future will not follow the path of William Gibson’s case in Neuromancer. Far from being an embryonic criminal, he—and all his friends—will tie in to a story that is interactive to the nth degree and become Doc Savage, giving orders to Monk and Ham, and duking it out with John Sunlight. A maniacal laugh will escape his youthful lips as he explains to his enemies that the Shadow knows. He’ll fight Kerchak for the kingship of the apes, flit around the solar system with Captain Future or the galaxy with the Gray Lensman—and if he’s just a little bit on the odd side, he’ll don his Spider disguise and kill thirty or forty people because he suspected they were contemplating doing evil deeds.
He’ll emerge unscathed for lunchtime, stare at the row of books his parents inherited from their grandparents, wonder why anyone would bother reading about heroes when they could become them, and then, his lunch over, he’ll go back to the computer just in time to save America from the Purple Invasion.