A Study in Contrasts (Two New Doc Wilde Reviews)

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Yesterday, I got notification of a new review of my novel Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom. When I finished enjoying it (because it was by someone who really enjoyed the book), I glanced at my email, and lo, there was another new review.

So I clicked over to it, ready to enjoy, only to find the closest thing to a bad review I’ve gotten yet (out of nearly twenty).

It’s an interesting bit of happenstance that these reviews appeared at pretty much the same time, because they are from two very distinct viewpoints: that of someone who knows and loves pulp adventure stories, and that of someone who isn’t familiar with pulp and seems not to care for it.

The pulp fan is the prolific novelist Mel Odom, who heard about the book back in December and featured it in a post to his blog, Adventures in Writing:

I’ve been a Doc Savage fan for almost 40 years, as of my birthday this week. I discovered the Bantam reprints with the famous James Bama covers on them in 6th grade and fell in love with the globe-trotting adventures. At the time, there was nothing like them. He was my generation’s Harry Potter.

While cruising the pulp sites today (because I haven’t let go of my love for pulpy goodness), I found the Doc Wilde book cover. I pre-ordered my copy immediately…

His review (on Blogcritics) was not only enjoyable because it was very positive, it was heartening to me that someone who is as huge a fan of the old pulps as he is loves my book. I wrote this book with three generations in mind at all times, just as there are three generations of heroes in the book:

  • The people who grew up the original pulps when they came out in the thirties and forties.
  • The people (like me) who grew up with reprinted pulps in the sixties, seventies, and eighties (as well as very pulpy films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars).
  • Most importantly, since I was writing it expressly for my son, the kids growing up now who have very little notion of the original pulps (though their influence in characters like Indiana Jones and Batman remains strong).
  • Additionally, while he grew up loving Doc Savage books, so far he hasn’t shared them with his son:

    My 11-year-old tends to have the same taste in cartoons, superheroes, fantasy novels, and reading matter as I do…However, I never tried reading a Doc Savage novel to him because the world was too different from what he knows. For example, people didn’t have cell phones in those days, and television was a new thing.

    Since Doc Wilde was a modern take on this sort of story, he “intended to read the book to my son, but the day it came in, I sat down with it and read it from cover to cover.”

    The pace of the book is blisteringly quick…I enjoyed Doc Wilde’s relationship with his children, Brian and Wren, as well as his relationship with his parents…Byrd also throws in a villain that seems to be straight out of a H. P. Lovecraft story – only twisted really weirdly and with a lot of humor. Of course, the fate of the world is still on the line.

    His final opinion of the book:

    I loved the book…it’s absolutely fantastic to read and return to those childhood days. Even better, I found that it’s great to give to your son. I shoved the copy in his backpack so he could start reading it at school. It wasn’t long before he started coming home and talking to me about the events in the story. Since he’s seen my Doc Savage books around the house, he’s more curious about them than ever. So I think Tim Byrd has opened the door to even more books I can share with my son.

    Two generations sharing, and loving, the book, just as I’d hoped. Plus, anyone reading the book can’t help but notice my strong pro-reading agenda, so the fact that it might have helped open new literary vistas for his son is wonderful.

    The reviewer who isn’t a pulp fan is Courtney at Once Upon A Bookshelf (though her bio says she enjoys “anything that has to do with Doctor Who, Torchwood, Heroes and Firefly,” so she’s not that far from pulp in her tastes, at least in television). She writes:

    This is Tim Byrd’s first novel, and the first in a series of books about Doc Wilde and his adventurous kids. It’s based on the pulp books of yore, and while I cannot recall any pulp fiction that I have actually read, I hear that this is very close in style to those.

    And her review isn’t actually negative:

    It’s definitely a fun book, for those looking for rip roaring adventure with a dash of good ol’ scifi. It has it all: Action! Adventure! Fighting! Evil Beings From Other Universes! Mutant Frogs!…It’s got no real slow period – completely action packed…

    Still, the book ultimately isn’t her cup o’ tea, and she mentions two reasons why:

    The first was Doc Wilde himself…He comes across at absolutely perfect at everything he does – and because of that, he was kind of boring.

    The other thing was that the timeline seemed a bit inconsistent. It apparently took Grandpa Wilde 20 days to hike through the jungle to the big scary frog-shaped cave… but the rest of the Wilde family went searching for him a week after he left home…and it only took them a few days to get to the same bit scary frog-shaped cave.

    I left a comment under her review addressing both points (but not arguing with her opinion, which I would never do), and wound up saying most of what I’d intended to write in this post, so I’ll just share the comment:

    Thanks for the read, and for being fair enough to acknowledge that it’s fun, even if not entirely to your tastes.

    A couple of points regarding the two things that “drew away from [your] personal enjoyment of this book”:

    The character of Doc Wilde is a direct, loving homage to the pulp hero Doc Savage, whose monthly magazine during the Depression was second only to The Shadow in popularity. In fact, Grandpa Wilde, as the original Doc Wilde who was famous in the thirties and forties, is my intertextual acknowledgment that the original hero is parent to the current hero, but also speaks to the fact that Wilde is his own man. As similar as he is to Savage, he is also very different in ways (as is Grandpa Wilde, who has become warmer and not so stern over the decades).

    Doc Savage was the ur-superhero who inspired the creators of Superman, Batman, James Bond and many other heroic literary figures. Like Doc Wilde, he was not superhuman, but was pretty much the ideal human (except in his rather stunted emotional development). He was the exemplar of excellence; Jack of All Trades, Master of All.

    So, Doc Wilde comes by his perfection honestly. There are challenges in writing about someone so perfect, but doing so is true to the genre I’m playing in. Criticizing a Doc Savage tale for the perfection of the hero is missing the point, just as criticizing a Superman story because Superman is so much a superman is missing the point. And Doc Savage, and Doc Wilde, are, unlike Superman, mortal, vulnerable men who can be killed by a bullet. In that, they’re very similar to Batman. For all their perfection, they’re still only human. (And Doc Wilde, honestly, is a more emotionally accessible hero than Savage ever was).

    Still, you either like that sort of thing or you don’t. You didn’t care for Doc Wilde as a character, just as some folks don’t care for Superman as a character for similar reasons. But that exemplary human character, while not the way to interest you, is true to the genre and enjoyable to those who like that genre.

    The other point, about the timeline, is only a problem in the advance reading copy. The twenty days thing was a remnant from an earlier draft, and I caught the discrepancy and fixed it before the actual publication of the novel. This was one of those situations referred to in the caveat at the front of ARCs, “In quoting from this book for reviews…it is essential that the final printed book be referred to, since the author may make changes before the book goes to press.”

    Of course, you can’t be faulted for not returning to the final book to pick through the small details across various chapters to verify the timeline. I’m actually impressed you noticed the discrepancy, which lingered through various revisions and editorial passes to be actually printed in the ARC before I caught it myself.

    All that said, it either works for you or it doesn’t. I’m glad you at least got some enjoyment from it, even if it wasn’t enough to bring you back for more.

    Again, to be clear, I’m in no way arguing with Courtney’s review or saying her lack of enthusiasm isn’t a valid response. Everybody likes what they like, doesn’t like what they don’t.

    Her final take:

    While I personally may not have loved this book, I have no doubt that young boys would thoroughly enjoy it…While I would definitely recommend this to someone who is looking for a book for a young boy, I won’t reread it, and I won’t read more in the series.

    Which contrasts perfectly with Mel Odom’s final lines:

    …I think Tim Byrd has opened the door to even more books I can share with my son. Not only that, but now we’re both looking forward to the second book in the Doc Wilde series: Doc Wilde and the Daughter of Darkness!

    Both reviews are well-written and thoughtful. It was just really interesting how they contrasted with each other so perfectly.

    Mel Odom’s full review at Blogcritics is here.

    Courtney’s full review at Once Upon A Story is here.

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