Kicking Amphibian Butt: One Of My Favorite Doc Wilde Reviews

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One of the most thorough and thoughtful reviews of my book, Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom, came from writer/librarian Werner A. Lind, who posted it on Goodreads around the time the Pulp Magazine Authors and Literature Fans group discussed the book.

The review is below, but first a couple of points…

First, you may note there’s a discrepancy between the 4 star rating shown above the review and Werner’s statement grading it with three stars in the initial paragraph. Werner explained in a comment during the group discussion:

I hope you noticed that I later added a comment to say that honestly, on reflection, I’d give it four stars based on my own enjoyment of it, not just that of a hypothetical younger reader. (Sometimes it gets tiring to always have to wear the mantle of a sober academic critic. :-)) And I want you to know that once Doc Wilde and the Mad Skull is published, it’s definitely going on my to-read shelf!

The other thing is that he, like quite a few others I think, found the kids’ ability to use echolocation to navigate darkness a bit too over-the-top and unrealistic. The truth is, human echolocation is real, and it’s fascinating. Look it up on Wikipedia.

And now, take it away, Werner…

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Werner A.’s review 

Nov 24, 09
4 of 5 stars

Lester Dent meets H. P. Lovecraft in this adventure yarn, with a sizable dollop of Eoin Colfer thrown in: in tone, style and reading level –and to a degree in essential conception, although the Wildes, unlike the Fowls, are resolutely law-abiding and ethical– this book reminded me of Artemis Fowl. Like the latter, it’s aimed primarily at pre-teen readers, and should prove equally popular with them. Indeed, my rating above is based on the author’s skillful appeal to this audience; while I did like it (and better than Colfer’s series-opener!), my rating based strictly on my own reaction would have been three stars –it lacked the amount of texture and character development that it usually takes to earn four stars from me. That wouldn’t be a problem for most kids, though.

Doc Wilde, adventurer and scientific polymath, is based on Lester Dent’s Doc Savage character from the early modern adventure pulps (I haven’t read any of L. Dent’s work myself –though this book whetted my interest in doing so). Here, the challenge he must confront is posed by an extraterrestrial, amphibious Elder God from beyond our universe, itching to break into our universe and wreak havoc, and invested with all of the Lovecraftian trappings that Cthulhu Mythos fans (like me!) will readily recognize and eat up with a spoon.

But Doc is accompanied in his adventures by his 12 and 10 year-old kids Brian and Wren, an element missing in Byrd’s pulp fiction models, but calculated to appeal to an audience of their peers. Now, even though these kids are mentally and physically trained better than most adults, they’re still kids; some readers will find it unrealistic that a parent would expose them to that degree of danger, even granting that he’s a male parent (Mrs. Wilde is dead years ago –if she were alive, I suspect she’d have enthusiastic objections!), and will feel that if he did, he should be prosecuted by social services for reckless endangerment.

Those readers have a case, but it misses the point: this is essentially a child’s fantasy, a literary daydream of what they could do with that kind of training and a parent willing to let them use it. And their identification with heroic kids who make a difference in the outcome of the situation –as Brian and Wren do here– isn’t a bad thing.

The short chapters that one reviewer complained of don’t actually make for a choppy narrative, because the story flows in a quick-moving current; the chapter divisions just correspond to what in some works would be a skipped line to indicate a scene change, and often emphasize an ominous or cliffhanger moment. (I wasn’t bothered, either, by the occasional use of unconventional typescript for emphasis –it wasn’t overused, and for me didn’t interfere with readability.)

Obviously, the one-sentence claim of a role for the book’s Elder God figure in the supposed evolution of earthly life clashes with a creationist view, as does Lovecraft’s own passing mention, in At the Mountains of Madness, of the supposed role of his aliens in the origin of mankind; but in both places, this isn’t a major thrust of the story as a whole nor essential to the plot, and so can simply be passed over. (After all, if you can accept the idea that a child could be trained to “see” in the dark by echolocation –though not as well as a bat can– temporary suspension of disbelief for anything won’t be a big problem!)

All of the members of the Wilde family are larger-than-life characters, as tends to be the case in adventure fiction, and they’re delineated mostly in terms of what they can do, without much attention to their interior life; but again, that’s a characteristic of the genre. Byrd writes well, giving you enough detail to bring the characters and scenes to life but not to interfere with a quick narrative pace; he keeps action scenes and physical jeopardies frequent, so there’s never a dull moment, and the situations are genuinely demanding for the characters (Wren’s long crawl through a narrow subterranean tunnel in pitch darkness, for instance, isn’t for the claustrophobic). Despite the Lovecraftian theme, he wisely eschews preaching cosmic despair — confronted by a universe-threatening ancient evil of great power and malevolence, the Wildes don’t sink into suicidal existential angst; they just set their jaws and kick some amphibian butt.

There are a number of other good touches here: I liked the strong family bond among the Wildes, their ecological concern, their preference for not killing if they can avoid it, and the positive portrayal of homeschooling; and I also appreciated the fact that Wren was an equal member of the team, not excluded from adventuring because of her gender, as was often the fate of females in the adventure fiction of the 19th and early 20th centuries. (Grandma’s no slouch at akido, either.)  Byrd has just the right note of deadpan humor; and like Edgar Rice Burroughs, he’s adept at switching focus between separated characters to create cliff- hanger situations. The climax and denouement are well-done.

But where the Wildes really won my heart was when I read, “Like Doc and the kids, the grandparents Wilde liked only one thing more than adventuring: reading.” As a librarian (and fellow reader), I LIKE this family!

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