Rogue Moon

Rogue Moon
Algis Budrys | Fawcett Books | 1960 | 176 pages

After the discovery of a possibly alien artifact on the dark side of the moon, research scientist Dr. Edward Hawks employs his experimental project in an attempt to uncover the mystery surrounding the strange lunar construct.

Dr. Hawks has created a matter transmitter capable of copying a human being on the particle level and beaming the information to a receiver on the moon. The receiver takes this subatomic blueprint and creates a duplicate human, assembling it from available lunar materials. The two identical brains–although separated by cosmic distances–are able to share a telepathic link, allowing the terrestrial human to download the memories from his lunar copy.

However, the alien construct functions as a deadly trap, killing any intruder in a matter of steps. The humans on earth are unable to process the memories of their deaths experienced by their projected selves, and are ultimately driven insane. This dilemma leads Dr. Hawks to seek out a new kind of test subject, one that will be better equipped to withstand the psychic damage created by this strange form of deadly exploration.

Enter Al Barker, a thrill-seeking daredevil who races fast cars and lives for the adrenaline rush of his next brush with death. Manipulated by Vincent Connington, a sleazy personnel director with an agenda of his own, into volunteering as Hawks’ next test subject, Barker seems the perfect candidate for the mission. His psychological makeup suggests that he possesses an inherent resistance to the mortal terrors produced by memories of death.

A man should fight…. A man should show he is never afraid to die. He should go into the midst of his enemies, singing his death song, and he should kill or be killed…. He must never be afraid to meet the test of his manhood.

Very little time is dedicated to exploring the deadly alien maze on the moon, however, as Hawks and Barker quip, counter, and pontificate on the nature of man. Hawks (the cold and sadistic clinician) and Barker (the hot-blooded alpha male) establish polar ends to a treatise on human nature, engaging in what amounts to a pissing contest for the attention of Barker’s beautiful but bored wife, Claire.

Such creatures are not to be thought of as good or bad. Not by mortal men…. They are born among us – car hops, dice girls, Woolworth clerks – but they rise to their heritage…. Woe to us who would pursue them on their cometary track.

Hawks lapses into long speeches on the nature of gender and man’s role in life, as Barker eventually suffers the effects of matter transmission and fears losing his hold over Claire. The characters are mostly unlikable, and when we finally glimpse the inside of the structure on the moon, it comes as a series of abstract descriptions. The most impactful images from within the maze involve Barker passing the corpses of his previously transmitted versions, who failed and were killed at some junction in their exploration.

After listening to much rumination on the nature of identity, Claire frames the overall experience most succinctly:

Why don’t you just shut up, Hawks? What do you do, go through life making speeches? You know what you are, Hawks? You’re a creep. A bore and a creep.

Notable at the time of publication for its psychological themes of inner space, Rogue Moon raises many questions on human nature but answers few, treating an alien monument as a device for reflection on mortality, rather than a gateway for conventional science fiction story telling.

The UFO Incident

The UFO Incident
Made-for-Television Movie | Starring James Earl Jones, Estelle Parsons, Barnard Hughes | Written by Hesper Anderson & Jake Justiz | Based on the Book by John G. Fuller | Directed by Richard A. Colla | Originally Aired on October 20, 1975

What exactly happened to Betty (Estelle Parsons) and Barney Hill (James Earl Jones) while driving on a desolate stretch of New Hampshire highway on the night of September 19, 1961?

Although suffering from a temporary amnesia around their experience, the anxiety produced by dream-fueled partial recollections lead the couple to Dr. Benjamin Simon (Barnard Hughes). Under a program of hypnotherapy, the Hills are finally able to unlock their memories and recount a horrifying tale of alien abduction.

Remembered events unfold at a deliberate and talky pace. James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons dominate the screen time, in what is essentially a three-character play. Leisurely close-ups during the hypnotherapy sessions allow the actors to run the gamut from a modulated recital of actions, to nearly histrionic reactions to the horrors being revealed under hypnosis (plus the N’Hampshah accented cries of “Baaaaaaahneee!” when Betty refers to her husband).

The first full hour allows the dark New Hampshire roadside, and the prospect of what the couple has encountered, to establish an evocative mood. When the alien reveal finally occurs, their screen time is wisely minimized, often intercut with the character recounting the story.  Less is definitely more in the blinky-rubber-alien-head department.

The film depicts the couple as sincere about their belief regarding their abduction, but grounds both characters with an emotional foundation that offers a number of factors–including personal stress, the tension accompanying being an interracial couple in 1960s America, and the overall paranoia and anxiety from a potential Cold War era nuclear attack—that could possibly imprint themselves onto a shared fantasy.

Two decades before the X-Files claimed “The Truth is Out There”, this film suggested the truth is <points to head> in here.

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The So Blue Marble

The So Blue Marble
Dorothy B. Hughes | Pyramid Books | 1965 | 157 pages

At the age of twenty-three, Griselda Satterlee has already lived a surprisingly full life, with an early career as a fledgling Hollywood starlet, a whirlwind marriage to a famous radio journalist, a rather mutually agreeable divorce, and a vocational reinvention as a fashion designer. However, nothing in her experience has prepared her for the arrival of a pair of psychopathic twins into her life, casually insinuating their lethal presence on their search for a mysterious object they believe to be in Griselda’s possession.

With her ex-husband Con away on long-term assignment in Mexico, Griselda accepts his offer to temporarily stay in his Midtown Manhattan apartment. Walking down Fifth Avenue, two charming yet sinister young men, whom she initially takes for Ivy League students, fall into step with her, calling her by name. Although she does not recognize them, they insist on following her home, where their superficial politeness gives way to intimidation and more than a hint of violence. A single, blunt command becomes their refrain:

Just give us our very blue marble, and we’ll go.”

This so-blue marble serves as a variation on the macguffin, or a great-whats-it, the arbitrary something that drives Griselda forward along a path of terror littered with the bodies of those who interfere with the twins and their singular focus. The duo’s fashionable upper-class stylings of top hats and silk scarves are accented by matching walking sticks—with lethal swords hidden in their tips.

Griselda’s silence regarding the growing crimes around her becomes a passive complicity after she discovers that Missy, her sixteen-year-old sister, has fallen under the spell of the twins, and may be involved in murder. Griselda also suspects that Con is somehow connected, and fears involving him with the authorities. Even with  her personal involvement with the case and her natural reluctance to come forward, at some point most readers—particularly after the introduction of a seemingly sympathetic NYPD detective—will probably want to scream, 

“Just go to the f***ing police already!”

It doesn’t help matters when, midway through, Con arrives on the scene, and proves to be something of a heel (he even callously gives away her glasses at one point). His generally indifferent attitude towards Griselda becomes more irritating after her feelings for him seemingly rekindle. Although terrorized by the twins, Griselda more than holds her own, so having Con–and his nebulous secret service connections—partially take the lead dampens the mood.

“Nothing ever happened to her kind of people; things happened to people living down those cross streets in old red bricks or old brownstones.

The New York City locations are evocative, painting a portrait of high society teas, cocktails, and dinners at famous locations. From the El Morocco club to the St. Regis Hotel, the stage is set for high-society good cheer, interrupted only by the occasional burst of sociopathic violence (while our heroine nibbles melba toast in a five-star hotel lounge).

The Wolfen

The Wolfen
Whitley Strieber | Bantam Books | 1978 | 275 pages

Investigating the shocking evisceration killing of two fellow police officers, NYPD detectives Becky Neff and George Wilson uncover the existence of a pack of legendary creatures secretly prowling the margins of the city for human victims.

Unlike the werewolves of myth, the Wolfen are not shape-shifters, but have evolved a great intelligence in parallel to human history. Understanding that exposure to humanity would be catastrophic to their existence, the pack targets the detectives in an attempt to silence their investigation. An effectively eerie early scene in the basement of a burned out building demonstrates the cunning nature of this advanced new lupine mind, when a Wolfen simulates the cry of a human baby in an attempt to lure Detective Neff away from her colleagues—and into the waiting jaws of the pack.

Other more action-oriented set pieces are less successful. A later desperate trap to ensnare Neff and Wilson, involving a wounded officer left bleeding as bait,  leads to the pair escaping Central Park on a pair of commandeered scooters, with the snapping jaws of two Wolfen close behind. The point of view occasionally shifts from the detectives to the Wolfen, increasing the understanding and empathy towards the creatures, but lessening the horror of the unfolding carnage.

As the detectives struggle to uncover the evidence needed to convince their supervisors of their unbelievable hypothesis on the nature of the killings, some character development sets the foundation for a sort-of love triangle that (fortunately) never really materializes. The grizzled veteran Wilson ultimately expresses his long-repressed romantic feelings for his attractive young partner Neff, while she grows more distant from her husband Dick, a narcotics officer on the take to support the financial needs of his aging father.

Although potentially reading as an unnecessary padding, the back stories help inform the overall picture of late-seventies New York as a corrupt and crime-ridden metropolis. Unaware and indifferent to the neglected humanity living on its margins, the city exists as a hunting ground for a predator that has long lived in its abandoned and burned-out landscapes. From the South Bronx, Central Park West, the Upper East Side, and all the way downtown, the locations flesh out the city itself as a vital character.

Detective Neff, her husband, and Wilson add Dr. Ferguson, a scientist from the Museum of Natural History (who also displays an instant, shifty attraction to Becky Neff), to their trusted number, making a quartet of potential wolf food victims in the final showdown against the pack. Their growing paranoia fuels a tense surveillance plan on the frozen rooftop of Becky’s building, with Ferguson’s attempt at inter-species communication via hand signals providing a violent—but darkly humorous—punchline.

The pacing stalls a bit midway, as the detectives grapple with the realization that they are being stalked, and with alternate Wolfen point-of-view takes on the events. However, the all-out assault on Becky’s apartment that eventually follows elicits sudden shocks and visceral action, with the pack pressing to eliminate their human threats once and for all.

The Red Lamp

The Red Lamp
Mary Roberts Rinehart | Dell Books | 1954 | 312 pages

After the death of his uncle, William Porter inherits a remote estate with a checkered history. Formerly occupied by a medium, the seances held there reputedly succeeded in summoning the spirit of man who died a violent death in the house. Prior to moving in to the inherited estate, William’s wife, Jane, experiences a strange vision of his late uncle, seeing his ghostly form manifested among a group of people.

Jane’s growing sense of unease finally prevents the couple from moving in to the main house, instead occupying a smaller cabin on the estate. Through a letter of introduction by a mutual friend, William rents out the house to a reclusive writer, an elderly invalid accompanied by a young assistant. The general sense of fear instilled by Jane’s vision only intensifies, however, as a strange series of sheep killings plagues the local countryside.

Told primarily through a series of entries in William’s journal, the couple–joined by William’s niece and her intended beau—experience a growing number of seemingly supernatural experiences, from mysterious lights to ghostly visitations. After a shocking murder rattles the village, William begins to suspect that the crime is somehow connected to their own supernatural encounters, and ultimately back to his uncle’s suspicious death.

The Red Lamp has all the elements to fuel its atmosphere of dread and superstition: a spooky old house, phantoms, multiple seances, psychic visions, and a string of potentially related murders. Under suspicion himself from the law, William plays the role of amateur detective, puzzling together a growing chain of small clues. Along the way, he challenges his own skepticism of the supernatural with a series of philosophical ruminations on the finality of death and the potential of a plane beyond, wondering if his uncle has indeed returned from the grave, and if so, for what purpose.

However, it’s the small individual moments of investigation—finding an altar made of stones, deciphering a letter written in code, breaking into a room to examine the signature characters struck by a typewriter—that work best, generating a much greater level of interest than the whole overarching span. Strangely, the journal format runs out at the denouement, supplanted by a stodgy dump of information that summarizes the events and unmasks the true culprit, but structurally fails as a payoff to the narrative.

Sisters of Death

Sisters of Death | Starring Arthur Franz, Claudia Jennings, Cheri Howell, Sherry Boucher, Paul Carr, Joe E. Tata & Sherry Alberoni | Written by Peter Arnold & Elwyn Richards | Directed by Joe Mazzuca | 87 minutes | 1976

An occult-tinged sorority initiation leads to the death of a pledge in a prologue that teases a different sort of horror experience than the film actually delivers. 

[I watched Satan’s School for Girls. Satan’s School for Girls was a friend of mine. Sisters of Death, you’re no Satan’s School for Girls.]

Seven years after the hazing death, the surviving sorority members receive an anonymous invitation to a reunion in Paso Robles. Why Paso Robles; why NOT Paso Robles? Seemingly unfazed by their tragic past—or irresistibly drawn to the prospect of a full welcoming champagne brunch—they gather at a remote estate, only to find themselves trapped and isolated inside an electrified fence.

I really don’t think you should take a shower.

The purported culprit of this proto-slasher reveals himself early, as the sisters begin to be killed one by one. For a seventies horror, the film is remarkably tepid, almost playing like a made-for-TV project. The kill sequences are mostly bloodless, and the most suspenseful scene arguably involves a tarantula crawling across a bed. Later, the film resorts to another potential animal attack, this time a rattlesnake, to wake up its audience. Even after abandoning all pretense of reason with a laugh-inducing set-up involving a character announcing that—in the middle of all the murders—she intends on taking a shower, the ultimate payoff fails to generate any shock or titillation. 

Logic unravels completely at the finale, but the unexpected introduction of a gatling gun almost compensates.

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Conan | Conan the Barbarian #1

Conan | Conan the Barbarian #1
Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter | Ace Books | 1967 | 221 pages

The Thing in the Crypt (Carter & de Camp)

The introductory tale to the collection reads like a single scene, brisk and to the point, with a hair-raising payoff that prefigures the choices presented in choose-your-own-adventure stories or D&D campaigns.

Fleeing a hungry pack of wolves, Conan discovers the remnants of an ancient high altar hidden deep in a cave. The mummified corpse of a long forgotten king is seated upon the throne, with a gleaming sword held across its lap. The fantastic blade beckons Conan to pick it up. What could possibly go wrong?

The Tower of the Elephant (Howard)

The second story plays like a heist, only Barbarian style—without anything remotely resembling meticulous planning, but featuring plenty of run-right-in-and-take-it action.

Scaling a bejewelled tower to plunder the Elephant’s Heart, a fabled gemstone imbued with magical power reputedly hidden inside the walls, Conan battles against a pack of guardian lions and a pig-sized spider before ultimately facing off against an evil wizard. However, the reveal of the gem’s namesake infuses the simple attempted theft with an unexpected sense of melancholy, and throws open a window on an entirely new cosmology.\

The Hall of the Dead (Howard & de Camp)

Joined by the sole survivor of a team of soldiers ordered to capture him, Conan plunders the ruins of the fabled metropolis of Larsha. 

Once inside the walls of the cursed city, Conan tracks through a sticky trail of ooze on the ground, leading him into battle against a fantastic creature — or a simple, gargantuanly grown, garden pest — that puts the musclebound Cimmerian unexpectedly on the run. 

The treasure room scene treads on some more overly familiar ground (and precipitates another action sequence) as Conan discovers seven brilliant gems on a low altar, with only the sightless gaze of seven seemingly dead guardians to view the theft—-until he drops the gems in his pouch. 

The epilogue in the tavern provides a satisfying reversal of fortune, as Conan attempts to spend the spoils of his pillage. Although he perhaps fails to recognize any greater moral to his tale, Conan does display a good-natured allegiance to the phrase, “Honor Among Thieves”.

The God in the Bowl (Howard)

When a guard stumbles across Conan standing above the body of the slain master of the house, a murder mystery of sorts ensues with the local constabulary standing off against the muscular Cimmerian.

The inquisitor’s focus eventually shifts to an unusual item of interest: an ancient burial urn now standing open in a chamber adjacent to the murder room. Comparable to a suspenseful chamber piece, tensions among the group ebb and flow, ultimately being released with the sudden beheading of a pompous young aristocrat. In the wake of this violent act, the former occupant of the sarcophagus-like object reveals its otherworldly nature, setting the (now cleared) stage for a horrific climax.

Rogues in the House (Howard)

Conan descends into the murkiness of palace intrigue after agreeing to assassinate Nabonidus, a corrupt high priest, in exchange for being released from prison.

All does not go according to plan, however, as Conan ultimately finds himself trapped in the sewers below Nabonidus’ manor with the young nobleman who hired him, and —- unexpectedly —- his intended victim. Seemingly, the priest’s strange ward Thak, a hairy beast akin to a missing link in man’s evolution, chose this night to run amok and kill everyone in the great house. The unusual threesome strike a new alliances to evade Thak’s murderous rampage, and escape the rooms above—-rooms set and loaded with diabolical traps blocking their route to freedom.

Although capable of fantastic violence and possessing little understanding of the complex rules of society, Conan’s actions illustrate the barbarian’s unwavering internal moral compass, set in stark contrast to the duplicity of the highborn classes.

Plus a brutal creature fight.

The Hand of Nergal (Howard & Carter)

While engaged in some battlefield carnage as a mercenary, Conan witnesses a nearly apocalyptic attack by ethereal, bat-shaped beings. Awakening after the onslaught to discover himself alone in a sea of corpses, he is recruited by a young girl to aid the local king in his battle against a powerful sorcerer. It seems the dark magician has gained possession of a legendary ancient artifact, giving him control over unimaginable forces of darkness.

After building a bit of lore surrounding the Hand of Nergal, and its opposing talisman, the Heart of Tammuz, Conan sets off for the throne room to confront the mage and destroy the evil object.

Ultimately rescued by the girl from the immediate threat of the shadowy demons released from the Hand, Conan essentially stands back and watches the battle of opposing cosmic forces, reduced to a light show playing before his eyes. 

The City of Skulls (Carter & de Camp)

While escorting Princess Zosara to her betrothed in a distant land of Khan nomads, a swarm of savage attackers descends upon the wedding party. Along with Zosara, Conan and his fellow mercenary Juma are the only survivors. The trio of prisoners are led across the rugged Talakma mountains to the remote kingdom of Meru. Once inside the capital of Shamballah, a sacred city festooned with images of skulls, they are brought before King Jalung Thoma to learn of their fate.

It’s all stage setting for a few action pieces, including Conan and Juma making a particularly bone-crushing escape from a slave galley. Later while stealthily working their way through passages under the city, they —quite fortuitously—emerge in the high temple during a ceremony with the captured Zosara. Conan unexpectedly discovers the true nature of the power held by the “toad-like little god-king”, battling yet another monster-come-to-life-by-wizardry, and confirming the understandable rationale behind the barbarian’s superstitious fear of the uncanny.

Brand of the Werewolf | Doc Savage #5

Brand of the Werewolf | Doc Savage #5
Kenneth Robeson | Bantam Books | 1975 | 138 pages

Taking a transcontinental train to his uncle’s remote Canadian cabin (for a brief respite from his adventures in fighting against evil), Doc Savage and his gang of super-scientist companions are the target of a strange, silent attack. An odd trio of other passengers—the “swarthy” Señor Oveja, his ravishingly beautiful daughter Cere, and the “girl-faced” El Rabanos—set a trap to frame Doc for a similar attack, and subsequently, for the murder of the train’s conductor.

Disappointingly, this entry in the action series does not settle into a parlour mystery set aboard a speeding train. Soon, Doc and his friends are off the train, following Oveja and company to uncle Alex’s cabin, where the senior Savage has recently died under mysterious circumstances. Overseeing the remote estate is Doc’s cousin Patricia, a beautiful young woman who shares the bronze hero’s statuesque build and metallic coloring. 

Unfortunately, Patricia’s Native American household staff falls victim to the cheap stereotyping so common in the Doc Savage series. Patricia’s handyman, Boat-face, speaks almost exclusively with offensively bad retorts of “Him bad medicine” or “Him heap big coward.” Patricia actually punches him in the eye for being insolent, toppling him out of their canoe. Meanwhile, Boat-face’s “squaw”, Tiny, is a rotund woman who constantly chases him around with a raised rolling pin.

Patricia herself is also a sadly underdeveloped character. Sharing few of her cousin’s superhuman traits, she mostly seems to exist in order to provide a victim in need of the occasional rescuing. In one sequence, Doc incapacitates her with a specially applied nerve pinch, and bodily carries her to safety tucked under his arm.

The story is replete with the expected action sequences, as Doc eventually battles a criminal gang in a race toward an unlikely pirate treasure. Monk and Ham trade quips, and compete to win over the attention of Patricia (whose notable physical resemblance to Doc may posit an unintentional question surrounding the true object of their attraction). Doc’s other team members produce an unexpected amount of gear from luggage intended to support a fishing trip, while all paths finally converge on a shipwreck in an underground cavern.

The resolution relies too much on a multitude of actions performed by a key character, but the circumstances of his death ultimately defy the very logic of those actions.

…and most unforgivable of all, Doc
never wrestles a werewolf, as promised on the cover.

The Polar Treasure | Doc Savage #4

The Polar Treasure | Doc Savage #4
Kenneth Robeson | Bantam Books | 1965 | 122 pages

A map tattooed on the back of a blind violinist leads Doc and his crew on a chase for lost treasure in the frozen wastes of the uncharted Arctic.

After attending a concert (featuring a classical piece he wrote anonymously), super crime-fighter Doc Savage thwarts an attempt to assault the orchestra’s blind violinist, Victor Vail. The criminal ringleader spouts enough nautical gibberish (“Sink ‘im, mateys! Scuttle ‘im! Well, keelhaul me!”) to his henchmen during the attack that Vail recognizes the voice from his tragic past. 

Fifteen years previously, Vail was among a handful of survivors aboard the Oceanic, a passenger ship that was lost among the arctic icefields off the coast of Greenland. Although his wife and daughter were purported casualties, Vail himself mysteriously had no recollection of the actual sinking. Unaccountably blacking out just prior to the disaster, he awoke afterwards with a strange, stinging sensation on his back, carried away with a small band of the surviving crew members. Vail recognizes the salty voice of his attempted kidnapper as belonging to a leader of an opposing faction of that crew, whose men instigated a violent internal struggle before splitting off from the others.

After Doc discovers the Oceanic carried a wealth of gold and jewels as its cargo, he embarks on a race against two rival gangs in order to beat them to the treasure, and uncover the true fate of the ship and its passengers. Although Doc’s five super-genius companions disappear for a time, they have enough time to engage in the trademark adventures of the series: plentiful instances of fisticuffs, gunfights, and gadgetry that propel each short burst of a chapter to the next. 

Long Tom (the electrical wizard) fiddles with the radio set, Renny (the engineer) beats down doors with his gigantic fists, Johnny (the archaeologist) assesses the group’s chances with the local terrain and population, while Monk (the chemist) and Ham (the lawyer) exchange enough corny insults to put an old married couple to shame. Ham and Renny even engage in a brawl with the walrus-like captain of a polar submarine that prefigures Doc’s own fight with an actual polar bear. 

SPOILER: he virtually punches it to death.

The implicit racism of the era that unfortunately informs many of the characterizations in the series is also demonstrated in this installment. The eskimo fighters are almost universally referred to as fat, greasy, or foul-smelling, and one attacker is specifically derided as a “greasy eater of blubber.”

Doc’s abilities and goodwill are nearly limitless, and he even takes time to perform a miraculous surgery on Vail, completely restoring the sight the violinist has been without since birth. However, an offhand remark suggests that his surgical skills are also directed to more dubious concerns, at least to modern sensibilities. Rather than sending his apprehended criminals to the police, Doc admits to sending them to a secret, extralegal installation in upstate New York, where advanced brain surgery modifies their behavior and facilitates a medical restraint from future criminality.

As Renny would say, “Holy cow!

Meteor Menace | Doc Savage #3

Meteor Menace | Doc Savage #3
Kenneth Robeson | Bantam Books | 1972 | 140 pages

A screaming comes across the sky.” 

[Stop.] That’s Gravity’s Rainbow. [Restart.]

A cosmic blue light and shrill whistling comes across the sky, rendering those unfortunate witnesses on the earth below into brainless automatons. That’s Meteor Menace, third entry in the Doc Savage series of proto-super hero adventures originally written in the thirties.

About as far from Pynchon post-modernism as possible on the page, the two-fisted, globe-trotting action series functions as a travelogue of sorts; only the food is always terrible and the locals are less than civilized.

While dedicating a hospital in South America, Doc Savage — multi-disciplined super genius, international crime fighter, and all-around astounding physical specimen — is approached by the beautiful young Rae Stanley in an appeal to aid in the rescue of her father. Professor Stanley, a world-renowned astronomer, disappeared in the wilds of Tibet on a mission to research a legendary blue meteor that reputedly struck somewhere in the desolate wastes of the high Himalyan plateau. 

Before fully investigating Rae’s plea for help, Doc and his five-man crew of super-scientists–Johnny, Renny, Long Tom, Monk, and Ham–come under attack by a group of Tibetan mercenaries, who all seem to speak in a stereotypical jet of colloquialisms (“Lower the box, offspring of silly partridges!”). The group’s leader is Shrops, a cockney Englishman who whose own speech is characterized by an affected dialogue style (“Not ‘arf bad o’ you t’ let me com hup.”). Shrops control over the Tibetans stems from his power to summon the Blue Meteor, an aeronautical anomaly that reduces those in close proximity to gibbering idiots.

Doc and his crew become such unwitting victims after the meteor passes overhead, until unexpectedly awakening from their meteor-induced stupor in a small house in Tibet. Maneuvered by Shrops to find and eliminate his former crime-lord boss and rival, Mo-Gwei (modestly self-titled “The Devil-faced, Master of the Blue Meteor, and Future Master of All Mankind.”), Doc’s sojourns into the Tibetan interior will bring him to the source of the Blue Meteor, while ultimately uncovering the secret surrounding the fate of Rae’s father.

In each chapter, Doc advances through an escalating series of scrapes, abductions, rescues, brawls and gunfights, all providing a modest set of cliffhanger action along the way. However, with his amazing strength, resourcefulness, and something akin to a utility belt full of remarkable (for the time) devices, Doc’s ability to overcome any danger is never really in question.

Meanwhile, a fancy set of purple-striped pajamas offers a pinnacle of comic relief.