Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, November 6, 2020


Doctor Satan by Paul Ernst; edited by Robert Weinberg as "Pulp Clasic"* #6  (1974)

 In one of my recent posts I covered Paul Ernst's short story "Doctor Satan," the first tale (of eight) about the titular villain and his nemesis, Ascot Keane.  It was a slamdinger of a pulp thriller tale that combined mystery, science fiction, and horror -- one of many such stories that proliferated during the first half of the twentieth century featuring a mad supervillain who puts the world at risk.  I enjoyed that story and decided to read more.  On my shelves was a copy of the Robert Weinberg-edited Doctor Satan, which he self-published in 1974 as #6 in his "Pulp Classics" line, containing five of the eight stories.  (The complete Doctor Satan saga would have to wait until 2013 when Altus Press published The Complete Tales of Doctor Satan; six years later, Fiction House published The Complete Stories of Doctor Satan.)

No one knows who Doctor Satan is.  He is "robed in red. with a red mask over the face, red gloves on the hands, and a red skullcap from which protruded small mocking imitations of Satan's horns."  Tha, although he is a scientific genius is not of doubt.  He has the power to read and control minds, and he has the means to finance his evil plots.  At times, Ascot Keane wonders if he is actually the devil.  Strangely, and by an unwritten rule of pulp fiction, Doctor Satan has not been able to kill Ascot Keane, although he can easily murder many others.  Similarly, Ascot Keane cannot kill Doctor Satan, although at times he thought he has, only to have the villain reappear.  Doctor Satan starts out with two loyal henchmen:  Girse, a small monkey-like man, and Bostiff, a legless giant whose massive elongated arms and calloused hands allow him to move.  As the series continues, both these henchmen are eliminated, although, in the case of Grise, Doctor Satan vows to bring him back to life.**

The five stories in this volume are presented out of order from when they first appeared in Weird Tales in 1935 and 1936.  With the exception of "Doctor Satan," which Weinberg placed first, the stories are presented in no particular order.  (I have no idea why, but since the tales are basically independent of the others it doesn't really matter.

The book itself is 8 1/2" x 5 1/2 inches, perfect bound, with a thick paper cover.  The stories have been hand typed, apparently on regular typing pager, then reduced 50% to fit the dimensions of the book.  When I say hand typed, I mean it; the book is rife with typographical errors.  Between the errors and the tiny type, some may have a hard time reading the pages (BW, there is also some blurring of words).  For me, however, this added to the cheesy charm of the stories.  

The stories:

  • Doctor Satan (from Weird Tales, August 1935)  The first in the series.  Wealthy men are being blackmailed by Doctor Satan -- pay up or die!  And the death is horrible: plants take root in the brain and sprout out from the skull.  Ascot Keane -- mega-rich playboy and student of the occult, who few suspect as being the world's greatest criminologist -- enters the case.  Doctor Satan appears to in this only for the money (a million dollars from each potential victim) and a desire to become the world's greatest criminal.  In later stories, Doctor Satan expands his aims.
  • The Consuming Flame (from Weird Tales, November 1935)  The fourth in the series.  Once again, millionaires are being blackmailed.  A purple doom awaits them; when triggered, this dust (?) gas(?) consumes people and machines alike, leaving only a charred mark where they were.  To make matters worse, Doctor Satan has kidnapped Ascot Keane's beautiful secretary/assistant/right hand man (woman actually, but that was the term Ernst used), red-headed Beatrice Dale and has injected her with a powerful drug that leaves her in a death-like state, although being fully aware of what is going on.  And, jimmycrackers!, he has also captured Ascot Keane and has injected him with the same stuff, although a smaller dose.  Keane will begin to recover, but not enough to prevent a timed explosion of the purple death.   Silly Doctor Death underestimated Keane in this one, and Keane and Beatrice both escape, although the purple death claims the monkey-like Grise.
  • The Devil's Double (from Weird Tales, May 1936)  The seventh in the series.  Doctor Satan has kidnapped the children of wealthy John Ivor:  Jane, 20, and Harold 19.  He demands a million dollars ransom but John Ivor could only arranged $500,000 in cash in the short time Doctor Satan demanded.  Receiving half his demand, Doctor Satan releases on Jane Ivor, but the girl he released has been brainwashed to be Doctor Satan's slave.  To prove this, Doctor Satan makes Jane do a public strip-tease while declaring her allegiance to Satan.  Enter Ascot Keane, who brilliantly breaks Doctor Satan's hold over the girl.  Keane's search for the boy eventually takes him underground to a hellish landscape of flames and deformed souls.  Keane is equipped with the Blue Death of Saint Sertius, a powerful ancient weapon first used in ancient Rome, then lost to time until a Druid monk had rediscovered it in ancient England and where an entire town had fallen victim to it.  Keane had found in the ruins of a Druid monastery.  The Blue Death manages to kill the legless Bostiff, but Doctor Satan's power was too strong for it.  Keane saves Harold but Doctor Satan lives on to fight another day.
  • Beyond Death's Gateway (from Weird Tales, March 1936)  The sixth in the series.  Waxman, an inventor, has devised a new weapon of war:  a deadly gas that kill anything living, animal or vegetable. to it touches.  Unfortunately, for Waxman and for the War department, the gas also kills whoever issues it.  Waxman has come close to finding an antidote that will spare the US troops who fire the weapon, but it is not ready yet.  Waxman himself will never complete his research because Doctor Satan has thrown him overboard from a ship crossing the Atlantic, but not before getting the formula for the gas and the nearly completed antidote.  The uncompleted antidote has serious side effects:  whoever take it will die -- or, at least, be in a death-like state for some twelve hours before it works.  Although dead, their body will remain in stasis and not deteriorate.  What happens when you are dead?  Is there an afterlife?  Doctor Satan must think so because he has entered death's realm to extract the final secrets from the inventor Waxman.  Ascot Keane is determined to follow his enemy and takes the antidote, and dies.  He finds himself in a nothingness that is ruled by thought.  Ascot Keane actually meets his own father as he tries to figure out the rules of this realm.  He eventually meets Doctor Satan and prevents him from getting Waxman's secrets, but before he can put an end to the villain he is drawn back to the world of the living.  Still determined, he is ready to take another dose, die, and go back and finish  Doctor Satan.  That he doesn't is obvious because Satan is back in "The Devil's Double."
  • Mask of Death (from Weird Tales, August-September, 1936)  The eight and final tale in the series.  This one is a doozy.  The newly built Maine summer resort town of Blue Bay is about to have its grand opening ceremonies at the large hotel at the center of the community.  One of the wealthy investors suddenly freezes in place, comatose, cataleptic, or perhaps dead.  Then the same happens to four couples and a croupier in a roulette room.  A mysterious and beautiful woman calling herself Madame Sin may be responsible.  Ascot Keane is called in.  There's an invention called the time diverter which Doctor Satan uses to perform these tricks.  And Madame Sin is actually a small-time actress whose ming has been replaced by Doctor Satan while the real Doctor Satan's comatose body is hidden.  Of course, the whole kerfluffle has been another attempt at blackmail on a very large-scheme.  Doctor Satan escapes but Ascot Keane is able to free the mind of the actress who had been calling herself Madame Sin.
And that's it.  Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright, who had his thumb on the pulse of his readers, pulled the plug on Doctor Satan when it became obvious the magazine's readers did not like detective stories, no matter how weird.  (And yet, for some reason, WT reader's loved Seabury Quinn's occult detective Jules de Grandin.  Go figure.)  Doctor Satan's identity, as well as his fate and that of Ascot Keane will remain unknown, which is sad.  The plots of the stories are overblown and ridiculous, but the writing is pure fast-paced pulp, and there's nothing wrong with that.

But wait!  There's more.  To fill up the pages of this book, editor Weinberg added as short story by Basil Wells, "The Crusader," from William L. and Margaret Crawford's (under the pseudonym "Garrett Ford") small press magazine Fantasy Book #5, 1949.  The story was originally published as by "Gene Ellerman" because that issue already contained a Basil Wells story.  Wells was a workman-like author who appeared in the science fiction, mystery, and western pulps.  In this story, Allan Allan, an English crusader bounces back and forth in time in "duplicate bodies" and eventually fights in World War II.

For those interested, the remaining Doctor Satan stories appeared in the following issues of Weird Tales:
  • The Man Who Chained the Lightning (September 1935)  The second story in the series.
  • Hollywood Horror (October 1935)  The third story in the series
  • Horror Insured (January 1936)  The fifth story in the series.
All the issues of Weird Tales containing Ernst's Doctor Satan stories are available online, as is issue #5 of Fantasy Book, which contains the Basil wells/"Gene Ellerman" story.  If you love blood and thunder pulp fiction, give Doctor Satan a try.

* Weinberg issued 22 volumes in this series from 1974 to 1980.  Three of these were nonfiction studies by Nick Carr about certain pulp heroes (Operator #5, flying ace G-8, and Secret Agent-X); the remaining volumes were novels, collections, and anthologies from various pulps.

** A vow that the writer evidently forgot.  Poor Grise remained as dead as Jacob Marley, but the hint that Doctor Satan had the power to reanimate the dead remains gnawing at the reader's memory.  It should be mentioned that the legless henchman Bostiff appeared in the final story, but whether he was reanimated by Doctor Satan or the author had simply forgettn that he had killed him off isn't clear.

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