It looked just like any other deserted island. But hidden under its tropical sands was a monstrous slave empire, a vast underground network of death pits, giant carnivorous crabs and prehistoric beasts, ruled by the blood-crazed Count Ramadanoff. Blasting their way into this nightmare of horror, Doc Savage and “the fabulous five” embark on their most daring adventure.
9 thoughts on “The Fantastic Island”
Great atmosphere and characterization! Do believe Ian Fleming may have read this one a time or two!
There’s something about this one that just doesn’t sit well with me. It has all the makings of a great Doc, the mystery island, the evil empire with all of it’s traps and a crazy count, but somehow it just feels flat to me. The escapes are a bit pat (pardon the pun) and the plot failed to dazzle.
To put it bluntly, “The Fantastic Island”, W. Ryerson Johnson’s second contribution to the seires, is a pretty awful book. One expects fantastic settings, events, and a colorful villian in a Doc Savage tale, and this one has all of these. However, the Doc fan also asks that the stories be somewhat in the realm of plausibility, and “Island” is just too way over the top for my tastes, in addition to being rife with illogic and having totally implausible events occuring nearly every chapter. Pretty bad stuff. At the end of the book, when the reader learns how the “thumbhole” killings were managed, their first reaction will be a jaw-dropping “huh?” And the second will be wanting to throw the book against the wall. The solution to this particular mystery is nothing short of ludicrous, and it strains credulity to imagine the deaths as they are described in the story being carried out in this way. One of the rare full-fledged turkeys of this sereis.
I must say that I loved this book. Even if Ryerson Johnson wrote it (or the first draft) he did a great job duplicating Dent’s writing style. I liked the story and the remove to the island itself. In fact, I would rank this novel quite high on my list of favorite Doc novels. It may even be the best of the “ghosted” novels in the series. As for the Bantam cover, Bama himself said in an interview that the cover is much more striking than the printing Bantam did, but I don’t see howe. Doc just doesn’t look right; the colors aren’t right and the lizards aren’t all that threatening. But I’ve read this book three times in the last 30 years and it always wears well. However, I can understand that some fans do not like this book. But, hey, nobody’s perfect. (I think the pulp cover is one of Baumhofer’s best.)
This is a fine action/adventure story by Ryerson Johnson, but it’s missing the quirky, peculiar hallmarks of a Dent-authored Doc Savage tale. The whole affair seems curiously plain. Take, for instance, the villain. The difference between Dent and Johnson is the difference between the wonderfully bizarre midget mastermind, Cadwiller Olden, in “The Deadly Dwarf” and the hackneyed, tedious Count Ramadanoff in this book. Everything from the active volcano to the slave empire seemed tired. And I couldn’t agree more with Todd above about the ridiculous “thumb-hole death.” What a gyp! This story needed something fresh and weird, like the floating green snakes in “The Mystic Mullah,” or the teleportation device from “The Vanisher.”
Bottom line, “The Fantastic Island” is competent but uninspired.
I reread this book to make sure about all the 007 hooplah. This is very much in line with all that, but I must agree with both sides of the argument: this is both a good ghosted Doc and a turkey of a tale.
Both the positive and negative aspects of this adventure come from the ghosting. There is some fabulous terror building, exotic locales, dino-monsters), interesting mystery. and some really gothic descriptions that raise expectations in this book, only to have all those dashed with the non-delivery at the end. I think that makes the “push-back” of some readers more intense. It’s the Dammit Effect you never feel when reading a Dent book, because he knows just how to spin the hook of the story and deliver the villain/device in the end with flair. Not here. You get a grim buildup and some actually interesting villians (these two bloodthristy brothers; the Count is big as Doc and so strong he beats Renny and then laments he has no worthy opponents) in their castle looming like an anti-Empire State Building, but then unfortunately the lack of hook comes whizzing back in the window at the end and nails you in the temple with the thumb-hole death of failed gimmickry.
That said, here’s some interesting notes: the book begins with the disappearance of Monk, Ham and Pat… who just happened to be vacationing together in the Galapagos region on a private yacht. Ahem!Somedays I menage to amaze even myself with the erotic possibilities afloat in that scenario.
There are some brutal scenes in this book (like the gruesome scene in the slave pits where Ham replaces a dead man) and Monk, Ham, Doc, and Renny especially have to go all out and pull no punches in this fight. Of Doc it is said he leaps like a Nepalese tiger and his “appalling” fists break bones with every blow. So this is the fierce Doc of old who’ll hurt/kill when need be to protect his gang. At one point Renny thinks his reputation may be on the line (moreso given that 20 pages before Doc had pulled a Renny) because he fails to break down a door. But here Doc anything necesary to protect his men, including diving into a shark frenxy and diverting/fighting them all to allow his men to escape. Go Doc! This type of tiger-leaps and shark-kills action is where Doc is truly the mantle bearer of Tarzan.
Conversely, at other times Doc is shown to have an alien calm and use the word “interesting” with Spock-like delivery. He also uses a great shrubbery device outside the warehouse to capture criminals. Finally, in one scene Doc uses a Robbie the Robot prefiguration of the SF standards to fool criminals.
So take the book for what it is and realize it is a good attempt, a dynamite-in-a-drain read, which doesn’t stand a ghostwriter of a chance next to Dent.
This book has a lot of good elements, but unfortunately they don’t add up to a great Doc story. Dent had a brilliant way of creating a scene with vivid description in just a line or two, without bogging down the flow of the story. The writing in this one is very descriptive…only a little too much so for a Doc book. It is a decent ghosted story, but not a classic. And the secret behind the “Thumb-hole killings” really is a joke. After it was revealed, I tried to go back and picture the killings as one of the Barishnakov-or whatever their name was-brothers were supposed to have done it, and I just couldn’t help laughing.
Just reread this for the first time since the 70’s. One of my least favorite stories form the early 30’s era, and I have to agree with everyone else that the “thumb-hole” killings was a pretty poor gimmick.
I seem to be in the minority but I like this story very much because there’s a lot going on – Giant carnivorous lizards, the thumbhole death (which I find interesting not straining credulity too much), Count Ramadanoff may seem like a hackneyed villain now but at that time I think he was quite good. Johnny is used well in this story and he is my favorite member of the five so that’s good too. Also I live in Malaysia and they are large land crabs here so the idea of giant man eating crabs are a cool one.