Diving into pulp
There’s a very Doc Savage-like character who’s been on the best-seller lists for over 20 years: Dirk Pitt, the hero of 16 novels written by Clive Cussler. Pitt works for the National Underwater & Marine Agency (NUMA), a fictional government agency devoted to ocean research. Pitt is more adventurer than academic, and stays busy rescuing damsels and preventing disasters.
Dirk Pitt’s pulp roots are unmistakable. First, Cussler, who was born in 1931, is the right age to have read Doc Savage’s adventures in the latter years of Doc’s original run in the pulps. And in “Dirk Pitt Revealed,” a guide to the first 14 Pitt novels, Cussler mentions Doc Savage when he says his intent in creating Dirk Pitt was to write novels of pure adventure as opposed to detective or espionage yarns.
Pitt is a Doc Savage-like character in many ways. Pitt is tall and handsome with striking green eyes. He’s a former football star and Air Force pilot. He’s a genius with a knack for coming up with life-saving gadgets. He’s rich. Pitt lives in a hangar at the Reagan Airport in Washington, D.C., where he keeps his collection of antique autos and airplanes, along with souvenirs from his adventures.
Of course, Pitt is seldom at home to enjoy his luxurious digs. He’s usually busy saving the United States, if not the planet. He’s assisted in his adventures by Al Giordino, his strangely Monk-like childhood friend who’s always ready to crack a joke, chase a woman or dive into danger.
While Pitt has obvious pulp roots, he resembles James Bond more than Doc Savage. Pitt has fewer compunctions than Doc about killing his enemies. Pitt is not shy around beautiful women. He drinks (tequila, usually) on occasion. And while Pitt might look like a Greek god, he’s not superhuman (at least by Doc’s standards). Pitt sometimes wishes that he worked out more to get in better shape for some of the things he gets himself into. Pitt worries (a little) about aging. He even has a sense of humor.
Cussler’s novels are much, much longer than Lester Dent’s pulp yarns. The plots and subplots move across time and take Pitt around the world. Indeed, there are often subplots that Pitt and Giordano aren’t even aware of. In Cussler’s latest novel, “Valhalla Rising,” Pitt helps rescue thousands of people from a burning cruise liner in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, voyages to the bottom of the sea, snatches a hijacked NUMA ship and its crew from the clutches of a band of mercenary killers, and engages in a dogfight in the skies over Manhattan. And that’s all before the main villain makes an appearance.
The Dirk Pitt books are fun to read, especially if you’re a pulp fan. A good starting place: Try “Sahara” (soon to be a movie) or “Cyclops.”