The Oz Encounter by Ted White and Marv Wolfman
The Oz Encounter was the fifth book in Byron Preiss’ Weird Heroes series. Launched in 1975, the series was an attempt to bring back pulp fiction via the paperback book. Initially, the books had contained short-stores and novelettes. The first Doc Phoenix story was published in the second Weird Heroes book and was a creation by Ted White. Marv Wolfman took over the character for this one novel. Conceived as a parapsychological Doc Savage, the Doc Phoenix story was tight and fit on the 70’s like a pyramid hat. I should point out that we are now in the 50th year of the pulp revival, if you consider it to have begun with the reprinting of the first Doc Savage paperback in 1964. Which is a little strange since hero pulps barely lasted 20 years, from 1930-1950. But their influence on American culture was enormous. To this day, people write homages and pastiche stories of characters who quit appearing in print 50 years ago. I’ve seen a mint copy of a Spider pulp on sale at a convention for $200.00.
The Oz Encounter opens with Doc Phoenix examining a rich lawyer’s daughter. She is in a coma, barely responsive. Patricia Wentworth, the daughter, is caught in a deep nightmare, unable to awake. Her father has brought in Phoenix to see what can be done as all the other psychiatrists have given up. Phoenix makes a few examinations on his instruments then touches a stud on his belt and vanishes.
Although it is never explained how, Phoenix is able to enter the dream world of his patients. All that’s mentioned is an elaborate computer set-up at his West Virginia facility. Once inside the dream, he encounters a world based on characters from Frank Baum’s The Wizard Of Oz. But it’s not the Oz of the Warner Brothers musical, this is a much more dangerous place. A minor character in the Oz series, The Shaggy Man, is trying to manipulate Dorothy (Patricia) and seize control of her father.
The novel is richly illustrated by Stephen Fabian, using a style which I remember well from the same decade the book was published. Fabian was a very popular fantasy and science fiction artist at the time and his style blends perfectly into the book. I only wish the series has continued as the illustrations are one of The Oz Encounter are some of his finest work.
Of course a pulp hero has to have minions. In the spirit of Doc Savage’s Monk Mayfair and Ham Brooks, Phoenix has Michael “Moose” Moynihan and Daniel “Fingers” Steffan. Moose, built like a professional wrestler, works as a computer specialist in Doc Phoenix’s complex. Fingers, a lawyer, handles the legal affairs. Rounding out the crew is Linda Monteleone. Linda is a former assassin, who was sent to take out Phoenix in the previous story. He managed to cure her with his dream control system and she became part of his permanent staff. Small and unassuming, she’s an expert in practical martial arts.
As the novel progresses, it becomes obvious someone is trying to interfere with Phoenix’s treatment of Patricia Wentworth. The mountain complex is bombed and a security camera snaps a picture of someone dressed like the Shaggy Man in Patricia’s nightmare. Then two hoodlums show up and try to stop Phoenix’s work. Both are known mob enforcers. One is a huge man, almost 7 feet tall.
Phoenix makes several trips into Patricia Wentworth’s mind, each time the Oz he encounters becomes worse. Iron giants attacks both him and Dorothy (Patricia). The Shaggy Man appears and tries to kill Phoenix. Of course, inside her mind, Phoenix can be killed just as readily as out. There’s a very good scene where Phoenix attempts to travel between two conflicted minds at the same time, getting stuck in a loop. It’s all very foreshadowing of the cyberpunk books which would emerge a decade later.
In 2005, The Oz Encounter was reprinted by Hungry Tiger press, a publishing outfit which specialized in Wizard Of Oz and Frank Baum related books. The cover looks nice and it hard bound. However this new edition sold out quickly and I have yet to see a copy.
The Oz Encounter is a great stand-alone novel from the Weird Heroes series. It’s a shame the series didn’t last much longer, as this book shows how revolutionary is was. Editior Byron Preiss passed away in 2005 in a car accident. No further Doc Phoenix books were ever anounced. Which is too bad when you consider how excellent this book is written.