Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Oz Encounter

Here's a book that I put into a category called "Oz-themed fiction." It does have a character visit Oz, in fact two characters go to Oz, but it's far from a traditional Oz story.

The Oz Encounter was a pulp fiction novel by Marv Wolfman in a series intended to introduce new heroes. This one features Doc Phoenix, a skilled adventurer who also has an unusual method of dealing with patient's mental problems: he enters the worlds of their minds and discovers the problems they are dealing with. It's not safe, though. If Doc is killed while in someone's mind, he is dead.

Doc's latest case is a comatose little girl named Patricia Wentworth, and when he uses his complicated machinery and computers to enter her mind, he finds the Land of Oz, but a broken one that has been conquered by the Wizard of an Iron Tower in the Munchkin Country: a tall, evil Shaggy Man! The Shaggy Man is bent on conquering Oz by killing everyone with his powers and kidnapping Dorothy, who is Patricia herself. What happened to this little girl to make her retreat into her fantasy and have it so darkly skewed?

However, there are not only dangers for Doc inside Patricia's mind, there are also dangers outside of it as well. This evil Shaggy Man seems to exist in the actual world as well, trying to prevent Patricia's recovery at any cost, even if it means the death of Doc Phoenix and his assistants. Is it possible for someone to cross from Patricia's dreams into the real world, or is this Shaggy Man someone else entirely? And if it is someone else, why don't they want Patricia to recover?

The Oz in the story is clearly based on the books. There are some inaccuracies, but these are sometimes noted, and are allowable since it is a version of Oz in a little girl's troubled mind. The book also offers an interesting view on the MGM film's "dream" scenario. I wouldn't be surprised if the MGM film inspired this story in which a comatose person slips into a dream world in their mind where the dangers they face to their life are in fact very real.

The book is written at a fast, exciting pace and makes for an enjoyable read. But then, that's what pulp fiction was for. The artwork is also pretty cool, too, though an Oz fan would bemoan that there aren't enough pictures. (John R. Neill and Denslow spoiled us.)

I suppose the book shouldn't be read by or to children due to the intense action scenes, several disturbing instances of death (Doc arrives at Glinda's palace and finds her dead), and some words kids shouldn't have in their vocabulary.

I would probably not have picked up the book had Hungry Tiger Press not reprinted it in 2005, making me aware of it. When I bought the original paperback, I had the option of going with the reprint instead, but since it cost more and I didn't know if I'd even enjoy the story, I went for the lower priced original edition. (Go figure.)

Hungry Tiger Press seems to have sold out of their reprint, and I suspect David Maxine has other books he'd like to put in print rather than reissue this one. However, copies of both editions can be found on the used market.

So, for an Oz-inspired but not-really-Oz sci-fi thriller, try The Oz Encounter.

Also, an autographed copy of the Hungry Tiger Press edition is now on eBay! Go make a bid!

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