Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Poison Belt: Review

The Poison Belt (1913) is the second adventure by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle which features Professor George Challenger...or as the subtitle says Being An Account of Another Amazing Adventure of Professor Challenger.  After returning from the dangers of Lost World, Professor Challenger becomes aware of changes in the spectrum that signal an even greater danger approaching Earth from the realm of space.  He is convinced that the Earth will be shrouded in a poisonous cloud belt floating in the ether between the planets.  There have already been reports of madness and death in the coastal and low-lying areas of the world.  The cities are taken over by riots and society crumbles just before all life on earth ceases.  All life that is except for Professor Challenger, his wife, and the three friends who accompanied him to the Lost World

Professor Summerlee, Lord John Roxton, and the young reporter Edward Malone all receive urgent telegrams from Challenger requesting their presence at his country home and insisting that they bring along tubes of oxygen.  Challenger has arranged for them to watch the end of the world from the confines of a sealed room--with only their meager supply of oxygen to forestall their own death.  They are amazed and dismayed to find that the oxygen not only forestalls death, but allows them to survive until the poisonous ether has passed on from Earth's atmosphere.  They venture out to survey the terrible results....only to find one more surprise in store.

My take: Sure.  We all know now that there is no such thing as ether between the planets.  It's all a vacuum.  But Doyle was working with what he had and what the science of the day firmly believed.  All it takes is a suspension of belief and a step back in time and the story becomes most plausible, indeed.  While there are elements of science fiction and speculative fiction to Doyle's story, it is even more evidently a morality play.  It teaches us to consider what it really important in our lives and to take more notice of the small, everyday pleasures that we often miss in our hurry to get ahead and get things done.  What would we miss most if all of our fellow man and living creatures were suddenly silent?  Three stars--as a strict science/speculative fiction it provides an interesting premise, but not a whole lot of action, but as a morality play it is a solid story indeed.

Challenges met: Outdo Yourself, Mount TBR Challenge, Bookish TBR, Read Scotland, Century of Books, Million Pages, How Many Books, 100 Plus Challenge, Vintage SF Month, Science Fiction Experience, Book Bingo, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, A-Z Reading Challenge, 2014 Literary Exploration, European Challenge, Out of This World [poisonous space affecting Earth]


Anonymous said...

I never mind running into that mysterious "ether". it's a good stand-in for whatever atmosphericness people didn't yet understand, or did understand, and didn't want their characters to have to deal with.

I had never thought about some of these older classics as "morality plays", makes me look at them in a whole new light!

fredamans said...

What a great review. A book that I would have honestly passed by, you helped to grab my attention.
I have a small like for science fiction, but not enough to really have all this knowledge you are sure I would know, (ether in between the planets), but I know it now. Reading further into your review, and your note of 'everyday pleasures' and how we basically take them for granted spoke to me. It's something I have felt much of this last little while. If this book can bring out those thoughts in you, it must be a decent story.

Bev Hankins said...

thanks for the nice comments, littleredreviewer and Freda! Doyle has a way with words and it's a great look at what might happen if everyone were gone...