Thursday, 2 April 1998

Arthur Conan Doyle: The Lost World (1912)

Edition: Project Gutenberg, 1994
Review number: 21

This is one of the very best stories Arthur Conan Doyle ever wrote, excluding some of the Sherlock Holmes series. Professor Challenger is one of his most memorable characters, though verging on the side of a caricature. (He is a scientist with no patience for those who do not understand science.)

He believes he has discovered, in the midst of the South American jungle, an almost inaccessible plateau where prehistoric plants and animals, including dinosaurs, have survived. His theory is ridiculed by the scientific establishment in London (not something which serves to help his bad temper), and he eventually agrees to an expedition setting out to test his ideas. The expedition includes Professor Summerlee, one of his most outspoken critics, Lord John Roxton, a famous sportsman and big game hunter, and Malone, a journalist, from whose point of view the novel is written.

Suffice it to say, Challenger's views are completely vindicated, and the party has several adventures on the plateau before they are eventually able to return to civilisation.

The simple plot is developed well, and the suspense never flags; it is a book that Michael Crichton could have used more as a model to improve the pretty dire Jurassic Park. (But then, I've never liked anything Crichton has written.)

It hasn't dated in the manner of some of Doyle's other books, and sometimes reads more like a modern "steampunk" novel than something more of the period. It is of as good a quality as the best of Well's science fiction, which was probably a model for this book (I'm not certain of the chronology, but I think that this is after War of the Worlds and Time Machine.)

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