Sunday, 30 September 2012

VEx September Giveaway - Professor Challenger Adventures

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the publication of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, our giveaway for the month of September is a gently loved collection of the complete Professor Challenger Adventures in two volumes. Volume one features The Lost World and The Poison Belt with an introduction by William Gibson, and volume two features The Land of Mist and the two Challenger short stories The Disintegration Machine and When the World Screamed.

To enter, just leave a comment on this post and ensure that there is some way to contact you via it. The draw will be held at midnight on Sunday, September 30th. Good luck and thank you for your continued support of Voyages Extraordinaires: Scientific Romances in a Bygone Age!

And the winner is... Rob Herndon Jr.! Check your inbox for a message and thank you to everybody for entering! Keep your eyes open for further giveaways down the road!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

When the World Screamed (1928)

The final, and certainly climactic, adventure of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor George Edward Challenger is 1928's When the World Screamed. The short story, the second after Land of Mist in 1926 and following The Disintegration Machine in 1927, is presented as the account of an aquifer driller hired by Challenger to fabricate a massive drilling rig designed to reach down further than any excavation has before. Rather than attempting to reach oil, minerals or a hidden inner earth populated by more dinosaurs, Challenger has theorized that the planet itself is a giant organism not unlike a sea urchin. His ambition is to become the first person to pierce this rocky mantle and make this giant life form aware of the existence of humanity.

Some pundits have suggested that When the World Screamed betrays a proto-environmental consciousness, an early recognition of the Gaia Hypothesis in which the whole global ecosystem is perceived to be a single comprehensive organism. That argument could be made, but I fear it imposes too much of modern sensibilities on a text from the Twenties written by a man from the Victorian Era. Conan Doyle did demonstrate a sensitivity to environmental issues at the close The Lost World when Edward Malone looks out with proactive nostalgia on the plateau as yet unspoilt by sportsmen and industry. That is not where When the World Screamed is at.

Challenger's motivations are far less generous. He is looking for glory and the greatest achievement man has accomplished, as has been his wont since 1912. There is perhaps no greater, manly accomplishment than to make the vast, incomprehensible, indifferent forces of nature aware of humanity... In truly robust, masculinist fashion to impact it, to punch the universe in the face, to make it scream. There is no better target than the great planetary echinus that is floating through space, consuming the cosmic ether and blissfully unaware of what scurries about on its rocky shell. The victory of the human scientist is the violent and penetrative act of sinking a massive shaft into the planet's soft, pink flesh.

Yes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ends the adventures of Professor Challenger by awarding his hero the singular distinction of having raped Mother Earth.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Religion and the 100 Year Starship

It being an apparently slow news week, LiveScience has been goading its readership on with several topics of interest to those concerned with science and religion. One particular article was inspired for the oddness of the question it posed. A cooperative piece with asked “Should Humanity Take Religion on Interstellar Space Voyage?”

My initial answer was that this is a moot question, because religion will come along simply by virtue of involving people who, statistically, are going to be religious. Not to mention the fact that it's already there. This strange speculation was the fruit of a panel at the 100 Year Starship 2012 Symposium recently held in Houston, Texas, involving scientists, artists and theologians on the possibilities and challenges of interstellar travel. On a multigenerational ship with in excess of 10,000 passengers, the inclusion of religious people would be inevitable.

The theologians and ministers involved in the panel varied in their points of view, with perhaps the most provocative coming from Rev. Alvin Carpenter, minister of First Southern Baptist Church of West Sacramento. "The only way humanity can survive is if they leave behind the Earth-based religions," he said. "When you bring a religion on a starship, you bring the toxicity that we have seen on Earth..."

Carpenter's own website features his full address, which probably more than anything else expresses some of his apparent regrets about being a Southern Baptist minister (an affirmation of his 40 years in ministry inevitably prefaces some despairing comment about its futility). He even categorically states that “The goal of religion is to convert and impose,” which is quite far removed from a more sober and analytical conclusion like that proffered by William James way back in 1902 in The Varieties of Religious Experience: “a man's religion might thus be identified with his attitude, whatever it might be, toward what he felt to be the primal truth.” It automatically invites the rejoinder “Maybe that's the goal of your religion...”

However, Carpenter introduces his piece with an open challenge to demonstrate why religion should be included on an interstellar space voyage. Since I cannot resist such things, I will use the venue of a blog of Scientific Romanticism to respond.

In his argument for why religion should not be introduced to space, as though there was an option, Carpenter misses the forest for the trees. His arguments are practically out of the New Atheist playbook and suffer the same faults. In fact, such cliched strawmen issuing from the mouth of an ordained minister excuses speculation that he was being deliberately disingenuous.

He cites, for example, the historic antagonism between science and religion as though this were actually true. Rice University sociologist Dr. Elaine Ecklund's survey of the religious views held by professional scientists, published in her 2010 book Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think, found that 36% of scientists were theists, 30% were agnostic and 34% were atheist with 12% still considering themselves “spiritual.” That amounts to 78% of practising scientists either holding to some form of spirituality and/or not believing that spirituality is an inherent contradiction to science. As social phenomena, science and religion apparently are quite compatible and even if we reduced our contingent of astronauts to scientists, we run a statistical chance of still having a third of them being theists.

Carpenter also consistently expresses a subtext of religious violence as though this were a legitimate concern. In their 2004, 3-volume treatise Encyclopedia of Wars, Charles Philips and Alan Axelford document the history 1763 violent conflicts and find that only 123 have a significant “religious component.” That is less than 7% of known wars throughout the entirety of recorded history. The greater majority of wars are caused by conflict over political power, territory and resources. If there is to be a bloodbath on our starship, it will more likely be over allocation of resources and chains of political authority than anything instigated by the contingent from the Vatican Observatory.

He also brings up the spectre of birth control, which is a bizarre complaint given the nature of an intergalactic colonial mission. I imagine it would have something to do with the need to carefully regulate population growth on a multigenerational ship during the voyage itself. Here Carpenter misses out on the scope of the project. The problem of population control is not going to come from your average, nominally disobedient Catholic willing to sign an agreement to have only one child. It is going to come from the third and fourth generations who find themselves unwillingly born into a situation of mandatory abortions, forced sterilizations and restricted sexuality. And Big Brother forbid that you're born with the non-breeding dead-weight of homosexuality. Speaking of which...

Carpenter expresses concern over social toleration, using homosexuality as an example, in apparent ignorance that liberal Protestant denominations have traditionally been on the forefront of the gay rights movement. The United Church of Canada had been marrying same-sex couples for decades before it was legalized by the government of Canada. This objection highlights what appears to be his overarching concern, as well as the deepest flaw in his argument. The problem is the kind of cultural intolerance that would make our interstellar society fall apart. His solution is to use the exact same thinking that created the problem of cultural intolerance to begin with.

There is one very simple, unassailable argument in favour of allowing religious people to serve on a multigenerational interstellar mission. It is an argument that he apparently did not consider in the least, nor any of the associated issues surrounding it. Indeed, I would not be surprised if, as an American and a Southern Baptist, it probably never crossed his mind. That argument is the simple rule of employment equity.

To deny a qualified person equal opportunity for a professional placement because of their religious views is discrimination. That Carpenter would extend this discrimination to all theists instead of just limiting it to Jews does not make it any less morally and legally repugnant. It is bigotry, and even worse, it is the kind of bigotry endemic to the society in which Carpenter is a part. His view can only be voiced from a position of cultural narrowness, if not ignorance.

If one is looking to model a system of multicultural toleration and cooperation, one does not look to the United States of America. Without denigrating my American readers, one simply cannot look to the United States as an exemplary ideal of racial, ethnic and religious harmony. Once could certainly do worse... say, any number of war-torn African or Eastern European republics... but a society that has yet to accomplish basic tasks like providing universal healthcare or same-sex marriage is not going to be the society from which we take our queues for how to engender harmony on a starship.

One might attempt to argue that it is the activity of religious people withholding these things from the United States, to which I would reply in the first place that this is dishonest and insulting to the best that America has produced. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. springs to mind automatically. Carpenter does not seem to consider the potential beneficent role to be played by an MLK or Archbishop Desmond Tutu in defusing some would-be Lenin or Robespierre. On the second place, the accusation abrogates America's responsibility for its own cultural ethos. There are other cultures every bit as steeped in religion that do not have these same problems. In Canada, universal healthcare was achieved by the efforts of a Baptist minister and political leader named Tommy Douglas.

We can speculate for some time on why a country that formed by a violent revolution involving the deportation and/or murder of people with the “wrong” political views has consistently denigrated multiculturalism as mere “political correctness.” Suffice it to say that Carpenter's solution that anybody with the “wrong” opinions should be barred from an interstellar space voyage is pretty consistent with this view. Let us look instead at societies where multiculturalism is actually valued.

As one example, I would offer the one I know best. Calgary, Alberta, Canada is widely regarded as the most conservative major city in the country. It is the seat of both Canada's oil industry and its current Conservative Party government, which is a “Manchurian” element of American-style Republicanism and Fundamentalist Christianity. Nevertheless, in spite of this, it is the third most multicultural city in Canada (which as a nation has the highest per capita immigration in the world) and in its last civic election voted a Muslim as its mayor. Mayor Naheed Nenshi not only made international headlines for being Muslim, but also for being Calgary's first mayor to act as grand marshal for a Pride Day parade. The only religious conflict I've been involved with to speak of was when a Buddhist monestary was using political connections with the city to purchase land out from under the Muslim family who owned the coffee shop my Lutheran pastor went to. I was personally involved in a series of city planning sessions concerning the role of religious communities in the downtown core. Churches, mosques, temples and synagogues were invited as de facto pro-social, community-building agents in the inner city. Why? Because there are lots of us here. Christians comprise 65.8% of Calgary's population, followed by Muslims, Buddhists and Sikhs. In a society with true multicultural values, providing adequate social infrastructure to diverse groups is a deliberate effort. If this interstellar space mission was being organized by Canadians, not only would it include religious people, but we would make sure that there was accurate representative sampling and special entitlements for minorities to help preserve their culture and practices.

If it was being organized by the Japanese, this wouldn't even be a question. Not exactly renowned for its ethnic diversity, Japan nevertheless provides us with a curious model for religious harmony. In fact, the situation is so interesting that many observers have noted that Western definitions of what constitute religious adherence simply have no meaning in the Japanese context. You have a population where people have Christian weddings and Buddhist burials, and where 83% of the population practices Shinto but do not consider themselves to be “religious believers.” One could pull out any number of examples, and the main thing they would have in common is some manner of collectivism.

Collectivism is the soil for the growth of multiculturalism. The necessity of the whole society working towards the greater good of the society fosters a practical, pragmatic ethos of making sure that everyone can get along despite their differences. This ethos was elegantly articulated by Canada's constitutional monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, in a citizenship speech in 1973: "Canada asks no citizens to deny their forebears, to forsake their inheritance - only that each should accept and value the cultural freedom of others as he enjoys his own. It is a gentle invitation, this call to citizenship and I urge those who have accepted the invitation to participate fully in the building of the Canadian society and to demonstrate the real meaning of the brotherhood of man." Or even more succinctly, in a 1971 citizenship speech: "Canadian unity is not uniformity."

These are the necessary values to engender in an interstellar, multigenerational space mission. They are not values that can be engendered by discriminatory hiring practices before we've even gotten off the ground. Carpenter, speaking from a highly individualist society, demonizes others with bigoted rhetoric that ultimately demands an unachievable homogeneity. He speaks of religion as a toxic element while wanting to export a putrid ideology of fascism, bigotry and ethnic purity. He sees people who are different as the problem, and much like the New Atheists from which he borrowed his script, sees the solution in silencing them. He has failed in the grossest way to develop the ethos of multiculturalism and collective good that he sees as necessary for the success of such a monumental project.

Contrary to Carpenter's views, this project must necessarily include religious people as the exemplification of multicultural and collective values. Employment equity, religious toleration and fair representation will be best thing we can bring into space with us. Indeed, it will be the only way we can get into space. If we cannot accomplish this, then we are in no position to make the attempt.

Update (23/09/2012): While providing actual numbers for the matter of religion's relationship to war and science, I was remiss in doing so concerning homosexuality.

I mentioned the United Church of Canada as an example of how liberal Protestantism has been supportive of gay rights. The 32nd General Council in 1988 allowed for openly gay people to become ordained ministers, and the 34th General Council in 1992 decided that there was sufficient need for a set of standardized liturgical resources for same-sex marriages (i.e.: wedding ceremony materials). The United Church was one of the bodies testifying to the government of Canada to legalize gay marriage, and part of their testimony was supplying the government with the data on how many same-sex marriages they had performed (gay marriage was legalized in Canada in 2005). [source]

A Barna Group study in 2009 surveyed 9,232 American adults and found that 70% of homosexuals identified as Christian and 58% identify as having made "a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in your life today." 60% identified as having a faith that was "very important" to them but only 27% identified as "born-again Christians." Coupled with data on specific beliefs, it suggests the unsurprising fact that the majority of those gay people having a significant Christian belief system would tend towards more liberal, inclusive churches. [source]

Therefore it should be noted that a prohibition on theists serving on our starship on the grounds of the "inassimilability" of religion and homosexuality will actually bar the majority of gay people from service anyways.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Land of Mist (1926)

After The Poison Belt, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wouldn't write another Challenger Adventure for 13 years. What exactly prompted him to put pen to paper again for 1926's The Land of Mist may never be known. However, that it was published a mere year after the release of the smash hit silent film version of The Lost World is certainly suggestive. Perhaps Conan Doyle was looking to capitalize on the renewed interest in the Challenger character and his adventures.

Unfortunately, he chose a radically different take for The Land of Mist, pulling Challenger and an unwitting public screaming headlong into a tract for Spiritualism. Introducing Ed Malone to Challenger's heretofore unknown daughter Enid, the two then follow a series of disjointed events and situations that eventually lead to the conversion of all parties involved to the cause of the Edwardian Era's de rigueur new religious movement.

The "noncanonical" story of the series, The Land of Mist is distinguished from the rest of the Challenger Adventures both by its continuity and tone. One doesn't get very far into the text before the strong impression is given that The Land of Mist is intended to take place in an alternate continuity. The book begins with the following paragraph:
The great Professor Challenger has been- very improperly and imperfectly- used in fiction. A daring author placed him in impossible and romantic situations in order to see how he would react to them. He reacted to the extent of a libel action, an abortive appeal for suppression, a riot in Sloane Street, two personal assaults, and the loss of his position as lecturer upon Physiology at the London School of Sub-Tropical Hygiene. Otherwise, the matter passed more peaceably than might have been expected.

This alone would be enough to cast suspicion, if not for another two subsequent passages that further affirm the notion that the previous two Challenger adventures were, as far as this story was concerned, utter fiction. The first of these two is in the Professor's response to the supposed channeling of the recently deceased Professor Summerlee at a Spiritualist church:
Good Heavens, where are your brains? Have not the names of Summerlee and Malone been associated with my own in some peculiarly feeble fiction which attained some notoriety?...

The third instance reaffirms this. While discussing plans to investigate a haunted house (the only good sequence in the entire novel in the opinion of this author), Lord Roxton quips to Malone: "Well, you can write an adventure that is not perfect bilge for a change- what!..." Altogether, this and the odd continuity gaps seem to affirm that The Lost World and The Poison Belt are in a separate world from The Land of Mist.

Why such diligence to separate this story from The Lost World but still utilize the characters? Separating it from a rowdy adventure of living dinosaurs is obvious: it might be hard to sustain credibility in a fictionalized argument for Spiritualism in the same universe as living prehistoric monsters and toxic cosmic ether. A cynical reason for using the Challenger characters might have been their newfound popularity from the 1925 film, but there might also be more personal reasons. Kelvin I Jones, author of Conan Doyle & The Spirits: The Spiritualist Career of Sherlock Holmes, speculates:
I always thought that ACD used Challenger for two reasons. First, Challenger was distinctly like himself in many ways: bluff, adventurous etc. But also Challenger was a bereaved man (as Doyle was: ref his son Kingsley). But secondly, Challenger was a man of great emotion, although ostensibly a rationalist. In his early (Portsmouth) days ACD was much like this: quite unable to accept the truth of spiritualism at that time but always seeking. Challenger therefore, more than Holmes, has more distinct links with his creator regarding ACD's spiritualist side. Holmes would have been too much a rationalist: too aloof, too cut off from his emotions. He was too firmly cast by the time ACD decided to write a novel re spiritualism.

Regardless, the public didn't much care for this treatment of Challenger and saw right through the ruse. Once more, they complained, Conan Doyle was beating the hobby horse he rode ever since losing his son in the First World War. The story was reviled and eventually Conan Doyle was forced to overturn it with the final two Challenger Adventures.

Realizing the error he made in The Land of Mist, Conan Doyle sets things back to normal in 1927's The Disintegration Machine. This comedic short story has Challenger match wits with an evil mad scientist who invented the titular weapon of mass destruction. In it, the Challenger who converted at the end of The Land of Mist loudly proclaims that he does not believe in any of that Spiritualist nonsense while Malone, who gave up his job as a reporter, is back at the Gazette. Though Mrs. Challenger was passed away in Land of Mist, she is alive and well in the final Challenger Adventure, 1928's When the World Screamed. Though When the World Screamed gives a triumphal end to the irascible neanderthal in a lounge suit, both stories feel perfunctory. After losing him to the public, forced by popular opinion to divorce the character from the causes most important to him, Conan Doyle seems to lose his passion for Professor Challenger.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Poison Belt (1913)

The Lost World's combination of Edwardian adventuring and big scary dinosaurs proved to be a smashingly successful story, as we have learned to accept in the decades since with each King Kong and Jurassic Park. Professor Challenger also proved to be such a popular character that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle returned to him (and his foil Edward Malone) in a quasi-sequel novel, a "noncanonical" novel on Spiritualism and two short stories published only a few years before his passing.

The first of these was The Poison Belt, published in The Strand in 1913. The Poison Belt picks up on the exploits of "The Group of the Lost World" - Challenger, Malone, Roxton and Summerlee - on the third anniversary of their first adventure. As an aside, this figure, combined with an actual date and day-of-the-week reference in The Lost World, actually set the events of the classic novel in 1908/09.

Gathering for their annual reunion amidst strange goings on around the globe, the infallible Professor Challenger presents them with the possibility of a horror on an unimaginable scale: the Earth is passing through a belt of poisonous ether that will kill everything upon it. At this late stage, as the planet is passing into the belt, the only people with a chance of survival is this Group of the Lost World, thanks to the advance planning of Challenger's hermetically sealed room. Outside the windows that keep in the fresh oxygen delivered by stockpiled canister, the Group sees the unfolding terror of a world that is quickly choking to death, left desolate in the wake of the poison belt.

An entry into the genre of post-apocalyptic Scientific Romances that includes H.G. Wells' The Time Machine and William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land, The Poison Belt is radically different from The Lost World. While The Lost World is a meticulously crafted adventure story pulling in countless references from palaeontology and exotic exploration, The Poison Belt is a more introspective and philosophical text. No doubt this had a lot to do with it being written on the fly after the success of The Lost World, but nevertheless, the science of ether theory takes back stage to the characters' ruminations on life and death as the world outside their windows suffocates and collapses.

Malone acts as our dutiful and largely impartial observer. Roxton is a simple-minded man who describes himself as "a Christian of sorts". The big fight is, of course, between Challenger and Summerlee. Given Conan Doyle's self-association with Challenger, it is perhaps unsurprising that he invests the scientist with the religiousity of a learned man. Summerlee gets the position of the scientific materialist. Religious progressivism was a greater force in the early years of the 20th century than it is in the early years of the 21st, so it is saddening and delightful in its own way to read an argument on whether or not evolution is directed by God in an Edwardian novel (we can only hope that the aggressive atheism of the past few years will beget a more counter-aggressive progressivism). Challenger steps it up on the question of life after death:
"The worn-out bodily machine can't record [death's] impression, but we know the mental pleasure which lies in a dream or a trance. Nature may build a beautiful door and hang it with many a gauzy and shimmering curtain to make an entrance to the new life for our wondering souls. In all my probings of the actual, I have always found wisdom and kindness at the core; and if ever the frightened mortal needs tenderness, it is surely as he makes the passage perilous from life to life. No, Summerlee, I will have none of your materialism, for I, at least, am too great a thing to end in mere physical constituents, a packet of salts and three bucketfuls of water. Here--here"--and he beat his great head with his huge, hairy fist--"there is something which uses matter, but is not of it--something which might destroy death, but which death can never destroy."

There is also no doubt that this fictional look at the extinction of humanity was influenced by the forthcoming Great War. Sabres were rattling through Europe already in 1913, primed for the explosion of bloodshed lit by the fuse of Archduke Ferdinand's assassination. The conflagration also claimed Conan Doyle's son Kingsley and other members of his family, adding extra imperative to the author's search for soul and meaning that would manifest in his later devotion to Spiritualism. The Poison Belt contains many nascent aspects of this and holds out both hope and caution as political tensions boiled over in war.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Lost World (1912)

Since the invention of his masterful detective, the name of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has been synonymous with that of Sherlock Holmes. However, even in the course of writing his adventures, Conan Doyle resented the literary typcasting. Despite his best efforts - including a knighthood for writing propaganda during the Boer War - the association could not be thwarted. Conan Doyle tried to murder Holmes in 1893's The Final Problem, only to resurrect him by public demand in 1903's Adventure of the Empty House. His best efforts were not in vain, as they produced one of the great enduring classics of Scientific Romance.

Pulling together numerous strands of influences, Conan Doyle inaugurated a whole genre in speculative fiction: the lost world tale, so-named for his 1912 novel, The Lost World. Though roughly preceded by the works of Jules Verne and Sir H. Rider Haggard, Conan Doyle essentially crafted the story of the Victorian explorers heading to far-off lands where dinosaurs and other fantastic and prehistoric life still rules. Those influences were so diverse that it is difficult to know where to start.

Perhaps the first is with the inspiration for Conan Doyle's second great character after the great detective. Professor George Edward Challenger was practically everything that Holme was not. While both men were preturnaturally brilliant, Challenger was a bullish ruffian who had little patience for anybody and none whatsoever for members of the press. Short and stocky with a thick black beard, he was loud, brash, condescending and everything Conan Doyle himself secretly wished to be. In fact, the author would dress up as his character and call upon unawares friends in order to test their courtesy. The inspiration for Challenger came from one of the professors Conan Doyle suffered while studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh, who went by the name of William Rutherford and whose echo the fellow student Robert Louis Stevenson immediately recognized in The Lost World's protagonist.

We are introduced to Challenger and his overblown claims of a plateau in South America where dinosaurs walk the earth by the reporter Edward Dun Malone. This youthful member of the press, who Challenger sent tumbling down the stairs in a fistfight, was inspired by E.D. Morel. Morel, also a British journalist, was a tireless activist and prior to supporting the pacifist movement in WWI, joined with Roger Casement in an anti-slavery campaign against the Congo Free State.

Casement, in turn, inspired Lord John Roxton, the debonair and aristocratic gentleman hunter who accompanies the Challenger Expedition into the heart of the Amazon. After working on the issue of the Congo, Casement turned his attention to the issue of Native exploitation in Peru under the auspices of the British Peruvian Amazon Company. The incident also worked its way into The Lost World and the righteous background of Roxton. Unfortunately for Casement, these experiences soured him to the exercise of British Imperialism and he was executed in 1916 as an Irish Republican traitor to the Crown.

Thus were the characters. Next to come was the setting. For the most part, the 1905 textbook Extinct Animals by Edwin Ray Lancester provided the necessary scientific information by which Conan Doyle populated his plateau. Some illustrations were practically plagiarized for inclusion in the media of the serialized story, which had an impressive array of "journal sketches", maps and formal illustrations by Harry Rountree. Lankester didn't mind it though. On the contrary, he carried on a correspondence with Conan Doyle and suggested various beasts for him. Extinct Animals is the only source directly mentioned in The Lost World and Lankester the only academic peer who Challenger did not ruthlessly insult.

One creature not accounted for in Extinct Animals was the scientific find of the century, which turned out not to be very far from Conan Doyle's own home. In the nearby gravel pits of Piltdown, the skull of the missing link between man and ape was discovered. Piltdown Man would eventually be revealled as a fraud, of course. The fault was that he was made to resemble what scientific theory thought at the time was the course of human evolution, in which the large brain developed first, followed by the bipedal, human body.Increasing finds out of Africa showed the opposite trend, and finally radiometric dating exposed the contrived artifice of Piltdown Man. None of this was Conan Doyle's disposal, however, and Piltdown Man became the type of the ape man that menaces the expedition. In fact, some armchair Holmeses have speculated that Conan Doyle may himself have been implicated in the fraud.

The most direct inspiration, the one that touched off Conan Doyle's writing, was a set of Iguanodon tracks that had pressed themselves into the petrified clay of Sussex. While Englad was still a swampy Jurassic wetland, a herd of these earliest described dinosaured passed within miles of what would, millennia later, be Conan Doyle's estate. The mystique of these proved too much for the imaginative author. A cast of one of the prints adorned his mantle, an image of the trackway adorned the cover of the first printing of The Lost World, and a trackway of Iguanodon prints - along with their makers - were the first sign of life encountered by the Challenger expedition on reaching the plateau.

These influences together resulted in a work of first rate Scientific Romance. Unlike later Challenger Adventures, such as The Poison Belt and When the World Screamed, the science in The Lost World is top-notch based on what was known at the time. The credibility of a prehistoric Sussex populated with a mix of British and American saurians in the depths of South America was strained, of course, but in each element Conan Doyle took the considerable effort to research his subjects. Verisimulitude was added by fictionalizing the lives of Morel and Casement and the hardened culture of tropic regions they experienced. The Lost World becomes a clinic in how to write ripping good Sci-Fi.

Jules Verne pioneered this whole type of Science Fiction with his Voyages Extraordinaires, let alone the lost world tale, the purpose of which publisher Jules Hetzel described as: "To outline all the geographical, geological, physical, and astronomical knowledge amassed by modern science and to recount, in an entertaining and picturesque format...the history of the universe." The astonishing inventions of Verne, like the Nautilus and the Columbiad space gun, were little more than plot devices that permitted the story to recount these scientific facts for a hungry and literate public. The Lost World is much the same. The plateau is a plot device to recount the mysterious realms of far flung jungles and far flung antiquity, which Conan Doyle rigorously studied. Really good, really stirring, really lovable Science Fiction has rarely departed from this formula.