Review of The Poison Belt by Arthur Conan Doyle

December 21, 2013
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Poison BeltThe Poison Belt
By Arthur Conan Doyle; Read by Gildart Jackson
Publisher: Dreamscape Audiobooks
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours, 24 minutes

Themes: / apocalypse / poison / science fiction /

Publisher summary:

What would you do if you had discovered that the planet was about to be engulfed in a belt of poisonous “ether” from outer space? Professor Challenger invites a hand-picked crew of adventurers and scientists to his home outside London, which has been fortified with several hours’ worth of oxygen. Challenger & Co. assemble in front of a picture window to witness the end of all life on the planet. As birds plummet from the sky, trains crash, and men and women topple over before their horrified gaze, they debate everything from the possibilities of the universe to the “abysses that lie upon either side of our material existence.”

I like Sherlock Holmes but I am much fonder of Arthur Conan Doyle’s other fiction. He was a skilled teller of “weird tales” and I have heard he was proudest of his historical fiction which I really enjoy. The Poison Belt is the second in a series of fantasy and science fiction novels featuring the brilliant and overpowering Professor Challenger.  It functions very well as a stand alone novel.

Having assembled a newsman, big game huntsman, and another scientist to explore South America in their first adventure, The Lost World, it is only logical that Challenger would call upon the same group for this scientific emergency. Professor Challenger puzzles them when he asks each to bring along a cylinder of oxygen. They are well acquainted with Challenger’s eccentricities but little do they suspect that he anticipates an apocalyptic event.

I’d say more but I think reading the whole description would have ruined my astonishment and interest in the story as it unfolded in this superb audiobook. In fact, having grabbed this review book solely based on my enjoyment of The Lost World, I hadn’t read the description at all. I was stunned to find this was such an apocalyptic novel. It is really well written and thought through. I was frequently surprised as various events occurred because I simply hadn’t thought through the consequences of an apocalypse in 1913 England.

Part of the enjoyment of The Poison Belt comes from the adventurers’ interactions. Doyle is very good at inserting humor, often through the two scientists’ bickering over conclusions, and at other times in hunter Lord John’s casual comments as in this instance when Challenger has asked the group to look at an amoeba through a microscope.

Lord John was prepared to take him on trust.

“I’m not troublin’ my head whether he’s alive or dead,” said he. “We don’t so much as know each other by sight, so why should I take it to heart? I don’t suppose he’s worryin’ himself over the state of OUR health.”

I laughed at this, and Challenger looked in my direction with his coldest and most supercilious stare. It was a most petrifying experience.

“The flippancy of the half-educated is more obstructive to science than the obtuseness of the ignorant,” said he. “If Lord John Roxton would condescend—-”

“My dear George, don’t be so peppery,” said his wife, with her hand on the black mane that drooped over the microscope. “What can it matter whether the amoeba is alive or not?”

“It matters a great deal,” said Challenger gruffly.

“Well, let’s hear about it,” said Lord John with a good-humoured smile. “We may as well talk about that as anything else. If you think I’ve been too off-hand with the thing, or hurt its feelin’s in any way, I’ll apologize.”

Part of the humor comes across thanks to the excellent narration by actor Gildart Jackson. As is often the case with actors, his reading is rife with expressive accents, subtle nuances, and changes of pace. This isn’t a very long book and goes along at a rattling pace. I was hooked from the beginning.

I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed an audiobook more and I hope that Dreamscape is considering more of Arthur Conan Doyle’s fiction for the future.

Posted by Julie D.

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