The Book: The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Originally published in 1912. Edition read was printed in 1963 by Pyramid books.
The Setting: A mysterious plateau in the Amazon Basin, South America. Also, London.
The Story: Edward Malone is in love, but his girl wants to love a man of adventure, of importance, of daring! And he’s a newspaper reporter… Through a series of surprising and unlikely events, Malone finds himself on a journey through the wilds of South America with the adventurer Lord Roxton, the brilliant and intimidating Prof. Challenger, and the brilliant and skeptical Prof. Summerlee to find the spot where Challenger had encountered a pterodactyl on a previous journey. (But no one believed him, thus this return trip.) They find the plateau. Hooray! There’s no way up. Boo! Being resourceful Englishmen, they find a way onto the plateau. Hooray! But then they get stuck. Boo!
With no one to save them, only their faithful, enormous, slow black servant Zambo (seriously) is left at their basecamp to wait for them. But they make the best of their situation. After all, they’re here for SCIENCE! Resourceful Englishmen that they are, they build a fort out of thorny brush and set up camp. They observe a peaceful family of iguanodons and have a spot of trouble escaping from the swamp of the pterodactyls. Malone decides to be a hero and do some night exploring, but is chased into a pit by a meat eating terror. He escapes and heads toward camp. His companions are gone! A pool of blood on the ground! He wanders, dazed, searching for his companions, but collapses in exhaustion.
He’s woken by Lord Roxton! RUN! Everyone’s been captured by bloodthirsty, cruel, sub-human ape men. Even some little red men who apparently live on this plateau, too. So Malone and Roxton rescue everybody, and become heroes with the red men. And since those ape men are a problem for the red men, and now they have guns on their side, what’s left to do but engage in a little bit of retributional genocide? They go and wipe out all the adult male ape men and enslave the women and youth. Very progressive. Then they have a few more adventures.
Anyway, a red man helps the party find their way down, they head back to London where everyone is crazy about them. They show the people a pterodactyl they captured and everyone believes them. Also, Roxton found them some diamonds so they all end up rich. Malone does not get the girl, but he does start a bromance with Roxton.
The Science: Are there undiscovered species in the Amazon? Probably. Do prehistoric creatures survive into the present day? Yes (coelacanth, I’m looking at you). But to have such enormous biodiversity in such a small area, and moreover for the creatures to be of great size in that area? Very unlikely. Also, every species there was in an evolutionary bottleneck that would have led to greater susceptibility to disease and a prevalence of undesirable traits in offspring. So I take issue with the sheer number of species on the plateau. But the whole field of evolutionary biology was pretty young at the time, so I’ll give Doyle a pass.
The Reaction: Okay, can the early twentieth century quit it with the racism already? The last Wells book I read included an apology from a Jewish character for his entire people, which made my jaw literally drop. And this book has Zambo, who is a walking stereotype, as well as “half-breeds” (though half of what, I’m never quite clear on). So that’s not cool. But, aside from that, the story was a lot of fun. The prose was kind of delightful even when Roxton’s “eager eyes fixed eagerly upon” something or other. A fun story, especially the second half.
The Cover: Hey look! Some guys hiding from a dinosaur! But… um… the triceratops is not even in the book. Iguanodon, yes. Stegosaurus, yes. Triceratops, no. Fail. Also, that triceratops is the least threatening triceratops ever. He’s all like, “Hey guys, have you seen my awesome horns?” But, I do have to give this book a special award for best back of book so far. I mean, check this out:
I mean look at that! It’s so exciting, they had to put FOUR (4!!!!) exclamation points in front of the word DINOSAURS. They are defying the rules of grammar!
Etc: I prefer Doyle’s The Lost World to Crichton’s The Lost World.
Next Up: Edwin L. Arnold’s Gulliver of Mars. Jumping back from 1912 to 1905 because I just bought this one! and them’s the rules – go back to catch books purchased during the course of the project.