REVIEW: The Poison Belt, Arthur Conan Doyle (1913)

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Book review – The Poison Belt: Being An Account of Another Amazing Adventure of Professor Challenger by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930). So it seems fitting to post a review of one of his stories: The Poison Belt. One of my favourite genres is the “cosy catastrophe”. A chance to sit in a comfortable armchair with a dozing cat and a mug of hot tea and contemplate the world as it’s destroyed by nuclear war, floods, monstrous sea creatures, alien children, agricultural failure and homicidal vegetables. What’s not to like? The Poison Belt fits nicely into this category. The Earth is passing through a belt of poison gas and no living thing higher than an amoeba will survive – delightful!

Nothing could be done. The thing was universal and beyond our human knowledge or control. It was death – painless but inevitable – death for young and old, for weak and strong, for rich and poor, without hope or possibility of escape.

brian aldiss

The phrase “cosy catastrophe” was dreamed up by that fine writer, Brian Aldiss. I was a member of the H.G. Wells Society for years and well remember him attending a Society weekend conference on The War of the Worlds. Saturday afternoon we broke off and escaped in a coach to nearby Horsell Common, the site where the Martians were said to have landed. We also visited assorted buildings destroyed by Martian rays in the author’s text (Wells was not keen on churches or the clergy in general). I’m not sure how educational it was, but it was a delightful afternoon exploring a brush with Armageddon and everyone got back to the conference venue in time for a delicious supper with wine and a surprise musical guest. But, as usual, I digress.

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