Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Skylark of Space part 4: Escape from the Dark Star

Continuing our voyage through the ether in Edward E. "Doc" Smith's Skylark of Space.

Dorothy Vaneman, wealthy socialite and fiancée to Dick Seaton, has been abducted by a scientific rival of Seaton's, Marc C. DuQuesne. DuQuense and his thuggish minion Perkins have carried Dorothy off in a spaceship built from plans stolen from Seaton; but an accident during the kidnapping sent the spaceship accelerating out of control.

Now Dorothy, DuQuense, Perkins, and another girl named Margaret Spenser whom Perkins had kidnapped previously -- it's complicated -- are lost in the unknown vastness of space. Worse than that, they have become caught in the gravitational field of a dead star.

It was re-reading this book in college that it occurred to me that this might be the first description in science fiction of a Black Hole. Physicists crunching the numbers in Einstein's General Theory of Relativity were predicting the existence of stars so massive that light could not escape them right around the time "Doc" Smith was writing Skylark. Then again, the way Smith describes the dead star, it is simply a burned out star which no longer emits any light. Regardless of this, the dead star performs the same role as a plot device as a black hole would. It is nearly impossible to detect visually, and even harder to escape.

It is only by desperate maneuvers that DuQuesne is able to prevent his ship from diving directly into the star. They have to scrounge up every ounce of copper on board, including loose change and Dorothy's engagement ring, to add to what little remains of the ship's copper fuel rods.

"I'm glad Seaton's too much of a scientist to buy platinum jewelry," DuQuense comments. He has a peeve -- which I suspect Smith shared -- that platinum was too valuable for it's chemical properties to waste on mere ornamentation.

But although DuQuesne avoids a collision with the star, he cannot escape its gravitational pull. They are now caught in a decaying orbit and have no fuel left to break free. DuQuesne estimates that they have bought themselves as best two days time.

At this point Perkins snaps. He attacks DuQuesne, who clocks him with the butt of his pistol, crushing Perkins's skull and killing him. So much for Perkins. No one mourns him; least of all Margaret, whom Perkins has been terrorizing for weeks.

Things look pretty hopeless. Dorothy is confident that Dick will follow in the Skylark; but she is shaken by DuQuesne's reaction. If Seaton does follow, DuQuesne tells her, he will only be caught in the same trap they are in now. Which would be an unfortunate blow to science.
"Please be logical.... I tried to kill them, yes, because they stood in the way of my development of this new metal. If, however, I am not going to be the one to do it -- I certainly hope Seaton goes ahead with it. It's the greatest discovery ever made, bar none; and if both Seaten and I, the only two men able to develop it properly, get killed it will be lost, perhaps for hundreds of years."
Unaware of this danger, Seaton is already on the way. Despite a frustrating delay in acquiring enough copper to fuel the Skylark, thanks to Crane's connections and diplomacy they've finally scrounged enough to set out on a rescue mission. Using Seatons object-compass -- still fixed on DuQuense -- they are able to track DuQuesne's craft through the depths of space.

DuQuesne is just about to suit up and try scraping what copper he can off the ship's hull with a putty knife, when he hears a tapping coming from outside. It's Seaton, using the Skylark's machine guns to tap a message out in Morse Code.

Just wrap your brain around that for a moment. Isn't that a wonderfully pulp idea? Simultaneously outrageous and awesome. Why has no one mentioned this in the gun control debate? The reason why someone would need a high-capacity magazine for his semi-automatic rifle is in case he needed to use it to shoot in Morse Code. All right. So maybe that would only work in a pulp novel. But it the context of the story, it makes perfect sense.

(And would machine guns work in space? There was some discussion on a gaming board I frequent a while back discussing this very issue. The consensus of those who knew guns was that a revolver would fire in a vacuum because modern ammunition carries an oxidizer mixed in with the powder, so it would still burn. The problem would lie in the gun's lubrication. In a vacuum, the oil used to lubricate the gun's moving parts would evaporate away, and so repeated firing would cause greater wear on those parts. Of course, if the Skylark's guns were inside the ship with only the muzzles poking through fitted gaskets, that might solve that problem.)

The Skylark links up with DuQuesne's craft, and Seaton has him and his passengers come on board. There's a slightly embarrassing moment where Dick hugs the wrong girl in a spacesuit, but that is quickly rectified.
They now need to break away from the dead star as quickly as possible; but there is one piece of unfinished business to take care of first. "Dick, what should we do with this murderer?" Martin hasn't forgotten the security men DuQuesne killed when he and his goons robbed the Crane lab.

Seaton agrees, and is perfectly willing to chuck DuQuesne out into space, but unexpectedly Dorothy comes to his defense:
"Oh, no, Dick!" Dorothy protested, seizing his arm. "He treated us very well, and saved my life once. Besides, you can't become a cold-blooded murderer just because he is. You know you can't."
Well, since she puts it that way, Seaton guesses that he does have some scruples. And he knows that for all DuQuense's ethical shortcomings, he is a man of his word.
He faced DuQuense squarely, grey eyes boring into eyes of midnight black. "Will you give your word to act as one of the party?" 
"Yes." DuQuesne stared back unflinchingly. His expression of cold unconcern had not changed throughout the conversation: it did not change now. "With the understanding that I reserve the right to leave you at any time -- 'escape' is a melodramatic word, but fits the facts closely enough -- provided I can do so without affecting unfavorably your ship, your project then in work, or your persons collectively or individually."
They still have to escape the gravitational pull of the dead star. Seaton and Crane have enough fuel on the Skylark to do the trick; the question is, can they break free without the gravitational forces pulling the ship apart? Working together the three scientists plot a hyperbolic course to whip them around the dead star -- hopefully without reducing the passengers to jelly.

They succeed by the skin of their teeth, but now the Skylark is even farther from home: 46.27 light centuries by Marty's calculation. Once again, fuel becomes a problem. They used most of their copper to escape the dead star. In order to get up to the speed they need to get home within their lifetimes, they'll need more.
They begin searching for copper-bearing planets. Using a spectroscope, they are able to pick out stars with copper in them, under the theory that such suns would have planets with copper in them.

Days pass. Seaton, Crane and DuQuesne take turn manning the controls and searching for useful worlds. And Margaret begins spending a lot of time with Martin, helping him with his shift by recording data for him. Dorothy watches the budding relationship between her new friend and Martin with satisfaction. Crane has been avoiding husband-hunting gold-diggers for years and as a result is actually quite lonely. But since Margaret doesn't know he is M. Reynolds Crane, millionaire industrialist, he can be more relaxed around her, and the two begin to grow closer.

The first planet they land on looks promising. It has a habitable atmosphere and seems similar to what earth was like in the Carboniferous era. In scouting around the landing site, Seaton finds a large hunk of silvery-blue untarnished metal. DuQuesne agrees that it has to be something in the platinum group, and the only metal of that kind with that peculiar color is the X metal. If it is, they have found enough of the X metal to run earth's power plants for several thousand years.

But as Seaton pockets a few loose nuggets of the precious metal, he hears Margaret scream. A large antediluvian beast with an obscene number of teeth has come out of the jungle and is now between them and the Skylark. Seaton is armed, but his gun is loaded with the special X-tipped exploding bullets he devised. At this range, the bullet would destroy both the creature and the Skylark.

Fortunately, DuQuense has made it back to the ship and with the ship's .50-caliber machine guns makes short work of the beast. Once it is dead, more monsters come out of the jungle to scavenge its remains. Seaton decides to give this world a pass for now, but to remember it in the future as a source of X metal.
But he is grateful for DuQuesne's rescue:
Seaton turned to DuQuesne, hand outstretched. "You squared it, Blackie. Say the word and the war's off." 
DuQuesne ignored the hand. "Not on my side," he said evenly. "I act as one of the party as long as I'm with you. When we get back, however, I still intend to take both of you out of circulation." He went to his room.
I admit it. DuQuense is evil, but I can't help liking the guy.

The next planet they find has a chorine atmosphere, so they don't bother trying to land on it. The planet after that, however, seems much more inviting. They see a city on its surface, in the middle of a vast, beautiful plain. But as they approach, the city disappears to be replaced by a range of mountains.

Seaton and company disembark to look around and are confronted by a man who is Seaton's duplicate, right down to his Hawaiian shirt.
"Hello, folks," he said in Seaton's tone and style. "S'prised that I know your language -- huh, you would be. Don't even understand telepathy, or the ether, or the relationship between time and space. Not even the fourth dimension."
The doppelganger changes into Dorothy's form, and then the others, one by one; in each case making disparaging remarks about their intelligence. Yes, this is the great-grandaddy of Q from Star Trek; the first in a long line of obnoxious omnipotent beings of pure intellect. The entity announces that Seaton's gang are so far down the evolutionary ladder that he has no choice but to dematerialize the bunch of them.

To the entity's surprise, Seaton resists; his will to live interferes with the entity's dematerialization. Being a sporting type, it tells Seaton that it will need to analyze the group's sub-nuclear structure, a simple task require only ninety-seven differential equations in ninety-seven dimensions. If Seaton's bunch can prevent him from completing these calculations for one hour, he will allow them to go.

There follows a bizarre psychic arm-wrestling match, which we see from Seaton's point of view as he tries to distract the entity with vigorous heckling. In the end, the entity concedes. "You win.... More particularly, I should say that the DuQuesne of you won." The entity compliments DuQuesne on the nascent qualities of his mind and encourages to keep studying under those eastern masters. He suggests that someday DuQuense might be able to ascend to the ranks of pure intellect himself.

With that, the entity leaves.

Everyone is boggled by that encounter, even the usually unflappable DuQuense. Dick asks him which eastern masters the entity was talking about. "I don't know," DuQuense replies. "I wish I did. I've studied under several esoteric philosophies." He resolves to find out, though, and see if the entity is correct. "...for that, gentlemen, would be my idea of heaven."

NEXT:  Welcome to Osnome; When in Rome, be a Roman Candle; Guests, or prisoners? You want me to attach my brain to what? And Escape from Mardonale!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Skylark of Space part 3: Into Space

Continuing our look at E.E. "Doc" Smith's seminal space opera.

Scientist Richard Seaton and his friend, wealthy industrialist and inventor Martin Crane, are building a spaceship using an unknown metal Seaton discovered in a batch of platinum wastes, which is capable of liberating tremendous amounts of energy from copper. But a rival scientist, Marc C. DuQuesne, has conspired with an World Steel Corporation, an evil conglomerate, to gain control of the X metal. They have stolen a quantity of the X solution and some of Seaton's notes, and they will not rest until they have it all.

One afternoon a huge copper sphere descends from the sky and lands on the lawn of Dorothy Vaneman, Seaton's fiancée. It's the Skylark, the upgraded spaceship Dick and Martin began building in secret when they discovered that Steel was sabotaging their original model. "We've been around the Moon!" Seaton boasts.

He and Crane give Dorothy and her parents a tour of the Skylark. We've seen this kind of thing before and it's a classic feature of science fiction: a lovingly detailed description of a fantastic invention with just enough technical detail to make it seem plausible. Jules Verne did it with Captain Nemo's Nautilus, now "Doc" Smith does it with Seaton's Skylark. We get to see the massive supports for the ship's interiors; the anti-acceleration padding, and the heavy object-compass which is the core of the ship's navigation system. And since Dorothy and her mom are starting to get bored with all this guy stuff, Dick also shows off the living accommodations they've worked up; how they'll eat and breathe and other science facts, as the the song goes.

Mr. Vaneman is mostly convinced that the Skylark is safe for his daughter to go skylarking off in, but asks Dick and Martin a few questions in private about the "few bugs" Dick mentioned. Crane assures Vaneman that the problems are minor and have no effect on the ship's safety. "The optical system needs some more work; the attractors and repellors are not at all what they should be in terms of accuracy or delicacy." The worst problem is that the water reclamation system isn't working at all -- it delivers sewage instead of pure H2O -- but since the Skylark carries enough water for three months, this is a minor inconvenience.

Just the next day, another spacecraft lands on the Vaneman lawn. This one is smaller, identical to "Old Crip", the dummy ship Seaton and Crane have been using to distract Steel from the real Skylark. It is a duplicate, built by Steel from the stolen plans. The occupants of the ship grab Dorothy and carry her, kicking and screaming into the ship.

The abductor, of course, is DuQuesne, aided by Perkins, a middle-management thug working for World Steel. Oddly enough, the thuggish Perkins seems to be the best at devising these cunning plans, like abducting pretty girls, but the brainy DuQuesne is better at actually carrying them out. Perkins seems to lack nerve, and an ability to anticipate and improvise. Which is why he is caught off guard when he's trying to secure Dorothy's feet and she kicks him in the gut.

Perkins staggers backwards into the control panel, and his arm knocks the lever regulating the power to the engines to its maximum position. Immediately, the craft shoots straight up into the air at full acceleration. Fighting against the tremendous G-forces, DuQuesne manages to reach the cut-off switch, but the sudden cessation send him crashing into the control panel, altering the craft's direction, and causing him to release the switch, activating the engine again. Now all four people on board the sphere are pinned to the floor by the crushing acceleration, unable to reach any of the controls. They pass out.

Wait, did I say there were four people? We'll get to that.

Seaton had just dropped Dorothy off at her house after a date and was riding his motorcycle back to the lab when he heard Dorothy's screams and saw the other spacecraft take off. Too late to prevent the abduction, Dick hurries back to Crane's lab.
"Mart!" he yelled. "They've got Dottie, in a ship made from our plans. Let's go!" 
"Slow down -- don't go off half-cocked. What do you plan?" 
"Plan! Just chase 'em and kill 'em!" 
"Which way did they go and when?" 
"Straight up. Full power. Twenty minutes ago." 
"Too long ago. Straight up has moved five degrees. They may have covered a million miles, or they may have come down only a few miles away. Sit down and think. -- use your brain."
Seaton remembers that he has an object-compass fixed on DuQuesne. Wherever DuQuesne goes, the compass will point in his direction and give his distance. Dick checks the compass and it points nearly straight up, confirming that DuQuense is the culprit; but when Crane calculates the distance, he gets an impossible result:
"Three hundred and fifty million miles. Half way out of the solar system. That means a constant acceleration of about one light." 
"Nothing can go that fast, Mart. E equals M C square." 
"Einstein's Theory is still a theory. This distance is an observed fact."
This is probably the biggest scientific howler Smith commits in the entire novel. But before we howl too loudly, let's remember that when he began writing the story in 1915, Einstein's Theory of Relativity was still new and fairly controversial. Even in 1928, when Skylark first appeared in print, Relativity was new enough that Smith could get away with handwaving it. Later, when Smith wrote his Lensman series, he devised a better way around the "light barrier" with his "Inertialess Drive". It is fair to point out, however that "E equals M C squared" is not the formula for Relativity; and that in fact that formula is the reason why matter can be converted into energy and why doing that to copper as Seaton does would produce a mind-boggling amount of power.

There's a comics legend that once a reader wrote a letter complaining about a story in which Superman travels faster than the speed of light. The editor replied with a paraphrase of Crane's remark: that Relativity was a theory but Superman's speed an observed fact. That editor might well have been quoting Skylark. Julie Schwartz, one of the most influential editors of the Silver Age, was a member of Science Fiction's First Fandom, and lifted ideas from the Lensman books for his revamping of the Green Lantern. Several other writers of the pulp era doubled between cheesy science fiction and comic book heroes, including Gardner Fox, Otto Binder and Alfred Bester.

All this is irrelevant to Seaton. He just wants to hop in the Skylark and get his girl back. But they only have four of the massive copper bars made to power the ship. They'll need at least one to catch up with DuQuesne; another one to stop again, and the remainder to get back home. That leaves precious little margin for error.

Steel has forestalled them there too. Nearly every supplier of refined metal in the city is inexplicably short on copper. It will take at least a week to get the bars they need. With Crane's connections and diplomacy, they are able to scavenge what they need, but by the time the extra bars are fabricated and the two are ready to set off, DuQuesne has a two-day head start on them.

And what of DuQuesne?

Unable to shut off the engines, DuQuesne's ship just keeps accelerating. About forty-eight hours later, it finally runs out of fuel and begins to coast. DuQuesne is puzzled as he tries to get his bearings. "Since the power was on exactly forty-eight hours, we should not be more than two light-days away from our sun." But if that were the case, he would still be able to recognize the constellations around them. He concludes that they have been accelerating all the time and that they must be about six quadrillion -- that's six thousand million million -- miles from home.

Perkins never had much nerve. He tries to attack Dorothy, blaming her for their situation; but DuQuense slaps him down. "None of that, louse... One more wrong move out of you and I'll throw you out."

Despite the crisis, DuQuesne is cool and quickly comes up with a plan of action. At the moment, his ship is coasting, but still traveling away from earth. He has a few more copper fuel rods. One he'll use to stop the ship. He'll use the rest to backtrack the way they came, burning half of the remainder and coasting until he can recognize enough stars to navigate by. In the meantime, he tells Dorothy to take the other girl to the galley.

Dorothy notices that when DuQuense and Perkins remove their flight jackets, Perkins neglects to remove his pistols from the jacket pockets. While Perkins isn't looking, she filches the pistols before helping the other girl out of the control room.

Who is this other girl? Earlier, when DuQuesne and Brookings were discussing plans with Perkins, a "Spencer girl" was mentioned, whom Steel was holding prisoner. They brought her along on the abduction job, intending to keep her and Dorothy in the same place. In the galley, Dorothy gets to meet her and the two get to know each other.

Her name is Margaret Spencer, and her father was an inventor who had been swindled by World Steel. Margaret got a job with Steel as Brookings's secretary in order to find proof. She did manage to dig up some incriminating evidence before she got caught, which she has hidden in a safe location. For the past month she's been a prisoner, as Steel has been trying to coerce the evidence out of her.

Margaret at first seems like more of a 2-dimensional character than Dorothy is. Her main role in the plot is to be a "best friend" character for Dorothy, (and ultimately a fourth for the Seaton-Crane bridge table). When we first meet her, she seems on the verge of a breakdown; but she has been through a lot. For a month now, she has endured psychological, if not physical torture -- because of the era, the story is vague about this -- on top of finding herself now stranded out in space. She is dreadfully afraid of Perkins, who has threatened her, and considers DuQuesne to be even worse. But Margaret perks up considerably when Dorothy gives her one of Perkins's guns.

DuQuesne reminds Perkins that he is to leave Dorothy alone, and that includes being rude to her. Miss Vaneman is a valuable hostage, and DuQuesne doesn't want her harmed, but I suspect that the coolness with which she has acted under the circumstances have impressed him. Actually, she admits to Margaret that she is scared witless, but is forcing herself to remain calm because DuQuense is.

"How about Spenser, then?" Perkins asks.

"She's your responsibility, not mine," DuQuesne shrugs.

That's when Margaret pulls the gun on Perkins. Now that the tables have been turned, she shows that she has quite a bit of spine, and that Perkins has none.
"Doctor!" Perkins appealed to DuQuesne, who had watched the scene unmoved, a faint smile upon his saturnine face. "Why don't you shoot her? You won't sit there and see me murdered!"
"Won't I? It makes no difference to me which of you kills the other, or if you both do, or neither. You brought this on yourself. Anyone with a fraction of a brain doesn't have guns lying around loose. You should have seen Miss Vaneman take them -- I did." 
... 
Dorothy broke the silence that followed. "You did see me take the guns, doctor?" 
"I did. You have one in your right breeches pocket now." 
"Then why didn't you, or don't your, try to take it away from me?" she asked wonderingly. 
" 'Try' is the wrong word. If I had not wanted you to take them you wouldn't have. If I didn't want you to have a gun now I would take it away from you," and his black eyes stared into her violet ones with such calm certainty that she felt her heart sink.
Margaret takes Perkins to his cabin to make sure he doesn't have any other weapons stashed away. We don't know what happens next, but when they return, Perkins is thoroughly cowed and Margaret quite pleased with herself. As DuQuesne expected.

For the next few days, the ship continues on DuQuesne's course; first decelerating to a stop, then proceeding back towards home. But after a while, DuQuense notices that they are being pulled off course by a powerful gravitational field. As Crane had observed previously, the ship's optical system could use improvement, but DuQuesne has a pair of powerful binoculars and after some searching discovers the problem:

"Good God! It's a dead star and we're almost onto it!"

NEXT:  The dead star; death in space; Seaton and Crane to the Rescue! and what do we do with DuQuesne?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Skylark of Space part 2: Corporate Raiders

We started last week reading E.E. "Doc" Smith's classic 1928 space opera, The Skylark of Space.

Richard Seaton, a scientist working at the Rare Metals Laboratory in Washington, DC, has made an amazing discovery: an unknown isotope which, reacting with copper, releases a tremendous amount of energy. He wants to use this X Isotope to build a spaceship, and so teams up with his best friend, millionaire industrialist and engineer Martin Crane.

Another scientist at the lab, Marc C. DuQuesne, wants to use Seaton's discovery for his own purposes, and tries to enlist the aid of World Steel Corporation, a powerful conglomerate where DuQuesne has connections. Brookings, one of Steel's executives, sends a minion to burgle the lab where Crane and Seaton are working and steal a quantity of the X Isotope; but cuts DuQuesne out of the deal.

In a remote corner of West Virginia, a tremendous explosion occurs, obliterating the small town of Bankerville (population 200) and leaving nothing but a hole in the ground a couple miles in diameter. According to the news, scientists are baffled as to what could have caused it. DuQuesne has a pretty good idea, though; he guesses that World Steel had a laboratory up in Bankerville where they were experimenting with their stolen sample of Seaton's X solution, and that the experiment went wrong.

His surmise is confirmed when Brookings of World Steel arranges to meet with him. Steel is now willing to meet DuQuesne's price -- which has doubled since they first turned him down. "The Company expects to pay for its mistakes," Brookings says handing over a contract.

Fortunately, only a small quantity of the stolen formula was in the Bankerville lab at the time of the catastrophe; Brookings has the rest of it. But the bottle he has is far smaller than the one DuQuesne knows Seaton had. The thief had pilfered half of the vial he found in Crane's lab and topped it off with colored water so that the theft would not be immediately discovered; but he had missed the main bottle with the bulk of the solution.

DuQuesne had argued from the beginning that they needed to steal the entire amount and kill Seaton -- and possibly Crane too -- but Brookings is too squeamish to act that drastically. He agrees to another burglary attempt, but not to the murder. Not yet.

Meanwhile, Seaton has been figuring out how X works. It causes a complete conversion of matter into energy expressed as force. It acts as a catalyst and is not consumed by the reaction, which is convenient since he has precious little of the stuff to spare. He's also worked out a couple of what he calls "borderline cases" where the reaction creates either an attractive or a repulsing force -- the grandfather of Star Trek's "tractor beams". Crane realizes that the attractor could be used as an "object compass"; by focusing the attractive beam on the earth, say, they would always be able to find their way home.

Dick has also rigged up a proof-of-concept model which he demonstrates for Martin and for Dorothy, his fiancée, and her father who have dropped by for a visit. He has a quantity of X and a bit of copper fuel in a small tube, attached by a cable to a harness to which is attached the various other pieces of apparatus he needs to control the effect. The X allows him to fly into the air and do a couple simple acrobatic maneuvers; but when he tries showing off a bit more for Dorothy, he accidentally increases the power on the tube and finds himself being dragged around Martin's airstrip. He manages to regain control of his device, but not without the loss of some dignity.

Seaton declares that they're ready to build the real deal: an honest-to-Gernsbeck spaceship powered by X. Dorothy's father is impressed, but wants to know if the boys are going to do anything more practical with Seaton's discovery. Martin assures Mr. Vaneman that he is also has technicians working on commercial applications, power plants capable of producing energy at a minute fraction of the cost of conventional plants. Much later on in the series, we get a brief glimpse of earth transformed by an era of cheap, limitless energy, but only a glimpse; like Seaton, "Doc" Smith was more interested in exploring the cosmos than working out sociological and economic ramifications of his gadgets.

Dorothy is more interested in the spaceship. "What are you going to call it?" Dick really hadn't thought about naming the craft; he's just been calling it "the spaceship." Dorothy decides for him. "There's only one possible name for her: the Skylark."

As the Vanemans leave, Dorothy's father pulls a newspaper out of his pocket and points out an article Dick and Martin might be interested in: the story of the Bankerville explosion.

Seaton immeadiately realizes what caused the blast. "It's X all right.... Some poor devil tried it without my rabbit's foot in his pocket." But where did it come from? As far as Dick knows, he has the only sample of the stuff on earth. He and Crane check back at their lab and discover the theft. But who could have stolen it? Someone at the lab who had witnessed his earlier failed demonstration must have figured out the truth.
"Oh, a lot of people came around at one time or another, but your specifications narrow the field to five men --Scott, Smith, Penfield, DuQuesne, and Roberts. Hmmm, let's see -- if Scott's brain was solid cyclonite, the detonation wouldn't crack his skull; Smith is a pure theoretician; Penfield wouldn't dare quote an authority without asking permission; DuQuesne is ... umm ... that is DuQuesne isn't ... I mean, Du --" 
"Du Quesne, then, is suspect number one." 
"But wait a minute! I didn't say ..." 
"Exactly. That's what makes him suspect number one."
Crane calls a private security firm and hires extra guards to protect his lab. He also has the firm put DuQuesne under surveillance. This is precisely the situation DuQuesne wanted to avoid by hitting Seaton hard and quick. Now that Seaton and Crane are on their guard, DuQuesne's campaign to gain a monopoly of X becomes a cat-and-mouse game. Steel's goons make another attempt to rob Cranes lab, but are thwarted by the security men and Crane's manservant, Shiro. "That Jap, he's chained lightning on greased wheels..." one of the surviving goons says.

Yes, a word or two about that "Jap." Shiro is another of the uncomfortably dated aspects of the novel. We first met him when he answered the door at Crane's estate and was baffled by Seaton's rapid-fire colloquial greeting. But later on, when Crane is talking about setting up a board of directors for their partnership, he suggests that Shiro have a chair on the board. Does this mean that Crane recognizes his business acumen, or that Crane regards him as someone who can be counted on to vote in his boss's interest? Considering Shiro's shaky grasp of the English language -- which, to Smith's credit, is only suggested and not spelled out for laughs -- I regret to say the answer is the latter. Shiro is extremely loyal to Crane, and apparently a competent martial artist as well; but we never see much of him beyond a stereotyped Japanese houseboy.

DuQuesne decides to supervise the next robbery attempt personally. While Seaton and Crane are away from the lab at a testing range, he and a team of thugs land at the Crane airfield in a helicopter resembling Cranes. The security men are caught off-guard, and DuQuesne and his goons kill them and badly wound Shiro. DuQuesne blows open the safe in Crane's lab and steals all the papers and blueprints he can find and the small vial of the X solution. The rest of it, DuQuesne realizes, must be in the deepest, most secure vault in the country. He'll have to content himself with the smaller quantity and the spaceship plans.

When Seaton and Crane return to the lab that evening, after a day testing explosive X-tipped bullets at a firing range, they find Shiro bleeding and left for dead. Fortunately, his wounds were not that serious, but the other guards were not so lucky. Seaton is sure that DuQuesne is behind it, and sets up an object-compass focused on him so that they can track DuQuesne's movements. With the aid of the object-compass, the detective is able to discover how DuQuense leaves his house without being spotted; and more importantly, learns that he is meeting with Brookings of World Steel. The detective shares the bad news with Crane and Seaton:
"I've bucked Steel before. They account for half my business, and for ninety-nine percent of my failures. The same thing goes for all the other agencies in town. The cops have hit them time after time with everything they've got, and simply bounced. So has the F.B.I. All any of us has been able to get is an occasional small fish."
The news is even worse than Seaton realizes. Crane explains that Steel is supplying the heavy forgings and plates for the Skylark. Seaton examines some of the parts they've already received and sure enough, they contain minor flaws.
"Strong enough to stand shipment and fabrication, and maybe a little to spare -- perhaps one G of accelleration while we're in the air. Any real shot of power, though, or any sudden turn, and pop! She collapses like a soap bubble."
Crane has a plan. If they reject the faulty parts, Steel will just try something else. He proposes they continue building the spaceship as is, but secretly build a second ship through different contractors. Crane has contacts in the industry and knows of a small independent steel mill that can handle the job as well as a top flight engineer.

Meanwhile, Brookings and DuQuense are regrouping. DuQuesne is working on developing the X isotope using the notes he stole from Crane's lab; but Steel won't be able to properly exploit Seaton's discovery until Seaton and Crane are out of the way. Brookings suggests calling in Perkins, who runs a restaurant in downtown D.C. which serves as the headquarters for Steel's criminal activities. I hear the cannoli there is to die for. Perkins was also in charge of the earlier failed burglary attempts at Crane's lab, but DuQuense admits that the man is good at what he does. "It's on execution he's weak , not planning."

Perkins suggests kidnapping Seaton's girlfriend in a spaceship build from the stolen plans. They can hide her someplace safe -- "say with the Spencer girl" -- and tell Seaton they have her on Mars or something. Seaton will pay anything to get her back; and if he tries following in his own defective spaceship, so much the better. This is our first mention of the Spencer girl; she'll become relevant later. DuQuesne and Brookings like the idea. It is agreed that DuQuesne will carry it out with Perkins's assistance.

NEXT:  Into space! A desperate chase; trapped by a dead star; and the Skylark to the rescue!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Skylark of Space part 1: Isotope X

I've written before about my Dad's collection of science fiction books which fascinated me as a boy. Along with Robert Heinlein's Space Cadet and The Rolling Stones and Isaac Asimov's Lucky Starr series, one of the first science fiction novels I ever read was The Skylark of Space, by the impressively-named E.E. Smith, PhD.

"Doc" Smith was one of those early giants who have now been largely forgotten, but who established the boundaries of science fiction; which in Smith's case were: there are no boundaries!  He is probably best known for his Lensmen series, about a galaxy-spanning police force granted telepathic powers by mysterious alien patrons and which is part of a secret eons-old war between these aliens and a race of malevolent aliens from another galaxy. Lensman was a major influence on the Green Lantern Corps; and come to think of it, there are echoes of it in Babylon 5 as well.

The Skylark of Space was his first novel, written between 1915 and 1920 while he earning his PhD in chemical engineering and getting his first job as a food engineer designing better donuts. It took him several years to find a publisher, finally selling it to the magazine Amazing Stories in 1928. Skylark was wildly successful and led to three sequels as well as his Lensman series.

The hero, Richard Seaton is a scientist working at the Rare Metals Laboratory in Washington, DC. Like Smith, Seaton had a rugged boyhood growing up in the mountains of Idaho, but his roving intelligence and fascination with science led him to pursue a college degree.

We meet Seaton in the middle of a lab accident. One might almost call it a eucatastrophe, a "good disaster", except instead of being a sudden reversal at the end which brings about the Happy Ending, this is the dramatic random event at the beginning which sets everything in motion. He is analyzing some of the leftover waste ores that have accumulated in the lab over the years, extracting out the more valuable metals, like platinum. There is a small remnant that he cannot identify, a mostly-stable isotope where no mostly-stable isotope should exist. While electrolyzing a solution of the mystery isotope, some of it sloshes out of its beaker and it comes in contact with a piece of copper wire and BAM! The piece of lab equipment he was using goes flying out the window.

This is not normal behavior for a steam bath. It didn't just fly out the window; it kept going in a straight line as far as Seaton could see with a pair of binoculars. After checking all his instruments and going over everything that happened, he comes to the conclusion that his mystery isotope, when excited by the electrical current from the wire, had somehow converted the copper of the wire directly into energy.

The ramifications of this are so boggling. But not nearly as upsetting as the realization that he was supposed to be at his fiancee's house three hours ago.

Dick Seaton is engaged to Dorothy Vaneman, a beautiful and strong-willed redhead from an upper-crust family. Smith had a thing for red-heads; just as Dick Seaton was an idealized version of himself, he based Dorothy on his wife, Jeanne. Dorothy is pretty steamed when Dick shows up sheepishly on her doorstep at 10:30 pm. but he is so penitent and so enthusiastic about his scientific discovery that she can't help but forgive him. Seaton spends most of their date talking about platinum wastes; but they are just engaged and Dorothy doesn't seem to mind. Smith was not terribly comfortable writing romantic scenes, and in Skylark he had a woman named Lee Garby, the wife of a friend, write the love interest.

The next morning, demonstrates his discovery to his buddies at the lab; but inexplicably, nothing happens. His co-workers have a good laugh at his expense, but Seaton is puzzled, until he remembers that the previous evening, another of his co-workers, DuQuesne, had been using a particle accelerator in the lab next to his. Seaton waits until he hears DuQuesne fire up the "whatsitron", and tries his experiment with the wire and the isotope solution again. This time it works, and a fragment of the copper wire again shoots out the window.

Instead of calling his friends back -- they wouldn't believe him anyway -- Seaton leaves work to call on another friend, Martin Crane. He has an idea that he hasn't even shared with Dorothy yet. He wants to use his discovery to power a spaceship; but for that he'll need help.

M. Reynolds Crane is the heir to a large aeronautics firm and a highly competent engineer in his own right. He's sort of like Tony Stark, only without the boozing and womanizing. In fact, being one of the most eligible bachelors in Washington and having been pursued by most of the debutantes and matchmaking mothers on the Easter Seaboard, Martin is decidedly skittish about women. He's only comfortable around Dorothy Vaneman because she's solely interested in Seaton.

Dick met Martin when the two of them competed against each other in an amateur tennis tournament some years back, and they became close friends. Crane plays Oliver to Seaton's Roland; where Dick is enthusiastic and impetuous, Martin is cool-headed and practical. Seaton wants to buy a lab and start working on developing his discovery right away. Crane needs to be convinced that Seaton really has something; but once he is, his first thought is to incorporate; establish a board of directors and get things set up on a sound business footing. "The organization of our company comes first -- suppose I should die before we solve the problem? I suggest something like this..."

There is the small problem that Seaton's mystery isotope is still technically government property. Since the solution is waste material that was going to be thrown away anyway, Seaton suggests just pocketing the bottle and taking it home. "Not good enough," Crane says. "We must have clear title, signed, sealed, and delivered." So instead, Seaton fills out the paperwork to have his bottle sold at the weekly auction where his department gets rid of much of it's surplus. This is still ethically dubious, but legal enough to satisfy Crane. They buy the bottle of Isotope X at the auction that afternoon for ten cents.

Enter Marc C. DuQuesne. We've already heard mention of him as the fellow scientist operating the "whatsitron" in the lab next to Seaton's. He is tall and powerfully-built man, much like Seaton, and is highly-respected in his field. He's called "Blackie" by his friends -- no, make that "colleagues"; DuQuesne does not make friends -- because of his raven-black hair and his dark penetrating eyes. He is also cold-blooded, ruthless and amoral without the slightest atom of sentiment in his being.

DuQuesne is one of the reasons I like the Skylark books better than the Lensman series. The Eddorians of Lensmen may be more evil and their Boskonian minions more despicable, but DuQuesne is a better villain by far. Despite holding moral values in contempt, he possesses a peculiar type of honor. He's honest, brutally so. And he's scrupulous in his science. He toadies to no man. He got where he is through sheer unalloyed competence. DuQuesne was without question the most popular character in the series, and by the final book he had largely taken over the spotlight as Smith had him joining forces with Seaton against a greater cosmic threat. But that is far, far in the future.

DuQuesne was present at Seaton's failed demonstration that morning, but thought little of it, until he hears about Crane's visit to the lab and the auction. DuQuesne knows Crane by reputation and realizes that if he is backing Seaton, then there must be something to Seaton's crazy story. He puts things together quite rapidly. Like Seaton, he realizes that this discovery has vast potential; and like Seaton, he knows that he will need help to exploit it.

He contacts a fellow named Brookings, who is the head of the Washington branch of a vast multi-national corporation called World Steel. How DuQuesne is able to speak with a powerful executive of a major conglomerate, Smith does not precisely spell out; but apparently DuQuesne has helped World Steel in various ... ahem ... matters.

"Say it, Brookings. 'Deals' is right."

All right, deals. DuQuesne lays it out for him. Seaton has discovered a source of virtually limitless power at an extremely low cost, and World Steel can control it. "It should be easy -- one simple murder and an equally simple burglary -- and it won't mean wholesale murder, like that tungsten job." DuQuesne's idea is for Brookings's people to kill Seaton and steal the X solution. Brookings will provide the capital to develop the stuff under DuQuesne's direction.

Brookings is hesitant. World Steel Corp. has committed murder before, but Brookings prefers to call them "accidents". DuQuesne sneers at his squeamishness.
"Bah!" DuQuesne snorted. "Who do you think you're kidding? Do you think I told you enough so that you can sidetrack me out of the deal? Get that idea out of your head -- fast. There are only two men in the world who can handle it -- R.B. Seaton and M.C. DuQuesne. Take you pick. Put anybody else on it -- anybody else -- and he'll blow himself and his whole neighborhood out beyond the orbit of Mars." 
"You're very modest, DuQuesne." 
"Modesty gets a man praise, but I prefer cash."
DuQuesne barks out his demands like a character from a gangster movie -- and despite Brookings's pretensions of respectability, World Steel Corp. really is a company run by gangsters -- but Brookings refuses to be pressured. He thanks DuQuesne for the advice and bids him good-day. He then assigns one of his minions to steal the X solution and arranges for one of Steel's labs to analyze it.

Meanwhile, Seaton throws himself into the task of figuring out the properties of his X isotope and how to utilize it. He has holed up in a private lab on the Crane estate and not seen the light of day for a week. Dorothy hasn't seen him since the night of the lab accident and is becoming worried. Crane visits Dorothy and explains what is going on; but he admits that Dick is overworking himself. "He has to take it easy or break down, but nothing I can say has had any effect."

She shows up that evening at the lab and gives Dick an ultimatum.
"I've been doing a lot of thinking this last week, especially today. I love you as you are. I can either do that or give you up. I can't even imagine giving you up, because I know I'd cold-bloodedly strangle with her own hair any woman who ever cocked an eye at you ... Come on, Dick, no more work tonight.. I'm taking you and Martin home for dinner." Then, as his eyes strayed involuntarily back toward the computer, she said, more forcefully, "I -- said -- no -- more-- work -- tonight. Do you want to fight about it?"
Dick concedes, and Dorothy drags him back to her place, where she plies him with good food. As he's relaxing after dinner, she asks if he minds if she practices her violin; she hasn't had time to practice that day. After a week of barely eating or sleeping, the combination of a heavy meal and soothing music is enough to knock Dick out.

He awakens the following afternoon, feeling thoroughly embarrassed. He promises not to ignore Dorothy again and to take time off to rest. He even admits to Crane that having a good night's sleep has helped him get a fresh look at one of the problems he was having with his theories. Seaton never does completely shake his workaholic habits -- In one of the later books he encounters aliens who do their scientific research strictly by a rigid schedule and it drives him crazy -- but Dorothy does provide a mitigating influence that keeps him from burning out.

NEXT:  What happened to Bankerville, WV? Testing aplications for X; building the spaceship; and DuQuesne declares war.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Lost World part 4: "Our Eyes Have Seen Great Wonders"

Concluding our look at The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Edward E. Malone, reporter for the London Gazette, is a young man seeking to prove himself. That was why he volunteered to interview Professor George E. Challenger, the most dangerous scientist in England, and then to accompany the expedition organized by the London Zoological Institute to investigate Challenger's claims of a remote plateau in the Amazon where prehistoric creatures have survived to the present day.

He has had his share of adventures since arriving on the plateau, but he now faces perhaps his most terrifying. He has returned to the Fort Challenger, the expedition's camp, after an impulsive excursion into the dinosaur-infested forest of the plateau to find that the camp has been ransacked and his companions gone. He is now completely alone.

Malone spends much of the day recording the previous night's adventure so he can toss it down to Zambo, the party's faithful black servant who waits vigilantly at their original camp at the base of the cliffs. Zambo has thought of an idea to save the party, which is stranded on top of the plateau. He tells Malone that one of their Indian guides has returned, and suggests that they send him back to civilization for more rope. This does not seem to have occurred to any of the Men of Intellect leading the expedition; apparently their brains are too highly-developed. Malone agrees and tosses him some money to pay for the errand; but this does not help with his immediate problem.

He spends an uncomfortable night in their deserted camp. It is the safest place he can think of to stay. When he is startled awake the next day, however, it is not by an invader, but by Lord John Roxton.
"Quick, young fellah! Quick!" he cried. "Every moment counts. Get the rifles, both of them. I have the other two. Now, all the cartridges you can gather. Fill up your pockets. Now, some food. Half a dozen tins will do. That's all right! Don't wait to talk or think. Get a move on, or we are done!"
It isn't until the two of them have found a new safe haven that Lord John explains what happened. The previous morning, just around sunrise, the camp had been attacked by savage ape-like creatures who descended from the large ginko tree whose branches overhung their walls. "Ape-men -- that's what they are -- Missin' Links, and I wish they had stayed missin'."

Lord John shot one of the creatures, accounting for the blood in the camp, but the rest quickly overpowered the party. They might have been killed right there but for a singular coincidence. The leader of the ape-men bore a remarkable resemblance to Professor Challenger.

Here I have to credit Arthur Conan Doyle's artistry. He's been setting up this joke from the very beginning. All through the book so far, the narration has emphasized Challenger's striking appearance -- his broad shoulders, his barrel chest, his hairy torso and beard, even his bestial temper -- but he is always compared to a bull. Nowhere in the book does Malone ever make the obvious comparison; nowhere does he ever say that Challenger, the great evolutionary biologist, looks like a gorilla. No, that would have anticipated the joke.
"This old ape-man -- he was their chief -- was a sort of red Challenger, with every one of our friend's beauty points, only just a trifle more so. He had the short body, the big shoulders, the round chest, no neck, a great ruddy frill of a beard, the tufted eyebrows, the 'What do you want, damn you!' look about the eyes, and the whole catalogue."
Lord John goes on to describe being taken to the village of the ape-men. Although Challenger is treated handsomely as a guest -- the ape-chief seems to regard him as a long-lost brother -- Roxton and Professor Summerlee are held captive, along with a group of Indians from elsewhere on the plateau. They also learn the horrifying secret behind the bamboo grove where they found the skeleton earlier. The village lies near the edge of the plateau, and for entertainment, the ape-men force their prisoners to jump off the edge to be impaled on the bamboo stalks. Roxton and Summerlee witness this done to a couple of the Indians, and they know their turn will come soon.

With Challenger's help, Lord John was able to escape and now that he has armed himself and has Malone to back him up is ready to mount a rescue.

They arrive just in time: the ape-men are just about to chuck Summerlee over the edge of the cliff, despite Challenger's vociferous pleas. Lord John puts a rifle bullet into the chief and he and Malone begin picking off the savage ape-men. Seeing their chance, Challenger and Summerlee make a run for it to join their companions.

"Admirable!" Challenger exclaims when they have all gotten to safety. "Not only we as individuals, but European science collectively, owe you a debt of gratitude for what you have done."

The Indians whom the ape-men had taken captive have accompanied their escape. "We've got to see them safe," Summerlee says. Malone can guess where they come from: the caves he spotted on the far side of the Lake Gladys.

During their brief rest, Challenger expresses some concern to Malone about a few of the comments Lord John made, "which seemed to imply that there was some -- some resemblance..." Malone assures him that the account he's writing of the expedition shall stick strictly to the truth, which seems to calm him somewhat.
"I leave the matter to your discretion." Then, after a long pause, he added: "The king of the ape-men was really a creature of great distinction -- a most remarkably handsome and intelligent personality. Did it not strike you?" 
"A most remarkable creature," said I.
But their new camp is no safer from the pursuing ape-men and soon they must move again. They head toward the Central Lake. Arriving at its shore, they encounter a group of long canoes which are crossing from the other side. One of the captive Indians is the son of their chief who has sent a war party to rescue him.

The young prince speaks with the war party, and although Malone cannot understand the native language, from their gestures he can guess what the prince is saying: he wants the war party to continue its raid and with the aid of the four strangers they will be able to defeat their enemies, the ape-men, for good.
Lord John is all for aiding the Indians. "I have a score to settle with these monkey-folk." Malone and Challenger both agree to help. Summerlee observes that they seem to be drifting from the purpose of their expedition, but agrees to come along.

The battle is a bloody, brutal one. The ape-men are strong and armed with heavy clubs and nearly drive back the human attackers; but the expedition's rifles make the difference and turn the tide. Once the humans gain the upper hand, the battle becomes a massacre. Even Lord John, who was a soldier in his first profession -- or perhaps because he was a soldier -- has enough of the bloodshed. "It's over," he says once the fight has ended and turned into a slaughter. "I think we can leave the tidying up to them. Perhaps the less we see of it the better we shall sleep."

Challenger has no such qualms. "We have been privileged," he boasts, "to be present at one of the typical decisive battles of history -- the battles which have determined the fate of the world." In his view, the fight between the Indians and the ape-men for dominance over the plateau is a recapitulation of the evolutionary struggle between Early Man and his more primitive cousins. "Those were the real conquests," he says.

Malone is less enthusiastic. The ape-men who survive the battle are rounded up by the Indians and herded at spear-point over the edge of the cliff, just as the ape-men had killed so many of their own captives. The males of Ape-Town are exterminated; only a small remnant of females and children survive to be driven back across the plateau, slaves to the new masters of the plateau. It is genocide.
It was a raw, primeval version of the Jews in Babylon or the Israelites in Egypt. At night we could hear from amid the trees the long-drawn cry, as some primitive Ezekiel mourned for fallen greatness and recalled the departed glories of Ape Town. Hewers of wood and drawers of water, such were they from now onwards.
Challenger might regard the fate of the ape-men as evolutionary destiny, but Malone can still feel pity for them.

The Challenger expedition is welcomed by the Accala tribe, as the cave-dwelling Indians call themselves. From the Indians they learn that there was indeed a tunnel leading to lower on the side of the plateau -- the route the American Maple White had taken, and presumably the way the ape-men and later the Indians also reached the top -- but that it had been blocked by an earthquake about a year previously.

But although the Accala people show them every other hospitality, they will not help the expedition leave the plateau. They have become victims of their own success. The Indians regard the four strangers as supermen and bearers of good fortune for the tribe.

Over the next few weeks, Malone touches on a number of incidents in their life amongst the Accala. They learn that the Indians herd the gentle iguanodons as livestock, marking them with asphalt instead of branding them. On once occasion the community is attacked by a couple of the large carnivorous dinosaurs which had attacked Fort Challenger. Oddly enough, and no doubt to Lord John's chagrin, their rifles prove little use against the monsters and the Indians's poison arrows more effective at bringing them down.

Malone briefly mentions encounters with other creatures of the plateau, including a strange, white nocturnal creature in a nearby swamp of which the party could only catch a glimpse, and fresh water plesiosaurus in the great Central Lake.

On another occasion, Malone sees Lord John striding along inside a sort of portable cage made of bent canes. "Visitin' my friends, the pterodactyls," he explains. Challenger has asked him to catch one of the "devil chicks" as Lord John calls them. And he has other reasons for visiting the nests of which he is more guarded. "Don't you think other people besides Professors can want to know things? ...I'm studyin' the pretty dears. That's enough for you."

Meanwhile, Professor Challenger has been putting his brain to finding a way down off the plateau. He has found a bubbling mud geyser emitting a flammable gas which he determines is nearly pure hydrogen. He has made a balloon out of an iguanodon's entrails which he fills with the gas using a primitive bamboo pipeline. Summerlee thinks the idea is ludicrous and so Challenger arranges a demonstration of his device. The balloon works too well and nearly carries Challenger off over the treetops. They wind up losing the balloon, but overall Challenger regards the experiment as a success.

The evening of the adventure with the balloon, the chief's son, whom they had rescued from the ape-men and who has been sympathetic to their attempts to escape, comes to them secretly and gives Malone a piece of bark with a map of the caves in which the Accala live. Some of the caves are uninhabited, used mostly for storage, and of those there is one which goes deeper into the cliff than the others.

The party investigates the cave and finds that it does indeed penetrate all the way through to the side of the plateau. The opening was hidden from below, so they hadn't noticed it when they made their initial circumnavigation of the plateau's base. It's still pretty high up, but low enough that they can reach the bottom of the cliff with their ropes. The party gathers up as much of their supplies as they can in secret, so that the Accala won't hinder their departure; including one particular piece of baggage Challenger insists on bringing which gives them no end of trouble.

And by one of those happy coincidence which make Victorian fiction so much more convenient, they make their way back to their original base camp at the foot of the plateau just as the rescue party Zambo sent for arrives, allowing a speedy journey back down the river and home to England.

Malone jumps ahead to the Expedition's triumphant return to England. He turns the narrative over to a fellow reporter in describing Professor Summerlee's presentation to the London Zoological Institute. Summerlee gives a brief account of their adventures, (passing lightly over the treachery of Gomez) and descriptions of some of the species, some thought extinct and others unknown to science, which they discovered; concluding with a humorous account of Challenger's experiment in ballooning.

But when he has finished his presentation, there is yet another interruption. Another scientist named Illingworth, a detested rival of both Challenger and Summerlee, (in fact, early stages of the expedition, their mutual dislike of Illingworth was their only point of agreement), rises to take issue with the committee's findings.

Illingworth asks if the testimony of the four explorers is any more reliable than Challenger's was a year ago. Summerlee's collection of new beetles does not impress him; they could of been gathered anywhere in the Amazon and do not by themselves prove the existence of the dinosaurs. The explanation that the party had to leave the bulk of their evidence behind in their flight from the Accura village, Illingworth pooh-poohs; and that Summerlee has no photographic evidence because the ape-men opened up all their film canisters and exposed the film, meets with his utter scorn.

Challenger does not lose his temper. He has been expecting -- nay, hoping for this reaction. He asks Illingworth if a live specimen would convince him. "Beyond a doubt," Illingworth laughs.

This is when Malone and Zambo bring a large packing crate onto the stage -- the same piece of bulky baggage Malone alluded to earlier. Opening the crate reveals the baby "Devil's Chick" Lord John had captured -- Challenger's ultimate joke on his critics. Alas, the creature is startled by the noise of the crowd and flies out an open window before Challenger can grab it. The creature is last sighted heading southeast over the Atlantic, trying to fly home.

But overall, Challenger has been vindicated, and Malone has returned from his adventure a hero. He goes back to his beloved Gladys to spread his accomplishments like trophies at her feet. And here Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gives us one final punch line. During Malone's absence, Gladys has gotten married. "You didn't get my letter at Para, then? ... I am so sorry about it. But it couldn't have been so very deep, could it, if you could go off to the other end of the world and leave me here alone. You're not crabby, are you?"

Malone takes the bad news like a man, although he does ask Gladys's new husband what adventurous deed he did to win her affection. The man is puzzled. "What is your profession?" Malone presses.

"I am a solicitor's clerk."

Women.

Malone returns to Lord John Roxton's place, where Lord John is hosting dinner for his friends. Lord John has a surprise of his own. Remember the blue clay in the pterodactyl's rookery? "Well, now, in the whole world I've only had to do with one place that was a volcanic vent of blue clay. That was the great DeBeers Diamond Mine of Kimberley -- what?" When he went on Challenger's little errand to capture a baby pterodactyl, Lord John also took the opportunity to collect some samples.

He had them appraised at about 200 thousand pounds; enough, split between the friends, for Challenger to found the private museum he's always wanted and for Summerlee to retire from teaching and devote his time to research. Lord John is all for giving Maple White Land another crack, this time with a better equipped expedition. He assumes that Malone intends to use his share to get married.

"Not just yet," said I, with a rueful smile. "I think, if you will have me, that I would rather go with you."

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

GRAPHIC CLASSICS SALE

FIVE SCARY TALES IN THE EC COMICS TRADITION, PRESENTED BY YOUR HORRIBLE HOST NERWIN THE DOCENT

During the month of October (only) Eureka Productions is pleased to announce that Halloween Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 23 will be on sale on the Graphic Classics website [www.graphicclassics.com]. (only). List price is $17.95. Special sale price is only $10!

Halloween Classics presents five scary tales for the holiday, each with an EC Comics-style introduction by famed horror author Mort Castle. Featured are Washington Irving's “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, Arthur Conan Doyle’s mummy tale “Lot No. 249”, Mark Twain’s “A Curious Dream”, and H.P. Lovecraft’s “Cool Air”. Plus, a comics adaptation of the great silent film “The Cabinet of Dr. Calligari”, illustrated by Matt Howarth, with a terrifying cover by Simon Gane.

The Graphic Classics series presents the works of great authors in comics adaptations and heavily-illustrated text. The adaptations are written at an adult level, and utilize as much of the author’s original language as possible. Our goal is to create books that are enjoyable for adults, yet accessible to children ages twelve and up. Graphic Classics are available in bookstores and comics shops nationally. Resellers can order from Diamond Book Distributors, Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Follett or other distributors.  

“The quality of the Graphic Classics series has never faltered and this treat for horror fans is no exception.  Great art and story adaptions. My favourite has to be ‘The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow’ — I saw the animated film when I was a kid and ever since tried to check out any movie or comic adaptions and this one is spot on!"
— Terry Hooper, Comic Bits Online

“Adapting stories by such luminaries as H.P Lovecraft, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, Washington Irving, and more, Halloween Classics is a fantastic collection. Well-written and wonderfully illustrated throughout, this really is a must-have for fans of comics, horror, and literature alike. And best of all, it's all-ages material, suitable for anyone 12 (or slightly younger, depending on the kid) and up. This is a perfect read for the Halloween season and should be a part of each and every library collection."
— Bob Freeman, Monster Librarian

"In addition to adapting genuinely classic works into accessible and fun comics for all ages, for this volume Mr. Pomplun and his crew have also created a sly EC tribute book as well. There’s a framing story done in the EC style by Mort Castle and Kevin Atkinson introducing each story in the book that left me grinning from ear to ear, and the stories chosen for adaptation this time out are very cool. My favorite, though, has to be 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari', adapted from the original screenplay with art by Matt Howarth. Strongly recommended."
— Greg Hatcher, Comic Book Resources



HALLOWEEN CLASSICS: Graphic Classics Volume 23
Edited by Tom Pomplun
Published September 2012, Eureka Productions
Distributed by Diamond Book Distributors
(ISBN 978-0-9825630-5-2)
144 pgs, 7" x 10", paperback, full color $17.95. $10 ONLY IN OCTOBER!
The Graphic Classics series:
GRAPHIC CLASSICS: EDGAR ALLAN POE / Volume 1 (978-0-9825630-0-7)
GRAPHIC CLASSICS: ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE / Vol. 2 (978-0-9746648-5-9)
GRAPHIC CLASSICS: H.G. WELLS / Volume 3 (978-0-9746648-3-5)
GRAPHIC CLASSICS: H.P. LOVECRAFT / Volume 4 (978-0-9746648-9-7)
GRAPHIC CLASSICS: JACK LONDON / Volume 5 (978-0-9746648-8-0)
GRAPHIC CLASSICS: AMBROSE BIERCE / Volume 6 (978-0-9787919-5-7)
GRAPHIC CLASSICS: BRAM STOKER / Volume 7 (978-0-9787919-1-9)
GRAPHIC CLASSICS: MARK TWAIN / Volume 8 (978-0-9787919-2-6)
GRAPHIC CLASSICS: R.L. STEVENSON / Volume 9 (978-0-9825630-3-8)
HORROR CLASSICS: Graphic Classics Volume 10 (978-0-9746648-1-1)
GRAPHIC CLASSICS: O. HENRY / Volume 11 (978-0-9746648-2-8)
ADVENTURE CLASSICS: Graphic Classics Volume 12 (978-0-9746648-4-2)
GRAPHIC CLASSICS: RAFAEL SABATINI / Volume 13 (978-0-9746648-6-6)
GOTHIC CLASSICS: Graphic Classics Volume 14 (978-0-9787919-0-2)
FANTASY CLASSICS: Graphic Classics Volume 15 (978-0-9787919-3-3)
GRAPHIC CLASSICS: OSCAR WILDE / Volume 16 (978-0-9787919-6-4)
SCIENCE FICTION CLASSICS: Volume 17 (978-0-9787919-7-1)
GRAPHIC CLASSICS: LOUISA MAY ALCOTT / Volume 18 (978-0-9787919-8-8)
CHRISTMAS CLASSICS: Volume 19 (978-0-9825630-1-4)
WESTERN CLASSICS: Volume 20 (978-0-9787919-9-5)
POE’S TALES OF MYSTERY: Graphic Classics Volume 21 (978-0-9825630-2-1)
AFRICAN-AMERICAN CLASSICS: Graphic Classics Volume 22  (978-0-9825630-4-5)
HALLOWEEN CLASSICS: Graphic Classics Volume 23  (978-0-9825630-5-2)
NATIVE AMERICAN CLASSICS: Graphic Classics Volume 24  (978-0-9825630-6-9)