The Complete Professor Challenger Stories

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Author: Arthur Conan Doyle

Finished on: 2 April 2017

Where did I get this book: A present for my husband many years ago (who never reads, but this doesn’t stop his dad from trying to tempt him with books as gifts).

I was expecting Professor Challenger to be a mystery-solving sleuth. A kind of academic cousin to Sherlock Holmes. I imagined that, like Christie, Conan Doyle would stick to the same sort of story, with different central figures.

But this a different kettle of fish entirely. I hadn’t realised Conan Doyle wrote science fiction. But these stories have more in common with those of Jules Verne than his works featuring our beloved resident of Baker Street.

Once I realised what was going on, orientated myself, and settled into the genre, these stories were brilliant. Professor Challenger himself, whilst horribly offensive and violent, is a superb central character. He brings entertainment and drama to any scenario, no matter how bleak, with his aggressive self-aggrandisement and larger than life responses to everything he encounters. He is also surrounded by an outstanding cast of characters, who accompany him on his adventures.

The odd one out in this collection of five stories is The Land Of Mist. Conan Doyle had a great interest in spiritualism, something that did untold damage to his reputation and career while he was alive, and this is poorly disguised propaganda for his passion. Were Conan Doyle not a hugely interesting figure, this story would be borderline unreadable, it is so self-indulgent and badly structured. But as an insight into the unconventional views of a writer I admire, it is a real eye-opener.

But the remaining four stories are precise and cleverly written, with concepts that could have been conceived in the mind of Verne. From The Lost World, untouched for centuries, where prehistoric life survives. To the earth passing through a ‘belt’ of gasses which render the population of the entire globe unconscious (except, of course, for those spectacularly intelligent enough to see it coming and take the precautions that Challenger does). To a machine that can render anything, including a living person with the ‘tremendous individuality’ of Professor Challenger, into a molecular cloud hovering in the air.

It’s all entertaining stuff. I haven’t read Jules Verne for many years, and this made me miss him. I never read any science fiction anymore, and my love for it has been well and truly rekindled. I will have to see if there is any more on my TBR shelves…

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