Sunday, 6 November 2016

Arthur Conan Doyle, Science Fiction Writer

Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle (22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930) was an Irish-Scottish writer and physician, famous for creating the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and revolutionising the field of crime fiction. But he is also known for writing the fictional adventures of a second character he invented, Professor Challenger, who journeyed to the famous Lost World.
Arthur Conan Doyle
He was a prolific writer whose other works include fantasy and science fiction stories, plays, romances, poetry, non-fiction and historical novels.

Conan was in fact only his middle name, and most official references call him Arthur Doyle. He added the Conan as a kind of compound surname shortly after he left high school.

Science Fiction

His early science fiction short stories include the identity exchange story The Great Keinplatz Experiment, The Great Brown-Pericord Motor, and The Los Amigos Fiasco, in which an experimental electric chair ‘supercharges’ a criminal instead of killing him. The Terror of Blue John Gap is about a monstrous visitor from an underground world. Doyle's first scientific romance, The Doings of Raffles Haw, is an account of a gold-maker who becomes disenchanted with the fruits of his philanthropy.

The Horror of the Heights is an account of strange forms of life inhabiting the upper atmosphere. When the World Screamed is a striking early Living-World tale. The novelette Danger!, is Doyle's contribution to the future war genre, anticipating submarine attacks on shipping – a prophecy received sceptically by the Admiralty but validated within months.

Professor Challenger

Later in his career (1912–29) he wrote five stories, two of novella length, featuring the irascible scientist Professor Challenger. The Challenger stories include what is probably his best-known work after the Sherlock Holmes stories, The Lost World. In this Professor Challenger leads an expedition to a plateau in South America where dinosaurs still survive, as well as a tribe of ape-men, though they are soon decimated and the few survivors turned into slaves.

In a sequel, The Poison Belt, the human race confronts the end of the world as Earth passes through the eponymous toxic zone in the universal ether, which causes an apparently fatal ‘catalepsy’ in all living things; among other disasters, New York is destroyed by fire. Challenger and his colleagues, breathing bottled oxygen to stay awake, discuss the evolution of a new life in pure scientific romance fashion – even the boisterously omniscient Challenger can do no more than observe the changing world and comment upon it – before undertaking a tour to devastated London. After a day, the poison suddenly dissipates, leaving survivors in a state of collective amnesia, until the scale of the disaster begins to sink in; subsequently a chastened humanity begins to build a socialist utopia in the ruins.  

Doyle's last story of sf interest, The Death Voyage, proposes an alternate ending for World War One, in which the Kaiser dies at sea in a blaze of history-changing glory, as Napoleon should have done at Waterloo.

[adapted from Wikipedia and the Arthur Conan Doyle website]

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at

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