And Then I Read: THE LAST OF PROFESSOR CHALLENGER

whentheworldscreamedI’ve read the final two Professor Challenger stories by A. Conan Doyle, and I’m happy to report that one of them is the second-best Challenger tale, in my opinion, right after “The Lost World.” The story, probably of novella length, though it’s hard to tell as I read it on my phone, is, as above, “When the World Screamed.” It features a pretty unbelievable premise of Challenger’s: that the Earth (and other planets) are living beings, and our world is alive deep below the surface world we know, but Doyle makes that premise great fun to explore, as he did with the surviving prehistoric animals of “The Lost World.” Professor Challenger himself is back in top form: immensely bombastic, curmudgeonly and rude to everyone, especially the press once they’ve gotten word of his research. That research is a tunnel extending several miles deep into the ground from the English countryside, and Challenger’s plan is to reach the body of the living planet and “sting” it to see what happens. The experiment is conducted with all the pomp and regalia: invited guests, press, and lookers-on, and we the readers are taken into the tunnel by the men prepared to set the explosive charge to gain the potential creature’s attention. Reporter Edward Malone is once more on hand, though not narrating this time, but Challenger himself is in full theatrical mode, lecturing to the crowd in an entertaining way about his theories and experiment. And what happens next? Well worth reading to find out.

The other final short story, “The Disintegration Machine” is much less interestingly told, and reads more like an average bad SF pulp short story than the work of Doyle. But, if you’ve read only “The Lost World,” and would like a second, if shorter, helping of the same, “When the World Screamed” is right up your alley.

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