What would you do if you alone had discovered that the entire planet was about to be engulfed in a belt of poisonous "ether" from outer space -- and that all humanity would die? Arthur Conan Doyle's intrepid Professor Challenger invites a hand-picked crew of adventurers and scientists -- the very same comrades with whom he had romped through a South American jungle crawling with prehistoric monsters and beast-men in The Lost World, science fiction's first popular dinoasaurs-still-live tale. This adventure, however, takes place entirely in Challenger's home (in his wife's boudoir, in fact) outside London, which has been fortified with several hours' worth of oxygen. Challenger tells his friends: "We are assisting at a tremendous and awful function." Like astronauts strapping themselves into a rocket, Challenger & Co. assemble in front of a picture window to witness the end of all life on the planet. As birds plummet from the sky, trains crash, and men and women topple over before their horrified gaze, they debate everything from the possibilities of the universe to the "abysses that lie upon either side of our material existence," to the "ideal scientific mind." If the point of other apocalyptic tales is to model proper action in the face of certain disaster, Doyle's offbeat adventure models a proper attitude: scholarly sprezzatura, nerves of steel, stoic calm. Professor Challenger himself is a larger than life character -- strong as a bull, the smartest man alive, and an enormous egotist who nevertheless is good company whether he's hunting dinosaurs or waiting for the end of the world.
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