Best Oughts Adventure

By: Joshua Glenn
September 15, 2013

NOTE: This post has been superseded by HILOBROW’s 100 Best Adventures of the Oughts page.


The Best Adventure series of posts will list my favorite 21 adventure novels from each of the 20th Century’s first eight (socio-cultural) decades. Plus, I kicked off the series with a list of the Top 32 adventures from the 19th Century; in total, then, I aim to list 200 of my all-time favorite adventures.


20 ADVENTURE THEMES AND MEMES: Index to All Adventure Lists | Introduction to Adventure Themes & Memes Series | Index to Entire Series | The Robinsonade (theme: DIY) | The Robinsonade (theme: Un-Alienated Work) | The Robinsonade (theme: Cozy Catastrophe) | The Argonautica (theme: All for One, One for All) | The Argonautica (theme: Crackerjacks) | The Argonautica (theme: Argonaut Folly) | The Argonautica (theme: Beautiful Losers) | The Treasure Hunt | The Frontier Epic | The Picaresque | The Avenger Drama (theme: Secret Identity) | The Avenger Drama (theme: Self-Liberation) | The Avenger Drama (theme: Reluctant Bad-Ass) | The Atavistic Epic | The Hide-And-Go-Seek Game (theme: Artful Dodger) | The Hide-And-Go-Seek Game (theme: Conspiracy Theory) | The Hide-And-Go-Seek Game (theme: Apophenia) | The Survival Epic | The Ruritanian Fantasy | The Escapade


This is the second post in the series. Here you’ll find a list of my Top 21 Adventures from the Oughts (1904–1913).

ALSO SEE: Radium Age 100: The Best Science Fiction Novels Published from 1904–33

kipling night

Adventure-wise, the Oughts struggled at first to escape the shadow of the 1894–1903 decade, during which H.G. Wells gave us The Island of Doctor Moreau and The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, Bram Stoker Dracula, Jack London The Call of the Wild, Arthur Conan Doyle The Hound of the Baskervilles, Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness, L. Frank Baum The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Anthony Hope The Prisoner of Zenda. A transitional era from the 19th to the 20th Centuries; what rough beast was a-borning? By 1912, a wild new adventure sub-genre — Radium Age science fiction (a term I coined; I’ve written elsewhere about sf’s Radium Age) — had made its mark. Also, John Buchan’s Prester John was the first hint of what early-20th Century adventure would look like. Plus: Tarzan!

As in each post from this series, I’ve appended a list of 29 second-tier favorites — for a grand total of 50 Top Adventures of the Oughts. Plus a third-tier list that features, among other thing, many obscure adventures. These ought not to be thought of as “third-rate” (I wouldn’t mention them if they weren’t worth reading) but instead as Most Deserving of Rediscovery. Please leave suggestions and feedback.


If you’re interested in reading re-discovered science fiction adventures, check out the 10 titles from HiLoBooks — available online and in gorgeous paperback form.

PS: I’ve written about the importance of 1912 in sci-fi history here.


In chronological order:

    london sea wolf

  1. 1904. Jack London’s sea-going adventure The Sea Wolf. A clash of opposing philosophies, one of which — quasi-Nietzschean; more accurately Social Darwinist — is embodied by Wolf Larsen, a brutal yet enigmatic sea captain.
  2. 1904. G.K. Chesterton’s Radium Age science fiction adventure The Napoleon of Notting Hill, in which battles rage between neighboring boroughs of London.
  3. 1904. Joseph Conrad’s treasure-hunt (sort of) adventure Nostromo. An ambitious longshoreman thwarts a worker revolution in a South American mining town… and attempts to enrich himself in the process.
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  5. 1905. Baroness Emma Orczy’s historical (18th c.) adventure The Scarlet Pimpernel is set during France’s post-Revolution Terror. Sir Percy Blakeney, the effete aristocrat who is secretly the daring Scarlet Pimpernel (or vice-versa), would inspire characters such as Zorro and Batman. “Is he in heaven, or is he in hell, that damned elusive Pimpernel?”
  6. 1905. Rudyard Kipling’s Radium Age science fiction adventure With the Night Mail follows the exploits of an intercontinental mail dirigible battling a storm. Also, we learn that a planet-wide Aerial Board of Control (A.B.C.) now enforces a technocratic system of command and control in world affairs. (Reissued by HiLoBooks.)
  7. 1907. L. Frank Baum’s Oz fantasy adventure Ozma of Oz. My favorite Oz book — in which Dorothy Gale and a talking hen (Billina) wash up in the Land of Ev, where they encounter proto-steampunk Wheelers, the wicked Nome King, and Baum’s greatest character, Tik-Tok the mechanical man.
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  9. 1908. G.K. Chesterton’s fantasy adventure The Man Who Was Thursday. Subtitled A Nightmare, the book follows a Scotland Yard man as he infiltrates the local chapter of the European anarchist council… only to discover that it has been interpenetrated entirely by detectives. Free-flowing, lyrical, trippy stuff.
  10. 1908. Kenneth Grahame’s children’s book The Wind in the Willows. Not an adventure in every particular, but Toad’s wild ride and prison break are amazing, as is the battle to reclaim Toad Hall from the weasels, stoats, and ferrets who’ve invaded from the Wild Wood.
  11. 1909. P.G. Wodehouse’s comic adventure Mike, in which readers first meet the monocled, dandyish adventurer and idler Psmith (the “p” is silent, as in pshrimp). Here, he is a schoolboy who — having recently been expelled from Eton — helps the titular protagonist succeed in various boarding-school capers and escapades.
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  13. 1910. John Buchan’s frontier adventure Prester John. A young Scotsman seeking his fortune in South Africa runs afoul of Laputa, leader of a planned rising of the Zulu and Swazi peoples against British colonial rule. The first great yarn from my favorite adventure writer… with the caveat that, as with most fiction of the time, it’s quite racist.
  14. 1911. Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre’s crime adventure Fantômas, concerning the adventures of a sadistic sociopath — the original charismatic serial killer. Inspired a generation of French highbrow litterateurs to incorporate adventure themes into their work.
  15. 1912. Edgar Rice Burroughs’s atavistic adventure Tarzan of the Apes, serialized in All-Story Magazine. John Clayton, whose parents are marooned and killed in a jungle of equatorial Africa, is raised by apes — and becomes their king. Published in book form in 1914. Burroughs would write 24 subsequent Tarzan adventures.
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  17. 1912. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Radium Age science fiction adventure The Lost World. The brilliant Prof. Challenger and companions journey to a South American jungle, where they discover a plateau crawling with prehistoric monsters. The first popular dinosaurs-still-live tale!
  18. 1912. Zane Grey’s Western adventure Riders of the Purple Sage. I’m not a huge fan of this particular adventure sub-genre, but if you’re going to read one Western, this is it. Set in southern Utah in 1871, its complex plot involves polygamous Mormons, a notorious gunman searching for his long-lost sister, and a mysterious masked rider.
  19. 1912. Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Radium Age science fiction adventure A Princess of Mars. Inspired by the Mars-is-dying speculations of astronomer Percival Lowell (and perhaps by Edwin Lester Arnold’s 1905 Lieut. Gullivar Jones), this is a truly epic “planetary romance.”
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  21. 1912. Jack London’s Radium Age science fiction adventure The Scarlet Plague. A former UC Berkeley professor recounts the chilling sequence of events — a gruesome pandemic (in 2013!) — which led to his current lowly state. Modern civilization has fallen, and a new race of barbarians, descended from the world’s brutalized workers, has assumed power. (Reissued by HiLoBooks.)
  22. 1912. H. Rider Haggard’s Marie, first installment in Haggard’s excellent Zulu/Quatermain trilogy, in which his hero Allan Quatermain becomes ensnared in the vengeance of Zikali, a Zulu wizard known as “The-thing-that-should-never-have-been-born.” A prequel to King Solomon’s Mines, et al. This was a great era for prequels.
  23. 1912. William Hope Hodgson’s Radium Age science fiction adventure The Night Land is set on a frozen future Earth whose human inhabitants live in an underground redoubt surrounded by Watching Things, Ab-humans, and other monstrous invaders from another dimension. Praised by everyone from H.P. Lovecraft to China Miéville… but little-read now. (Reissued by HiLoBooks.)
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  25. 1913. Sax Rohmer’s espionage/science fiction adventure The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu. The first novel, assembled from earlier stories, about the insidious and brilliant Fu Manchu, who would inspire racist depictions of SF’s Asian villains from Ming the Merciless to Dr. No.
  26. 1913. Earl Derr Biggers’s crime adventure Seven Keys to Baldpate. The best-known work by the author of the 1920s Charlie Chan adventures. A group of strangers meet at a mountaintop inn… and trouble follows.
  27. 1913. Marie Belloc Lowndes’s psychological thriller The Lodger. Is the lodger whose rent keeps Ellen and Robert Bunting’s family from the poorhouse actually a Jack the Ripper-esque serial killer?

Thanks! To the nearly 400 adventure fans who kickstarted the SAVE THE ADVENTURE e-book club.


  1. 1904. J.M. Barrie’s play Peter Pan. Turned into the 1911 novel Peter and Wendy.
  2. 1904. L. Frank Baum’s The Marvelous Land of Oz, sequel to The Wizard of Oz. A boy named Tip makes a man out of wood and gives him a pumpkin for a head. A witch brings this creation to life, and one of my favorite Oz adventures begins.
  3. 1904. George Barr McCutcheon’s Graustarkian adventure Beverly of Graustark.
  4. 1904. Winston Churchill’s (the author) historical adventure The Crossing. Set during the Revolutionary War along the Kentucky frontier; Daniel Boone makes an appearance. Considered Churchill’s best novel.
  5. 1905. H. Rider Haggard’s frontier/exploration adventure Ayesha: The Return of She.
  6. 1905. Edwin Lester Arnold’s Radium Age science fiction adventure Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation. It’s Gulliver’s Travels in space.
  7. 1905. Edgar Wallace’s crime adventure The Four Just Men. Wallace was one of the two writing prodigies of the era — the other being Edgar Rice Burroughs. He wrote 167 novels in 14 years, and co-wrote the screenplay for King Kong.
  8. 1906. Edith Nesbit’s YA novels The Railway Children and The Story of the Amulet deserve a mention here.
  9. 1906. Arthur Conan Doyle’s knightly adventure Sir Nigel. A prequel to Conan Doyle’s earlier novel The White Company. Set during the early phase of the Hundred Years’ War.
  10. 1906. Rex Beach’s Klondike adventure The Spoilers. The author spent a number of years in the Klondike, and wrote several popular novels; this is the one to read.
  11. 1906. Jack London’s Klondike adventure White Fang.
  12. 1906. Jack London’s atavistic adventure Before Adam conjures up primitive man. The protagonist is Big Tooth.
  13. 1907. Joseph Conrad’s espionage adventure The Secret Agent is a sardonic inversion of the genre. Martin Green says of Conrad: “He has been the literary establishment’s hit man in its feud with adventure.”
  14. 1907. Maurice Leblanc’s crime adventure collection Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar.
  15. 1908. William Hope Hodgson’s supernatural adventure The House on the Borderland. The titular house is built over a pit… that is in some way connected with the universe… and from which swine-things come and go in the night. The narrator has a cosmic vision of Eternity.
  16. 1908. H.G. Wells’s Radium Age science fiction adventure The War in the Air.
  17. 1908. John Fox Jr.’s adventure The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, about an engineer who is caught in the middle of feuding Kentucky mountaineers. A bestseller in its time.
  18. 1908. Gustave Le Rouge’s Radium Age science fiction adventure Le Prisonnier de la Planète Mars. Sequel: La Guerre des Vampires (1909).
  19. 1909. George Barr McCutcheon’s Graustarkian adventure Truxton King: A Story of Graustark (1909). A sentimental favorite, because I read it when I was about 13, one summer in Maine.
  20. 1909. Jacques Futrelle’s espionage adventure Elusive Isabel. A spy for the Italian government becomes estranged from her employer because she has fallen in love with a member of the US secret service.
  21. 1909. Maurice Leblanc’s crime adventure The Hollow Needle, starring his gentleman thief character Arsène Lupin.
  22. 1911. J.D. Beresford’s Radium Age science fiction adventure The Hampdenshire Wonder, one of the first science fiction books about a hyper-intelligent mutant child.
  23. 1911. Bram Stoker’s horror thriller The Lair of the White Worm.
  24. 1912/1927. Franz Kafka’s Amerika. Sardonic inversion of an adventure.
  25. 1912. Garrett P. Serviss’s apocalyptic sf adventure The Second Deluge, in which complacent scientists, scheming public officials, and capitalist robber barons get their comeuppance after failing to heed a modern Noah’s warnings about an apocalyptic flood. PS: The author was a well-known astronomer.
  26. 1912. George Allan England’s apocalyptic sf adventure The Vacant World, the first part of the author’s Darkness and Dawn trilogy, in which two modern people wake up a thousand years after the Earth has been devastated by a meteor, and set about rebuilding civilization. New York lies in ruins; the protagonists wake up on the top floor of a ruined skyscraper!
  27. 1913. E.C. Bentley’s crime adventure Trent’s Last Case.
  28. 1913. J.D. Beresford’s Radium Age science fiction adventure Goslings. When a plague kills off most of England’s male population, the proper bourgeois Mr. Gosling abandons his family for a life of lechery. His daughters — who have never been permitted to learn self-reliance — in turn escape London for the countryside, where they struggle to survive. (Reissued by HiLoBooks.)
  29. 1913. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Radium Age science fiction adventure The Poison Belt. If you alone had discovered that the Earth was about to be engulfed in a belt of poisonous “ether” from outer space, what would you do? Professor Challenger assembles the adventurers with whom he’d once romped through a South American jungle (in The Lost World) and locks them in his wife’s dressing room. (Reissued by HiLoBooks.)


  • 1904. H.G. Wells’s Radium Age science fiction adventure The Food of the Gods.
  • 1904. W.H. Hudson’s atavistic adventure Green Mansions. Should probably get more respect on this list, because it is famous and influential. Hudson was a naturalist; this novel tells the story of a Venezuelan man who travels to the interior of the continent in search of stories of distant tribes possessing great quantities of gold. He encounters a forest girl, Rima — a feral Eve, in a hazardous Eden.
  • 1905. Jack London’s The Game recounts the final bout of a prizefighter whose skill in the ring gives way to an accident that takes his life.
  • 1906. Baroness Orzcy’s Scarlet Pimpernel novel I Will Repay. PS: The second Pimpernel book written, but chronologically third in the series.
  • 1907. Gaston Leroux’s detective adventure The Mystery of the Yellow Room. One of the first locked-room mysteries.
  • 1908. Alexander Bogdanov’s Radium Age science fiction adventure Red Star, about a communist utopia on Mars.
  • 1908. L. Frank Baum’s Oz fantasy adventure Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz.
  • 1908. Baroness Orzcy’s Scarlet Pimpernel novel The Elusive Pimpernel. PS: The third Pimpernel book written, but chronologically second in the series.
  • 1908. Maurice Leblanc’s crime adventure story collection Arsène Lupin vs. Herlock Sholmes . An early Sherlock Holmes pastiche!
  • 1908. Jack London’s dystopian Radium Age science fiction adventure The Iron Heel. Class war between the working class and the Oligarchy. The protagonist is a working-class Nietzschean superman. Brian Aldiss: “Its honest sympathies with the poor and the oppressed are never in doubt, but they come clothed in clichés… .”
  • 1908. Mary Roberts Rinehart’s crime adventure The Circular Staircase. Witty suspense featuring an ordinary person as sleuth; the author’s first novel.
  • 1909. P.G. Wodehouse’s comic Psmith adventure Psmith in the City.
  • 1909–10. Gaston Leroux’s horror thriller The Phantom of the Opera.
  • 1909. E.M. Forster’s Radium Age science fiction adventure The Machine Stops. The original Wall-E.
  • 1909. L. Frank Baum’s Oz fantasy adventure The Road to Oz.
  • 1909. Marjorie Bowen’s supernatural fantasy adventure Black Magic.
  • 1910. Baroness Orczy’s detective adventure story collection Lady Molly of Scotland Yard. One of the earliest fictional female detectives.
  • 1910. Jack London’s adventure story collection Lost Face includes his most famous story ever, “To Build a Fire.”
  • 1910. L. Frank Baum’s Oz fantasy adventure The Emerald City of Oz. This was originally intended to be the last book in the series.
  • 1910. Edward Stratemeyer’s first Tom Swift YA adventure, Tom Swift and His Motor-Cycle.
  • 1911. G.K. Chesterton’s crime adventure story collection The Innocence of Father Brown, the first of five Father Brown collections.
  • 1911. Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre’s Fantômas crime adventure Juve contre Fantômas.
  • 1911. W.E.B. DuBois’s The Quest of the Silver Fleece is a romantic melodrama featuring a detailed examination of the cotton industry.
  • 1911. G. K. Chesterton’s ballad The Ballad of the White Horse, about the exploits of the Saxon King Alfred the Great. Considered one of the last great traditional epic poems written in English. PS: In addition to being a narration of Alfred’s accomplishments, the ballad is considered a Catholic allegory.
  • 1911. Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre’s Fantômas crime adventure Le Mort qui Tue.
  • 1911. Owen Johnson’s undergrad adventure Stover at Yale. Dink Stover became the archetype of the college man of the era.
  • 1911. Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre’s Fantômas crime adventure L’Agent Secret.
  • 1911. Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre’s Fantômas crime adventure Un Roi Prisonnier de Fantômas.
  • 1911. Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre’s Fantômas crime adventure Le Policier Apache. And too many others to list!
  • 1912. John Buchan’s adventure The Moon Endureth.
  • 1912. James Stephens’s philosophical-comical fantasy adventure The Crock of Gold.
  • 1912. Hugo Gernsback’s Radium Age science fiction adventure Ralph 124C 41+: A Romance of the Year 2660. The author, who in the 1920s would become a pioneering sf magazine publisher — and who would coin the term science fiction — makes wild predictions about television, microfilm, and radar. Marred by bad writing.
  • 1912. Gustave Le Rouge’s Radium Age science fiction adventure Le Mystérieux Docteur Cornelius.
  • 1912. Joseph Conrad’s adventure story “The Secret Sharer.”
  • 1912. Maurice Leblanc’s crime adventure The Crystal Stopper, starring his gentleman thief character Arsène Lupin.
  • 1912. Rudyard Kipling’s Radium Age science fiction adventure story “As Easy As A.B.C.,” a sequel to With the Night Mail. It recounts what happens when agitators demand the return of democracy.
  • 1913. Saki’s Radium Age science-fiction adventure When William Came. Life in an alternate-future London, under German occupation.
  • 1913. Victor Bridges’s adventure The Man from Nowhere.
  • 1913. H. Rider Haggard’s Zulu/Quatermain adventure Child of Storm. Another prequel to King Solomon’s Mines (1885) and Allan Quatermain (1887).
  • 1913. L. Frank Baum’s Oz fantasy adventure The Patchwork Girl of Oz.
  • 1913. Baroness Orzcy’s Scarlet Pimpernel adventure Eldorado.


Plutonian Generation (1854-63)

1856: L. Frank Baum (Top 200: Ozma of Oz). HiLo Hero.

1857: Joseph Conrad (Top 200: Heart of Darkness, Nostromo)

1859: Arthur Conan Doyle (Top 200: The White Company, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Lost World, The Valley of Fear). HiLo Hero.

1859: Kenneth Grahame (Top 200: The Wind in the Willows)

Anarcho-Symbolist Generation (1864–73)

1865: Rudyard Kipling (Top 200: The Man Who Would Be King, Kim, With the Night Mail). HiLo Hero.

1865: Baroness Emma Orczy (Top 200: The Scarlet Pimpernel)

1868: Marie Belloc Lowndes (Top 200: The Lodger)

1872: Zane Grey (Top 200: Riders of the Purple Sage)

Psychonaut Generation (1874–1883)

1874: G.K. Chesterton (Top 200: The Napoleon of Notting Hill, The Man Who Was Thursday). HiLo Hero. Cusper.

1885 and 1874: Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre (Top 200: Fantômas). Souvestre is a cusper here.

1875: John Buchan (Top 200: Prester John, The Thirty-Nine Steps, Greenmantle, Mr. Standfast, Huntingtower, The Three Hostages)

1875: Edgar Rice Burroughs (Top 200: Tarzan of the Apes, A Princess of Mars, At the Earth’s Core). HiLo Hero.

1876: Jack London (Top 200: The Call of the Wild, The Sea Wolf, The Scarlet Plague). HiLo Hero.

1877: William Hope Hodgson (Top 200: The Night Land). HiLo Hero.

1881: P.G. Wodehouse (Top 200: Mike). HiLo Hero.

1883: Sax Rohmer (Top 200: The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu). HiLo Hero. Cusper.

Modernist Generation (1884–93)

1884: Earl Derr Biggers (Top 200: Seven Keys to Baldpate, The House Without a Key). Cusper.

1885 and 1874: Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre (Top 200: Fantômas)


BEST ADVENTURE LIT: Best 19th Century Adventure (1805–1903) | Best Nineteen-Oughts Adventure (1904–1913) | Best Nineteen-Teens Adventure (1914–1923) | Best Twenties Adventure (1924–1933) | Best Thirties Adventure (1934–1943) | Best Forties Adventure (1944–1953) | Best Fifties Adventure (1954–1963) | Best Sixties Adventure (1964–1973) | Best Seventies Adventure (1974–1983). I’ve only recently started making notes towards a list of Best Adventures of the Eighties, Nineties, and Twenty-Oughts.

ADVENTURERS as HILO HEROES: Katia Krafft | Freya Stark | Louise Arner Boyd | Mary Kingsley | Bruce Chatwin | Hester Lucy Stanhope | Annie Smith Peck | Richard Francis Burton | Isabella Lucy Bird | Calamity Jane | Ernest Shackleton | Osa Helen Johnson | Redmond O’Hanlon | Gertrude Bell | George Mallory | Neta Snook | Jane Digby | Patty Wagstaff | Wilfred Thesiger | Joe Carstairs | Florence “Pancho” Barnes | Erskine Childers | Jacques-Yves Cousteau | Michael Collins | Thor Heyerdahl | Jean-Paul Clébert | Tristan Jones | Neil Armstrong

MORE FURSHLUGGINER THEORIES BY JOSH GLENN: TAKING THE MICKEY (series) | KLAATU YOU (series intro) | We Are Iron Man! | And We Lived Beneath the Waves | Is It A Chamber Pot? | I’d Like to Force the World to Sing | The Argonaut Folly | The Perfect Flâneur | The Twentieth Day of January | The Dark Side of Scrabble | The YHWH Virus | Boston (Stalker) Rock | The Sweetest Hangover | The Vibe of Dr. Strange | CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (series intro) | Tyger! Tyger! | Star Wars Semiotics | The Original Stooge | Fake Authenticity | Camp, Kitsch & Cheese | Stallone vs. Eros | The UNCLE Hypothesis | Icon Game | Meet the Semionauts | The Abductive Method | Semionauts at Work | Origin of the Pogo | The Black Iron Prison | Blue Krishma! | Big Mal Lives! | Schmoozitsu | You Down with VCP? | Calvin Peeing Meme | Daniel Clowes: Against Groovy | The Zine Revolution (series) | Best Adventure Novels (series) | Debating in a Vacuum (notes on the Kirk-Spock-McCoy triad) | Pluperfect PDA (series) | Double Exposure (series) | Fitting Shoes (series) | Cthulhuwatch (series) | Shocking Blocking (series) | Quatschwatch (series)