10 Best Adventures of 1912
February 3, 2017
One hundred and five years ago, the following 10 adventures — selected from my Best Nineteen-Oughts Adventure list — were first serialized or published in book form. They’re my favorite adventures published that year.
Please let me know if I’ve missed any 1912 adventures that you particularly admire. Enjoy!
PS: A few years ago, I made the case — at io9.com — that 1912 was one of the most important years, ever, for science fiction.
- William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land. In the far future, what remains of the human population dwells deep below the Earth’s frozen surface in a pyramidal fortress-city that for centuries has been surrounded by giants, “ab-humans,” enormous slugs and spiders, and malevolent Watching Things from an alien dimension. The unnamed narrator, along with apparently every other surviving human, lives trapped in the Last Redoubt, a eight-mile-high metal pyramid-city constructed by their ancestors using now-forgotten technologies. The pyramid is protected from the Slayers, who surround and observe it constantly, by mysterious Powers of Goodness, and also by a massive force-field powered by the “Earth Current” — a Tesla-esque force drawn from the planet itself. When the narrator receives a telepathic distress signal from a young woman whom (in a previous incarnation) he’d once loved, he sallies forth on an ill-advised rescue mission — into the uncharted and unfathomable Night Land. Fun fact: “One of the most potent pieces of macabre imagination ever written.” — H.P. Lovecraft, “Supernatural Horror in Literature” (1927). Reissued by HiLoBooks, with an Introduction by Erik Davis.
- Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. Having assembled a crew of adventurers, the brilliant, blustering physiologist and physicist Prof. Challenger journeys to a South American jungle… in search of a lost plateau crawling with iguanodons. It’s a ripping yarn — the first popular dinosaurs-still-live tale, prototype for everything from King Kong to Jurassic Park. At the same time, however, it’s a philosophical novel, one which animates — in a thrilling, humorous fashion — the author’s obsessive drive (also seen in his Sherlock Holmes stories) to reconcile the claims of logical reason and intuition. Challenger’s foil, the respected zoologist Professor Summerlee, is an avatar of the inductive method of reasoning; we first meet him when he rises from the audience at a lecture in order to accuse Challenger of making non-testable assertions. Although Summerlee is an admirable figure, in the end his refusal to accept any facts that haven’t been revealed by means of instruments and techniques of observation and experiment make him look like a dogmatic nincompoop. Plus: Battles with proto-humanoids! Fun fact: Doyle followed up this bestselling novel with The Poison Belt (1913) and The Land of Mist (1926), as well as two short stories about Challenger. Reissued by Penguin Classics.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs’s A Princess of Mars (serialized 1912; in book form, 1917). Transported to Mars — via something like astral projection — ex-soldier John Carter finds himself embroiled in a war between the Red and Green Martians. The barbaric, nomadic Green Martians are 15 feet tall, with six limbs; they inhabit the abandoned cities of Barsoom (that is, Mars). The Red Martians, meanwhile, are civilized humanoids, organized into city-states that control Barsoom’s water. Carter’s unusual coloring, and the extraordinary strength he is afforded by the planet’s weak gravity, make him uniquely capable of forming alliances among honorable members of both Barsoomian peoples. He falls in love with Dejah Thoris, beautiful daughter of a Red Martian chieftain, and rescues her from both Green and Red Martians before leading a Green Martian army against the enemy of Thoris’s state. Fun facts: Serialized pseudonymously, in the same year that Burroughs’s Tarzan of the Apes appeared, this is the first in the author’s popular “Barsoom” planetary romance series. It was originally titled Under the Moons of Mars. PS: I might be in the minority, on this subject, but I quite enjoyed the book’s 2012 Hollywood adaptation, John Carter.
- Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague. Outside the ruins of San Francisco, a former UC Berkeley professor recounts the chilling sequence of events — a gruesome pandemic which killed nearly every living soul on the planet, in a matter of days — 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. Over the space of a few decades, all learning has been lost. In the post-apocalyptic social order, women are degraded and beaten: Vesta Van Warden, wife of the richest man in America before the plague, we learn from the ancient James Howard Smith, became the chattel of one of her former servants, a man known only as Chauffeur. Predatory nomads — members of the Chauffeur Tribe — named Hoo-Hoo and Hare-Lip roam among the ruins of San Francisco. And Smith, formerly a professor of literature at UC Berkeley, is reviled by his juniors for being literate. Fun fact: Reissued by HiLoBooks, with an Introduction by Matthew Battles.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs‘s atavistic adventure Tarzan of the Apes (serialized 1912; as a book, 1914). When England’s Lord and Lady Greystoke are marooned in the western coastal jungle of equatorial Africa, their infant son is adopted by Kala of the Mangani — a species of manlike apes who speak a primal universal language understood by other animals, too. “Tarzan” (Mangani for “white skin”) grow up to be a fierce warrior and skilled hunter; he also discovers his parents’ abandoned cabin, and teaches himself to read English. Not long after, another party is marooned on the coast: including professor Archimedes Q Porter and his daughter, Jane; French Naval Officer Paul D’Arnot (who befriends Tarzan, and teaches him how to behave among Europeans); and Tarzan’s cousin. Will Tarzan assume his rightful role, as Earl of Greystoke in England? Or will he remain in the jungle? Fun facts: Serialized in All-Story Magazine. Burroughs would write over two dozen Tarzan adventures; and the franchise has grown to include movies (starring Johnny Weissmüller, in the 1930s–40s), TV and radio, and comics (drawn by Jesse Marsh, Russ Manning, and Doug Wildey from 1948–1972, and by Joe Kubert from 1972–1976).
- Zane Grey’s Western adventure Riders of the Purple Sage. If you’re only going to read one Western, this is the one. Set in the cañon country of southern Utah in 1871, its relatively complex plot involves polygamists, a notorious gunman searching for his long-lost sister, and a mysterious masked rider! Mormon-born Jane Withersteen has inherited a valuable ranch; when she befriends Venters, a “Gentile” (non-Mormon), the Mormon elders begin to persecute her. Venters heads out in pursuit of gang of rustlers that includes a mysterious Masked Rider; meanwhile Lassiter, a laconic Mormon-killer, arrives at Jane’s ranch in search of his sister. Will he and Jane fall in love? How will they escape from the vengeance of the Mormons… and from rustlers, too? Fun fact: One of the most influential western novels. Riders of the Purple Sage has been filmed five times; a comic-book version was published by Dell in 1952.
- H. Rider Haggard’s frontier adventure Marie. In this prequel to previously published Allan Quatermain novels — including King Solomon’s Mines (1885), Allan Quatermain (1887), and Maiwa’s Revenge (1888) — Quatermain is a teenage Englishman in South Africa, who falls in love with a Boer farm girl, Marie. Their romance — set against the time of the Great Trek in the 1830s — is opposed both by Marie’s anti-English father, and a villainous Portuguese, Pereira, who desires Marie. The book begins with a thrilling battle, and ends with Marie’s tragic death — not a spoiler, because we’re told from the beginning that this will happen. As with all books from this era, alas, there’s a fair amount of racism — for example, Quatermain’s Khoikhoi (Hottentot) servant, who is loyal and courageous, is described as having a “toad-like face”… and is treated as a beast of burden. Fun facts: This is the first installment in Haggard’s excellent Zulu trilogy, in which Quatermain becomes ensnared in the vengeance of Zikali — a Zulu wizard known as “The-thing-that-should-never-have-been-born.” The other two installments are Child of Storm (1913) and Finished (1917).
- Louis Pergaud’s YA adventure La Guerre des boutons (The War of the Buttons). Two gangs of adolescent boys, from rival villages (Longeverne and Velrans) in France’s Franche-Comté region, wage war against one another. The goal is to capture as many buttons as possible from the opposing side by cutting them off shirts and pants; the battles are fought with fists, sticks and stones — without mercy. Longeverne’s army is led by Lebrac, and Velrans’s army is led by Aztec de Gués. The losing side in each battle also faces beatings, from their parents, once they arrive home button-less. Though the Velrans army is a superior fighting force, Lebrac is a brilliant tactician — ultimately leading his troops into battle naked, to prevent damage to their clothes. Fun facts: The author got his inspiration from the village of Landresse, where he taught for two years. The book has been adapted as a French movie several times — including a 1962 version directed by Yves Robert; it has also been adapted as an Irish movie.
- L. Frank Baum‘s children’s fantasy adventure Sky Island: Being the Further Adventures of Trot and Cap’n Bill after Their Visit to the Sea Fairies. When Trot, a young Californian girl (who first appears in Baum’s 1911 story The Sea Fairies), and her friend Cap’n Bill meet Button Bright, a strange little boy with a magic umbrella, he takes them on a trip to an island in the sky inhabited by two species, the Blues and the Pinkies. The blue side of the island is ruled by a sadistic tyrant, the Boolooroo (the original Blue Meanie); he punishes disobedient subjects by slicing them in half and “patching” them — joining the wrong halves together. Although captured by the Boolooroo, Trot and Cap’n Bill and Button Bright escape to the friendlier, pink side of Sky Island. Trot becomes queen of the Pinkies, and leads an invasion of the Blue Country in order to recover the magic umbrella. Fun facts: Oz fans first met Button Bright in 1909’s The Road to Oz; Trot later appears in 1915’s The Scarecrow of Oz. Baum believed — mistakenly — that Sky Island would probably be remembered as his best work.
- Gustave Le Rouge’s Le Mystérieux Docteur Cornelius stories (1912–13). Dr. Cornelius Kramm is a brilliant, New York- and Paris-based cosmetic surgeon (nicknamed the “Sculptor of Human Flesh”) who, along with his brother Fritz, secretly rules an international criminal empire called the Red Hand. One of Cornelius’ top agents is Baruch Jorgell, a sadistic sociopath; Dr. Cornelius uses his skills as a surgeon to alter Jorgell’s appearance, making him unrecognizable. The Red Hand’s growing influence — Le Rouge’s saga was serialized in eighteen volumes — leads to the creation of an alliance of scientists, industrialists, and adventurers who fight back. There is a romance angle: One of the adventurers, Harry Dorgan, is in love with Baruch’s sister. After a globe-hopping battle, the Red Hand is defeated and Dr. Cornelius killed — or is he? Fun fact: There are many Dr. Cornelius stories, including: L’Énigme du Creek Sanglant, Le Manoir aux Diamants, Le Sculpteur de Chair Humaine, Les Lords de la Main Rouge, Le Secret de l’Île des Pendus, and Les Chevaliers du Chloroforme.
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