by Marcus L. Rowland
Copyright © 1993-5, revised with extra illustrations 2000
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This is the third of a series of science fiction source packs, aimed mainly at users of table-top role playing games, but also of interest to SF fans and scholars. It is not a computer game; I am simply using computer distribution as an alternative to printed publication. If you have obtained it on the understanding that it is software, you are STRONGLY advised to ask for your money back.
Before looking at the rest of this document, I recommend reading at least one of the Professor Challenger stories. The Lost World is a full-length novel, and an excellent introduction to the character; The Poison Belt is a long novelette, and is probably as influential a story as The Lost World. The shorter stories highlight different aspects of Challenger's personality. The Land Of Mist is another long novel, but it probably isn't the best starting point for a new reader.
Please note that the information in later sections mentions some of
the events of these stories, and may slightly reduce your enjoyment;
the obvious answer is to read them before continuing with this
0.1 Scientific Romancesback to contents
Scientific romances were the ancestors of science fiction. Written by many well-known authors of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and often Utopian in theme, they suffered unfair neglect in later years. The explosive growth of pulp fiction, mostly of inferior quality, in the 1920s and 1930s, meant that certain topics were no longer regarded as worthy of consideration by serious readers. Most adventure and speculative fiction fell into this category.
This trend was emphasised when science fiction became established as a separate (and disreputable) literary ghetto. Many excellent authors suddenly discovered that most of their markets were refusing to publish speculative stories, or decided that their reputations would suffer if they continued in this field. Early science fiction plundered themes from scientific romances, usually without acknowledgement, and reduced complex ideas to simple action plots which were often inferior to their predecessors. For many years SF historians ignored all work done before Gernsback's invention of "scientifiction" in 1926, and some excellent works were ignored or forgotten.
Today the distinction between SF and the scientific romance is becoming blurred, especially when viewed by observers outside both fields. All speculative writing tends to be tarred with the SF brush, and consigned to a ghetto whose sole occupants (to outsiders) are Tolkien and Star Trek. Within the SF community the "steampunk" SF movement is starting to re-visit some of the better-known Victorian themes, but a good deal of excellent or influential work remains virtually unknown.
One of the aims of the Forgotten Futures project is to make the complete text of selected works available to a wider audience. The collection includes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novels The Lost World (1912), The Poison Belt (1913), and The Land Of Mist (1926), plus the stories The Disintegration Machine (1928), When The World Screamed (1929), and The Horror Of The Heights (1913).
While The Lost World is comparatively well known, the last British printing I could trace when I began this project was a 1983 juvenile edition. Another edition appeared in the months it took to assemble this collection, and an anthology of all the Challenger stories appeared a year later; see Appendix A for details. The other stories were virtually unknown at the time I began; the shorter works saw occasional publication, but the only modern printing of The Land Of Mist was in a compilation volume, The Complete Professor Challenger Stories, which was published in the seventies, reprinted in the early eighties, and was soon completely unavailable.
The Horror Of The Heights isn't a Challenger story; it has been included because it's one of Doyle's best short scientific romances, and because it had some interesting possibilities which were easily integrated into the universe of the other stories.
Throughout the rest of this worldbook these stories are often referred to by bracketed initials, as follows:
|[LW]||The Lost World|
|[PB]||The Poison Belt|
|[WS]||When The World Screamed|
|[DM]||The Disintegration Machine|
|[LM]||The Land Of Mist|
|[HH]||The Horror of the Heights|
If there is a special need to refer to a particular chapter of a
novel, it is referenced by title then chapter
eg [LW:12] = The Lost World: Chapter 12.
0.2 Language And Unitsback to contents
The author of Forgotten Futures is British, as was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. American readers will occasionally notice that there are differences in spelling and use of language between our 'common' tongues, although Doyle often tended to use partly Americanised spelling. He also used variant spelling to represent regional accents and peculiar styles of speech. If that worries you, you are welcome to run documents through a spell checker, but please DON'T distribute modified versions.
The stories contain some words and phrases which are now considered
racially offensive; at the time they were acceptable language, and
have not been modified for this collection. They also use Imperial
measurements of length and power; feet and inches, ounces and pounds,
miles and horsepower. To retain their flavour these units have mostly
been used in the worldbook and adventures. Readers who are unfamiliar
with the British (and American) system of weights, or with pre-decimal
British currency, will find the awful details in Appendix A of the
rules; the rules are accompanied by
TABLES.WK1, conversion tables, and CURRENCY.WK1, a currency conversion template.
0.3 Role Playing Gamesback to contents
This collection is a source for game referees, and most sections contain notes for use in these games. A few sections are written mainly for the game. The Forgotten Futures rules can be found on this disk, but you are welcome to use the game of your choice, and add game statistics to fit its rules. No one will complain provided you don't distribute a modified version of these files!
The recommended time frame for a campaign based on these stories is 1910-1939, a period which overlaps with several other role playing games. You are especially referred to Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu, to Steve Jackson's GURPS Horror and GURPS Cliffhangers, to Hero Games' Golden Age Champions, and to West End Games' World of Indiana Jones supplement for their Masterbook game series. Discontinued games covering these years include TSR's Gangbusters and Indiana Jones games, FGU's Daredevils, and Hero Games' Justice Inc. Hero Games also published Lands Of Mystery, a guide to running adventures in lost worlds, which is out of print but still available from the author; Aaron Allston, P.O. Box 546, Round Rock TX, 78680-0564, USA, price $10 plus postage etc.
All of this material can provide additional background details, mostly from an American viewpoint. The forthcoming "GURPS Places Of Mystery", by Phil Masters and Alison Brooks, will deal with exploration in unusual areas, including some mentioned in this collection.
Relatively few RPGs relate to dinosaurs and prehistoric life. Cadillacs And Dinosaurs (GDW, based on the comic series of the same name) is set in a future where a peculiar natural upheaval has caused the reappearance of dinosaurs and the destruction of civilisation. GURPS Ice Age includes dinosaurs and some ideas on lost world adventures. There are also statistics for dinosaurs in most time travel RPGs and most superhero systems.
Several excellent games deal with ghosts, spiritualism, and the
afterlife. Wraith (White Wolf) and In Nomine (Steve Jackson Games) are
probably the best known. Ghostbusters (West End Games, reprinted as
Ghostbusters International) is a useful source for a more humorous
approach, but is out of print. Stalking The Night Fantastic (Outpost
Games) is set in a world where almost any sort of supernatural or
paranormal event, usually deadly, can occur. Over The Edge (Atlas
Games) takes this theme and develops it, for a game set in a world
where nobody and nothing is what it seems. Please note that Wraith, In
Nomine, and Over The Edge are all marketed as "adult games", and
tackle themes which may not be suitable for younger players.
0.4 Writing Between The Linesback to contents
At various points in this collection I have made assumptions about things that aren't specifically described by Doyle, or are mentioned in an ambiguous way.
For example, although The Lost World mentions firearms many times, there are enough contradictions to make it unclear which weapons are carried and used. Doyle's descriptions suggest that at least two different types of rifle are carried; the rest can be filled in by educated guesswork, but there are still problems.
Elsewhere I have been forced to work almost entirely by guesswork,
invent details where they are lacking, and extrapolate events into the
future. At most points I have not distinguished between the "facts" of
the stories and my additions; if you are in doubt, you are strongly
advised to refer back to the stories. Almost all of the "history"
below has been invented for this collection.
0.5 Some Questions Of Continuityback to contents
Doyle was not the most careful of authors, except in his historical writing, and there are notorious discrepancies in detail between the Sherlock Holmes stories. Similarly, the works on which this collection is based do not always provide obvious evidence of a consistent history. For example, the entire world goes through a chastening and extremely destructive crisis in The Poison Belt, but it seems to be forgotten in the later stories.
Continuity problems are at their worst in the case of the third Challenger novel, The Land Of Mist (1926). The first chapter suggests that the other stories are fiction, introduces an adult daughter (Enid) who appears in none of the other stories, and says that Challenger's wife has died. By the end of the novel Edward Malone has resigned from the Daily Gazette and married Enid, and all the major characters have become converts to spiritualism.
Unfortunately this information flatly contradicts earlier and later stories; Enid Challenger is never mentioned elsewhere, Malone works for the Gazette in The Disintegration Machine (1928), and Challenger derides "apports", a spiritualist phenomenon, in the same story. Challenger's wife is mentioned, and is apparently alive, in When The World Screamed (1929).
Another major problem, which could not have been anticipated, is presented by the first two stories. The Lost World and The Poison Belt were published in 1912 and 1913, but they are explicitly set three years apart. The only date mentioned in either story is in The Poison Belt, which begins on Friday August 27th. This date was a Friday in 1915 (the closest alternatives are 1909 or 1920), which fits in well with the timing of the first story. Unfortunately the First World War was then in progress, and much of the information presented in The Times, especially items relevant to shipping, would have been censored. Malone and Roxton both served in the armed forces, and would have found it difficult to obtain leave for a reunion, and Roxton was in any case fighting in Africa. The vista from Challenger's house (which stood on an exceptionally high hill midway between the coast and London) would have been blighted by gun positions, a defence against Zeppelin raids.
The aftermath of the Great War is part of the background of the later stories, and can't simply be wished out of existence. To avoid these problems, and for the purposes of this worldbook only, I have arbitrarily made the following assumptions:
Although The Horror Of The Heights was published in 1913, internal evidence ("..Aeroplaning has been with us now for more than twenty years..") suggests a setting in 1923 or later. For convenience the discoveries described in this story are made in 1924, with the aviation technology it mentions entering service during and after WW1.
Nothing that follows is greatly changed if this sequence is modified. The recommended time period for a role playing campaign with this setting is 1910-1939; while some later events and "sources" are discussed below, and the history of science and technology is taken forward to the 1990s, this later data is mainly included for the light that it sheds on these years.
An alternative is to use a Victorian or Edwardian background, ignoring the few references to later events in the stories, and discard the "history" described in this worldbook. Most of the stories work well against this background, and some aspects (such as occasional references to horse-drawn London cabs in The Land Of Mist) are curiously anachronistic in a 1920s setting. At various points it is necessary to substitute balloons and steam technology for aeroplanes and the petrol engine; references to the Great War could instead refer to the Zulu Wars, or any of Britain's other colonial wars.
The historical and social changes implied by these events mainly take place "off-stage". The discovery of living dinosaurs in Maple White Land caused an enormous flowering of biological theory, matched only by the later discovery of aerial botany, zoology, and ecology. Recognition of the existence of the ether, and of its effect on the living and (less widely accepted) upon the dead, also has widespread scientific implications. Proof that the Earth is a living planet is a stimulus to conservation movements and new religions. Unfortunately most of these implications are treated with about the same degree of interest as quantum mechanics; people know that they exist, but don't really regard them as part of their daily lives.
The overall result hasn't been a drastic change in society; possibly
some people are a little more caring than they might otherwise have
been, but economic, military, and historical trends still dominate,
and mankind at its worst is as bad as ever. World War One was fought
less than a year after the "Poison Belt" episode seemed to herald a
new dawn for humanity. In later stories Russia has a Communist
government, and eventually the Nazis will gain power in Germany. World
War Two and the Cold War occur on schedule.
0.6 Weird Scienceback to contents
The main thrust of this collection is weird science; scientific heresy, original thought, and the general business of putting ordinary ideas together to reach extraordinary conclusions. Three of the Challenger stories show this process at work. In The Lost World, the Professor rejects conventional scientific opinion and follows a slim trail of evidence to a monumental discovery. In The Poison Belt he puts together some astronomical observations and newspaper reports to reach a horrifying answer. When The World Screamed is based on a wholly new geological theory, with very little evidence to back it up, pursued to its logical conclusion. Similarly, the protagonist of The Horror Of The Heights follows up some slim clues to reach a startling result.
Most of the ideas in these stories are now generally regarded as very unlikely, but scientific facts are sometimes open to re-evaluation. For example, it's often claimed that all the larger land animals are now known to science; only days before I began work on this collection, an entirely new species of kangaroo was reported from New Guinea. Unfortunately there is little or no doubt about the following points:
Maple White Land is much too big to go unnoticed by today's Landsat cameras, and the asteroid impact and its aftermath which are the most widely accepted theory of dinosaur extinction would not have spared its inhabitants. If this disaster didn't get the dinosaurs, mammals would have seen them off eventually.
The idea of the ether was exploded fairly thoroughly at the end of the nineteenth century; it causes enormous problems in physics, which have mostly been ignored in this collection. Amongst other drawbacks, many commonplace electronic devices would probably be impossible if the ether existed. Examples include lasers, most of the technology of television, image intensification, and radar. Most of nuclear physics would be unworkable. Einstein and others suggested much better alternatives; while a slightly similar theory has recently been put forward to explain some aspects of the behaviour of the photon, it seems unlikely that the final result will bear much resemblance to 19th century thinking.
The Mohole project, seismic mapping, and other techniques have shown that the Earth isn't a living planet in the sense discussed by Doyle, and it seems unlikely that modern commercial aviation would be possible if the background of The Horror Of The Heights was correct.
For the purposes of this collection, however, all of these ideas are
true. While the concepts in these stories are far-reaching enough to
support a long campaign, section 8.0 discusses scientific procedures,
both normal and weird, and summarises some other useful ideas. Some
are interestingly plausible, some are downright barmy.
0.7 Acknowledgementsback to contents
Arthur C. Clarke CBE has very kindly allowed me to mangle the title of his TV series and book, Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World.
Dr. Patrick Moore CBE allowed use of his excellent (and now, sadly, out of print) book Can You Speak Venusian? as a primary source for 'Weird Science'.
Special thanks to Brian Ameringen for books and general information, to Hugh Mascetti for immense help with firearm and artillery data, to Roger Robinson and the Science Fiction Foundation for bibliographic information, and to John Dallman for advice and the long-term loan of some of the books below. Rowena Dell allowed me to take her name in vain, but somehow wasn't acknowledged in the original release; thanks, and many apologies for the omission.
Other sources include The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction (Clute and Nicholls), The Cassel Encyclopaedia Dictionary, The Grolier Electronic Encyclopaedia, Asimov's Biographical Encyclopaedia Of Science And Technology, A Directory Of Discarded Ideas (Grant), The Fringes Of Reason: A Whole Earth Catalogue (Schultz ed.), The New Apocrypha (Sladek), Tarzan Alive (Farmer), Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (Farmer), The New Dinosaurs (Dixon), and various issues of The Skeptic and Fortean Times.
Finally, at various points I have invented quotes from books, TV
series, and films by a variety of authors; these quotes differ from
the original text or dialogue, and are included purely as parody and
for illustrative purposes, to show the differences between the real
world and that described below. They are not intended as infringement
of the copyright in these works.
0.8 Omissionsback to contents
Illustrations from some early editions of The Lost World have been omitted because I could not obtain good copies, and because there is doubt as to their copyright status. Three maps (01_ to 03_LWMAP.GIF) accompany every printing of the book; they were apparently drawn by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and they have thus been included. The first printing of The Lost World (in The Strand Magazine) included faked photographs, such as a portrait of Doyle disguised as Challenger; I have been unable to obtain copies.
Note: This revision includes the introduction and illustrations from the first
three episodes of the Strand Magazine serialisation; in time I hope to add those from
the remaining episodes, if I can obtain the relevant issues.
0.9 Technical notesback to contents
Documents were typed using Borland's Sprint word processor, then exported to ASCII format.
Graphics came from a variety of sources. The dinosaur pictures were initially created by scanning models. The other illustrations were drawn using Windows Paint, modified from public domain sources, modelled using Zing, a 3D presentation program, or are based on fractals generated by the excellent Fractint program. Windows Paint and Micrografx Photomagic were used for editing and effects.
This conversion used Sprint for text editing and Internet Explorer 3 and
HotMetal Light to check for errors.
1.0 Glossaryback to contents
This list defines these terms as they are used in the Challenger stories, or in the material that follows.
George Edward Challenger was born in Largs, a village in Strathclyde, Scotland, in 1863 [LW]. He was a gifted scholar and easily found a place at Edinburgh University, where he studied Medicine, Zoology and Anthropology. Although he qualified as a doctor [LM], he only practised for a few months before deciding to concentrate on his scientific work. This decision seems to have been the result of some crisis of conscience or confidence.
In 1892, following post-graduate work at the University, he became an Assistant at the British Museum, and was promoted to Assistant-Keeper of the Museum's Comparative Anthropology Department the following year. This post should have been ideal for a man of his talents; unfortunately Challenger was never one to suffer fools gladly, and resigned after a series of arguments with one of his former tutors, Doctor Illingworth.
Fortunately Challenger had an independent income, later supplemented by patent fees from a series of inventions [LM], and was able to finance his own work. Usually controversial and always brilliant, he received a series of awards and held several important posts while being cordially disliked by most of his colleagues. During these years he somehow found time to go on several expeditions, to marry and father one daughter, and to publish a series of papers on various topics. His most important work was in evolutionary theory, where he defended Darwinian views against Weismannism, a superficially plausible pre-Mendelian idea which disproved Lamark's ideas of inheritance of acquired characteristics, but argued against evolutionary processes.
'...Although it is easy to say that his opponents were misguided or
rogues, there was no real reason why Challenger should have been
believed. His evidence was little more than a traveller's tale...'
[Twentieth Century Scientists, Rowena Dell, 1988]
In 1908, following an expedition to Brazil, Challenger claimed to have proof that some prehistoric species still survived. Unfortunately the backing for this story was limited; some fragments of bone, a piece of membranous wing, sketches, and damaged photographs. Not surprisingly, few of his colleagues were inclined to believe him. Matters were not improved by intensive Press interest, which resulted in Challenger assaulting several reporters. After two years of frustration he finally persuaded the Zoological Institute to supply a group of unbiased witnesses, who would accompany a second expedition at Challenger's expense.
The second Challenger expedition has been extensively documented elsewhere; in Mr. Edward Malone's "The Lost World", and in numerous papers by Professors Challenger and Summerlee (the latter dealing mainly with the invertebrate species of the area). Section 3.0 below covers Maple White Land and its geology, fauna, and recent history.
After the expedition returned there was widespread pressure for Challenger and his colleagues to reveal the position of Maple White Land, and several expeditions set out to find the plateau independently. All failed, and several lives were lost, mainly because the directions and distances mentioned in Malone's account were wildly inaccurate. High scientific and humanitarian motives were claimed for this secrecy; if the plateau were subject to regular expeditions and hunting parties, some of its species might soon be driven to extinction, and the natives might succumb to the diseases and vices of civilisation.
While these reasons might have sufficed, there was another important motive for their reticence; the expedition had found diamonds, and Malone's account of the discovery had already reached the governments of Brazil, then an alliance of coastal states. Although the expedition had penetrated far inland, beyond the area controlled by any one state, all claimed a share in the inland resources of the country.
In 1911 the Brazilian states sued for the return of the stones "stolen" by the Challenger party; naturally British courts found in favour of the explorers, but this did not satisfy the Brazilians. Until the matter was fully resolved it would have been folly to reveal the plateau's true location.
'...Challenger was the only scientist to anticipate the so-called
"Poison Belt" episode of 1913, and he and veterans of his earlier
expedition were amongst the few to remain conscious during the
incident. He coined the word "Daturon" to describe the aberrant ether
that was believed to have engulfed the Earth; this was a forgivable
error, since there was no real evidence as to the underlying causes of
the event, and the term remained in use until the late sixties...'
Exactly three years after his return from Brazil, Professor Challenger shocked the world by claiming that some peculiar physical and medical phenomena might be caused by the presence of an unusual form of ether. Within hours he was proven dramatically right, as most of the world's population lapsed into a cataleptic coma that lasted 28 hours. Millions died, and it was widely considered the greatest tragedy of the modern age. For an eye-witness account of this incident see Edward Malone's "The Poison Belt"; for full scientific details of the effect, and other matters related to the ether, see section 4.0 below.
What followed is generally considered to have been the greatest lost opportunity of the twentieth century. Throughout the world there was a general mood of grief for the dead, but joy in the survival of the human race, and strong public pressure for new policies which would bring peace and prosperity to all and make war a thing of the past. But the whole trend of late Victorian and Edwardian politics had been a gradual drift towards war, and the construction of ever more powerful armaments; a sudden reversal would have represented humiliation for the leaders of Europe, and ruin for the weapons maufacturers. Money was saved, via pensions and taxes, supposedly for the relief of poverty, but was instead "invested" in the armed forces of several nations, including Britain, France, Germany, and Russia. The ambition and greed of government overcame the public conscience, as a flood of jingoistic propaganda sought to justify this diversion of funds. When war began in 1914 it was almost a relief, a release of tension that had been prolonged unbearably. By 1918 Europe was ruined, and the events of 1913 were all but forgotten in the greater tragedy of the conflict.
'...It is known that his wartime work resulted in several important
inventions, which were only publicised after the war. Most notably,
his device for warning ships of shallow water (patented 1919) was a
refinement of his electrical submarine location system, a forerunner
of the magnetometer, while his torpedo deflection device was built
into most British naval vessels until weapon developments rendered it
obsolete in the late thirties. Challenger also developed a new
nitrogen separation system, which would have been essential for
explosives manufacture if the German blockade had been a little more
effective, and subsequently became important as guano prices rose...'
While this record of invention is impressive enough, Challenger and Roxton also visited Maple White Land with another expedition late in the war. They found that the primitive metabolism of the dinosaurs had helped them to survive the Poison Belt episode, and returned with dinosaur eggs of various species, and several thousand carats of diamonds. This expedition could not have been mounted without the approval of the British and Brazilian governments, and the gems were destined for use in industry. Part of the price the Brazilians demanded for free passage was the location of Maple White Land. Unconfirmed stories say that Challenger was dogged by German spies throughout the journey, and that he transported the diamonds inside a stuffed pterodactyl. Unfortunately only six eggs subsequently hatched; they included a solitary male stegosaur, a pair of pterodactyls, and two female and one male iguanodons. The history of these animals, and of Maple White Land, is discussed in section 3.0 below.
Challenger's wife was one of the victims of the influenza epidemic that followed the Great War, dying of pneumonic complications [LM] in 1919. After a period of deep depression he returned to his work, and engaged in several new scientific controversies. In 1924 he was the recipient of an extraordinary legacy; Charles Betterton, the owner of a Malayan rubber plantation and a friend of Lord John Roxton, died without natural heirs. Betterton's will left Challenger more than five million pounds (about $25 million) to spend on unspecified 'scientific research.' [WS].
Most of his envious colleagues thought that he would put the money towards his long-planned museum [LW], a project which had slowly been taking shape since 1910, or possibly build a research aircraft to investigate the strange aerial jungles that had recently been discovered [HH], but Challenger was in search of bigger game. He purchased land on the South Coast and announced that he intended to prove that there was oil under Britain. This explanation was obvious nonsense to any expert, since the huge shaft he had built was totally inappropriate for an oil well. The excavations on Hengist Down were to continue for the next five years, kill four workmen, and exhaust most of Betterton's estate, while Challenger's paranoid secrecy would try the patience of the Press, the public, and his colleagues [WS].
As already mentioned, Challenger reacted extremely badly to the death of his wife. In 1926 his daughter Enid and the journalist Edward Malone both became interested in spiritualism, and converts to the religious aspect of that belief. Still mourning his wife, Challenger could readily understand their willingness to think that there might be life after death, but at the same time felt that this idea was a denial of the scientific logic he held dear. Always intolerant of scientific frauds (such as the so-called Piltdown Man, which his analysis revealed earlier that year as a crudely-stained assemblage of human and animal bones), his natural response was to pour scorn on the idea, reveal the tricks of fake mediums, and otherwise make trouble for those he derided. This eventually led to a public debate on the matter, in which Challenger was badly prepared and came off a very poor second to the spiritualist James Smith [LM].
'...there were several reputable witnesses to Nemor's experiments, and
it is certain that he would have revolutionised etheric physics had he
[Dell, Ibid. (entry on Theodore Nemor)]
Despite their differing views on spiritualism, Challenger and Malone remained on reasonably good terms. In 1928 Malone's editor asked him to investigate Theodore Nemor, a Latvian scientist who claimed to have invented a so-called disintegration machine [DM]. Nemor demonstrated the device, which apparently worked, and was able to make objects disintegrate and reappear unharmed. Malone and Challenger left Nemor working on the machine, which had given Challenger a mild electric shock. They were the last to see him. The mystery surrounding his subsequent disappearance involved diplomats from Russia and Germany, accusations of murder, and a prolonged (but ultimately futile) police investigation.
One odd aspect of the case was Challenger's lukewarm response to the Press. In previous incidents he had assaulted or sued dozens of reporters; this time he was almost indifferent to reports that could easily be construed as a veiled charge of murder. Since there was no evidence to be found, the case still remains open, although subsequent events suggest a possible explanation. The full details are in section 4.2 below.
'During the late 1920s and in subsequent years Challenger dabbled in
spiritualism, first as a sceptic, later as a convert. Several papers
on this matter were poorly received and did little to enhance his
Challenger's conversion to spiritualism has never been satisfactorily explained. Ruling out the possibility of genuine supernatural involvement, the most obvious theory is that he secretly wanted to believe, despite his rationalist sentiments, and eventually allowed himself to be persuaded that he had seen psychic phenomena. His love of his wife would certainly explain his willingness to accept that she still lived on another plane.
Edward Malone's account of his change of heart is peculiarly unhelpful, his unusual reticence over the details suggesting that they might have harmed Challenger's reputation:
'...Then Enid, who had fallen into a trance and was now acting as medium, made contact with the spirits of two men who had known her father. They provided incontrovertible proof of their existence, facts that Enid could never have known, and the Professor immediately realised that his sceptical views were mistaken. He apologised for his doubts, and we returned to Victoria West Gardens, where we took a late supper.
'Later that evening the Professor withdrew his objections to our
engagement, and Enid consented to be my bride...'
[Edward Malone: My Psychic Adventures]
While it would be unfair to comment further on this event when the true details remain unknown, and none of the protagonists can reply, it should perhaps be pointed out that Professor Challenger's main objection to the wedding was his dislike of spiritualism, that children often know much more of their parent's affairs than the parents would believe, and that Malone was an investigative reporter who could easily follow up slender clues to unearth information that Challenger might believe forgotten.
Having thus become an overnight convert to spiritualism, Challenger proceeded to embrace it with the same enthusiasm he gave to any other cherished scientific theory, protesting against anyone who attacked it [LM]. A series of abrasive letters and papers were sent to various journals, which became increasingly wary of any envelope bearing his address. Several interesting articles on zoology, physics, and plant genetics were rejected without a fair hearing; one paper, submitted two months before the climax of the Hengist Down experiment, and outlining his "World Echidna" theory in great detail, was rejected by Nature and three other journals!
'...Despite this odd lapse, his most important later scientific work
was undoubtedly his 1929 discovery of the true nature of the Earth's
structure, the culmination of an experiment begun earlier in the
decade. Mohorovicic had previously suggested that there were distinct
layers in the crust, but could not prove his theories. Challenger was
in a position to test his ideas experimentally...'
Challenger's "World Echidna" theory is bizarre, apparently insane, but correct, a triumph of flawed logic that happened to reach the right conclusions [WS]. The full details are discussed in detail in section 5.0 below; since most readers will be familiar with the events which proved that our world is alive, from Malone's account or other contemporary sources, suffice it to say that it was possibly the most spectacular experiment ever performed, with the widest possible consequences.
Within hours every active volcano in Europe erupted, fortunately without fatalities. Further afield, there was volcanic activity in South America, Japan, Hawaii, and the United States. It has subsequently been learned that Mount Erebus, in Antarctica, also erupted at about this time. Days later shocks were still being felt in many areas, and an earthquake in China killed several hundred, while avalanches in Switzerland claimed nine lives. There is no proof, of course, that Challenger's experiment was responsible for these later incidents.
A few weeks later Challenger was asked to give evidence at an emergency session of the League Of Nations. When questioned, he admitted that it might be possible to stimulate the World Echidna and deliberately trigger volcanoes or earthquakes. The second 1929 revision of the Geneva Convention banned all forms of "geological warfare", its language strongly implying that any repetition of the Hengist Down experiment might in itself be regarded as an act of war.
Challenger was 66 at the end of the Hengist Down experiment, but still extraordinarily active. Damages to Italy, and British claims that exceeded twenty thousand pounds, exhausted the last of Betterton's estate and some of Challenger's personal fortune, but he continued to press ahead with his zoological, geological, and psychic studies. In 1930 he was also asked to serve on the committee of enquiry following the R101 disaster; while others tended to whitewash the government's role in this accident, Challenger's report was a scathing indictment of the Air Ministry's incompetence, which probably lost him the knighthood he richly deserved. This work also led to his design of an airship for prolonged observation of the aerofauna discovered by Joyce-Armstrong in the 1920s. While he eventually participated in a few flights, air sickness and lack of time limited his participation in this work, although he was the first to describe several new species.
In 1934-5 Challenger took part in the investigations at Loch Ness, but poor health and other commitments, especially to the spiritualist cause, meant that he had no major role in the final unravelling of this riddle; in fact, his presence often drew attention away from the scientists who were doing most of the work, leaving them free of press interference. However, it was largely due to his influence that the Navy provided the equipment that ultimately solved the mystery.
His last paper, published in 1937, ran true to form; it was a rebuttal of the German anthropologist Herman Gauch's "racial science" theories, establishing (at least to Challenger's satisfaction) that the "master race" was in fact not the Aryan but the Celt, and in particular the Scot. Although Challenger had previously argued in favour of eugenics [LM], the paper was almost certainly intended as a joke, but the Nazis took it seriously. Several replies were prepared, but Challenger never saw them. On January 8th 1938, during a visit to his family home in Largs, he attempted to stop a runaway horse. He was successful, but the strain of this effort was too much for his heart. He died early the following morning, his last words a whispered "I'll be back". His body was left to science; his brain and skull are still preserved in Edinburgh University, the other remains were used for teaching purposes and subsequently cremated.
Ever since his death there have been rumours that Challenger had prepared a secret message, much like that left by Houdini, which would be positive proof of his survival in the afterlife. While several mediums have claimed to contact him, none has ever produced convincing evidence; his daughter never admitted that a message existed.
His death, followed later in the year by that of Lord John Roxton in a mountaineering accident, was widely seen as marking the end of the last great age of scientific eccentricity.
Edward and Enid Malone survived into the 1970s, and were prominent in
pacifist and ecological movements. Their contacts included many of the
founders of The World Wildlife Fund, Friends Of The Earth, and
Greenpeace. To quote Malone's autobiography; "When you've seen the
beating heart of the planet, and heard it scream, you have to care
what happens to it. We had our chance to make a better world in 1913,
and we threw it away. The writing was on the wall, and we tore the
wall down so we couldn't see it. We can't make that mistake again."
2.1 Britain in the Challenger Yearsback to contents
The decades covered by this collection are possibly more extensively documented, both factually and in fiction, than any other portion of British history. They begin with a period of relative innocence, suddenly betrayed by the horrors of the Great War, continue through the years when the Empire still ruled much of the world but was beginning to feel its age, and end with the rising tide of Fascism and the start of the Second World War.
Before the Great War most Britons were confident of the might of the Empire and sure that it would inevitably overcome all obstacles. This meant that British politics tended to be very jingoistic. For example, in 1906 the Royal Navy designed a new class of ship, the Dreadnought, which was expressly built to evade the provisions of earlier naval treaties, which limited other classes. Germany responded by building similar ships; the result was a public outcry in Britain, which led to the construction of eight more Dreadnoughts. Similar escalation was taking place in most European nations, while an ever more complex web of treaties and promises committed them to military pacts that were largely secret, even to most members of the governments that supposedly agreed their provisions.
Given these conditions the war was virtually inevitable; even the incredible shock of the Poison Belt incident, which should have led to better things, was somehow trivialised by the rivalry of the Great Powers. When war came, it was run by leaders who had little conception of the fundamental changes brought about by mass production and new weaponry. Millions of soldiers lost their lives, often squandered by the stupidity of their commanders. Trained soldiers were the first to die, followed first by eager volunteers, later by conscripts. Conditions were appalling, and resulted in mutinies in most of the allied armies, all brutally suppressed. Since friends were often encouraged to enlist and fight together, some areas lost most of their men in a single battle.
The war was followed by the influenza pandemic, which took more lives than the war. As the twenties began most families had experienced recent death, often of several relatives. Many thousands still suffered the after-effects of the war; missing limbs and other injuries, collapsed lungs and other consequences of the use of gas, and shell shock.
In Britain one important consequence of the war was the extension of the vote to women. The suffragettes had achieved little before the war, but for four years women had done the work of the men who were serving at the Front; it was no longer possible to claim that they couldn't be trusted with responsibilities. In December 1918 women aged 30 or more were allowed to vote, with the age limit reduced to 21 in 1928. The 1918 act also allowed all men over 21 to vote; previously a sizeable portion of working class men had been excluded. This change inevitably led to the rise of the left-wing Labour party.
Another result of the war was independence for Ireland; the war years had seen a rapid escalation of violence in the province, and by 1921 it was obvious that Britain could no longer govern effectively. Lloyd-George hoped to make the whole of Ireland a self-governing Dominion, but this was strongly opposed by Irish Protestants, who insisted on remaining British. Eventually 22 of 28 counties became the Irish Free State, later the Irish Republic, the rest stayed British. This was an unsatisfactory compromise which caused great ill-feeling, and was probably one of the reasons why Ireland remaind neutral in the Second World War.
Meanwhile civilian life was slowly returning to normal, but there was a serious imbalance between the sexes in many areas. Widows, and spinsters who had lost fiances in the Great War, became a cliche in fiction, the prey of fortune hunters and gigolos. Since welfare arrangements had never anticipated this imbalance, they eventually became a problem for families, friends, and charities.
The carnage of the Great War led to a resurgence of interest in spiritualism, which had been very popular in the late 19th century. This interest was unfortunately seized upon by confidence tricksters, frauds, and the deluded, and fake mediums of various sorts were widely active in the twenties and thirties. The lonely women described above were often their victims. The Psychical Research Society was active in discrediting these fakes.
The post-war generation is mainly remembered for the "flappers" and "bright young things" of the twenties, but it should be remembered that it was also a period of high unemployment, with ruthless exploitation of workers. After mine owners tried to make miners take lower wages for longer hours, the T.U.C. called a General Strike of manual workers. This could have brought Britain to its knees, but thousands of middle and upper class volunteers took the place of absent workers, with police and troops to guard them, and the government manipulated all forms of communication to ensure the failure of the action. It ended after nine days, with the miners fighting on for another six months before admitting defeat.
Conditions became worse in 1929, as the effects of the American depression reached Britain, resulting in the formation of a National coalition government under the former Labour Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald. In less than a year the value of the pound fell by a quarter, and revival was extremely slow. Variations on the Nationalist theme retained power until the end of the Second World War.
Meanwhile these years saw huge advances in aviation, chemistry, medicine, and electronics. Speed records were repeatedly shattered, and much of the technology we now take for granted first appeared on the market, or was at least tested in the laboratory. For example, the period began with silent black and white films; by 1939 the first full-colour films with stereo sound were released. Sound radio was in its infancy in 1908; in 1939 several companies were experimenting with colour television.
Throughout these decades there were considerable pacifist sentiments
in Britain and most of Europe, and diplomats of most nations did their
best to avoid another European conflict. Unfortunately Germany had
suffered crushing humiliation at the end of the Great War, and the
punitive damages demanded by the Allied nations caused the collapse of
the German mark, widespread unemployment, and total dissatisfaction
with the Weimar government. It was a situation that encouraged
extremist politics, and Hitler eventually emerged as the most ruthless
of these extremes. Although British politicians tried to avoid a
conflict, his actions and those of the former allied powers inevitably
dragged Europe into the Second World War.
2.2 Timeline 1908-1939back to contents
|1905-8||Campbell-Bannerman (Liberal)||1901-10||Edward VII|
|1908-15||Asquith (Liberal)||1910-36||George V|
|1894-1917||Nicholas II (Tsar)|
|1917||Kamenev (President)||Lvov (Prime Minister)|
Kerensky (Prime Minister)
|1917-19||Sverlov (President)||Lenin (Chairman)|
|1919-24||Kalinin (President) *||Lenin (Chairman)|
|* Continued as President to 1946|
|Stalin became the first General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1922, staying in office until 1953, and was effectively the ruler of the USSR from 1924 onwards.|
|1888-1918||William II (Kaiser)|
|1919||Ebert (President), Scheidemann (Chancellor), Coalition|
|German government was extremely unstable throughout this period, and it has not been possible to list every combination of leaders in a series of shaky coalitions. This continued until the Nazis became the dominant political party:|
|1933||von Hindenberg (President), Hitler (Chancellor)|
|Hitler soon took all power into his hands, and was ruler of Germany until 1945.|
The list that follows includes some items that were not available in the real world, and some that have been included for period "feel", not practical use. It shows British prices in the mid 1920s; subtract approximately 5% for prices before the Great War, add approximately 25% for prices after 1929. The pound is worth about $5 in 1920, $4 after 1929.
Medical Supplies: Pocket first aid kit 2/6 First aid kit for car, yacht, etc. £ 1.10.0 Industrial first aid kit £ 4.10.0 Aspirin (100) 1/6 Glass syringe, with steel needle, 1 ml 9/- " " " " " 5 ml 16/- Surgical glass bowls, priced by size 1/6 to 7/- Bleeding basin, kidney-shaped, by size 3/- to 5/- * * For use in blood-letting, still a common medical practice. Hence the old joke Doctor: "Where's the bleeding basin?" Nurse: "No need to swear, Doctor!" More genteel doctors call the process phlebotomy to avoid this joke Instruments: Stop watch (1 second accuracy) £ 1.15.0 Pocket compass £ 2. 5.0 Box camera £ 1.10.0 Zeiss Ikon Camera £12. 5.0 Kodak Portable Cine Camera £25. 0.0 Film, developing and printing 8d per picture Simple Telescope £ 3.15.0 Equipment for travellers: Portable typewriter £ 8.15.0 Brandy flask 10/- Sleeping bag £ 4. 0.0 Camp bed with mosquito net £ 2. 2.0 Tent 10 ft x 8 ft £14.18.9 Travelling spirit stove 7/- Electric torch 10/6 Pith Helmet £ 1. 7.6 Skis £ 2.12.6 1st class rail fare London - Southampton 16/5 10 day Mediterranean cruise 20 Gns Return flight London - Paris £12. 0.0 Gallon of petrol 1/7 Bicycle £ 5. 5.0 BSA 500cc motorbike £57.10.0 4 mile bus fare 4d Luxury hotel room (per night) 8/6 Hotel breakfast 2/6 Hotel dinner 5/6 Clothing and other everyday items: Gold Watch £ 8.10.0 Spectacles 6/6 Evening dress suit 11 Gns White suit for tropical climes £ 1.10.0 Plain white shirt 10/6 Evening dress shirt 15/6 Man's shoes (Oxford Brogues) £ 3. 9.0 Bawler Hat £ 1. 5.0 Top Hat £ 1.12.6 Cloth cap 10/6 Ladies shoes £ 2. 9.6 Silk stockings 8/11 Maid's uniform 12/5 Chauffeur's Uniform £ 5.15.0 Leather driving coat £15.15.0 Radio receiver £13. 0.0 Ball of string 5d The Daily Mail 1d The Times 2d 3-bedroom semi-detached house £600. 0.0 Food and Drink: Tin of Baked Beans 6d Blue Mountain coffee beans (1 lb) 3/4 Jar of jam 11d Bottle of Rose's Lime Cordial 2/- Tin of oysters 1/1 Tin of Heinz Tomato Soup 6d Tin of China Tea (5 lb) £ 1. 4.8 Dundee Cake (2 lb) 3/6 Loaf of bread 4d Dozen eggs 2/2 Pound of butter 2/- Pound of steak 1/5 Pound of iguanodon steak (1934) 2/11 Bottle sherry 17/6 Bottle port £ 1. 1.0 Johnny Walker Red Label Whisky 12/6 20 cigarettes 1/- Pint of beer 6d Unusual items: For the man (or woman) who has everything... Challenger electro-magnetic depth sensor £227.5.11 * Challenger torpedo deflector for warships £17,350 ** Iguanodon leather coat (1930 onwards) 75 Gns Megalosaurus leather coat (1930 onwards) 150 Gns * Model for yachts and other wooden-hulled vessels. Versions for metal-hulled ships are considerably more expensive. ** Price for a cruiser; varies according to size of ship
A wide range of scientific equipment is priced in section 8.1, below.
Sources include The What It Cost The Day Before Yesterday Book by
Doctor Harold Priestly, and various period magazines. Some of this
material has previously appeared in articles in White Dwarf and in the
Call of Cthulhu supplement "Green And Pleasant Land", Games Workshop
3.0 Maple White Landback to contents
Approximately 150 million years ago an extraordinary geological formation emerged from what has now become Northern Brazil. The plateau is between the Negro and Japura rivers, its approximate coordinates 02 degrees South, 65 degrees West. The last stages of the route to the plateau are shown in 01_LWMAP.GIF, and its layout in 02_LWMAP.GIF. To quote Professor Challenger:
'South America is, as you may have heard, a granite continent. At this single point in the interior there has been, in some far distant age, a great, sudden volcanic upheaval. These cliffs, I may remark, are basaltic, and therefore plutonic. An area, as large perhaps as Sussex, has been lifted up en bloc with all its living contents, and cut off by perpendicular precipices of a hardness which defies erosion from all the rest of the continent.' [LW]
Geological research has subsequently shown that this picture is substantially correct, although the process took millions of years, and was aided by erosion of the surrounding terrain.
Originally the plateau was the crater of a huge volcano, at least fifty miles wide, whose upper slopes were probably destroyed by an explosive eruption. Once extinct it gradually flooded, and was colonised by Jurassic plants and animals. Eventually the lower slopes of the volcano eroded away, leaving a deep funnel of hard rock filled with volcanic soil, surrounded by gentle slopes easily scaled by animals. Later mountain building forced the base of the volcano upwards, while erosion stripped away the softer rocks but left the basalt core largely intact, forming a near-vertical cliff. See 04_GEOL.GIF for an illustration of this process.
The end result was a plateau that was almost completely isolated from its surroundings and enjoyed a particularly favourable microclimate which encouraged rapid plant growth. Here a stable population of dinosaurs and other Jurassic fauna and flora was able to survive, and flourish to a limited extent, for millions of years after these species were extinct elsewhere. Whatever the nature of the disaster that finally killed the last dinosaurs, the inhabitants of Maple White Land were unaffected. This would seem to rule out some of the more extreme catastrophe theories, such as an asteroid strike, and has strengthened the idea that the smaller mammals were primarily responsible for their destruction; Maple White Land acquired mammals late in its history, by colonisation from the surrounding area, many of the smaller forms are missing, and they have never been numerous in comparison to the reptilian population.
The physical geography of the plateau is simple; an oval, roughly twenty by thirty miles, with the ground sloping gently down from the rim towards the central lake, which is about ten miles wide. Numerous small streams drain into the lake and several swamps. On the south side of the plateau the inner ground is level with the rim; to the north the surface is lower, and the basalt walls of the plateau act as cliffs. In most areas the soil is extremely rich, although there is a large rocky area which the natives greatly fear; investigation has shown that this area is the mating and egg-laying ground for megalosaurs and other large carnivores.
One of the puzzles of the plateau was the survival of the dinosaurs in forms so similar to the fossils found elsewhere, rather than the highly evolved descendants that might be expected. In fact we now know that this is not entirely true; there are hundreds of differences in detail, showing the effect of millions of years of evolution, and there is fossil evidence of several unique forms which flourished briefly then died out. Since the plateau was a very static and stable environment, there was no real need for extreme change.
There is evidence of at least two waves of animal colonisation long after the plateau formed. The first took place about three million years ago, and let in the ape-men and some of the older types of mammal now found in Maple White Land; Challenger's idea that these species evolved independently was wrong, and has been disproved by genetic fingerprinting and other techniques. This incursion led to the destruction of some of the smaller dinosaur species.
The second followed the plateau's discovery by Indians, and took place around 500 to 800 AD; it seems likely that the Indians were accompanied by some semi-domesticated animals, such as pigs, which escaped after they arrived. The route remained open until 1909, and there was some limited contact with tribes of the surrounding area throughout this period. While Challenger believed that the Indians were largely ineffectual against the dinosaurs, this is not entirely true; their management of the iguanodons, and the traps they set for predators, have greatly reduced the number of carnivorous dinosaurs. Unfortunately this probably led to a population explosion amongst the pterodactyls, and over several hundred years their numbers have steadily increased to make the species the pest we know today.
Tunnels must occasionally form by erosion, then collapse or clog with mud and debris. Since the plateau is isolated by swamps and jungle, it has probably escaped colonisation on many other occasions when these routes were available.
There are several unsolved biological mysteries associated with the
plateau. How did the dinosaurs survive in such a small area? Why
haven't mammals displaced the dinosaurs? While favourable stable
conditions seem to offer the best clue, many zoologists believe that
these factors are not enough, and some of the less reputable theories
suggest that these animals may have survived as a result of alien
intervention, that the plateau is a zoo for UFOs, or that some strange
form of time warp snatched it forward millions of years. None of these
ideas are supported by the fossil or geological record, but much more
work is needed to establish the true facts.
3.1 Maple White Land In The Twentieth Centuryback to contents
The arrival of modern civilisation has been a mixed blessing to Maple White Land. The Challenger expedition saw the virtual annihilation of the plateau's ape-men, and was merely the first of many. In 1918 the plateau's location was revealed to the world, with the inevitable result that it was soon invaded by miners and scientists.
A team of Brazilian explorers set out for the plateau in 1919. They were inadequately armed, and totally unprepared for the ferocity of the dinosaurs; Brazilian newspapers of the period had widely reported the Challenger expedition's stories as a hoax, spread to stop people looking for the diamonds. Naturally there were heavy casualties. Later expeditions were better prepared, but still had severe transport and access problems; the route used by Challenger was totally unsuitable for the heavy equipment that would be needed to exploit the diamonds commercially.
An airstrip was cleared at the base of the plateau in 1926, but it took another year to unblock the old tunnel route used by Maple White and widen it to take vehicles. The difficulty of operations is typified by the fact that one aircraft vanished without trace, another was "mobbed" by pterodactyls and crashed as it was preparing to land.
With hindsight it is almost a miracle that the Brazilians didn't proceed to wipe out the dinosaurs, drive away the Indians, and loot the plateau of its mineral wealth, as happened in many other areas. Much of the credit for their restraint belongs to Lord John Roxton, who invested heavily in the diamond consortium and was able to exert considerable influence. Under his guidance a fortified stockade was built near the swamp, and the miners used mobile steel cages for cover while they excavated the clay, but most of the rest of the plateau was left alone. Even this "minimal" project had serious ecological effects; a large area of woods was logged to build the stockade, hundreds of pterodactyls were shot, and the carnivorous megalosaurs were driven to near-extinction. Roxton later commented that the miners had "ruined the huntin'"; this was an exaggeration, since safaris and scientific expeditions rarely left empty-handed, but of course their activities added to the disruption of the plateau's ecology. At first the Indians kept well clear of the mines, but there was inevitably some corrupting effect; a shanty town eventually appeared on the ruins of the old "ape town", with Indians scavenging the debris of the camp and trading for alcohol and other goods. A Jesuit mission to the natives was established in 1929, and continued until 1941, when regular flights to the plateau ended. The mission records show that there were roughly 270 natives in 1930, 220 in 1941; nearly half the deaths in these years were due to alcoholism.
In the 1930s Brazil started to industrialise, and armoured steam shovels and drag-line excavators were imported to take over the work of mining. The pterodactyl swamp was rapidly stripped. Fortunately there were secondary breeding sites near the Central Lake, which soon became the main haunt of these creatures. The yield of gemstones began to fall in 1934, and by 1936 the operation (which had always had high overheads) was no longer profitable. Smaller scale mining and prospecting continued for the next few years, but returns were poor, and no new diamond fields were found. In 1941, with the mines exhausted and hunting severely curtailed by wartime conditions, the camp closed. It re-opened as a hunting lodge in 1947, but it soon became well-known that dinosaurs were disappointingly easy prey for anyone with the right equipment; the weapons available for this "sport" included Jeep-mounted war-surplus anti-tank rifles and .50 calibre machine guns, bazookas, and rifle grenades!
In 1956 UNESCO, the United Nations scientific organisation, declared the plateau a site of special scientific interest, and persuaded the Brazilian government to make it a nature reserve and end the hunting. While there have been several poaching incidents, there has never been the wholesale butchery that has marred other reserves; access is easily controlled, and most of the unique species of the plateau breed well in captivity, reducing the value of animal products.
Today Maple White Land is slowly reverting to the conditions first
seen by the Challenger expedition. With the end of mining the
pterodactyls began to return to their swamp, and are currently
breeding there in great numbers. The Indians still herd iguanodons,
and have little to do with modern civilisation (although they keep
some rifles and dynamite to deter intruding megalosaurs). They offer a
cautious welcome to visitors, and trade leather and carvings for
cartridges and medical supplies. The scientific base below the plateau
accommodates six game wardens and up to a dozen visiting scientists,
and incorporates a clinic, satellite ground station, and airstrip. It
is best known as the setting for the long-running American comedy soap
"Jurassic Vet" (which is mostly filmed in California), and for its use
in the BBC's "Life On Earth" and some of the later episodes of "Doctor
3.1.1 Prehistoric Animals in the Modern Worldback to contents
Once Maple White Land was discovered, it was inevitable that its incredible fauna should be exported to meet a wider audience. The "pioneers" here were the four survivors of eggs bought back by the second Challenger expedition, and subsequently donated to London Zoo.
The stegosaur was "adopted" by Chips Comic, which christened it "Spiky" and ran a regular half-page of its adventures, attracting thousands of children to the Zoo. Unfortunately the strip led children to believe that it was friendly and could play football, dance, and perform other tricks; its single-minded interest in eating was usually a disappointment. As it matured it became increasingly vicious, and it was transported to confinement in a deep pit at Whipsnade Zoo, London Zoo's country site, in 1932. It was killed by Luftwaffe bombing in 1941, which led to the production of a series of propaganda posters depicting "Poor Spiky" as an innocent casualty of Nazi aggression, which could only be stopped by (for example) investing in Victory Bonds or economising on fuel consumption. After the war it was learned that the unfortunate animal had been a victim of faulty intelligence; German photo-reconnaissance showed its pit as an anti-aircraft emplacement.
The pterodactyls refused to breed in captivity, probably because the species learns some aspects of mating behaviour by observing adults, and died of old age at London Zoo in 1935 and 1937. Although it seems unlikely that anyone could love such creatures, their appearance was certainly reflected in art, especially in sculptures of the Art Deco school. Some extraordinarily ugly works were the result, as well as masterpieces like Jacob Epstein's surreal "Succubus" (1927), which later prompted Hitler to declare that "...dinosaur art is decadent art..." and ban his work from Germany. Shortly before the Second World War biologists at Berlin Zoo finally bred pterodactyls in captivity; in a classic example of doublethink, this was hailed as a triumph of Aryan science.
'"Oh arr, Walter, he sold forty head of iguanodon from they woods last year, and the old skinflint still says he's trouble making ends meet..."' [The Archers, BBC Radio 1987]
As in Maple White Land, the iguanodons proved relatively easy to handle; it was even possible to use sheep dogs to herd them. They first bred in 1925; in 1933 the herd was also moved to Whipsnade (see 13_ZOO.GIF for one of the newspaper stories covering the move). Harrods first sold iguanodon meat in 1934, after one of the females was killed by lightning; most gourmets were disappointed by its resemblance to slightly gamy chicken. By 1937 it was known that they could eat almost any type of vegetation, including waste twigs and leaves from the timber industry. During the Second World War their meat was available "off ration", and, while always in very short supply, proved a useful supplement to more traditional sources. Today roughly 7% of Britain's meat production (primarily pet foods and BSE-free animal feed proteins) comes from the descendants of these three animals, and of later specimens imported to counter inbreeding.
Many other species have subsequently been transported from the plateau, and are used for a variety of animal products. Captive-bred dinosaur leather is cheaper than other reptile skins; most notably, iguanodon skin is no more expensive than cow-hide, and popular for motorcycle leathers and other heavy-duty applications. Even megalosaur hide is readily available, albeit expensive. Naturally the farms which breed these animals have had to learn to handle them safely, and there have been a few blunders; China has feral pterodactyls in several areas, and the Australian government is still trying to track down some small plesiosaurs which were released in 1988, as part of an unsuccessful attempt to control cane toads. Since the Second World War there are believed to have been no prolonged releases of land dinosaurs. The most serious incident was the Texas megalosaur escape of 1974 (four dead, nineteen injured), which lasted less than eleven hours and saw the first use of helicopter gunships in an animal control role. There are persistent rumours that this was a deliberate release, an attempt to gain support for the US military in the last days of the Vietnam War. They have wide credence amongst conspiracy theorists, but all the evidence points to accidental causes.
While dinosaur and pterodactyl escapes are very rare, and generally result in little more than property damage, they have become a common theme of urban myths. The most widespread is the belief that aquatic or amphibious species are breeding in the sewers of a large city, usually New York. The means by which breeding colonies were established vary according to the storyteller; a popular version begins with a theft of eggs from the Bronx Zoo, and the thief dropping them down a drain to escape arrest. They hatch in the dampness of the sewer, and subsequently live on rats and other vermin, plus occasional sewage workers. The animals concerned are usually ichthyosaurs (which don't lay eggs), less often plesiosaurs, while one particularly unlikely version has pterodactyls living on pigeons and pets in Central Park, but returning to the sewers to breed. Naturally "the authorities" keep it quiet to avoid a panic. This story has been traced back to London in the early twenties, and was apparently a common rumour in Berlin during the Second World War; Berlin also pioneered rumours that black market meat came from sewer pterodactyls, a story that has since been associated with Indian restaurants in Britain and hamburger restaurants in Russia.
The larger land dinosaurs are seldom seen in urban myths, which usually depend on the shock of an unexpected encounter for effect; it's difficult to imagine a dinosaur secretly breaking into a house, hiding on the back seat of a car, or stalking victims in a lovers lane. However, there are numerous variations on the "missing zoo visitor" theme, in which an empty car is discovered broken down in the megalosaur enclosure of a large zoo, with its door or roof open, but no trace of the occupants is ever found. Again "the authorities" hush up the matter to ensure the profits of the zoo.
Finally, the importance of prehistoric creatures in fiction and the
graphic arts can't be overestimated, but is far too vast a subject to
handle in this collection. The most famous literary character they
have inspired is probably the comic hero The Pterodactyl, second only
to Superman in popularity. There is a story, undoubtedly apocryphal,
that the strip was nearly called "The Bat", but it's difficult to
imagine criminals fearing a vigilante named after a creature that only
eats insects or fruit...
3.2 The Fauna And Natives Of Maple White Landback to contents
The detailed descriptions are in the order in which creatures appear or are mentioned in The Lost World. Brief statistics for some other creatures follow.
Young of all species have reduced characteristics and skills, but use the same attack methods with lowered Effects. While several of the dinosaurs listed here are capable of more than one type of attack, they are too stupid to attack more than one foe at a time; for example, a megalosaur might try to trample and bite its prey, but couldn't deliberately attack one victim by trampling while biting another. Unfortunately accidents can easily happen, especially when several people are standing close to a dinosaur...
For convenience, assume that all dinosaurs move about twice as fast as humans; they walk 20 ft per round, or run 40 ft per round. If badly frightened or enraged a Difficulty 6 BODY roll lets them push their speed to 60 ft per round; anything in the way is in BIG trouble.
In the lists below, the references for models are NH = Natural History Museum model available, IR = Irregular Miniatures 15mm scale model available. See the end of this section for more notes on models, and optional game rules for the psychological effects of dinosaur encounters.
'It was the wild dream of an opium smoker, a vision of delirium. The head was like that of a fowl, the body that of a bloated lizard, the trailing tail was furnished with upward-turned spikes, and the curved back was edged with a high serrated fringe, which looked like a dozen cocks' wattles placed behind each other.' [LW]
A large herbivorous dinosaur notable for its back plates and tail spikes. While this gives the appearance of a formidable defence, the animal is actually slow and extremely clumsy, its tail its only effective weapon. An alert predator can usually get the better of it, by attacking its head, neck, or underbelly. They are extremely timid, and because they run very slowly, they prefer to stand their ground and fight anything perceived as a threat. This has given them a largely undeserved reputation for viciousness.
BODY , MIND , SOUL 
Brawling ; Tail blow, Effect 12, Damage A:I, B:C, C:K
Wounds: B[ ] F[ ] I[ ] I[ ] I[ ] C[ ]
Armoured skin reduces the Effect of all attacks by 3
Illustration: 05_STEGO.GIF; Maple White's sketch *
* See also Dougal Dixon's "The New Dinosaurs" for this sketch.
'...I had a momentary vision of a long, snake-like neck, a fierce, red, greedy eye, and a great snapping beak, filled, to my amazement, with little, gleaming teeth.' [LW]
The most common prehistoric reptiles of the plateau, these unpleasant creatures flock in great numbers, especially near their swampy roosting grounds. They are fast, agile, and can bite their prey, stab with the beak closed, or buffet opponents with their wings to drive them away. The rear claws are used to catch fish and small animals, much like those of an eagle. They usually attack in large swarms.
BODY , MIND , SOUL 
Bite, Effect 3, Damage A:B, B:F, C:I *
Stab, Effect 3, Damage A:B, B:B, C:F *
Wings, Effect 3, Damage A:-, B:B, C:B
* All flesh wounds and injuries caused by these attacks contain rotting food and other noxious substances. Add 2 to the difficulty of all First Aid and Doctor rolls.
Wounds: B [ ], F [ ], I [ ], C [ ]
Illustration: 06_PTERO.GIF; from Professor Challenger's notes
Models: NH, but the model is a large pterosaur, not the smaller type described. Smaller but less accurate alternatives are available.
'Even the babies were as big as elephants, while the two large ones were far beyond all creatures I have ever seen....'
'...they looked like monstrous kangaroos, twenty feet in length, and with skins like black crocodiles.' [LW]
Iguanodons are the largest and gentlest land dinosaurs of Maple White Land. They live in family groups or small herds, which can be controlled by two or three men (or even a well-trained sheep dog in open country). The Indians of the plateau mark these animals with asphalt when they are about two years old, and the status of each family is measured by the number of animals it 'owns'; this ownership is largely ceremonial, since they are usually eaten communally. They are extraordinarily tough animals; Malone describes one pulling down a tree onto itself and escaping without injury. They almost always prefer to flee rather than fight, but as a last resort will fight if they are cornered or wish to protect their young. They aren't particularly good fighters, but their size and strength makes them extremely dangerous opponents if provoked.
BODY , MIND , SOUL 
Tail blow, Effect 16, Damage A:I, B:C, C:K
Bite, Effect 12, Damage A:I, B:C, C:K
Wounds: B[ ] F[ ] I[ ] I[ ] I[ ] I[ ] C[ ]
Tough skin reduces the effect of all attacks by 2
Illustrations: 07_IGDON.GIF; A stereoscopic photograph of an iguanodon at the site where they were first seen by the Challenger expedition.
13_ZOO.GIF; a 1930s newspaper story.
'...I had a vision of a horrible mask like a giant toad's, of a warty, leprous skin, and of a loose mouth all beslobbered with fresh blood.'
'...huge projecting eyes, the row of enormous teeth in his open mouth, and the gleaming fringe of claws upon his short, powerful forearms.'
'...moved in a succession of springs, but in size they were of an incredible bulk, larger than the largest elephant.' [LW]
Like the iguanodon, the megalosaurus is an erect biped dinosaur. Unfortunately the resemblance ends there. These creatures are fast, extremely dangerous nocturnal carnivores, remorseless killing machines that can take an immense amount of damage before succumbing to their wounds. They can trample or jump on small prey, bite, or thrash with their tails, and their feet have razor-sharp claws. The forearms are actually relatively ineffective, used mainly to grasp food once it is caught. Like many nocturnal carnivores, their eyes are slitted and primarily sensitive to movement, not shape or colour, and they have little or no memory; if chased, the best tactic is to get out of the creature's sight (by running behind a tree or rock), then stand motionless until it gives up and goes away. Unfortunately there is still some risk of being trampled accidentally, and their senses of hearing and smell are good.
BODY , MIND , SOUL 
Tail blow, Effect 14, Damage A:I, B:C, C:K
Bite, Effect 16, Damage A:I, B:C, C:K
Trample, Effect 15, Damage A:I, B:I, C:C
Kick, Effect 15, Damage A:F, B:I, C:C
Wounds: B[ ] F[ ] I[ ] I[ ] I[ ] C[ ]
Tough skin reduces the Effect of all attacks by 2
Illustration: 08_MEGA.GIF; from Professor Challenger's notes
Models: NH, IR (probably meant to be a tyrannosaur, but usable as a megalosaur)
'It was a human face -- or at least it was far more human than any monkey's that I have ever seen. It was long, whitish, and blotched with pimples, the nose flattened, and the lower jaw projecting, with a bristle of coarse whiskers round the chin. The eyes, which were under thick and heavy brows, were bestial and ferocious, and as it opened its mouth to snarl what sounded like a curse at me I observed that it had curved, sharp canine teeth.' [LW]
These creatures are similar to the fossil Pithecanthropus, the so-called missing link. They use simple tools and weapons, have a rudimentary form of speech, and build crude huts, but their organisation is essentially that of a large hunting pack. They are extremely vicious, torturing captives and throwing them off the edge of the plateau in a crude "game". Most were wiped out by the Indians during the first Challenger expedition; the remnant were enslaved, and the males killed. Undoubtedly some survivors remain at liberty, but their depleted numbers do not pose a threat to the Indians. The statistics below are for all adult males.
BODY , MIND , SOUL , Athlete (climbing) , Melee Weapon , Stealth 
Bite: Effect 8, A:F, B:F, C:I
Choke: Effect 7*, A:F, B:I, C:C/K
Club: Effect 8, A:B, B:F, C:KO/K
* Add 1 for each additional round the hold is maintained.
Wounds: B[ ] F[ ] I[ ] I[ ] C[ ]
Illustration: 09_APEMN.GIF; An artist's impression of the final battle against the apes.
Models: Figures for the Shadowrun game (20-512: Wendigo and Sasquatch) have the right sort of look but are a little large.
'...one of these creatures wriggled on to a sandbank within a few hundred yards of us, and exposed a barrel-shaped body and huge flippers behind the long serpent neck...' [LW]
Plesiosaurs are aquatic reptiles; they are not true dinosaurs. They are air-breathing carnivores, feeding mainly on fish, smaller reptiles, and pterodactyls. When surfaced they swim relatively slowly, by threshing their paddles, with the tail used mainly for steering and balance, but underwater they can use their paddles like the wings of penguins, to "fly" through the water with some considerable speed. The neck is long and flexible, and the neck and mouth are the only parts of the animal that move quickly. The species seen in Maple White Land can crawl slowly on land, and bask on sandbanks like alligators. These animals aren't normally dangerous to humans, preferring smaller prey, but a swimmer might be attacked accidentally.
BODY , MIND , SOUL 
Brawling ; Bite, Effect 14, Damage A:I, B:C, C:K
Wounds: B[ ] F[ ] I[ ] I[ ] I[ ] C[ ]
illustration: 10_PLESI.GIF; A plesiosaur in the Central Lake, and (below) the Loch Ness monster.
Models: NH; the plastic is bright blue, which seems unlikely.
'...a strange creature, half seal, half fish, to look at, with bone-covered eyes on each side of his snout, and a third eye fixed upon the top of his head...' [LW]
These air-breathing reptiles occupy the environmental niche normally occupied by dolphins and killer whales, although the tail fin is vertical, not horizontal; they have adapted to freshwater life. They eat fish, small reptiles, and other aquatic life. Some are large enough to endanger swimmers and boats. The third eye mentioned by Malone is a pineal eye, a rudimentary light sensor, and cannot focus or move in its socket. It seems to be used mainly as an early warning of pterodactyls when the icthyosaur is surfaced. Icthyosaurs cannot move on land, and their eggs are carried internally until they hatch.
BODY , MIND , SOUL 
Brawling ; Bite, Effect 12, Damage A:I, B:C, C:K
Wounds: B[ ] F[ ] I[ ] I[ ] I[ ] C[ ]
Illustration: 11_ICTHY.GIF; An icthyosaur leaping from the water.
'...little, clean-limbed, red fellows, whose skins glowed like polished bronze in the strong sunlight.' 'They were small men, wiry, active, and well-built, with lank black hair tied up in a bunch behind their heads with a leathern thong, and leathern also were their loin-cloths. Their faces were hairless, well formed, and good-humoured. The lobes of their ears, hanging ragged and bloody, showed that they had been pierced...' [LW]
The native humans of Maple White Land are simply that; there is nothing remarkable about them, apart from the fact that their tribe has survived the dangers of the plateau for at least a thousand years. Challenger describes them as 'considerably higher in the scale than many South American tribes', which would suggest that the dangers of the plateau might eliminate weaklings. They use bows and arrows, canoes, and fire, wear clothing, and speak a moderately complex language. Their speech has common roots with the tongues of other native tribes, but is a separate language, not a dialect.
Generate Indians as normal humans, but allow only 18 points for
characteristics and skills (educated Indians get the normal 21
points). BODY should not exceed 4 for anyone but the strongest
warriors. The following skills are available, all functioning in
primitive ways (for example, Artist is cave painting or tattooing,
Thief cannot be used for forgery or picking locks):
Actor, Artist, Athlete, Brawling, Detective (limited to tracking), Doctor (witch/medicine man), First Aid, Marksman (thrown weapons and bows only), Medium, Melee Weapon, Riding (used to control iguanodons only), Stealth, Thief.
Illustration: 12_INDN.GIF; An Indian native of Maple-White Land
Models: IR. A suitable 25mm figure is sold by Rafm miniatures for the Call of Cthulhu game, in a pack (no. 2972) that also includes three Victorian adventurers.
Jaracara Snake: These green snakes are found in the swamps around the plateau, but not on the plateau itself. They are very venomous, and have the unfortunate habit of attacking in swarms if any animal ventures into their "territory".
BODY , MIND , SOUL 
Brawling ; Poison, Effect 6, Damage A:I, B:C, C:K
Wounds: B[ ] F[ ] I[ ] C[ ]
Blood Tick: The revolting Ixodes Maloni is found in bushes in damp spots around the plateau. It evolved to suck dinosaur blood, hence its size, but will readily attack mammals if there is any opportunity. They can be removed by crushing (which leaves the mouth parts embedded in the skin and may result in an infection) or by treatment with alcohol or salt.
BODY , MIND [-], SOUL [-]
Brawling ; Bite, Effect 1, A:B, B:B, C:F
Wounds: any wound kills.
Porcupine: There are no porcupines in South America, and this species is actually similar to the echidna, or "spiny porcupine", an egg-laying insectivorous mammal related to the duck-billed platypus. The species may have evolved on the plateau, but it seems more likely that it migrated there several million years ago; there is no fossil record elsewhere in South America, but this may simply mean that the evidence hasn't yet been found. They are harmless, their spikes used purely defensively.
BODY , MIND , SOUL 
Brawling ; Spikes, effect 2, Damage A:-, B:F, C:F
Spikes reduce the effect of clubs and other blows by -2
Wounds: B[ ] F[ ] I[ ] C[ ]
Giant Stag: This species probably arrived on the plateau with the ape-men, and has evolved to great size, about 10ft tall at the shoulder.
BODY , MIND , SOUL 
Brawling ; Horns, Effect 10, Damage A:F, B:I, C:C/K
Wounds: B[ ] F[ ] I[ ] I[ ] C[ ]
Phorachus: A giant flightless carnivorous bird, with a vulture-like neck and sharp chisel beak, about 12' tall. One chased Professor Challenger and pecked off his boot heel. This is another contemporary of the ape-men.
BODY , MIND , SOUL 
Brawling ; Beak, Effect 10, Damage A:F, B:I, C:I
Wounds: B[ ] F[ ] I[ ] I[ ] C[ ]
Toxodon: A giant herbivorous rodent resembling a guinea pig, about 10ft long. It might be dangerous if cornered, but its instinct is to run if it senses a threat. The Indians regard them as a special culinary treat.
BODY , MIND , SOUL 
Brawling ; Bite, Effect 5, Damage A:B, B:F, C:I/C
Wounds: B[ ] F[ ] I[ ] I[ ] C[ ]
Ganoid Fish: Related to the sturgeon, it is extinct outside the plateau. These creatures have a third pineal eye, even more primitive than that of the icthyosaur.
BODY , MIND , SOUL 
Wounds: F[ ] I[ ] C[ ]
Giant snake: A sub-species of anaconda. Even the great size, up to thirty feet long, is only slightly beyond the normal range of the species.
BODY , MIND , SOUL 
Brawling ; Wrestle, Effect 10, Damage A:I, B:I, C:C
Wounds: B[ ] F[ ] I[ ] I[ ] C[ ]
Giant Armadillo: Another recent immigrant, this creature is the normal South American giant armadillo, Priodontes giganteus, growing to a length of about five feet. It is a relatively harmless scavenger. For some reason this species never seems to have taken to eating dinosaur eggs, probably because they are usually laid in swamps and guarded by adults.
BODY , MIND , SOUL 
Brawling ; Claws, Effect 5, Damage A:B, B:F, C:F
Wounds: B[ ] F[ ] I[ ] I[ ] C[ ]
Armour reduces the effect of all attacks by -2
Wild pig: These are perfectly normal South American pigs; they may be truly wild, or might be feral domesticated animals imported by the Indians. They are certainly recent arrivals.
BODY , MIND , SOUL 
Brawling ; Bite, Effect 5, Damage A:B, B:F, C:F
Wounds: B[ ] F[ ] I[ ] I[ ] C[ ]
Tapir and Anteater: Two more recent arrivals on the plateau, eking out a precarious existence and hunted by dinosaurs, apes, and Indians. Statistics are identical.
BODY , MIND , SOUL 
Brawling ; Claw, Effect 3, Damage A:B, B:F, C:I
Wounds: B[ ] F[ ] I[ ] I[ ] C[ ]
Figures for most of the dinosaurs are readily available, in a variety of scales and degrees of realism; see the notes accompanying some of the descriptions above. While 25mm scale is often preferred for RPGs, the plastic dinosaurs sold by most museums tend to be nearer 30-40mm scale, and are usually made in only one colour of plastic, which isn't very realistic. The plastic used doesn't take paint well. "Realistically" coloured versions of the Natural History Museum models were available, but this isn't guaranteed; on a visit in 1998 none were in stock. They look more lifelike but tend to be much more expensive. Naturally the colours used are purely speculative.
For a more compact option, Irregular Miniatures sell
several 15mm wargaming packs for their mammoth hunting wargame "Tusk", by Matthew
Hartley: amongst others, the range includes a pack for a scenario that is included
with the adventures.
Irregular Miniatures Ltd., 69A Acomb Rd., Holgate, York, YO2 2XN, England. Tel 01904 790597
3.2.2 Fear And Loathing In Maple White Landback to contents
'The moonlight shone upon his huge projecting eyes, the row of enormous teeth in his open mouth, and the gleaming fringe of claws upon his short, powerful forearms. With a scream of terror I turned and rushed wildly down the path.' [LW:12]
When explorers meet dinosaurs it's important to emphasise the sheer size and power of these gigantic creatures. They aren't just another animal; they're primeval terror incarnate, tons of living, smelly, roaring, bad-tempered flesh, with enormous claws and teeth, rumbling guts, and industrial-strength halitosis. Describe them as such, and don't forget that they smash trees as they move, run twice as fast as humans, leave huge mounds of excrement in their wake, may have trouble noticing humans, and certainly won't fear them.
Faced with such creatures, most adventurers will think twice before moving in to attack, or doing anything else that might attract the dinosaur's attention, such as running away. One way to simulate this is to ask for a roll of MIND against the BODY of the dinosaur whenever an adventurer approaches one, or a dinosaur approaches the adventurer. The following modifiers should add to the general air of terror:
|Adventurer has never seen a dinosaur before or is unarmed||-2|
|Dinosaur is carnivorous, charging, or doing something else that obviously endangers the adventurer||-2|
|Encounter is unexpected, at night, or unusually horrific||-1|
|Adventurer is alone, or there are more dinosaurs than adventurers||-1|
|Several adventurers (BODY of group exceeds dinosaur's BODY)||+1|
|Adventurer is an experienced dinosaur hunter and is armed||+1|
|Dinosaur is herbivorous, grazing, running away, or doing something else that is obviously not a threat.||+1|
|Adventurer is an experienced dinosaur hunter with heavy weapons, artillery, a bazooka, etc.||+2|
|Dinosaur is obviously domesticated (eg Indian-owned iguanodon)||+3|
If there are several dinosaurs, make the roll for each person versus the nearest dinosaur. If this roll succeeds, the adventurer can move in to attack, creep away, or do whatever else he thinks fit. If the roll is failed, the adventurer can't summon up the courage to attack, but can take any other action.
On a 12, the adventurer faints, runs away in sheer terror, or is
paralysed with fear, at the whim of the referee. This continues until
someone else takes action; by reviving the character, tackling and
stopping him, or slapping him until the paralysis wears off.
Afterwards the roll can be made again, but there will be a -2 penalty
due to a phobic fear of dinosaurs - which at the referee's discretion
3.3 The Guns Of Maple White Landback to contents
'...We had our four rifles and one thousand three hundred rounds, also a shot-gun, but not more than a hundred and fifty medium pellet cartridges.' [LW]
Any attempt to describe the selection of firearms taken on the Challenger expedition runs into problems. Malone's account is inconsistent when it discusses the details of rifle type and calibre, magazines, and so forth, and at several points it is apparent that he has confused the weapons carried by the explorers on different occasions.
Lord John Roxton published two articles which clear up most of these points: "Hunting The Great Lizards" (Field And Stream March 1911), and "With Rod And Gun Through Maple White Land" (privately printed monograph 1924). Excerpts from the latter were reprinted in Guns And Ammo magazine August 1974, as part of an article entitled "Giant Loads For Giant Critters", which is probably the most readily available version of the text. Although the focus is almost entirely on hunting techniques, these articles make it clear that Roxton carried a Continental .470 rifle, the others used 8mm Mannlicher-Schonaur rifles
About 400 rounds of .470 ammunition, 900 rounds of 8mm ammunition, and 300 shotgun cartridges were taken to the plateau. No hand-guns were carried.
All the explorers were initially equipped with double-barrelled 12-bore shotguns, but only one (Roxton's) reached the plateau. More armaments (the other shotguns, another magazine rifle, Roxton's heavier rifles, and some more ammunition) were left below with the luggage of the expedition; Roxton felt that they would add too much weight to the stores carried by the group. His article points out the magnitude of this error, and recommends the .577 Nitro-Express cartridge (or the even larger .600 cartridge) for all dinosaur hunting, despite the weight penalties associated with such powerful weapons.
Malone's account of his night expedition [LW:12] suggests that he somehow mistook a shotgun for his rifle. This point has never been explained satisfactorily, but it seems probable that he thought that he was carrying Roxton's double-barrelled rifle.
Summerlee's rifle was destroyed during the battle against the ape-men [LW:14], and thereafter weapons were shared between the explorers as needed. Usually those who stayed in camp carried the lighter weapons. Challenger was carrying Roxton's .470 rifle, while Roxton had Challenger's magazine rifle, when the Indian village was attacked by megalosaurs [LW:15].
All prices quoted below are for 1908-1910.
Bland's .577 Axite Express
'This is a Bland's .577 axite express,' said he. 'I got that big fellow with it.' He glanced up at the white rhinoceros. 'Ten more yards, and he'd have added me to his collection...' [LW]
A double-barrelled elephant rifle weighing about 15lb, loading 3" smokeless soft-nosed Nitro-Express cartridges. Bullets weigh 900 grains (one grain = 1/7000 lb); with powder and a brass casing, each cartridge weighs roughly 4 oz. Because the huge bullet is rapidly slowed by air resistance, these rifles are very inaccurate at long range.
Notes: An expensive gun from one of the most exclusive London gunsmiths, built (literally) to stop a charging elephant at point-blank range. While Roxton mentions this gun before the expedition begins, there is no evidence that it is actually used, and the considerable weight of the ammunition would argue against it. In at least one instance (the dinosaur attack on the explorers' camp) it seems unlikely that such a powerful rifle was available. It is possible that one or more was left behind with the expedition's baggage. Cost for a basic rifle of this type would be at least £50; Lord John probably spent in excess of £150 for the best workmanship available.
'Now, here's a useful tool -- .470, telescopic sight, double ejector, point-blank up to three-fifty...' [LW]
A double-barrelled elephant rifle weighing about 12lb (13lb with telescopic sight), loading 3.25" smokeless soft-nosed Nitro-Express cartridges. Bullets weigh about 500 grains; the powder and case take each cartridge to about 2.3 oz. Ignoring packaging, 400 rounds would weigh about 57 lb. Lord John's gun bears notches for the men he killed fighting slavery in Peru. These rifles are also inaccurate at long range; Lord John's claim of accuracy to 350 ft is a result of the use of custom loads and great skill.
Notes: Several similar rifles were available; all had much the same performance. Stopping power is about two-thirds that of the Axite Express. Rifles in this calibre cost £30-40, Lord John's customization raises the price to at least £100.
OPTIONAL RULE: The two big game rifles above have very powerful recoils. The marksman must prepare to fire (eg by resting the rifle on a rock, or assuming an appropriate stance) for one round before firing, or roll BODY * 2 against the rifle's Effect to avoid a mishap; mishaps might include dropping the rifle, accidentally pulling the second trigger, severe bruising, or the gun striking the marksman in the face (Effect as rifle/2, Wound B/F) as it recoils.
8mm x 56 Mannlicher-Schoenauer Rifle
'Now, here's something that would do for you.' He took out a beautiful brown-and-silver rifle. 'Well rubbered at the stock, sharply sighted, five cartridges to the clip. You can trust your life to that.' [LW]
A typical medium-calibre repeating rifle of the period, and one of the most powerful. The sporting version of a bolt-action military rifle, it has much of the wood and metal removed to minimise weight, which is about five to eight pounds according to the exact configuration. This weight reduction increases recoil, hence the need for a rubbered stock, but makes it much easier to carry for extended periods. A major disadvantage is decreased strength; the rifle is easily damaged if abused (as when Summerlee's rifle was destroyed by ape-men). The bullets weigh about 200 grains; with casing etc., each cartridge weighs about an ounce, 900 rounds weigh about 56lb 4oz. The magazine is fixed, and cartridges are loaded singly, not in a clip.
Notes: While Roxton carried a larger calibre rifle for dinosaur, small rifles were needed to shoot for the pot and for greater range; elephant guns are inaccurate at long range. This rifle is not explicitly described, except in the above quote, but seems a likely choice for an experienced hunter like Roxton, and one readily used by an amateur like Malone, or a comparatively frail man like Summerlee. A rifle of this general size and power is suitable for most thin-skinned game. Unlike most other magazine rifles of the period, it isn't based on a Mauser mechanism. Cost is £5-10 depending on finish and accuracy, Lord John purchased high-quality customised models at the top end of the range.
McNaughton (Edinburgh) 12-Bore Shotgun
'...it was only by keeping our shot-guns for ever ready that we could feel safe from them.' [LW]
Notes: An expensive double-barrelled shotgun of the period, from the best Scottish manufacturer. Four were initially carried, but only Roxton's was taken to the plateau. They fire paper-cased cartridges weighing 2 oz; 150 rounds weigh roughly 18lb 12oz. McNaughton's guns cost £10-15 depending on finish; naturally Roxton owned the finest. Much cheaper models were available in this calibre, with prices as low as 30s.
|Large shotgun, 2 shots, Effect 7,||A:F, B:I, C/K One barrel|
|Large shotgun, No multiple, Effect 14*,||A:I, B:C, C:K Both barrels|
Author's note: Special thanks to Hugh Mascetti for some extremely
patient help with the details of this section. Any errors remaining
are entirely my own fault.
3.4 Adventures In Maple White Landback to contents
This collection includes several long adventures set in the world of the Challenger stories. The following are some brief ideas for adventures with this setting, which will need a considerable amount of development.
1918. The second Challenger expedition is somewhere in Brazil, on its way to secure a cache of diamonds that will do immense harm to Germany. The adventurers play German agents, loyal to their fatherland and the Kaiser, who must set out for Brazil by Zeppelin and somehow thwart this dastardly scheme and make the world safe for military efficiency, the Fatherland, and mom's sauerkraut pie.
Note: If Challenger is killed this destroys much of the "history" described above; it may be preferable to say that a group of British agents, one of them posing as Challenger, are after the stones. A wargaming version of this scenario for Irregular Miniatures' "Tusk" (see section 3.2.1 above) is included with the adventures.
As above, but the adventurers are crack British agents posing as Germans; their mission is to sabotage the German interception without blowing their cover. Ideally the Zeppelin should be destroyed or disabled "accidentally".
Amalgamate the plots above, and add another motive; the adventurers are a mixture of loyal Germans, British agents, and traitors (on both sides) who have decided that they are more interested in the diamonds than the war. This can be a tense game of cross and double-cross, but something on the lines of the film "Kelly's Heroes" may be more fun.
'...the great nocturnal white thing -- to this day we do not know whether it was beast or reptile -- which lived in a vile swamp to the east of the lake, and flitted about with a faint phosphorescent glimmer in the darkness.' [LW]
As well as dinosaurs, Maple White Land has several animal species which are wholly unknown to science. Some are revoltingly unpleasant; the blood ticks discovered by the first expedition are a good example. Others are mysteries waiting to be solved. It's a dangerous job, but someone has to do it - why not your adventurers?
1926. The Lost World is being filmed in Hollywood, but the director has decided to save money by eliminating all the expensive model work. Instead a second unit team is on its way to Brazil, with orders to get the necessary footage. Nothing too difficult; a mass pterodactyl attack, a fight between a stegosaurus and a megalosaur, and an iguanodon stampede. There won't be any trouble finding these things; surviving the experience and getting back with the film might be another matter. Useful skills are Actor, Artist (for cinematography, film direction, make-up, etc.), Athlete (for running away very, very quickly), Business (for the logistics of the expedition), Marksman, and Mechanic.
1930. Following persistent ill-treatment by diamond miners, the Indians have rebelled and are using bows, poison darts, and stampeding iguanodons to harass the camp. They demand the return of their gods - but Professor Challenger and Lord John Roxton are busy elsewhere. The adventurers are hired by the mining company, their mission to find a solution to the problem; any solution will do, provided that the mines stay in profit.
New York today. America's largest comics company has a problem; someone is killing street punks, and the terrified witnesses describe a killer that sounds remarkably like their hero, The Pterodactyl. All of the victims were slashed by razors or sharp claws. Has some crazy vigilante taken to imitating The Pterodactyl, or has an urban myth crawled from the sewers to feed? A useful source is the film Q: The Winged Serpent . The section on aerofauna below may also be useful.
1920. For years scientists have wondered how Maple White Land can possibly have a stable dinosaur population. One of the wilder theories suggests that the plateau is a game reserve, stocked with dinosaurs by aliens who replenish the herds periodically and run a hunting party every few hundred years.
The adventurers are on the plateau when this theory is proved correct. Unfortunately the aliens prefer to hunt the most dangerous prey around, and since their last visit the plateau has been overrun by humans who seem to be wiping out the dinosaurs. The humans are thus (a) more dangerous than the dinosaurs and (b) a threat to their herds that must be eliminated. The aliens are well-camouflaged, possibly disguised as ape-men.
Referees should know which films to use as source material.
Please Note: This is not recommended as the true explanation for the survival of the dinosaurs!
4.0 The Etherback to contents
'...the stars are most brilliant. Even in the clear plateau air of South America I have never seen them brighter. Possibly this etheric change has some effect upon light.' [PB:4]
The ether (sometimes called the "luminiferous ether") is the medium that supports the transmission of light and other forms of electromagnetic energy through space, in the same way that sound vibrations travel through a taut wire. Without using mathematical terms, electromagnetic waves are a moving "ripple" in the immobile ether, as water waves are ripples on the surface of a stationary fluid. The idea that light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation are particles has been discarded, and the so-called "photon" is now known to be a transitory effect, a manifestation of the energy released when an electromagnetic wave strikes a material object. The ether itself is best regarded as the unmoving framework of the universe, rather than a substance in any normal sense. It is impossible to see or touch it, and it is only known to exist because of its effects.
The speed at which light travels relative to the ether is, of course, the constant c. The Michelson-Morley experiments of 1881 and 1887 showed that the ether is at rest; since the Earth (and the entire galaxy) are mobile, the value of c varies according to direction. Fortunately c is an immensely high value compared to the velocity of our solar system and world (which is about 1850 miles per second relative to the ether), and for most purposes it is possible to ignore its directional nature. There are exceptions, especially where really accurate timing of electronic signals is essential; for instance, the Cray range of supercomputers are built with their CPUs mounted on astronomical equatorial mounts, rotating to negate timing changes caused by the rotation of the Earth. Naturally the effect is also important in radar and telecommunications.
It's possible to obtain energy from the movement of objects relative to the ether, but the technique isn't yet within the capabilities of science. The spores of the World-Echidna (see section 5.0) have been tracked by radar, and are known to accelerate to speeds in excess of 100 miles per second in a few hours - their terminal velocity is probably much higher, but they are difficult to track at any great distance from the Earth. Scientists believe that they are somehow able to extrude ectoplasmic tendrils (see sections 4.3 and 7) which interact with the ether; from our point of view the spores appear to accelerate, although in fact they slow relative to the ether. While this is a unidirectional effect, which tends to "pull" the spores away from the plane of the ecliptic, slingshot manoeuvres around the planets and sun might be used for interplanetary travel. Unfortunately ectoplasm has never been synthesised, and this system won't be practical for human space travel for many years to come.
While these facts are now vital in electronics, computing, and nuclear physics, and may eventually affect space travel, they were mainly of interest to a few physicists at the beginning of the century. Possibly they would have been taken more seriously if it had been generally realised that the ether propagates inter-atomic and nuclear forces, and is the key to the stability of matter itself.
Note: Ether is sometimes spelt aether or Æther (æther). These variants are not used in this text.
4.1 The "Poison Belt" Episodeback to contents
The ether vibrates to transmit electromagnetic waves and intermolecular, magnetic, and electrical forces. While the amplitude of these vibrations may vary considerably (for example, a bright light vibrates the ether with greater amplitude than a dim light), the nature of the ether itself normally remains unchanged.
Towards the end of August 1913 astronomers at several observatories observed a "blurring" of Frauenhofer's lines, which are normally a clear indication of the chemical composition of the source of starlight, or (in absorption spectra) of the atmosphere of a planet. The phenomenon was world-wide, which ruled out the possibilities of a defective batch of film, a single faulty instrument, or localised atmospheric disturbances. Challenger assumed that there could not be widespread contamination of the Earth's atmosphere, on the grounds that any chemical would be detected by analysis [PB:1]. In this he was possibly mistaken, since a light molecule might have diffused in the upper atmosphere without detectable traces reaching ground level; the analysis methods of the day would not have picked up lethal levels of some chemicals we know today, such as some neurotoxins.
Most scientists assumed that some undetected astronomical condition (such as a gas cloud in space) was causing the problem, but Challenger refused to believe that this could occur without leaving any evidence. Putting together these reports with accounts of unexplained illnesses in Sumatra, he reasoned that the ether itself might be responsible for the effect. In this he was correct, although his idea that the solar system was entering a "belt" of poisonous ether was probably mistaken.
Observations conducted since this incident suggest that the underlying cause of the phenomenon was a sudden change in the density of the ether, most likely a shock wave emanating from the Galactic Core (see Hawking's "Evidence for Galactic Core Collapse", Astronomy, August 1990), which had widespread effects on chemical and electromagnetic phenomena.
In brief, the change in density first altered the energy requirements for electromagnetic wave emission and transmission, then began to modify the efficiency of certain chemical reactions (which are, of course, dependent on the energy required to make and break intermolecular bonds). While in most cases the effect was negligible, the physiological changes that followed speeded neural transmission, leading to hyperactivity and manic reactions, then to a state resembling a deep hypoglycaemic coma, caused by the body's inability to supply enough energy to its cells. Medical records show an abnormal number of diabetic comas in the hours before the general collapse, which would support this hypothesis. In Sumatra, where the native diet was poor in sugar, the effect was more rapid. Observations suggesting that the speed of onset was related to altitude are well-documented but difficult to explain; for example, Challenger's colleagues spent only a few hours at a moderate height before the crisis, which would seem to rule out any question of physiological adaptation. Some link to gravitational potential is a possibility.
So far as is known, everyone who remained conscious during the hours that followed had access to a supply of oxygen, almost always the compressed gas. The breakdown of these survivors was as follows:
Additionally, at least one unidentified person remained conscious in Monte Carlo; someone entered the Casino, smashed several doors, cut through a steel grille, and stole gold and notes worth approximately eighty thousand pounds. No clues were found, and the money has never been traced.
Once the "shock wave" had passed the Earth, there may have been a period of reduced ether density, probably lasting about as long as the initial crisis, which slowed chemical reactions slightly, and would have deepened the comas of everyone who succumbed to the initial effect. Those who remained conscious reported a feeling of shock and deep melancholy, which would support this theory; unfortunately it might equally well be a natural result of their belief that most of the human race was dead. Unfortunately none of the unaffected were in a position to take spectrographs or make other observations that might support or disprove this hypothesis. If it is correct, the moment at which most of the sleepers awoke may have marked a return to normal ether densities.
While it is natural to be interested in the fortunate individuals who stayed conscious during this crisis, it should not be forgotten that millions died. Confirmed figures from Europe and North America are as follows:
|Missing, believed killed ||3,300|
|Starvation (especially infants)||5,000|
|Killed aboard ships, trains, etc.||7,250|
|Falls and other accidents||14,500|
|Exposure and exposure-related illnesses ||200,000|
|Fires and gas explosions||2,850,500|
|Other causes ||220,000|
Figures for Africa, China, South America, and other areas have not been analysed in such detail, but probably exceed ten million, with extreme dehydration a common cause of death in warmer areas.
In addition to this human tragedy, animal deaths included the drowning of most of the world's whales and dolphins, many thousands of elephants and rhinoceri (apparently killed by pneumonia; it is now known that these animals accumulate fluid in their lungs if they are anaesthetised for prolonged periods), and vast numbers of birds. Millions of sharks also died; the largest species must swim continuously to oxygenate their gills. Commercial whaling and shark fishing virtually ceased until the mid-1930s, when stocks had built up again, and the price of ivory tumbled as the tusks of the unfortunate elephants reached the markets of Europe and America.
Despite the immensity of this disaster, there is reason to believe that this was a "lucky" escape. High ether densities have only been created in the laboratory on a minute scale, but the effects include acceleration of most chemical reactions. One possible result would be spontaneous combustion of most flammable materials, including human flesh. At even higher densities spontaneous nuclear fusion is theoretically possible, but has never been observed.
"Daturon" acts as a poison, its effect varying with ether density. It is convenient to give this density a wholly arbitrary Effect number from 0 (normal) to 10 (the peak of the Poison Belt episode). Comparatively small amounts of oxygen reduce the Effect by 5.
At moderately high ether densities (Effect 1-5) the result is mild euphoria, mania, and eventually irrational rage. If MIND can overcome the Effect these symptoms are suppressed.
At higher densities (Effect 6 or more) these symptoms are supplemented by a feeling of choking and suffocation, followed by collapse. If BODY can overcome the Effect it is possible to stay conscious, but this must be re-rolled every round. Once unconscious, the body enters a cataleptic trance almost indistinguishable from death. This continues for approximately double the period of exposure to abnormal ether densities.
While the Poison Belt episode was a one-off event, it is possible that a sufficiently evil genius might be able to duplicate the phenomenon, if only on a small scale. For example, it might be used to make the inhabitants of London or New York sleep during the robbery of the century (see The New Avengers TV series for an example of this idea) or to cover some much more sinister event (see The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, AKA Village Of The Damned). This should be difficult to arrange and phenomenally expensive.
Other possibilities for ether density manipulation include a comparatively safe form of anaesthetic, generating a localised field of high ether density affecting the brain, and stun weapons.
Development of any of these devices should be extremely slow,
requiring a long series of Scientist rolls against increasing
Difficulty, laboratory facilities, and tools and components worth many
thousands of pounds.
4.2 The Strange Case of Theodore Nemorback to contents
'You have heard both in Oriental magic and in Western occultism of the phenomenon of the apport when some object is suddenly brought from a distance and appears in a new place. How can such a thing be done save by the loosening of the molecules, their conveyance upon an etheric wave, and their reassembling, each exactly in its own place, drawn together by some irresistible law? That seems a fair analogy to that which is done by my machine.' [DM]
'...a large whitewashed room with innumerable copper wires hanging in festoons from the ceiling, and a huge magnet balanced upon a pedestal. In front of this was what looked like a prism of glass, three feet in length and about a foot in diameter. To the right of it was a chair which rested upon a platform of zinc, and which had a burnished copper cap suspended above it. Both the cap and the chair had heavy wires attached to them, and at the side was a sort of ratchet with numbered slots and a handle covered with indiarubber which lay at present in the slot marked zero.' [DM]
In 1928 Theodore Nemor, a Latvian scientist, invented a disintegration machine (illustrated in 15_DISIN.GIF). Nemor showed the device to various potential customers, making objects disappear and reappear unharmed. His visitors included Edward Malone and Professor Challenger, who both saw a convincing demonstration; in fact, both were disintegrated for several minutes. At the end of the experiment they left Nemor working on the machine, which had given Challenger a mild electric shock. They were the last to see him, alive or dead. It seems likely that he accidentally disintegrated himself shortly after they left.
Later that afternoon the police arrested three members of the Russian Ambassador's staff, who were trying to break into Nemor's flat. They claimed that Nemor had agreed to sell them his machine, and that they were simply acting out of concern for his safety, since he hadn't answered the door. They had no proof of their statement, apart from a contract which hadn't yet been signed. Since they had diplomatic immunity they could not be questioned in any depth. The only other visitors who could be traced were Malone and Challenger, who knew nothing of any contract, and a party from the German Embassy, which also claimed an option on the machine.
Acting on Challenger's advice, the Home Office impounded the machine pending Nemor's reappearance or proof of his death. Naturally this decision was unpopular, especially in Russia and Germany. It was even claimed that Challenger or Malone had murdered Nemor to keep his invention in Britain! Naturally there was nothing to support this extraordinary allegation. Home office pathologists spent some time checking the machine for clues, but found no forensic evidence. Eventually it was packed into several crates, consigned to a warehouse and (apparently) forgotten.
While this story was allowed to circulate, the reality was very different. At the warehouse the crates were opened, filled with bricks, and resealed, and the machine was whisked off to Cambridge. Although the mechanism of disintegration remained a mystery, scientists soon understood how to control the process, and could make inanimate objects appear and disappear. Tests with rats, rabbits, and guinea pigs followed; the mortality rate was initially very high, but after several successes it was tried on dogs, monkeys, and a student volunteer. This was a mistake; all subsequently died, apparently starved to death. Their symptoms, and subsequent experiments, revealed the truth about Nemor's invention.
While Nemor claimed that his machine could "loosen molecules" and dissolve them in the ether, this explanation was misleading. Normal matter contains innumerable electromagnetic fields. If they are forced into a common alignment, in one of the extra dimensions required by current etheric theory, the object affected disappears. Naturally the effect can only be temporary; unless the machine maintains its control, atoms start to spontaneously revert to their original state, and rematerialise. Since the Earth is constantly moving through the ether, this material is left behind in the Earth's wake. Rematerialisation is slow (most experiments suggest that 5-10% of an object rematerialises per hour), so a cloud of free atoms and particles forms over several hours. In the 1990s, with disintegration commonplace, a trail of tiny gas clouds has been detected telescopically (16_TRAIL.GIF), and the ionised gas molecules are a considerable nuisance to radio astronomers. Similar trails may possibly be a means of detecting advanced civilisations in nearby solar systems.
Nemor's real genius lay in the control mechanism, which can hold objects in the ether near the disintegrator, and postpone the gradual rematerialisation so long as power is available to maintain the disintegration field, or reverse the polarisation and recover the object intact. It is also possible to adjust the controls, fine-tuning them to leave behind a particular type of molecule (such as the keratin of hair and finger nails), or (as in the tragic Cambridge experiment) to materialise objects as stereoisomers, with their "handedness" reversed at the molecular level, so that foods and vitamins can't be absorbed, and many enzymes fail to function correctly.
One surprising discovery was the realisation that Nemor's device could never have become the weapon of mass destruction he envisaged. Power consumption is initially low, but increases with the third power of the distance between the electrodes, from a starting value of 150 watts at one foot. The voltage needed to initiate the effect rises even more steeply, with the fourth power of the distance, from a starting value of 27 volts at one foot. Finally, electrode surface area affects the speed with which the process can be initiated; beginning at 0.75 seconds for a 1ft square plate, the time rises with the square of surface area.
The table below shows approximate power and voltage requirements for disintegration between two 1 ft square electrodes at various distances:
Distance Power Voltage Uses 6 in 20 W 6 V Industrial applications 1 ft 150 W 48 V 2 ft 1.2 KW 768 V Medical applications 3 ft 4 KW 4 KV 3.5 ft 6.4 KW 7.2 KV Nemor's prototype machine 4 ft 9.6 KW 12 KV 5 ft 19 KW 30 KV 6 ft 32 KW 62 KV 7 ft 52 KW 115 KV 8 ft 77 KW 197 KV 9 ft 110 KW 315 KV 10 ft 150 KW 480 KV 15 ft 506 KW 2.4 MV Stilton I (see below), 1935 20 ft 1.2 MW 7.7 MV 30 ft 4 MW 39 MV Stilton II, 1941 40 ft 9.6 MW 123 MV 50 ft 19 MW 300 MV 75 ft 63 MW 1,518 MV Theoretical limit in dry air 100 ft 150 MW 4,800 MV Theoretically possible in vacuum.
Remember that the minimum period of power consumption is 0.75 seconds, for a small electrode; a 10 ft square electrode takes this time to 75 seconds! If the disintegrator is used to hold an object in the ether, rather than to destroy it, the power must be kept on indefinitely.
While power consumption is an obvious problem, voltage actually sets the fundamental limits. At sufficiently high voltages air breaks down and conducts electricity; this "breakdown voltage" is about 900,000 V per foot. Voltage per foot rises above this level when the electrodes are a little over 75ft apart. To make matters worse, moisture considerably reduces the arcing voltage for any given distance. In practice this means that 30 ft is the maximum practical distance in a moist country like Britain, even on a dry day; it is almost impossible to produce the effect over water, except at very short distances.
Putting these facts together, it is comparatively easy to build a small disintegrator with a gap of three or four feet, as demonstrated by Nemor. Increasing the surface area of the plates, or the distance between them, greatly increases power consumption and voltage requirements. Unfortunately restricting the size of the plates also leads to problems; theoretically a needle electrode would use virtually no power regardless of distance, in practice sharp electrodes "leak" voltage, and are useless in all but the smallest of applications, at comparatively low voltages.
Naturally these experiments were conducted under conditions of great secrecy. As soon as Nemor's device was duplicated, the original was carefully disabled and returned to storage.
'Once the mechanics of Nemor's process were understood, work began on
the production of a weapon based on the disintegration principle. With
the possible exception of the infamous "Panjandrum", this was
Britain's least successful secret weapon, and its history is an object
lesson in how not to design military hardware.'
[The Secret War: BBC TV 1978]
Several years passed, and a series of abortive experiments proved that there was no easy way around the limitations of the disintegrator. By 1935 it was becoming increasingly apparent that another European war was likely. Knowing that it would be almost impossible to field the disintegration effect as an offensive weapon, and possibly worried about government reaction if the research was fruitless, scientists suggested that it might be deployed defensively as a form of booby-trap, set up at strategic points where it could impede an invasion force. Theoretically the machine might be used to generate a momentary razor-thin "plane" of disintegration between two wires, one buried under a road and the other on telegraph poles above it. If timing was right this would act like an irresistible cheese wire, cutting troops and tanks into thin slices. By a process of word association this concept was eventually called "Stilton". The 1935 prototype used a wire suspended 15 ft above a road; the generator and other components of the system were housed in a large "cottage" nearby.
Unfortunately there were some fundamental flaws in this idea. Most notably, if the wires were too thin they radiated electrons, as described above, and "leaked" voltage almost as fast as it could be supplied. With thick wires this problem was reduced but the increased surface area of the wires increased power requirements. Also any large metal mass (such as a tank) between the wires effectively reduced the distance between them. This made it much more likely that the air breakdown voltage would be exceeded; the result was a violent shower of sparks, usually causing minor damage to the target, and severe damage to the generators and capacitors needed to produce the incredibly violent pulse of electricity in the first place.
It was also difficult to imagine a German invasion force ignoring a cottage that hummed loudly and was surrounded by thinly sliced tanks and soldiers. Despite this obvious drawback, 29 more cottages were purchased or built at strategic locations along the South coast, ready to receive Stilton installations when the system was perfected. As in many military projects, this took longer, and cost much more money, than was expected.
Stilton II, the 1941 production prototype, used two vertical electrodes disguised as telegraph posts. While new generators made it possible to increase the effective range to 30 ft on a dry day, any hint of mist or rain ensured that the only result was a spectacular shower of sparks. During tests on cloudy days the high voltage often led to an unexpected effect; the electrodes were struck by lightning. Camouflage was little more than a joke; the power needed for this system required four large diesel generators, which belched their fumes through the cottage chimney and could be heard at a distance of several hundred yards.
Eventually the awesome cost of this project came to the attention of the Prime Minister, who "suggested" a cheaper alternative; forget the disintegration effect, fill the cottages with explosives, and detonate them if an opportune target presented itself. Ultimately about half the cottages were prepared for this purpose; the remainder would have posed too great a risk to civilian homes, factories, or railway lines, and were eventually sold off as housing. The final epilogue to this story was the evacuation of Canvey Island, in the Thames estuary, in 1951; one of the cottages was somehow overlooked at the end of the war, and ignored until the local council approached the Army for permission to demolish it. When a wrecking crew broke in, they found that it was packed with badly deteriorated explosives. Defusing them took nearly a week.
Some associated events, which were previously covered by the Official Secrets Act, have recently been revealed. In 1944, by a series of "accidents" and "errors" now known to have been engineered by Kim Philby, the crates containing Nemor's machine were labelled as munitions and loaded onto a convoy bound for Russia, where they disappeared from view. There were fears that the Russians would repair the machine and somehow find a way to improve it, and in an unexpected way these fears were justified. In 1957, following several rumours of disintegration experiments in Siberia, a Soviet defector claimed that one of Russia's secret laboratory complexes had been destroyed by the machine. A few weeks later a U-2 flight discovered a perfectly smooth circular crater, approximately two miles wide and several hundred yards deep, where there had formerly been a high-security installation, previously thought to be a radar test site. While the Soviet scientists certainly repaired Nemor's machine and learned its secrets (Russian disintegration technology is on a par with that of Europe and America), they must have gone on to find a way around its limitations. Unfortunately the discovery apparently died with them, and records of the former USSR add little more to this story - the station simply disappeared three days after filing routine progress reports which contain no hints of a breakthrough.
'"This is an industrial disintegrator. It generates a microscopically
fine beam of etheric force which can cut through anything - the slab
of gold you lie on, or your body - with equal ease."
"Do you expect me to talk?"
"No, Mister Bond, I expect you to die..."'
Once the war was over, and it was apparent that disintegration was not likely to be an immediate cause of mass-destruction, thoughts turned to industrial uses. Disintegrators are very expensive, and require careful adjustment, but their operation can be very cheap, especially if there is no need to preserve the disintegrated object. With needle electrodes the disintegration field is extremely narrow, a perfect replacement for jig saws and many other industrial devices. Other models replace guillotines and some lathe tools; low power consumption, coolness, speed, and the completely smooth finish left by disintegration are the most obvious advantages, but elimination of oil jets and waste removal vacuum systems are also important. For obvious safety reasons, and because precise adjustments are needed if the electrodes are moved, they are usually fixed in place; the working material is moved between them. Despite the excesses of some spy fiction, truly mobile disintegrators are still very rare, and too cumbersome to be useful in crime or espionage.
Typical prices in 1994 range from £12,500 for a one-inch narrow-beam cutter to £750,000 for the elaborate mobile systems used to manufacture ship's screws and turbines. In the latter case the cost is small compared to that of the industrial robots, hydraulic arms, and computers that are needed to manipulate the disintegration machine and the work piece.
The future of this technology largely depends on the degree to which it can be simplified, miniaturised, and made more portable. Despite more than sixty years of development, disintegrators are still expensive to build and bulky, and require extremely careful adjustment before they can be used. Mobile disintegrators are still uncommon; movement requires constant painstaking adjustment, usually under the control of powerful computers.
Several power-tool manufacturers recently formed a consortium to develop practical hand-held disintegrators for catering and DIY work, which they hope to market in the early 21st century. Since research costs are likely to be very high, their initial models will probably be built around a common disintegration engine / computer package, with details such as case design and power pack life varying between manufacturers. Provided the price is low enough, most cutting tools could be replaced by disintegration systems, although safety is obviously a considerable problem. There is also the risk of their use by criminals; a tool that can cut through anything is a potential threat to society. Further miniaturisation should lead to replacements for electric razors, hair clippers, etc.
The chemical industry uses disintegration for cheap production of stereoisomers (such as antibiotics and pure enzymes), and for purification. By fine tuning it is possible to rotate an impure chemical into the ether, bring back only the desired ingredient, remove it from the field, then bring back the unwanted components for disposal or further processing, or leave them to disperse in the ether.
One obvious danger is the risk that fine-tuned disintegration might be used to separate isotopes from reactor fuel, as a cheap source of weapons-grade plutonium. Since the reverse of this process is common practice in the nuclear industry, which also finds disintegration the ideal way to dispose of nuclear waste, there is little reason for complacency. These machines are still heavily restricted, and must be built to perform one particular type of separation, with no facility for adjustment for different isotopes. They are controlled and inspected under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
'"You mean they left me in the ether for a hundred years? My library
fines must be unbelievable!"'
Disintegration has obvious medical applications, ranging from its use in surgery to the indefinite preservation of human life, by rotating subjects outside normal space and time.
Surgical applications are still limited by the immobility of most disintegrators. No-one has developed a usable hand-held system; the control systems and servos needed for mobile units are much too bulky to be practical. To add to these problems, wounds made by disintegrators tend to bleed much more freely than those made by conventional surgical equipment, since blood vessels are neither crushed (as by cutting) or cauterised (as in the use of heated wires and other electrical instruments). Most hospitals keep a disintegrator for major amputations, since the effect is less traumatic than the use of a saw, but small-scale work is still out of the question. It is hoped that this will gradually change as smaller disintegrators are developed; they would be very useful for microsurgery.
The most important medical implication of disintegration is its potential for the indefinite preservation of human life. Patients can be disintegrated and "held" in the ether until it is possible to cure them, months or years after they would otherwise be dead. Naturally there are snags; each patient needs a separate disintegrator, which must be supplied with power until medical science has advanced to allow a cure. One Californian patient has been kept in the ether for more than nine years, another was recovered (and treated successfully) four years after disintegration. No side effects have been noted, but the per-patient cost is still about £100,000 per disintegrator (including backup power supplies) plus running expenses. As yet the procedure is not available through any public health service.
The legal status of disintegrated patients is debatable; America has accumulated the most civil and criminal case law on the subject, mostly related to estates and presumption of death, and it is often contradictory. Briefly, anyone intending to risk this procedure should make very sure that there is no objection from anyone that might be in a position to benefit from their estate, and that trust funds have been set up to cover all expenses. Disintegration cannot be used to evade arrest, America's Statute of Limitations, or the normal time limits on tax liability; this latter point is also law in Britain and most of Europe (but not Ireland). Switching off a disintegrator would presumably be murder, but such a case could be a minefield for the prosecution, who would have to prove that the victim (a) was alive when disintegrated, (b) could be recovered at any point until the moment the power was cut, (c) had not been recovered before power was cut, and (d) was irretrievably lost when power was cut.
One other medical application shows promise, which hasn't yet been realised. Theoretically it is possible to fine-tune a disintegrator to distinguish between living flesh and viruses, and leave the viruses in the ether while the patient is recovered. Experiments on these lines have been uniformly unsuccessful, but a considerable amount of funding is available via AIDS and cancer research organisations, and there is still hope that the problem will eventually be solved.
'"So, Skywalker, you have built your own ether-sabre. Your skills as a
Jedi will soon be complete..."'
[Return Of The Jedi, 1983]
'"...Uh.. You see, Mister Tracy, by rotating all Virgil's molecules
into the ether, I can make him ..uh.. disappear completely. If I
change the focus of the ..uh.. projector it's possible to
rematerialise him inside a locked room, even a bank vault."
"Great, Brains. It sure beats cutting in with torches. Now show me how you get him back."
"I'm still ..uh.. working on that..."'
[Thunderbirds, 'Peril In The Ether', 1967]
The future of disintegration seems bright, but a lot depends on the speed with which equipment becomes smaller, cheaper, and easier to use. There is slow progress in all these areas. A major limitation is still the need to produce the field between two electrodes, which means that it may never be possible to build a device equivalent to a hand-held electric drill. If this problem can be overcome, we may eventually see the hand-held disintegrators which are so common in science fiction novels and films, but most probably as tools, not weapons.
One use suggested by Nemor has not been achieved; there is still no practical way to use disintegration for travel on Earth. All attempts to link two machines and transfer matter between them have failed. To the great relief of police and security forces throughout the world, there also appears to be no way to use a single disintegrator to project matter to a remote location.
Adventure fiction is full of horrendously dangerous inventions, which can usually be destroyed by killing their creator. There's a basic drawback to this idea; once something is known to be possible, reinventing it is usually easier than the original work.
Nemor developed the disintegrator in a world where the ether was known to exist, and must have drawn on prior work. Unless he somehow found an entirely new approach to etheric physics, he must have left a trail that any interested party could follow. With Nemor's machine left intact, eventual discovery of his secrets was certain. If it was destroyed, study of the books he owned, and any papers he published, would be invaluable clues.
Unstoppable weapons sound good in fiction, but don't leave many options in an RPG. For the purposes of this worldbook, Nemor's puzzle was solved, but the solution was less destructive than he originally thought.
Any new technology is bound to have a few spin-off applications. I've added later inventions which might appear in embryo in a campaign, or might be described in speculative articles of the period. In the time-frame suggested for a Challenger campaign, all of this technology is still in the future or has only been suggested in a few far-fetched magazine articles. Adventurers with an interest in science might encounter Nemor before his disappearance, or meet another scientist who has duplicated his machine or built something just a little more powerful. They might also uncover some hint of the highly secret British weapons program, or meet a charlatan who pretends that he has a working disintegrator.
One of the adventures includes an
encounter with Nemor much earlier in his career.
4.3 The Ether And Spiritualism - The Scientific Viewback to contents
'"The higher spirits .... are in very different zones of vibration. It is we who are near (the lower spirits) and can help them."' [LM:4]
'"...the natural body .... is dissolved at death, and the etheric or spiritual body .... survives and functions upon an etheric plane."' [LM:8]
'...names buzzed in his etheric ears...' [LM:16]
'"...blast open a hole in the ether and go after them!"
"Do you realise what we have here? The vital defence industry of the next millennium!"'
Physics uses a vocabulary which occasionally overlaps that of spiritualism. This overlap is most obvious in etheric physics, whose pioneers included such notable spiritualists as Sir Oliver Lodge. While most scientists now accept that a minority of mediums can produce real effects, such as materialisation and clairvoyance, there is still general disagreement about the mechanisms responsible for these effects, and especially about any supernatural involvement. Scientifically, the most widely accepted theory states that these so-called supernatural events are actually manifestations of the subconscious of the medium.
Spiritualists claim that the afterlife is on a different "plane of vibration" to the physical universe. Since it is known that the ether exists in several extra dimensions, and vibrates to propagate electromagnetic energy, this may literally be true. The disintegrator shows that such "planes" might exist, occupying different spatial and temporal dimensions to our own, but all evidence suggests that they are not accessible by disintegration (although it has been claimed that time stops for the disintegrated because it is forbidden for the living to see the afterlife).
It is certain that ectoplasm and other materials summoned by materialisation mediums are drawn from the ether, returning to it when the concentration of the medium ends, inverting the means by which the Nemor disintegrator pushes matter into the ether. The classic proof was obtained by Rhine in the 1950s; a colleague used a Nemor disintegrator to destroy samples of wax impregnated with Carbon-14, while Rhine witnessed a materialisation medium produce ectoplasm in an adjoining room. Geiger counters detected a rise in radiation levels while the ectoplasm was present. Energy requirements for disintegration can be very low, and it is suspected that the corresponding materialisation process may be initiated by neural voltages; the fact that ectoplasm is usually produced as an extremely thin layer is highly suggestive. Most materialisation mediums have very bright Kirilian auras, which are related to the natural electrical potential of the body.
Telepathy can certainly be explained etherically; by some means that is not yet apparent, brain waves are propagated through the ether and are picked up by especially sensitive minds. This may again be related to the body's electrical field.
Clairvoyance may also be explicable in terms of etheric physics. Light waves are carried by the ether, and it is possible that there is some "leakage" which is detectable by an attuned mind. Clairaudience cannot be explained so easily, but there is every reason to believe that it is usually a form of telepathic communication.
Meanwhile any question of communication with the dead is at best questionable and at worst deliberate fraud.
Spriritualism is covered in more depth in section 7; the above is the
"scientific" viewpoint held by most non-spiritualists in this world.
For game purposes ectoplasm is made up of loosely-associated matter
pulled from the ether in the manner described above, and is held in
our world purely by the will power of the medium; it is usually about
as solid as thick smoke. Scientific opinion agrees that this can
occur, but disagrees with spiritualism on the power responsible for
4.4 Adventures In The Etherback to contents
1913. During the Poison Belt episode the Casino at Monte Carlo was robbed of £80,000. Gendarmes know that the thief had access to oxygen and tools, including a hacksaw, crow bar, and sledge hammer, and must have spent several hours working on locks and doors. This strongly implies someone local, but unfortunately nobody seems to fill the bill; no garages or workshops are equipped with oxygen, and even the hospital doesn't yet have a supply. Obviously someone could have come in from outside the Principality, robbed the Casino, and left again before the great awakening - the area of the entire country is only about a square mile - but money is heavy, no vehicles are missing, and by chance the roads from Monaco were closed by a train wreck, a brush fire, and fallen cattle for the duration of the incident. It seems likely that the thief is a local, or was already in town when the crisis started, and that the money is still hidden somewhere in the Principality.
The adventurers happen to be in Monte Carlo at the time, and some odd circumstance (their equipment includes tools and welding gear, there is an oxygen tank for diving gear on their yacht, nobody remembers seeing them in town before the incident) has made them suspects. Monaco uses the Code Napoleon, and the accused must prove his innocence...
As above, except the adventurers are gentlemen thieves - and guilty as hell. Begin as people start to feel strange, on the morning of the crisis; you'll need to explain how the adventurers come to be in Monaco at the right moment, how they happen to have oxygen available (oxy-acetylene equipment is possibly a good starting point), and why they think of using it, but the actual mechanics of the robbery can probably be left to players, when they realise that the opportunity is there. Once the crime is committed, circumstances conspire to strand the adventurers in the town. How will they get the money out of Monaco? How will they evade the gendarmes? Make things really tough, and remember that Monaco uses French law, and has the guillotine ready for murderers. Useful references are the films Rififi, The Getaway, The Split, and Reservoir Dogs, and E.W. Hornungs "Raffles" stories.
The Poison Belt episode caused enormous insurance losses. Now (any time from 1913 onwards) one of the leading etheric physicists claims that the ether density is slowly increasing again. Is he mistaken? Is the world endangered? Why is someone systematically dumping insurance shares? The adventurers are 'Names', investors in one of the insurance syndicates that make up Lloyds of London. Like all Names they have agreed to unlimited personal liability if their syndicate runs into debt. They face ruin if there is another crisis that causes as much damage as the 1913 incident.
The Earth moves through the ether at 1850 miles per second. Could it be possible to harness this motion as a limitless source of energy? An eccentric Belgian scientist claims that he has the key to this power, and will sell it to the highest bidder; the opening offer he's looking for is a hundred thousand pounds. Has he made a genuine breakthrough, or is it a case of mistaken ideas or deliberate fraud?
NB: The title for this segment was suggested by an excellent novel by A. Bertram Chandler. See section 5.1 for some other ideas on direct use of the ether's energy.
The Earth and solar system move through the ether, but from our point of view it seems that an etheric gale is blowing past at 1850 miles per second. Ectoplasm is an interaction between our world and the ether; could it be generated mechanically, to allow the construction of a sailing ship of space? An ether sail needn't be efficient; a tiny fraction of etheric force would suffice, and might be easier to handle than the full gale. Tacking and other manoeuvres could be difficult, but with sufficient ingenuity anything is possible.
Forgotten Futures II contains details of a "scientific romance solar system" that might easily be adapted to the Challenger universe. The FF2 spaceship design rules can be used unchanged; simply assume that the engines described in its worldbook generate "ether sails", and that ships use a combination of the thrust of the ether and the pull of gravity to manoeuvre.
For more elaborately described (but somewhat different) ether spaceship technology see G.D.W.'s Space 1889 RPG. See also my article The D.M.'s Guide To The Galaxy, White Dwarf issue 26, and the novel Star Winds by Barrington J. Bayley .
"Good afternoon, comrades. Two years ago a Latvian scientist named Theodore Nemor demonstrated a so-called disintegration machine to the representatives of various governments. After some negotiation he agreed to the proposals of our representatives, and consented to deliver the machine, and his personal knowledge of its operating principles, to our glorious Motherland.
"Unfortunately Nemor made the mistake of trusting reactionary elements, the so-called scientist Challenger and a running-dog journalist lackey, and was murdered by the British before he could fulfil his agreement. The machine was held by the capitalists, while their warmongering scientists attempted to discover its secrets. Evidently they failed, since the machine has recently been returned to storage in a warehouse on an army base outside London.
"Your mission, should you decide to accept, is to recover the disintegrator for our glorious Motherland. I trust, comrades, that anyone who does not wish to accept has developed a healthy appetite for salt..."
The adventurers are Russian agents, and must cope with the exotic
capitalist temptations of 1930 Britain ("Look, Comrade, this tap has
hot water in it!"), as well as the army, burglar alarms, guard dogs,
and any other complications a sadistic referee cares to add.
5.0 The Living Planetback to contents
Today everyone knows that our planet is alive; the evidence is overwhelming. In the 1920s things were very different. For its time Challenger's "World Echidna" theory was bizarre, and apparently insane. It just happened to be correct, a triumph of flawed logic that stumbled upon the right conclusions.
Challenger reasoned that the Earth is a slightly flattened sphere, so that the distance from the Equator to the centre of the Earth is greater than the distance from either Pole to the centre of the Earth. If the core of the Earth were truly molten, the Poles would be hotter than the Equator; since they are not, the core cannot be molten. If the core is not molten, something else must cause earthquakes, volcanoes, and other geological phenomena.
It would be tedious to explain all the errors in this argument; by far the most important are the facts that the Poles are only slightly flattened, and that in any case temperature was supposed to be related to depth underground, not to distance from the centre of the Earth. Regardless of the inner nature of the Earth, the temperature of the surface is almost entirely a result of heat received from the Sun; the Poles are cold because they are at an angle to the Sun's rays, so that any given area receives much less heat than an equivalent area on the Equator.
Challenger disliked the accepted theory, despite the fact that Maple White Land was created by volcanism, and looked for an alternative, deciding that the underground heat, volcanoes, earthquakes, and other effects must be caused by something comparatively close to the surface.
How Challenger came to believe that the underlying cause was life is a mystery; it is entirely possible that he started out with completely different ideas. One theory popular in psychic circles suggests that Challenger's intuition (in this and in several other instances) was in fact a form of extra-sensory perception, which led him to make wild but correct guesses from inadequate data. The first definite hint of life is a sketch in his notebooks, made some time in late 1928 or early 1929 (17_GLOBE.GIF). Whatever the truth, even his most trusted associates knew nothing of his ideas until the eventual discovery of the so-called 'twitching rock', a layer of grey scum-permeated stone, several hundred yards thick, which literally squirmed in response to hammer blows and drilling. The nature of this material, now known as Challengerite, is discussed in more detail below. Under it was the vulnerable inner structure, the living flesh of our planet. Where others might have proceeded slowly, taking samples and experimenting with progressively greater stimuli, Challenger boldly (and perhaps foolishly) decided to go all-out for an immediate reaction, and arranged to plunge a sharp artesian drill deep into the flesh of the World-Echidna.
Challenger undoubtedly expected there to be some response; it is doubtful that even he guessed the full magnitude of what was to come. Mr. Peerless Jones has vividly described the discovery that the drill was about to collapse into the shaft, and the subsequent race to flee the eruption that followed [WS]. His account makes one assumption that may be inaccurate, and can never be checked; he says "We had not gone thirty paces from the shaft when far down in the depths my iron dart shot into the nerve ganglion of old Mother Earth...", but all that is really known is that the equipment seemed to be ready to fall when they were in the shaft, and that the Earth reacted approximately sixteen minutes later, the time needed to reach the surface from the bottom of Challenger's shaft. The equipment possibly collapsed well before they reached the surface, and the response may have taken some time to develop.
"...both of us were swept off our feet as by a cyclone and swirled along the grass, revolving round and round like two curling stones upon an ice rink. At the same time our ears were assailed by the most horrible yell that ever yet was heard." [WS]
Jones' summary of the results of the experiment simplifies some details. The first effect has been widely described as a shriek or roar, but an organism living in airless conditions several miles underground cannot plausibly have a mechanism for the production of sound. The noise was probably inanimate; the air in the shaft, eight miles deep, was suddenly compressed by pressure from below, and resonated as it passed through various choke points of the lift system. The result was a combination of infrasound and audible frequencies, which shook the area around the excavation and was heard at least thirty miles away.
"When several separate pellets are placed in a blow-pipe they still shoot forth in their order and separately from each other. So the fourteen lift cages appeared one after the other in the air..." [WS]
As air left the shaft it blew out the lift cages, which crashed to earth in a radius of five to ten miles from the pit. Fortunately it was too early in the year for many holiday makers to be on the beaches between Worthing and Chichester, or casualties might have been very heavy. Miraculously no-one was hurt by any of the cages, although insurance companies in the area were inundated with claims for damage caused by flying debris. It has been estimated that if all were genuine there must have been several tons of scrap iron and tools lying on top of the lift cages. One particularly impudent claimant produced a piece of machinery which had supposedly smashed through the roof of his greenhouse; on close inspection, it was found to be part of an old mangle. One of the cages landed on power cables and blacked out part of Chichester. Four disappeared; three were subsequently found in the sea during mine sweeping operations in 1942-3, the last has never been located, but is probably somewhere under the coastal sands.
The geyser that followed consisted of an aromatic hydrocarbon material smelling like "the distilled essence of skunk, garlic, cabbage, and old socks", to quote one of the journalists it soaked. This material is believed to be the principal body fluid of the World-Echidna; its nature and functions are also described in more detail below. It is probable that the amount involved was relatively small, compared to the size of the shaft; the best estimates put it at five hundred to a thousand cubic yards, weighing nearly as many tons, but fortunately atomised into fine droplets by the time it returned to Earth. It is similar to the slime of Challengerite, which surrounded the base of the shaft, and it seems likely that it was released as part of the process that closed the shaft, then squeezed out like an enormous length of toothpaste as it collapsed.
Within hours every active volcano in Europe erupted, fortunately without fatalities. Further afield, there was volcanic activity in South America, Japan, Hawaii, and the United States. It has subsequently been learned that Mount Erebus, in Antarctica, also erupted at about this time. Days later shocks were still being felt in many areas, and an earthquake in China killed several hundred, while avalanches in Switzerland claimed nine lives. There is no proof, of course, that Challenger's experiment was responsible for these later incidents.
A few weeks later Challenger was asked to give evidence at an emergency session of the League Of Nations. When questioned, he admitted that it might be possible to stimulate the World Echidna and deliberately trigger volcanoes or earthquakes. The second 1929 revision of the Geneva Convention banned all forms of "geological warfare", its language strongly implying that any repetition of the Hengist Down experiment might in itself be regarded as an act of war. This decision has been reflected in many subsequent treaties; for example, while the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty required all signatories to perform their tests underground, it also stated that the maximum depth permissible was one mile in geologically stable areas, one half mile in areas where the crust might be unusually thin. Deep oil wells are also monitored carefully, in case they trigger a reaction; for example, in the 1980s Iraqi engineers dug deep shafts along the Iran-Iraq border, although any rational assessment of the situation would suggest that both countries were likely to be hurt by such an experiment. Destruction of these deep drilling rigs was one of the goals of Operation Desert Storm, and is believed to have been completed successfully.
Looking back from the 1990s, it's difficult to believe that Challenger's dramatic demonstration (and the earlier near-extinction of the whales and dolphins) did not immediately lead to general acceptance of the truth, and formation of today's conservation movements. Some ideas are evidently too big to be digested quickly, and text books published as late as the 1950s still presented old ideas of geology and the formation of our world. Nevertheless, the idea of a living planet slowly gained ground as supporting evidence emerged from various fields, and began to enter the public consciousness.
Paradoxically, one factor that delayed general acceptance was the idea's enthusiastic adoption by various fringe cults and extremist groups, such as the Druids (not, as often claimed, an ancient tradition; the current British incarnation of this belief only dates back to the 19th century). They already worshipped the Earth, and it was easy to make a mental shift to the idea that it was literally alive. Later the Nazis jumped onto this bandwagon; the idea fitted in well with Hitler's vision of the State as Father-God, and the Earth as Mother-Goddess. Unfortunately this concept was mainly used to justify the Nazi assertion that the living Earth must be cleansed of "The harmful bacteria of Judaism and the mould of Communism". The sincerity of this belief can be judged by the fact that the Nazis were also prepared to invest time and money into Horbinger's "World Ice" theory, and various "Hollow Earth" theories (see section 8.0) which were obviously made untenable by the existence of the World Echidna. In the Soviet Union news of the Earth's life was suppressed for many years, as "Capitalist Science"; Challenger's brushes with the Soviet authorities, especially in the matter of Nemor's disintegration machine, did little to endear his work to Communism, and "Materialist Geology" was official doctrine until the early 1960s, although translations of Challenger's papers were circulated as samizdat publications in the thirties. It's interesting to note that the Soviet government was signatory to treaties against deep drilling some years before official recognition of our planet's nature.
Edward and Enid Malone did much to bring the environmental aspects of these matters into the public eye in the 1930s and post-war years, but their views on spiritualism were often held against them, and ultimately proved an embarrassment to the environmental movement; although they were active behind the scenes in the founding (and funding) of the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, and Friends Of The Earth, their names have all but disappeared from the official records of these organisations.
Even with hindsight, it's hard to estimate how much difference these events made to environmentalism. Even before Hengist Down there was concern about pollution and endangered species; if the world were not alive, we might still have seen similar organisations develop. It's doubtful that they would be as widespread or as effective as those we know, but no-one can ever be sure.
One unlikely development has ensured that memories of the Hengist Down
experiment remain fresh. Peerless Jones' autobiography` Adventures of
an Artesian Engineer was reprinted in the 1970s, and was promptly
purchased for the cinema. Most readers will be familiar with the
series of films that followed; Raiders Of The Lost Shaft, Peerless
Jones And The Last Cascade, and Peerless Jones And The Tunnel Of Doom.
Any resemblance to Jones' real life is entirely coincidental, although
Michael Cule's portrayal of Challenger in the third film has been
commended by those who remember the Professor, and was nominated for
an Academy Award.
5.1 Biology Of The World-Echidnaback to contents
For obvious reasons (not least the Geneva Convention, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and parts of successive SALT treaties) there are serious obstacles to any study of our living planet, but much has been learned from seismic evidence, geology in general, radar observations of volcanoes, and analogy from other living creatures. It should be emphasised that what follows includes some highly speculative elements!
World-Echidnae are classified as ethervores, creatures capable of extracting energy from their motion through the ether. This process is inefficient, making huge body size essential. A small ethervore can barely support its own metabolism; larger specimens (such as our world) have an energy surplus which can be used for reproduction, growth, and other functions.
In its earliest stage the ethervore is a "spore" (See 18_SPORE.GIF), weighing about 30 pounds, propelled into space by a volcanic explosion then accelerated by hundreds of ectoplasmic filaments which somehow interact with the ether. Once in interstellar space the spore accelerates to its maximum speed (or rather, slows relative to the ether), then presumably becomes dormant. Undoubtedly most spores die, starved of energy, or are destroyed by natural forces. A tiny proportion survive to encounter the conditions needed for growth.
When spores hit the warm gas cloud around an evolving proto-star, they extend filaments which act as a braking parachute. The filaments are electrically charged and accumulate molecules of dust and gas, used as building materials. As the World-Echidna slows, its velocity relative to the ether increases, and more energy becomes available for growth.
For the next few hundred thousand years the ethervore's life is precariously balanced. It must slowly accumulate matter while hoarding its energy reserves, and regularise its orbit to avoid drifting off into interstellar space. Slowly it develops into a gigantic organism, coated in a layer of dust and debris. Gradually its energy reserves increase, and it can take some control of its environment; for instance, it can melt parts of its crust to incandescence, using the gas released to change its course and speed.
Eventually the World-Echidna is so large that it attracts matter by gravitation, and its future growth is then assured. Convection currents in the crust convey nutrients from the surface to the underlying organism, which uses them to construct more body matter. Obviously there are potential problems; if growth is too fast, the organism can be crushed by the material it accumulates. There is reason to believe that the World-Echidna that became Venus may have suffered this fate.
As the World-Echidna matures it can start to produce spores of its own, which are ejected into space by volcanoes as described above. This appears to be the main goal of a World-Echidna's life cycle; everything else, such as the evolution of an atmosphere and the eventual development of life and intelligence on its surface, is irrelevant to the organism.
The general structure of our own World-Echidna will be familiar to most readers. The outer crust of the Earth is a thick layer of rock, the external shell accumulated by the World-Echidna as it formed. This material is primarily a protective shell, but is also used as a store for elements which the organism only needs occasionally, or wishes to keep out of its "flesh". For example, most of the copper in the crust was probably excreted many millions of years ago. The crust is endlessly recycled by the processes of plate tectonics, its material feeding into channels of molten lava (heated by etheric energy accumulated by the World-Echidna) which allow the organism to add its wastes and recover any substances which it needs. In the nineteenth century it was believed that the material underlying the plates was more molten rock, but this assumption was incorrect; while there are tubes of molten lava, some of them twenty or thirty miles wide, much of the Earth's interior is comparatively cool. Most volcanoes are simply vents for the excess pressure of these lava channels, but a small proportion are linked to deep tunnels which convey the World-Echidna's spores to the surface, and act as gigantic cannon to propel them into space.
Challenger found that in non-volcanic areas normal rock ended at a depth of about eight miles, where he encountered the inner layer of the crust. This material (Challengerite) consists of a spongy mass of branching carbon filaments, recently discovered to be tubular Fullerene molecules, permeated by an extremely dense oily fluid, an aromatic cocktail of dozens of carbon and silicon compounds. This material formed the "shivering rock" reported by Malone and Jones:
'Funny-looking stuff,' said the chief engineer, passing his hand over the nearest section of rock. He held it to the light and showed that it was glistening with a curious slimy scum. 'There have been shiverings and tremblings down here...' [WS]
This movement is a relatively simple electrochemical process, and has been reproduced with samples collected from the Hengist Down excavation. Low DC voltages applied to the soaked carbon "sponge" make it contract, much like a muscle; the maximum change in volume is about 0.5%, which, when cubic miles are affected, is ample to cause enormous pressure changes in the crust above this material. The collapse of the Hengist Down shaft was a localised affair, probably the equivalent of a reflex reaction. Earthquakes are the most obvious result of more general contractions, but from the World-Echidna's viewpoint they are probably an unnoticed by-product of the continual recycling of the crust. No-one is entirely sure how the movement is controlled, and it may be an entirely automatic process, a wave of electrical change spreading through the "sponge", like the regular contractions of the intestines.
The crust ends abruptly, after a few hundred feet, and underneath is a thin layer of the same fluid, covering the inner "flesh" of the World-Echidna:
'It was a most extraordinary and terrifying sight. The floor consisted of some greyish material, glazed and shiny, which rose and fell in slow palpitation. The throbs were not direct, but gave the impression of a gentle ripple or rhythm, which ran across the surface. This surface itself was not entirely homogeneous, but beneath it, seen as through ground glass, there were dim whitish patches or vacuoles, which varied constantly in shape and size. We stood all three gazing spell-bound at this extraordinary sight.' [WS]
At this point our definite knowledge of the World-Echidna ends; all that we really know is that this "flesh" is sensitive to light, and most certainly noticed the impact of a sharp drill. The results have been described. Seismic evidence suggests that there are dense inner organs, hundreds of miles across, much deeper in the World-Echidna's body, but exact details are unknown.
The World-Echidna is probably not intelligent, in any sense that we would understand. Psychics have failed to detect anything that might correspond to a planetary consciousness, and there is every reason to believe that it has roughly the same level of mentation as its namesake, the sea urchin, its behaviour governed by the urge to feed, reproduce, and avoid unpleasant stimuli. Of course this view could be mistaken; perhaps there is a vast intelligence at work deep beneath our feet, totally uninterested in our puny intellects, communing with its brethren by etheric waves or some unimaginably slow form of telepathy.
The welfare of humanity is totally dependent on the continued health of our living planet. Its reflex reaction to an injury might in itself be enough to destroy civilisation; a few hundred volcanoes erupting simultaneously could upset the global climate, accelerating the greenhouse effect or plunging us into another Ice Age. It's fortunate that the Hengist Down experiment didn't trigger a response on this scale. If it were to die, the effects are totally unknowable, but its death-spasms might spell the end of the human race. Fortunately this seems unlikely; it has survived for millions of years, and must have experienced asteroid collisions and other events that would dwarf anything mankind can devise. Nevertheless there have been world-wide extinctions, cataclysmic events on a scale that implies that it is occasionally abnormally active. This activity may have been the result of injuries.
Several scientists have speculated that there might be parasites and predators that prey on World-Echidnae. While it's difficult to imagine such creatures, we've only known about our own World-Echidna for seventy years; there is still no proof that any other planet has a similar living core.
As emphasised earlier, most of this section is speculation, and the
reality may be very different from our beliefs. One iconoclastic
theory, put forward by Sir Fred Hoyle, suggests that the most widely
accepted ideas about the World-Echidna's life cycle are wrong, that it
played no real part in the formation of the Earth, and that it is in
fact a parasite, slowly devouring our world like a worm in an apple.
Eventually it will hatch and migrate back into space, leaving the
broken shell of the Earth behind. Far fetched, perhaps, but only a
little less believable than the most widely accepted theories. It is
unlikely that we will know more this century. In the longer term, NASA
plans to attempt to intercept a spore in space, and has considered a
deep drilling experiment on Mars. Both schemes are strongly opposed by
most environmental groups.
5.2 Adventures On (And In) The Living Planetback to contents
The resources needed for experiments in this field make it unlikely that adventurers will ever get really close to the living core of our world. However...
In the wake of Challenger's experiment, a distinguished oceanographer wonders if it might be possible to reach the World-Echidna through fissures in the ocean bed. Of course he needs backers, and the help of suitably skilled scientists and engineers. What he finds is up to the referee...
Something is wrong with the World Echidna; volcanoes are erupting daily, and earthquakes have devastated major cities. The crisis seems to be intensifying by the day. Seismic records show that the trouble is at its worst deep below the Central Australian Desert. In response to this threat, an international team of scientists has developed a mole machine, which can dig its way down to the source of the disturbance in a matter of days; no-one is sure that the trouble can be cured, but the alternative doesn't bear thinking about. The adventurers have skills that are badly needed; will they volunteer for this suicidally desperate mission?
Scientists have always believed that the Moon is dead, but suddenly it seems to have come to life. Volcanoes are erupting at several points, and the crust is breaking apart. Could the Moon be a gigantic chrysalis, about to transform into a new stage in a World-Echidna's life? If it is, what of the Earth and the other planets, and what (if anything) can the adventurers do about it?
Aliens arrive on Earth, claiming that the World-Echidna has summoned
them by means of an etheric message, relayed by their own living
world. They claim that disintegration experiments are polluting the
ether, and slowly poisoning the World-Echidna, and order the human
race to cease all use of etheric machines. In return, they will teach
us to talk to the World-Echidna directly. Are the aliens sincere, or
do they have an ulterior motive, and how will they enforce their
demands? See "The Day The Earth Stood Still" and other 1950s SF, and
the novelette "If The Stars Are Gods" (Greg Benford ); GURPS
Atomic Horror (Steve Jackson Games) also has some useful ideas.
6.0 Life In The Skyback to contents
"I say, wingco, I think that the Jerries are circling behind those
bally flying jellyfish!"
"Well spotted, Algy! All aircraft, bandits at ten o'clock!"
[Capt. W.E. Johns - Biggles Defies The Swastika, 1941]
It's a truism of biology that life will expand into every niche it can possibly occupy. We dwell on a living planet, and there are plants and animals in the deep sea, in the most desolate desert, at the Poles, and on the highest mountain. But until the 1920s no-one imagined that there could be living creatures in the upper reaches of the atmosphere.
The pioneer of aerobiology was Mr. Joyce-Armstrong, a British aviator and inventor who set a series of altitude records between 1912 and 1924, and developed many of the safety and navigation aids used in the aircraft of his day.
Joyce-Armstrong's story is well known; the 1954 film biography, starring David Niven, is reasonably accurate, based on diaries and other papers published by his family in 1937. His portrayal in the recent Peerless Jones And The Tunnel Of Doom is pure fiction; he never met Jones or Challenger, and was killed years before the Hengist Down experiment reached its climax.
To recap his story, a series of aviators died or disappeared between 1920 and 1924. All were attempting high-altitude flights; a common feature of the incidents was the recovery of the aircraft, with the pilot's body missing or horribly mutilated. Where others might have assumed that the pilots had somehow been thrown out of their aircraft, Joyce-Armstrong guessed that something had pulled them out. His aircraft was equipped to test this idea. Taking off from Devizes in Wiltshire, he flew West towards Salisbury Plain and encountered the Northern fringes of Britain's largest aerial "jungle". He was lucky enough to see some of the larger aerial fauna. On this occasion he escaped successfully, but on his next flight he returned to the jungle without adequate protection; his notebook and other effects were subsequently found near the village of Withyham, on the Kent and Sussex border (see 19_SSI.GIF for these and other sites of interest in Southern England). It seems likely that he flew through the main body of the "jungle", where several predators attacked in a pack, and was picked off before he could escape; his notes partially confirm this, but their contents have been documented elsewhere [HH].
The Joyce-Armstrong manuscript was widely regarded as a hoax in
extremely poor taste, or possibly a description of a hallucination,
but it happened to be published at a time when several designers were
experimenting with closed cockpits and more powerful engines. While
the main aim of these improvements was increased speed, there were
obvious advantages in protection against the so-called "Horror of the
Heights" described by Joyce-Armstrong. His initial descriptions were
confirmed by eyewitness accounts and still photographs in 1924-6, and
by film in 1927, with the first live aeroplankton captured in 1928.
Larger species were immobilised and studied in the late thirties, but
even today none of the major aerofauna have been successfully brought
down to Earth.
6.1 The Aerofaunaback to contents
Since 1970 the Aerofauna have been classified as a separate biological kingdom. While there are superficial resemblances to terrestrial and marine animal forms, these creatures represent a completely isolated evolutionary chain. Unfortunately there is no fossil record to confirm their exact relationships; specimens are crushed or disintegrate at low altitude, their cells imploding under pressure. Genetic typing shows that they are more closely related to each other than to any other living organism; the closest similarity is found in some marine protozoans, but even there the resemblance is not great. The most distinctive feature is the presence of a blue-grey photosynthetic pigment in all cells, even in animal-like species; this pigment is most efficient in the higher UV frequencies, and has not been found in any terrestrial or aquatic species. Uniquely, a by-product of this process is hydrogen, used for buoyancy.
Today approximately 250 species are known, ranging from microscopic aeroplankton to the mighty Aeromomedusa Leviathan of the East African aerial jungle. Nineteen species are commonly found over Britain and Europe. All are superficially similar to protozoans or invertebrates; none have developed bones, although some remarkably strong lightweight structures have taken their place. There are generally considered to be four main phyla, all named after the nearest marine or terrestrial equivalent; aeroplankton, aeromedusae, aeromesozoa, and aeromollusca.
The larger species retain photosynthetic pigments in their cells, but cannot generate enough hydrogen to stay aloft. The aeromedusae and aeromesozoa feed on aeroplankton for extra energy and hydrogen, and are in turn prey to the aeromollusca. In ecological terms, their distribution represents a typical pyramid of biomass; roughly twenty tons of aeroplankton per ton of primary consumer (aeromedusae and aeromesozoa), and about the same proportion of primary consumers to predators (aeromollusca).
'The air in front of me had lost its crystal clearness. It was full of long, ragged wisps of something which I can only compare to very fine cigarette-smoke. It hung about in wreaths and coils, turning and twisting slowly in the sunlight. As the monoplane shot through it, I was aware of a faint taste of oil upon my lips, and there was a greasy scum upon the woodwork of the machine. Some infinitely fine organic matter appeared to be suspended in the atmosphere.' [HH]
The aeroplankton (20_PLANK.GIF) are similar to unicellular organisms of the ocean, but their photosynthetic pigment is specialised for high-energy UV radiation, splitting water vapour into oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen is mostly used to construct foods from carbon dioxide, but a small surplus is retained in vacuoles inside the cell, buoying the aeroplankton and allowing it to fly. Some other raw materials are extracted from volcanic and meteoric dust. Because hydrogen production is only possible by day, and hydrogen can readily diffuse through protoplasm, the aeroplankton rise during the day and fall by night, and all the other organisms of the sky must rise and fall with them. Starting at about 38000 ft at dawn, they rise to around 45000 ft by sunset, then slowly descend overnight (the range is greater in the tropics). The aeroplankton layer is usually less than five thousand feet thick, but this is very variable. From the ground it is virtually invisible, a thin mist so diffuse that its effect on astronomical photography wasn't apparent until these creatures were known to exist. The main European species are Aeroplankton Joyce- Armstrong, the common British variety, and the slightly smaller Aeroplankton Challengeri, sometimes found over Britain but more common in warmer areas, with another eight similar but rarer species found throughout the European range.
Aeroplankton can't perform any type of attack, but particularly dense clouds can explode (Effect 10, radius 10 ft) if ignited. Most clouds are too diffuse to explode.
'...fantastic coils of vapour like material, which turned and twisted with great speed, flying round and round at such a pace that the eyes could hardly follow them. Some of these ghost-like creatures were twenty or thirty feet long, but it was difficult to tell their girth, for their outline was so hazy that it seemed to fade away into the air around them. These air-snakes were of a very light grey or smoke colour, with some darker lines within, which gave the impression of a definite organism...' [HH]
The aeromesozoa (21_WORM.GIF) are colonial organisms resembling ghostly worms. They consists of thousands of aeroplankton-like cells connected by a loose mesh of fine filaments. Aeroplankton are sucked into the "mouth", and torn apart as food. Most of their hydrogen escapes, but the mean density of the air between the mesh is lower than that outside the organism, providing enough lift to keep the animal airborne. Specimens up to 50 ft long have been reported, massing 15-20 lb. Only five species are known, all with global range, and all apparently harmless. They are seasonal migrants, following the sun between the hemispheres; since there is considerable doubt as to the species originally observed by Joyce-Armstrong, all five species are named for later zoologists. They do not have eyes, but are sensitive to changes in light intensity.
Specimens have been observed inside the digestive tracts of aeromedusae. While early reports suggested that they had been eaten, there is no real evidence to support this theory; it is possible that they are parasites, entering the guts of the Aeromedusae to steal aeroplankton and hydrogen.
BODY , MIND [-], SOUL [-]
No attacks, burns readily (Effect 10) if ignited but does not explode.
Wounds: C[ ]
Most attacks can penetrate these creatures without any harm; if cut in two, the halves fly away as new animals. Due to the presence of hydrogen in their bodies all fire-based attacks have double Effect.
'...a jelly-fish such as sails in our summer seas, bell-shaped... far larger, I should judge, than the dome of St. Paul's. It was of a light pink colour veined with a delicate green, but the whole huge fabric so tenuous that it was but a fairy outline against the dark blue sky. It pulsated with a delicate and regular rhythm. From it there depended two long, drooping green tentacles, which swayed slowly backward and forwards.' [HH]
The large aeromedusae (22_JFISH.GIF) are superficially similar to jellyfish, their bodies built to trap aeroplankton on long adhesive tentacles. Once drawn inside the main bell of the animal, the aeroplankton are digested, their hydrogen accumulating in its gas bags. They can grow to impressive sizes, and may mass up to 100-150 lb if well fed. Naturally their life-style leaves little need for intelligence, and they are content to drift with the wind and the aeroplankton. If attacked they can use their adhesive tentacles defensively, but they are rarely able to escape. The gasbag cells of these creatures can be up to a foot wide, but are as thin as the skin of a soap bubble. Seven species have been encountered above Europe, differing mainly in size and coloration; the number of tentacles is variable. All are harmless to man, although their explosive gas is a potential hazard to aircraft. The most common British species is Aeromedusa Joyce-Armstrong, although there is some reason to believe that he may have actually observed a larger and rarer form, Aeromedusa Santos-Dumont.
BODY , MIND [-], SOUL [-]
No attacks, but explodes with Effect 20, radius 30 ft, if ignited.
Wounds: B[ ] F[ ] I[ ] C[ ]
Due to the presence of hydrogen in their bodies all fire-based attacks have double Effect.
'...it appeared to be hundreds of square feet in size. Though fashioned of some transparent, jelly-like substance, it was none the less of much more definite outline and solid consistence than anything which I had seen before. There were more traces, too, of a physical organization, especially two vast shadowy, circular plates upon either side, which may have been eyes, and a perfectly solid white projection between them which was as curved and cruel as the beak of a vulture...'
"...On the upper curve of its huge body there were three great projections which I can only describe as enormous bubbles, and I was convinced as I looked at them that they were charged with some extremely light gas which served to buoy up the misshapen and semi-solid mass in the rarefied air...'
'...So elastic and gelatinous was it that never for two successive minutes was it the same shape, and yet each change made it more threatening and loathsome than the last...' [HH]
The final denizens of the sky are the aeromollusca (23_HOROR.GIF), predators that feed on the other large aerofauna; their anatomy is far more complex, resembling that of carnivorous slugs and snails, and their cellular structure is relatively dense, although still much softer than any large terrestrial animal. Most species have hard "armour" plates and beaks, all as strong as horn. Typically they are equipped with several tentacles, using them for locomotion and for feeding. All have eyes, a keen sense of smell, and a powerful electrical sense analogous to that of some sharks. All are superbly camouflaged, which is surprising because they prey on animals with no eyes; while naturalists have occasionally observed these creatures fighting, the degree of camouflage exhibited suggests that their prey may include an unknown species with better visual powers, or that they evolved to avoid some other predator, also unknown. There has been some considerable speculation about the nature of this predator; a larger form of aeromollusc seems most likely, but it's possible that one of the other phyla has produced an unknown predatory form.
BODY , MIND , SOUL 
Tentacles, Effect 10, Damage A:B, B:F, C:I
Beak, Effect 15, Damage A:F, B:I/C, C:K
Explodes with Effect 15, radius 10 ft, if the body is ignited; the slime coating the tentacles is not flammable, and it instantly withdraws them from anything hot before the hydrogen is ignited.
Wounds: B[ ] F[ ] I[ ] I[ ] I[ ] C[ ]
Anything struck by the tentacles is grabbed (on a B or C result) and pulled up to the beak; the victim has one round to overcome the creature's Brawling skill and break free, and is attacked by the beak in the following round. It can lift a maximum of half its BODY (eg BODY 7), which includes any undigested food in its gut; food is digested at 1 BODY per 1D6 hours. Food that is too heavy to lift is torn apart; for example, a human victim's head and limbs might each have BODY 1.
Because of the amorphous nature of their flesh, halve the Effect of
bullets and other piercing attacks; shotguns have normal Effect, as do
knives and other weapons capable of slashing. Due to the presence of
hydrogen in their bodies all fire-based attacks have double Effect.
See the adventures for more on their attack methods
6.2 The Aerofauna Todayback to contents
While the aerofauna were originally considered fascinating freaks, of interest only to scientists, they soon proved a considerable problem to aviators. By 1928 aircraft were regularly entering their domain. Accidents were inevitable, and many pilots of the thirties reported collisions with aeromedusae; a number of mysterious crashes can probably be blamed on larger and more solid aeromollusca. Equipping propeller-driven aircraft with sharpened wing edges and steel airscrews reduced the casualty rate considerably, and avoidance of the danger altitudes helped even more. Balloons and airships were also at risk; balloons, in particular, have repeatedly been attacked (for want of a better word) by amorous aeromedusae.
In 1930 Professor Challenger designed and obtained funds for a semi-rigid airship, the JA-1 (Joyce-Armstrong 1; 24_JA1.GIF). Years ahead of its time, it could fly at 55 MPH and was tested to 55,000 ft. When fully fuelled it could lift 3.2 tons, over and above the weight of the airship itself, but this gave no safety margin; about a half-ton of equipment, the crew of two, and up to four passengers were a more typical load. Equipment carried at different times included etheric, magnetic, and electromagnetic sensors, telescopes, cameras, and nets. Like most early semi-rigid airships (often called "blimps"), it had to fly forward to scoop up air and keep the envelope around the gas-bags rigid. Minimum speed was about 15 MPH, giving a theoretical maximum endurance of 4 days. This was a serious limitation, since it meant that the airship could not hover noiselessly. Another drawback was a lack of cabin pressurisation, which meant that the occupants had to use oxygen equipment and wear heavy clothing, and restricted flights to a real maximum of about 24-36 hours. While it flew at least twenty-five times between 1932 and 1937, these problems and serious gas-bag leakage meant that it was scrapped in 1938.
After the Second World War radar was used to route aircraft above or around the aerial "jungles". Needless to say, a great deal of effort has gone into making sure that aircraft are not mistaken for aerofauna, or vice versa, but military stealth systems have undoubtedly been built with the goal of imitating these creatures. There is good reason to believe that the USA and USSR experimented with spy balloons disguised as aeromedusae during the Cold War, and it is certain that the CIA fitted time-delay cameras to a large number of these creatures near Russian air space in the 1960s. The natural result was a series of fighter sweeps against "suspicious" aerial jungles, with major disruption of the habitat.
In 1973-5 the USAAF built fighter prototypes equipped to climb into an aerial jungle then scoop up aeroplankton as fuel. Theoretically a fighter with this equipment could fly to altitude then loiter there indefinitely, ready to attack enemy aircraft. Ignoring the obvious environmental problems, the idea was fatally flawed; the scoops were either too small to gather enough aeroplankton, or so large that their air resistance slowed the aircraft. Fighters deliberately flying in the aerial jungles were bound to run into the larger aerofauna eventually; when this happened the jets usually flamed out, and in at least one instance exploded violently. Finally, the over-sized air intakes were incompatible with any sort of stealth capability. The project was abandoned after approximately $1.2 billion had been spent.
Most of the aerofauna are now listed as endangered species; decades of aviation, pollution, and the depletion of the ozone layer have all taken their toll, and between 1930 and 1990 there has been an estimated 80% reduction in numbers. So far as is known there have been no extinctions, since all of the species have wide distribution, but there may only be a few hundred aeromollusca left over Europe, and today's aeromedusae are much smaller than those encountered before World War 2. Although pollution controls may eventually bring some relief, their future is uncertain.
Paul Veroner Monoplane
'The engine is a ten-cylinder rotary Robur working up to one hundred and seventy-five. It has all the modern improvements; enclosed fuselage, high-curved landing skids, brakes, gyroscopic steadiers, and three speeds, worked by an alteration of the angle of the planes upon the Venetian-blind principle.'[HH]
This high-winged 175 HP monoplane (included in 23_HOROR.GIF) shows the new aviation technology of the 1920s in a period of transition. It has ten hours endurance, a maximum ceiling of about 42,000 ft (7.9 miles), and a top speed of 75 MPH (100 MPH in a dive). It is extraordinarily stable, extremely quiet (apart from wind noise and mechanical noise from the engine; the exhaust is almost completely silent), and very strong. The wings are triple aerofoils resembling a modern wing with permanently extended forward and aft flaps; together with gyroscopic stabilisers, they ensure steady flight but reduce agility.
Within five years most of these innovations were forgotten; better pilot training and the quest for speed meant that stability was sacrificed in favour of manoeuvrability, while closed cockpits and the need for greater engine power made silencers a liability.
Aircraft: Paul Veroner Monoplane Length: 30 ft (9m) Maximum Width: 60 ft (18m) Capacity: .2 tons Maximum Speed: 100 MPH BODY: 15Notes: This aircraft is extremely easy to control in level or steadily climbing flight (+1 to Pilot skill), but its stabilisers make it difficult to manoeuvre sharply (-2 in any combat manoeuvre, evasive action, etc.)
JA-1 Semi-Rigid Airship
See the description above for history and more performance data. This dirigible has some features that make it unusually easy to fly; +1 to pilot skill. Unfortunately it uses flammable hydrogen for lift, does not have self-sealing gas bags, and must keep flying forward to maintain envelope rigidity. If one of the external engines fails the JA-1 will start to fly in circles; if both fail the envelope starts to collapse, squashing the inner ballonets (gas bags) and reducing lift. It's a long way down...
Length: 250 ft (75m) Maximum Width: 30 ft (9m) Length-Width Ratio: 8:1 Lift: 3.2 tons Maximum Speed: 55 MPH BODY: 20
Forgotten Futures I: The A.B.C. Files contains detailed futuristic
aircraft construction systems, which were mostly ignored in designing
these comparatively primitive craft.
6.3 Adventures In The Skyback to contents
See Section 3.4; this is essentially the same adventure idea with different problems. Zoos and private exhibitors would pay a fortune for any aerofauna, even relatively small specimens. Capturing something the size of St. Paul's Cathedral won't be easy, and it will take days or weeks to bring it down to low altitudes without killing it. Feeding is also likely to lead to difficulties, since the peculiar form of photosynthesis used by aeroplankton only works at high altitudes. Finally, how do you cage something that big?
1928. Mammoth Pictures has decided to make The Joyce-Armstrong Story, a stirring bio-pic based on the life of the aerial pioneer. Authentic footage of the aerofauna is essential; the most difficult shot will be an aeromollusc attacking a Paul Veroner monoplane. Unfortunately someone has to fly it, find a suitable aeromollusc, and arrange to be attacked, without endangering the camera crew or the stars. There's only one snag (apart from all the obvious ones); Mammoth Pictures is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, and will fold if the film isn't ready within a few days. Credit is very tight, and equipment (such as cameras and aircraft) is old, poorly maintained, and unlikely to be replaced if there's a problem.
With minor changes this can be set in 1954, with David Niven in the title role, or in the present day as second unit photography for Peerless Jones And The Tunnel Of Doom.
1935. British agents report that the Zeppelin airship factory is working extra shifts, although no new projects have been announced, and no structural steel has been transported to the factory. This suggests that they are working on something new; possibly simple barrage balloons for air defence, which might suggest that there are plans for war, possibly some other type of semi-rigid airship. Is it just a coincidence that German naturalists seem to be making an intensive study of aeromedusa migration routes over Britain, Europe and Scandinavia?
In conventional ecological terms a top predator is the ultimate
beneficiary of most food chains; examples include lions, crocodiles,
sharks, and man. In the sky the aeromollusca seem to have this role,
but naturalists have noted that they seem to be superbly camouflaged,
despite the fact that their prey is blind. For years there has been
speculation about an unknown predator of the skies, far more powerful
than the aeromollusca. Analysis of migration routes suggest that the
aeromolluscs seem to avoid certain areas, mostly over oceans, and that
these areas have an unusually large number of disappearing aircraft
and shipwrecks. Maybe the aeromolluscs are just avoiding bad weather,
but it's possible that something really nasty is waiting somewhere in
the region called the Bermuda Triangle...
7.0 Spiritualismback to contents
The 19th century saw an immense flowering of interest in spiritualism and psychic phenomena. In brief, spiritualism assumes that it is possible to communicate with the dead. It is not a new faith; most early cultures have some equivalent, and survival after death is, of course, an important tenet of most religions.
Modern spiritualism began with Margaret Fox, an American medium who could produce spirit "rappings" in answer to questions put to her. By the mid-1850s she was internationally famous, although she later admitted that she produced rapping noises by flexing her own joints. Spiritualists generally prefer to believe that she only did this when she was unable to achieve true rapport with the spirit world. She was followed by many other mediums, especially in Britain and America. Their common repertoire often included levitation (especially of tables and smaller inanimate objects), clairvoyance and clairaudience, speaking in tongues and with the voice of spirits, automatic writing, and the production of visual apparitions and ectoplasm. The movement gained many more followers during the First World War, and the subsequent influenza pandemic, when many millions of families were bereaved.
One result of the flowering of spiritualism was the foundation of many spiritualist churches. While most worshippers were entirely sincere, there were undoubtedly many fake or deluded pseudo-mediums. The religious ties of spiritualism, and the frequent unmasking of fakes, lead to bias in scientific studies of the matter. Many distinguished scientists rejected spiritualism completely, while reports from scientists with an interest in the matter were for a long time assumed to be the result of fraud, wishful thinking, or religious mania. Some of the scientists tarred with this brush included Sir William Crookes, Sir Oliver Lodge, Sir William Barrett, Lombroso, A.R. Wallace, Flammarion, Dr. Maupuis of Paris, and Professor G.E. Challenger.
"...It is really the religious side of this matter which interests me, and that is conspicuously wanting in the minds of these scientific men of the Continent..." [LM:9]
The twentieth century has seen a good deal of evidence for the reality of the ether (see section 4, and especially 4.3, above), and of other phenomena commonly associated with spiritualism. There is still a good deal of doubt about the real origin of these phenomena; basically, spiritualists claim a supernatural source, materialists believe that there are natural and psychological causes which are not related to survival after death.
Spiritualism is often confused with other forms of paranormal activity or study, ranging from a belief in Atlantis or a flat earth to black magic and witchcraft. While a tiny minority of spiritualists dabble in these fields, most react to them with horror or disdain.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a spiritualist; I am not. Since The Land Of Mist treats this belief as factual and scientifically provable, it would be unfair to his intentions to omit it. Since I am not qualified to discuss the religious aspects of spiritualism, I have chosen to concentrate on the "mechanics" of the subject, as presented in The Land Of Mist, with special reference to role playing, and to treat spiritualist concepts as part of the worldbook's background, without much discussion of their religious implications.
Doyle makes it clear that some psychic phenomena can be demonstrated experimentally, but suggests that scientists will be very reluctant to accept a supernatural explanation of these processes. The rest of this collection reflects this point of view. I have not attempted to cover fringe activities, such as magic.
Use of this aspect of the background is entirely optional, but it should be mentioned that spiritualism and other aspects of the paranormal are important in one of the scenarios accompanying this collection, and may affect others.
If there are any readers with a belief in spiritualism, I hope that
they will not be offended by my treatment of their faith, and trust
that they will at least enjoy The Land Of Mist.
7.1 Mediums And Psychic Phenomenaback to contents
Mediums differ greatly in their power and abilities. There is no such thing as a typical medium; at its lowest level mediumship is little more than susceptibility to psychic impressions and enhanced intuition, while the most powerful can produce visual and auditory phenomena, streams of ectoplasm, and temporarily solid matter. Most spiritualists claim that the spirit creates these phenomena, not the medium, although mediums are usually exhausted after any prolonged use of their abilities. A majority of mediums are women, but that may simply be because these abilities are sometimes linked to bereavement, and there are more widows than widowers.
Generally, experienced mediums are most likely to be able to produce spectacular phenomena, but the ability also seems to be linked to belief, religious commitment, and intent; those who try to use their powers for selfish ends, or for personal gain over and above the bare necessities of life, are likely to find that their abilites desert them when they are most needed.
Mediums almost always achieve their best results in the dark, or under dim red lighting. Brighter light and other colours create more powerful etheric vibrations, and seem to disrupt paranormal activities. Until the 1930s most fast photographic film was insensitive to red light, making it very difficult to record these phenomena as they occurred. The introduction of faster red and infra-red sensitive materials revolutionised scientific study of spiritualism, and led to the exposure of many fakes. However, there was soon ample evidence of genuine effects, photographed under conditions which ruled out fakery. After the Second World War infra-red image converters made it possible for observers to see perfectly under these conditions; while a few more fakes were eliminated, genuine phenomena were soon susceptible to closer analysis. Today image intensifiers, thermal imaging, computer image enhancement, and voice-print analysis have revolutionised these studies; it is now certain that something is going on, and the scientific debate mainly revolves around the source of phenomena, not their existence.
"...There is a spirit building up behind you. It is a man. He is a tall man -- six foot maybe. High forehead, eyes grey or blue, a long chin, brown moustache, lines on his face. Do you recognize him, friend?" [LM:2]
"...Some victim that he had driven to suicide got into the medium. He got the moneylender by the throat and it was a close thing for his life..." [LM:4]
The most common form of mediumship is exactly that; the medium acts as a medium, or channel, between the living and spirit worlds. Through her the spirits speak, and may also sometimes use her body to write or act. Sometimes the medium simply sees and hears the spirit; sometimes there is literal possession of the medium's body. Usually the medium must enter some sort of trance before these phenomena begin. Occasionally the voice of the spirit contact can be heard directly, rather than speaking through the mouth of the medium, or the spirit may communicate by knocks and other codes. This is most common if a seance is attended by several psychically sensitive individuals, but does not have a single medium in control.
Spirits almost always use the vocabulary and abilities of the medium, and the personality displayed is often obviously modified by the medium's ideas and preconceptions; for example, Red Indian and Chinese spirit guides rarely understand their native languages when they are filtered through the mind of the medium, since the medium doesn't understand them. They may also use phraseology or make jokes which are in part derived from the personality or preconceptions of the medium; for example:
"..Oh, what big man with beard! Mailey, Mister Mailey, I meet him before. He big Mailey, I little femaley..." [LM:4]
"Good day, Chief! How the squaw? How the papooses? Strange faces in wigwam to-night." [LM:4]
In the first of these examples, the pun uses a vocabulary which is obviously not derived from the spirit, an eight year old African child. In the second, the Red Indian spirit guide uses terms which are more appropriate to popular fiction about the Wild West. This mental filtering effect may explain the preponderance of Red Indian spirit guides, and the frequency with which the spirits of the famous or infamous appear to manifest; the medium may be interpreting something, that would otherwise be incomprehensible, in familiar terms.
Clairvoyance and clairaudience apart, common communication methods include raps and knocks, automatic writing (with a pen held by a trance medium, or a planchette - a small trolley bearing a pencil - controlled jointly by several participants), and the use of Ouija boards and other alphabet systems. These are most often seen at seances where none of the participants is a strong psychic. See 25_SEANC.GIF for pictures of this equipment.
'The tambourine had risen in the air, and the dot of luminous paint showed that it was circling round. Presently it descended and touched their heads each in turn. Then with a jingle it quivered down upon the table.' [LM:4]
'Several more (lights) had broken out. They were of different types, slow-moving clouds and little dancing sparks like glow-worms. At the same time both visitors were conscious of a cold wind which blew upon their faces. It was no delusion, for Enid felt her hair stream across her forehead.' [LM:4]
Physical effects produced at seances are similar to those attributed to poltergeists; movement of lightweight objects, and the appearance of small lights, often associated with other manifestations such as voices or cold winds. Under controlled conditions the latter are often accompanied by strong Kirilian auras, suggesting that they are primarily electrostatic effects. Slight fluctuations in ether density have also been observed. EEG recordings of genuine mediums often show intense hind-brain activity associated with poltergeist and telekinetic effects. While they do not seem to be susceptible to conscious control, these results suggest that they are at least partially generated by the minds of those involved in the seance.
'...It seemed to him that the features were semi-fluid, moulding
themselves into a shape, as if some unseen hand was modelling them in
putty. "Mother!" he cried. "Mother!"
Instantly the figure threw up both her hands in a wild gesture of joy. The motion seemed to destroy her equilibrium and she vanished.' [LM:5]
'An instant later Malone was aware of a shaggy head extended between Lord Roxton and himself. With his left hand he could feel long, coarse hair. It turned towards him, and it needed all his self-control to hold his hand still when a long soft tongue caressed it. Then it was gone.' [LM:12]
Occasionally mediums can do much more, producing visual apparitions, and sometimes even tangible objects, from ectoplasm. The mechanism was discussed briefly in section 4.3, but is little-understood even in the 1990s. Basically, small electrical fields can pull material from the ether; under the control of the medium or a guiding spirit, this ectoplasm can assume the shape of the spirit or some other familiar object or person. This ability can only be used in a trance. Ectoplasm is extremely fragile, and is often connected to the medium's body at the nostrils and other orifices. If it is disturbed, the medium often feels an intense shock, and may even be stunned or knocked out. This may be an electrical effect; when these phenomena are produced, Kirilian auras are particularly strong around the associated nerve endings, which may be generating the electrical field used to materialise the ectoplasm.
In a minority of cases materialisations occur at locations well away
from the medium's body. As yet this phenomenon has not been explained.
7.1.1 False Mediumsback to contents
Genuine mediums are outnumbered by fakes, and by people who are erroneously convinced that they have psychic gifts. The reasons for these impostures range from self-glorification to greed and even insanity, but the most common cause is simple self-deception. People believe what they want to believe, and can convince themselves that they are experiencing events that are actually created inside their own heads.
The most reprehensible false mediums are those who use simple conjuring tricks and deception to defraud the innocent. Techniques are often extremely crude, but may sometimes involve surprisingly sophisticated psychology. Dorothy L. Sayers describes several methods in her novel Strong Poison , in which a character conducts two prolonged fake seances to help solve a series of murders.
In the simplest type of fraud, a false medium pretends to enter a trance then uses ambiguous "spirit messages" to lead on the victim, who innocently supplies the information the medium needs to continue the deception. This process is made even simpler if the "medium" knows the identity of the other participants in the seance, and has time to conduct some basic research. Today computers and credit bureaus make this process easy, but a simple file of obituaries and death notices can be very revealing, since the bereaved are most likely to seek a medium's help. In small communities servants and tradesmen may also be able to divulge valuable information, but the most obvious source for a localised fraud is simple gossip. Access to a participant's home can also be useful. For instance, photographs are often informative;
"H'm. 'My dearest Lucy, from her ever-loving Harry.' Not a brother, I
fancy. Now what happened to Harry? Not matrimony, obviously. Death, or
infidelity. First-class frame and central position; bunch of hot-house
narcissi in a vase - I think Harry has passed over. What next? Family
group? Yes. Names conveniently beneath..."
Spirit voices are easily faked using the techniques of ventriloquism. While this can often be handled by the medium alone, confederates may be concealed in the room, or join the circle in the guise of interested onlookers or clients of the medium; Margaret Fox had two sisters, both implicated in her confessions, who regularly took part in her seances. In other cases confederates have whispered through air ducts and windows. It's notable that in the heyday of spiritualism most large houses had speaking tubes, for communication with servants, and gas pipes in every room for lighting. Technically advanced frauds may use concealed microphones and speakers (invented in the 19th century) to enhance their deception, although there is some risk of detection. By the 1930s a range of electronic effects could be added, making it easy to disguise a voice or add eerie distortion. Another interesting possibility is the use of pipes and metal rods to convey sounds through the floor of a room, using the seance table itself as a resonating board. All of these methods require a prepared room, and confederates may need access to an adjoining room, but an experienced fraud can be ready in minutes.
Code communication (by taps and knocks) can be faked by snapping finger and knee joints, using toy "clickers", tapping a heel, or flexing a piece of metal, such as a small soap box;
'...fixed to a strong elastic garter. When clasped about Miss
Climpson's bony knee and squeezed sharply against the other knee, the
box emitted a series of cracks...'
Whalebone corsets, stiffened collars, and stiff-fronted shirts could also be persuaded to click by manipulating the chest and belly muscles. It's notable that all tapping codes rely on the participants asking a series of questions, answered by "yes" or "no", or by slow tapping of letters of the alphabet, which means that the medium can often guess the answer from the question. Sometimes participants can make things all too easy, by interrupting before a message is complete:
'"...Remember who came between us."
"No, No, Harry! It was mo--"
"--A-D!" concluded the table, triumphantly.'
Some tricks are simplified by the dim lighting needed by genuine mediums. For example, it's common to join hands during a seance; in the dark a false medium can easily break the circle momentarily then rejoin it with one hand held by the people sitting at either side (one grasping the hand, the other the wrist), leaving the other hand free for manipulation of objects on the table. It's even possible to remove both hands from the circle, letting the people to either side hold hands while thinking that they are touching the "medium".
Physical effects, such as table rocking, can be produced by blackened wires or steel hooks slid from sleeves and attached to wrist straps or cords. It's thus possible to lift a table while resting hands on top of it:
'...the thin black hooks came down to the edge of her black velvet
'...At this moment the table gave a violent lurch. Miss Climpson had over-estimated the force needed to move bamboo furniture....'
'...by gently elevating one rather large foot, she could take practically all the weight off her wrist-hooks...'
Wire or fishing line can also be used to move trumpets, tambourines, and other musical instruments. Luminous paint or phosphorus can be used to fake lights and other visual manifestations; phosphorus can also be used to make "ectoplasm" (actually luminous phosphorus oxide smoke) stream from the fingers when they are rubbed, although there is a serious risk of poisoning. For more dramatic effects, thin muslin is a useful substitute for ectoplasm. Again, collaborators amongst the onlookers at a seance make such tricks laughably easy.
Ouija boards and planchettes are also susceptible to faking. Some skilled conjurors can control Ouija boards directly, but even relatively unskilled participants can keep the pointer moving (pushed around by several hands) until it's pointing at the desired letter. Since writing produced by a planchette is often barely readable, a fake medium can simply pretend to read a message from incomprehensible tracings, or adapt a partially legible script by supplying words where there is an unreadable scrawl.
Much more complex tricks have been tried, in attempts to bamboozle the
Psychical Research Society and other investigators, but such elaborate
conjuring is unlikely to be encountered in a casual setting. The vast
majority of fraudulent mediums rely on their wits and one or two
easily concealed tools, and steer clear of critical audiences.
7.1.2 Mediums And The Lawback to contents
'"...you are a real medium. The law was made to suppress false ones."
"There are no real mediums in British law," said Linden, ruefully.
'"...It is supposed to be for the protection of the public and yet no member of the public has ever been known to complain. Every case is a police trap. And yet... every Church charity garden-party has got its clairvoyante or its fortune-teller."' [LM:6]
'"...There is the Witchcraft Act dating from George the Second. That has become too absurd, so they only use it as a second string. Then there is the Vagrancy Act of 1824. It was passed to control the wandering gipsy folk on the roadside, and was never intended, of course, to be used like this."...
'Every person professing to tell fortunes or using any subtle craft, means or device to deceive and impose on any of His Majesty's subjects shall be deemed a rogue and a vagabond', and so on and so forth. The two Acts together would have roped in the whole Early Christian movement just as surely as the Roman persecution did."' [LM:7]
Until 1735 witchcraft was a capital offence, and any fortune teller or medium risked a horrible death. Far from being a plot against spiritualism, the Witchcraft Act was originally intended to end this absurdity, but by allowing the prosecution of fraudulent fortune tellers, it left an easy route for the persecution of mediums. The Vagrancy Acts of 1824 and 1838 were designed for use against wandering beggars, thieves, and fortune tellers, but were soon applied to any medium who charged a fee. Under this law the penalty for a first offence was a month's imprisonment or a fine, with penalties rising for repeated convictions. Note that these laws were not used against the Spiritualist church or the Psychical Research Society, both non-profit making. As described by Doyle, the enforcement of these laws was often a mockery of justice, but they undoubtedly punished many false mediums.
The Witchcraft Act was abolished in 1951, and the functions of the
Vagrancy Acts related to mediums were absorbed into the False Medium's
Act of that year. This law states that persons purporting to act as
mediums or use telepathy or clairvoyance for reward are liable to a
£50 fine, 4 months imprisonment, or both. The act specifically
excludes any pretence of the use of these abilities for entertainment
purposes, so that fortune tellers at fairs and fetes are usually
immune from prosecution. Mediums still run a slight risk of
prosecution if they charge fees and claim that their abilities are
real, but trials are extremely rare.
7.2 The Afterlifeback to contents
"...our teaching guide... ...a high spirit from the sixth sphere who gives us instruction." [LM:4]
"Seven spheres round the world, heaviest below, lightest above. First sphere is on the earth. These people belong to that sphere. Each sphere is separate from the other. Therefore it is easier for you to speak with these people than for those in any other sphere." [LM:10]
"Which is the first really happy sphere?"
"Number Three. Summerland. Bible book called it the third heaven. Plenty sense in Bible book, but people do not understand." [LM:10]
"...And the seventh heaven?"
"Ah! That is where the Christs are. All come there at last -- you, me, everybody." [LM:10]
Most information about the afterlife is confusing, filtered through the minds and preconceptions of mortal men. While the source material on this subject is extensive, and sometimes contradictory, the main points are comparatively simple.
The seven spheres of the afterlife correspond to varying degrees of spiritual perfection and enlightenment. Scientific spiritualists speculate that the spheres correspond to harmonics of etheric vibration, which could explain why musical tones are sometimes useful in establishing contact; they attune the mind to the correct frequencies.
The outermost sphere is mainly occupied by the recently dead and by souls who are unable or unwilling to recognise the truth of their state. Since it is the "closest" to the physical world, it is the region most readily contacted by mediums, and the region in which souls can most readily affect the physical world. Ghosts are denizens of this sphere, stealing spiritual energy from the living to materialise in the physical world.
Moving inwards, the next level apparently represents a slightly happier state, where souls are aware of their status, but have not necessarily shed all the spiritual baggage of their mortal lives. Each sphere in turn accentuates the acquisition of spiritual knowledge and the loss of earthly sins.
As spirits advance, they sometimes feel a duty to return to the lower spheres, and to the living world, to instruct less enlightened souls and speed their advancement towards perfection. It is common for spirit guides to come from the third level, which is readily attained by the innocent and those who have some spiritual knowledge before death. For example, most Red Indian and child spirit guides have attained this sphere.
The fourth and subsequent spheres represent very high levels of spiritual attainment; the spirit guides Chang (fourth sphere) and Luke (sixth sphere) are unusual, most mediums deal with less exalted circles.
Details of the innermost spheres are shrouded in mystery; it seems
likely that only their occupants understand them in any detail. It is
known that all physical relationships are subsumed into the spiritual,
and that perfect soul-mates are united, regardless of their earlier
ties. It could be speculated that their ultimate destination is
analogous to earlier ideas of heaven, but it is obvious that most of
our ideas on the matter are woefully inadequate. The living lack the
knowledge and experience needed to comprehend these matters, and no
amount of instruction can ever prepare us entirely for the afterlife.
7.3 Gaming Notesback to contents
Information in this section is for referees only.
While Forgotten Futures has a Medium skill, in this game setting it represents openness to spiritual contact, rather than any precise ability to contact or control the afterlife. Try to avoid dice rolls, and role-play all attempts at mediumship. If players insist on rolling dice, calculate the number needed for success, but don't tell them what it is. Referees should feel free to ignore results that don't suit their plans - while a 12 might mean failure, it might equally well result in contact with an evil or deceitful spirit. Emphasise role-playing and atmosphere, not game mechanics.
If dice are used, depending on the circumstances, a successful Medium roll may have no result (if there doesn't happen to be a spirit interested in making contact), may leave the medium in a trance, or may result in immediate possession by a friendly (or malevolent) spirit. Players who roll the skill (or SOUL/2) at every opportunity may be surprised to find that they occasionally suffer from blinding headaches, produce clouds of ectoplasm, chant long prayers in ancient Egyptian, or spend several unproductive hours in a trance. Participation in an elaborate seance may aid the process, as may the presence of additional mediums, while the presence of sceptics may hinder it, but nothing is certain.
Attempts to contact the dead (to obtain information, to persuade a ghost to leave, or to find the result of the next race at Ascot) should be treated on their merits. The spirits will never reveal more information than the referee wishes, and what they produce may be unhelpful or misleading. Mediums who try to use their talents for personal profit should not be rewarded, unless you want to lead them into a trap:
Medium: "Wow, that's four bets in a row I've won." Referee: "Yes. The bookie isn't very happy about it. In fact, a few of his friends want a word with you. They seem to be carrying pickaxe handles and broken bottles." Medium: "Oops..."
It's easy to use delaying tactics to slow the players while you work out your reactions. For example:
Medium: "Sir Nigel, why were you killed?" Referee: "They plan... evil... such evil... even now they seek to lure you into... into..." (lapses into silence) Medium: "But why were you killed?" Referee: "Darkness... falls from the air... beware... evil... closer than you think... much closer..." (pauses, adopts different voice) "Hello, Senor, Pancho ees heere again to help you. Thee weening teekeet weel have the numbers sixteen, three, and ten or twelve. I go now, mucho things to do. Adios, Senor." Medium: "Sir Nigel, are you there?" Referee: (using normal tones) "You wait, but nothing much seems to happen."
If a spirit is hostile, SOUL or the Medium skill should be used to oppose it. Holy symbols (such as crosses or holy water) can only be used to attack a spirit if the holder genuinely has appropriate religious beliefs; if the characters qualify, add +1 to +3 to SOUL for this purpose. Again, it is better to act out these conflicts, as argument or persuasion, in preference to rolling dice.
The vast majority of spirits seem to be little more than intangible voices plucked from the ether by the medium. Physical manifestations may be powered by some spiritual essence taken from the living. This ability is apparently shed as spirit guides progress towards perfection, possibly because it can harm the human participants in a seance. Ghosts are much closer to the plane of the living, and certainly steal life-force, but they cannot be harmed by any physical means; at best they might be temporarily driven from the physical world, but they can usually return.
There may be an additional type of ghost, which is a psychic recording rather than a true spirit. Information is extremely sketchy.
There is no such thing as a typical spirit, they are as variable as people. In most of the examples following no value is given for SOUL, because it isn't obvious from the spirit's actions. Referees should feel free to set whatever feels right. While it might be guessed that Luke has higher SOUL than Wee One, it's possible that her relatively lowly status is due to lack of experience, and that her potential is much greater. Skills mentioned are those exhibited in the text; most spirits probably have others that aren't obvious.
Wee One (Mischievous 8-year-old Spirit Guide) [LM:4]
BODY [-], MIND , SOUL [?], Actor (sing) 
Quote: "Wee One so glad see Daddy and Mummy and the rest."
Notes: Wee One is probably from the third sphere. She can produce very weak physical manifestations (moving tambourines and other objects with BODY 1).
Luke (Advanced Spirit Guide) [LM:4]
BODY [-], MIND , SOUL [?], Actor (lecture on theology) 
Quote: "Real marriage is of the soul and spirit."
Notes: Luke is of the sixth sphere, a very high soul who retains concern for the living. He is a little inclined to lecture, and would sternly correct any attempt to use spiritual powers to gain material benefits. He does not produce physical manifestations.
Red Cloud (Red Indian Spirit Guide) [LM:4]
BODY [-], MIND , SOUL [?]
Quote: "I try. Wait a little. Do all I can."
Notes: Red Cloud can often produce physical manifestations, especially lights. He can also sometimes move small objects. He probably comes from the third sphere.
The Dryfont Ghost (Evil Spirit) [LM:8]
BODY [up to 6], MIND , SOUL , Brawling [BODY +2]
Notes: This ghost was able to materialise as a physical force, capable of attacking the living. It gains its BODY by a parasitic effect; while in its near vicinity, the living temporarily lose 1-2 SOUL, while it gains a corresponding amount of BODY. The loss is felt as a feeling of dullness and fear. This drain can be resisted (by using the modified SOUL to attack the SOUL of the ghost) once it is known that it is occurring; each success reduces the BODY of the ghost by 1 and raises the SOUL of the victim by 1 until normal SOUL is restored.
Chang (Advanced Spirit Guide) [LM:10]
BODY [-], MIND , SOUL [?]
Quote: "He want newspaper story, I give him newspaper story."
Notes: Chang was a 19th-century Chinese philosopher before his death, and retains a keen intellect in the afterlife, where he has attained the fourth sphere. His progress may be slowed by his willingness to upset the living by showing them the agonies of the recently dead.
Pithecanthropus (Quasi-human spirit) [LM:12]
BODY , MIND , SOUL [?], Brawling 
Notes: This appears to be some sort of animal spirit manifested in a solid form; there is reason to believe that it is a specimen of Pithecanthropus, an ancestor of mankind, or possibly the spirit of one of the ape-men slain in Maple White Land. While it is apparently not hostile, the medium warns that it might react extremely badly to flash photography.
7.4 Psychic Adventuresback to contents
Note: most of these ideas work well if there is at least one medium amongst the adventurers, but they can also be amusing if the adventurers have no psychic powers whatever, or are faking them.
Between 1895 and 1900 four female mediums (one in the USA, two in Switzerland, and one in France) claimed that they had established occasional rapport with spirits and the inhabitants of Mars. Although they never met, and did not know of each other, their stories were curiously similar; all four described pinkish-blue canals and seas, winged airships, and friendly humanoid natives. While sceptics believe that their imagination was inflamed by Lowell's work, and Flammarian's descriptions of Mars, could they be telling the literal truth? If so, are they in rapport with modern Martians, with the distant past, or with some alternate world? If Mars does support an advanced civilisation, could the Martians reach out to help Mankind - or are the mediums dupes of coldly hostile aliens?
Note: This outline is based on fact; the cases are well-documented (see Fortean Times issue 76), and all three of the European psychics were examined by psychiatrists, one by Jung. While the evidence suggests that they were schizophrenics reacting to popular theories about Mars, this might not be the case in Professor Challenger's world. George Griffith described a similar but hostile Mars in his Stories Of Other Worlds (see Forgotten Futures 2); a campaign combining these stories with the Challenger world wouldn't suffer any insurmountable problems.
Tontines are an old-fashioned type of trust fund, established to benefit the last survivor of a group of investors. Often they were set up by parents to benefit their children. The grandfather of one of the adventurers may be the last survivor of such a group, with assets now exceeding a million pounds; the only other known beneficiary recently vanished from his London home. Now the Police seem to be taking an unusual interest in Grandfather and his only descendant. Could they suspect that he has murdered the other heir? Under British law a murderer can't inherit from his victim, or receive any other benefit as a result of his death. Who stands to gain if Grandfather is eliminated? Is everyone else really dead? What happens if Grandfather dies before these questions are answered?
Note: A useful source is the novel "The Wrong Box", by Robert Louis Stevenson, filmed 1966.
1925: Professor Summerlee recently died in Naples, but his executors have a problem; his will and his share of the diamonds from the Lost World expedition are missing. His Neapolitan housekeeper claims to know nothing of the matter, but the executors suspect that she's lying; her brother is a notorious bandit and member of the Black Hand, now better known as the Mafia. Shortly after Summerlee died, she arranged to have his apartment exorcised; why? If the adventurers can track down the diamonds there is a 5% reward; if they can also find the will the reward will be doubled.
1930: Clairvoyants throughout Europe are predicting some sort of apocalypse; while the details differ, all are agreed that the human race is in grave danger. Politics and the development of horrendous weapons seem the most obvious explanations, but could the event be about to originate on the psychic plane, as mankind experiments and learns its secrets? Maybe there really are things that man was not meant to know, but if this is the case, can anything be done to save the situation?
Note: Useful sources include the novels Childhood's End (Arthur C. Clarke ), Blood Music (Greg Bear ), and The Child Garden (Geoff Ryman ), issues 8-16 of DC's Sandman comic by Neil Gaiman [1989-90], subsequently reprinted in one volume  as The Sandman - The Doll's House, and the film Akira .
1936: With the development of fast red-sensitive cine film, an
up-and-coming British director called Alfred Hitchcock believes that a
real ghost would be better than any special effect. The script calls
for a spectre to return from the dead to accuse its killer. Hitchcock
offers one of the adventurers, a real or fake medium, a fortune to
summon a spirit, but can any medium really persuade a ghost to appear
for the camera and act? If not, how can it be faked?
8.0 Scienceback to contents
The decades covered by this sourcebook saw an enormous flowering of all forms of science, accompanied by a similar upsurge of "fringe" science and "original thought". Sometimes extraordinary ideas were justified; Professor Challenger's World Echidna theory is the obvious example. Sometimes they were fraudulent or sadly mistaken.
There's a common assumption that science in these decades was somehow simpler than science today. This assumption is false. During the 19th century the number of scientific publications printed in a year began to exceed the amount that one man could possibly read. It was impossible to keep up with all the literature. By 1908 it was barely possible to keep up with one field of science, such as chemistry, and much narrower specialisation was common. A single scientist could make important discoveries, since major research teams were still rare, but already the work of the individual was becoming subordinate to the goals of the laboratory or institution. Nevertheless, this is still a period in which individuals, including amateurs, can make fundamental contributions to science.
The remainder of this section covers scientific equipment, and briefly
examines some of the variant theories that flowered from the late 19th
century to the end of this period. It has not been possible to include
a detailed account of mainstream science in these years; see section
2, and any of dozens of text books, for this data.
8.1 Scientific Equipmentback to contents
Practical science in this era often required much more equipment than would be needed today. It was usually bulky, built of cast iron, steel, and wood, where aluminium and plastics might now be preferred. Without calculators or computers simple arithmetic could take hours, and the use of non-metric units didn't help matters. At the start of this period some laboratories had no mains electricity, most were equipped only with electric lighting, and there was considerable variation in voltage in different areas, with some sites still using old DC generators. For an example of the complications this could cause, in 1927 a centrifuge manufacturer still found it necessary to offer models driven by electricity (AC or DC, with several voltages available), water, hand crank, steam, and compressed air. Clockwork was used for chart recorders and other timers. Glassware was heavier, more fragile, and less heat-resistant than today's equivalents.
A wide range of equipment was available, although this was partially due to the extra complexities of routine work. The catalogue used to research this section offered dozens of elaborate and specialised chemical test kits, which would today be replaced by indicator papers and solutions or tiny electronic sensors.
Putting these factors together, a typical laboratory of this period is cluttered, with cupboards full of bulky apparatus and fragile glassware. Lighting might depend on gas mantles, but electricity was already more common. Mains electrical power wasn't usually available for other purposes, except in the most modern laboratories, but there might be a compressed air supply for equipment that needed it. Compressed oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other common gases were readily available in the larger cities, but difficult to obtain elsewhere. Helium was virtually unobtainable outside America.
Safety received comparatively little attention. Laboratories specialising in pathology or bacteriology might be equipped with formalin lamps, which slowly released formaldehyde vapour; while the vapour was supposed to destroy bacteria, it smelled vile and could cause cancer. Physics laboratories had a somewhat relaxed attitude to electrical and other hazards; radioactive materials were available without any controls on quantity or storage conditions, and electrical discharge tubes often had bare high-voltage terminals, and released X-rays or dangerous levels of ultraviolet light. Chemical safety was still in its infancy, and most laboratories kept materials that could now only be purchased with a government permit. Asbestos was used for heatproof mats, for insulation, and often as a floor or bench surface material.
The equipment listed below is a selection that might be used by zoologists and other naturalists, doctors, and anthropologists. The referee should decide what will be useful in any given situation, and modify Difficulty if it is available. Unfortunately comparable prices were not available for other sciences. Items marked "$" are illustrated in 26_LAB.GIF
Item Price Human skeleton, adult, bleached bones £15. 0.0 to £22.0.0 * Stand for above £ 1.10.0 Human skull, sawn open for easy examination £ 4.10.0 Model heads £ 1.10.0 each ** Phrenological head (papier-mache model) £ 2. 5.0 *** Piltdown Man Skull (papier-mache model) £ 2.19.6 Australopithecanthropus skull, bleached £ 8.15.6 **** Australopithecanthropus skeleton, bleached £35. 0.0 to £55.0.0 **** * Price depends on quality of bones and condition ** Nine races available, showing comparative racial features *** Marked to show personality areas etc. **** From Maple White Land (available 1925 onwards). Price of skeleton varies with condition. Weighing machine, for humans up to 280lb £ 2.10.0 Stadiometer (anthropological height measure) £12. 0.0 Craniometer (measures skull size) £ 6. 0.0 Thermograph (chart recorder thermometer) £ 7. 0.0 * Soil temperature thermograph with 2 probes £24.17.6 * Barograph (chart recorder barometer) £ 9. 7.6 * Recording hygrometer (atmospheric moisture) £18. 0.0 * Rain Gauge £ 2. 0.0 Anemometer, for measuring air flow £ 8. 8.0 Sunshine recorder (electric chart recorder) £107. 2.6 Ethergraph, chart recorder for ether density £137.17.6 ** Chemical balance, accurate to .5 milligram £ 7.15.0 *** Set of weights for above £ 1. 1.0 *** * All chart recorders are clockwork; the sunlight recorder and ethergraph use clockwork drums, but the pen moves electrically. ** Detector based on Einstein's 1917 patent *** Balances with greater accuracy are available but extremely expensive and very difficult to use. Magnifying glass, 2" £ 0. 3.6 Magnifying glass, 5" £ 0.18.6 Simple microscope for children and amateurs £ 3. 0.0 Watson's "H" Edinburgh student's microscope £36.12.6 * Watson's Royal research microscope £107.15.0 * London Portable Standard Microscope £46.19.0 * ** Watson's ultraviolet research microscope £358. 0.0 *** $ Zeiss micromanipulator (for dissecting cells) £46. 5.0 $ Half-plate photomicroscopic camera £37.10.0 Quarter-plate " " £14. 0.0 Lantern slide " " £ 4. 0.0 Microscope lamp, gas £ 1.15.0 Microscope lamp, electric £ 1. 7.6 Microscope slides, blank, 144 £ 0. 5.10 Cover slips for above, price per ounce £ 0. 5.6 Kit for staining slides £ 3. 5.0 **** Oak cabinet for 2500 microscope slides £22.10.0 * Prices include lenses, cases, eyepieces, etc. A wide range of accessories is available for each microscope; this list just shows a typical configuration. ** A fully featured portable microscope for medical missionaries, field research, etc. *** The most powerful research design before the invention of the electron microscope. The price is for various components including camera, quartz lenses, UV light, etc. Available throughout the period covered by this collection. Definitely not a tool for amateurs; the lamp uses extremely high voltages, and inadequate safety precautions with UV light could lead to cataracts and blindness! **** 12 chemicals in dropper bottles in teak stand Autoclave (high pressure steriliser) £19. 0.0 to £68.0.0 * Steam steriliser for medical instruments £ 8.17.6 to £11.5.0 * Incubator for bacteria £11. 0.0 to £49.0.0 * Petri dish (for bacteria), pack 12, by size £ 0. 7.6 to £ 3.0.0 ** Live bacteria cultures £ 0. 4.6 per tube *** Lamp for gasification of Formalin tablets £ 0.12.0 $ Formalin sprayer for sterilising laboratory £ 3. 5.0 $ Cyanide generator for fumigating houses etc. £225. 0.0 **** * Priced according to size and heat source eg gas or electric ** Glass reusable dishes *** Range of 78 types including anthrax, cholera, diphtheria, dysentery, plague, pneumonia, tuberculosis, typhus. Supplied in glass tubes inside a protective wooden case. No permits or licences needed for purchasing. **** A machine for producing a very large quantity of cyanide gas and pumping it through hoses into ship's holds, barns, etc. Kills animals, insects, etc. Makes ten thousand cubic feet of a 1:1000 cyanide:air mix from 1 kg of sodium cyanide. Dissecting kit, simple £ 1. 2.6 * Dissecting kit, medical students £ 2. 5.0 * Dissecting kit, pathologists or zoologists £ 3.15.0 to £16.15.0 ** Brain jar (stores brains for dissection) £ 0. 6.6 (1 gallon) $ £ 0.10.6 (2 gallons) $ * Include scalpels, scissors, probes, hooked chains, leather case. ** As above, plus bone saws, hammers, etc., in mahogany case Still, for chemically pure water £ 7. 0.0 to £16.10.0 * Refrigerator for laboratory £64. 0.0 to £146.0.0 * * Prices depend on capacity, power source, etc. Hand-cranked centrifuge, medical £ 8. 8.0 Electrical centrifuge, 3000 RPM £60.15.0 High capacity medical centrifuge, 3500 RPM £157. 0.0 Mortar and pestle (priced by size 3" to 14") £ 0. 2.0 to £ 1.15.0 Test tubes, priced by size, per 144 £ 0. 6.0 to £ 0.12.0 Test tube rack, 24 tubes £ 0.19.0 Glass measuring cylinder, 100 ml £ 0. 2.9 Glass measuring cylinder, 1 litre £ 0.10.6 Beaker, 600ml, 12 £ 0.16.3 Bunsen burner £ 0. 4.6 Petroleum stove for laboratory use £ 1. 3.9 Iodine solution, 100g £ 0. 1.0 Litmus paper, 12 books, red or blue £ 0. 1.2 Universal indicator (tests acidity, 100ml) £ 0. 3.0 Apparatus for air analysis £ 9. 0.0 Urine analysis kit £ 7.15.0 Botanical trowel £ 0. 4.6 Butterfly net £ 0. 5.6 Killing bottle, large £ 0. 3.6 Apparatus for collecting mosquitoes £ 2.10.0 40-drawer mahogany cabinet for insects £41. 5.0 Pond net £ 0. 3.0 Plankton tow net £ 0.17.6 Aeroplankton tow net for aeroplane use £ 3. 9.11 Hermetically sealed tubes for aeroplankton £ 0. 2.6 each Specimen jars (per dozen), priced by size £ 0.12.0 to £ 3.15.0 Sample tubes, 144, priced by size £ 0. 6.0 to £ 2. 4.0 Corks for above, 144, priced by size £ 0. 1.6 to £ 0. 4.0 Soil sample borer, 1 metre length £ 1.15.0 Soil sieves, set 30,60,90,100 mesh, 9" wide £ 1. 7.9 Books (some are unavailable before the dates shown): Atlas of Applied Human Anatomy £ 1. 1.0 Practical Anatomy (3 volumes) £ 1.17.6 British Flora £ 0.12.0 Flora of Maple White Land (1916) £ 1. 5.11 Evolutionary Biology £ 0.15.0 Bacteriology £ 0.18.0 Textbook of Pathology £ 1.15.0 Post-Mortem Manual £ 0.10.6 Natural History (10 volumes), per volume £ 1.10.0 Birds Of Britain £ 0. 5.0 Reptiles Of Maple White Land (1911) £ 0.11.6 Anatomy Of The Aerofauna (1927) £ 1.15.0
Source: the Baird And Tatlock Standard Catalogue Of Scientific Apparatus
for 1927 (Volume III, Biological Sciences), with a few additions for
8.2 Alternative Scienceback to contents
Professor Challenger could be nominated for the role of patron saint of alternative scientists and original thinkers. Challenger was usually right, but unfortunately many of his contemporaries were misguided or worse.
This section presents fifteen ideas which have never quite made it
into the mainstream of science, for one reason or another, or are
currently out of favour, but have attracted their own circles of
followers. These theories are described as examples of ideas which
were in wide circulation during the Challenger years; some are still
around today. Some were modified or discredited by Professor
8.2.1 The Flat Earthback to contents
[The Village That Voted The Earth Was Flat: Rudyard Kipling 1913]Hear the truth our tongues are telling, Spread the light from shore to shore Oh, be faithful! Oh, be truthful! Earth is flat for evermore.
'If the Earth did move at a tremendous speed, how could we keep a grip
on it with our feet? We... ...should find it slipping rapidly under
[The Sun Goes Round The Earth: Miss M.L.S. Missen]
Many primitive societies believed that the Earth was flat, but the idea was disproved by the ancient Greeks. Unfortunately the early Christians found the idea of a spherical earth repugnant (because the Bible says that angels stood at the four corners of the Earth, and because people on the far side of the Earth wouldn't be able to see God on Judgement Day), and for many centuries it was considered heretical. Eventually astronomers rediscovered the Greek proofs, and added more evidence. The idea became accepted scientific fact, and the Flat Earth was discarded as a mistaken theory. Naturally this ensured that it would eventually become a cult belief.
The first of the modern flat-earth organisations was founded by British eccentric Samual Birley Rowbotham (alias "Parallax") in 1849. His theory, 'Zetic Astronomy', stated that the North Pole is at the centre of a disk-like Earth, and that the South Pole is a wall of ice around the rim of the disk (see 27_FLAT.GIF), with the stars set in an opaque dome around the disk. The Sun and the planets move in circles above the disk, but optical illusions make them appear to rise and set. Subsequent versions of the theory have followed along these general lines, although details often vary. The movement soon attracted a moderately large following, mostly in the later Victorian years, when there were Flat Earth Societies in most nations. Unfortunately more and more evidence, such as successful crossings of the South Pole, confirmed that the Earth was a sphere, and by the 1920s the British movement was moribund. A highlight of its period in the sun was an 1870 offer of £500 to anyone who could prove that the Earth was spherical, closely followed by the Bedford Canal experiment, in which zoologist Alfred Russell Wallace easily won the bet. The Society's then President, John Hampden, immediately accused Wallace of fraud; Wallace was awarded £600 in the subsequent libel action, but never collected because Hampden declared himself bankrupt.
Although the Flat Earth Movement peaked in Britain at the turn of the century, and in America in 1920, it still survives today. The movement hailed the Hengist Down experiment as conclusive proof that the Earth could not be a sphere, since "the pressure of the crust pressing down from all sides would squash the World Echidna". Naturally the version preferred by the movement views the World Echidna as shaped more like a pancake than a sea urchin. One odd American misprint in this literature (possibly a printer's joke) called it the "World Enchilada..."
See also notes accompanying the first two adventures in Forgotten
Futures II, and Terry Pratchett's Strata  and Discworld series.
8.2.2 Symme's Hole and the Hollow Earthback to contents
In 1818 Captain John Symmes of the U.S. Army announced a new theory, inspired by contemplation of the rings of Saturn and many hollow structures in nature; the Earth was hollow, containing four or five more concentric spheres, all accessible from openings at the Poles. Light from our Sun was reflected into the holes and illuminated the interior spheres. Since Symmes was a war hero this idea was taken seriously enough for an expedition to be planned, with a view to trading with these interior countries. The estimated needs of the expedition included 100 men, enough sleighs and reindeer to transport them across Siberia and the polar ice, and two ships. It was cancelled by President Andrew Jackson shortly after his election.
Several more hollow Earth theories followed; in some there was a simple cavity, others preferred variations on Symmes' concentric spheres. Marshall Gardner (1913) added a central miniature Sun. Various mechanisms were suggested for the formation of these cavities; for example, that the Earth was spinning rapidly as it solidified, and centrifugal force pushed matter out from its axis, leaving a shaft running between the Poles. Most of these ideas founder on practical mechanics and physics; for instance, the Earth spins much too slowly for centrifugal effects on this scale.
One of the more entertaining variants, first put forward by Cyrus Teed (alias "Koresh") in 1869, suggests that the Earth is hollow, and that we live on the inside. Some versions of this theory say that the sphere is simply a bubble of rock, floating in space, others that there is nothing but rock outside. In Koreshan physics the laws of optics are changed at altitudes "above" the inner surface of the sphere, with light bending to give the illusion that we are on the outside. Blue light is affected most, hence the blue sky, red least. Teed founded the Koreshan Colony in Florida, which still exists, a community of supporters of this idea. Later it was adopted by the Nazis as the Hohlweltlehre (Hollow Earth Theory), with bizarre consequences - some early German rocketry experiments were financed as attempts to send a probe high enough to cross the sphere (although none of the scientists involved had any belief in this theory, it was a good way to raise funds), and the German Navy sent scientists to a Baltic island with powerful infra-red cameras, in hopes of pointing them up and across the sphere to take photographs of the British fleet in port.
The Nazis found it easy to embrace Hohlweltlehre and Challenger's World-Echidna simultaneously; they assumed that the World-Echidna's main job was to keep the hollow Earth-sphere rotating, and that it in turn lived inside a larger cavity. This didn't explain why the World-Echidna's surface was immobile during the Hengist Down experiment. Since the Nazis seemed to have been able to believe in several incompatible theories simultaneously (or were possibly just hedging their bets), these inconsistencies didn't lead to major problems. Teed's American followers find the World-Echidna much harder to swallow, especially when its role in the formation of the Earth is discussed; they claim that it is a lie dreamed up in support of spherism, and point out that Malone, Jones, Challenger, and a few easily-bribed workmen are the only men claimed to have seen it. Symmes' original idea has few defenders, but the prevailing theory states that the outermost layer of the Earth is several miles thick, and the World-Echidna lives between the outer and inner walls of this layer.
See 'Journey To The Centre Of The Earth' by Jules Verne , 'From
Pole To Pole' by George Griffiths [1904; collected in The Rivals of
H.G. Wells], Edgar Allan Poe's 'MS. Found In A Bottle'  and
'Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym' , Rudy Rucker's 'The Hollow
Earth' [1990, featuring Poe as a character], Richard Lupoff's
'Circumpolar' , and Edgar Rice Burroughs' 'Pellucidar' series
[1914 onwards], the first filmed as 'At The Earth's Core' .
Three versions are shown in 27_FLAT.GIF
8.2.3 Counter-Earthback to contents
A planet in exactly the same orbit as our own, but on the far side of the Sun, sometimes called 'Clarion' or 'Antichthon', this concept is a staple of bad SF and flying saucer literature, but suffers from a few fundamental problems. Basically, the orbital movement of the Earth is not a perfect ellipse, and is distorted by the gravity of the other planets. Anything that accelerated the Earth's orbital movement would decelerate Counter-Earth's movement, or vice versa. The US Naval Observatory has calculated that it could remain hidden for a maximum of thirty years; since the history of modern solar astronomy spans more than two hundred years, and since Clarion would probably be at least as visible as Mars, it is reasonably certain that it does not exist. Even if the planet was invisible telescopically, its gravity would soon disturb the orbits of the other planets in the solar system (see 27_FLAT.GIF).
This is another idea that has problems with the role of the World-Echidnae in forming planets, since it's necessary to assume that two of these creatures established opposing orbits at exactly the same time, and shared the matter available in Earth orbit. Since this occurred nowhere else in the solar system, it must be assumed that the Earth (and counter-Earth) are very special cases.
Fiction about Counter-Earth planets includes John Norman's 'Gor'
novels [1966 onwards] and the film 'Doppelganger' (AKA 'Journey To The
Far Side Of The Sun') . It features in several UFO theories.
8.2.4 The World-Ice Theoryback to contents
"The final proof of the whole cosmic ice theory will be obtained when
the first landing on the ice-coated surface of the Moon takes place."
[Horbinger Institute 1953] Horbinger's Welteislehre, or World-Ice Theory, published in 1913, assumes that space is actually filled with a viscous fluid. Objects moving through the fluid are slowed and gradually spiral towards whatever they are orbiting; the Moon towards the Earth, and the Earth towards the Sun. There have been several previous Moons, all made mainly of ice (as is the present one); when a Moon hits the Earth, the result is a Biblical flood. Sunspots are holes left by icebergs falling into the Sun (according to Horbinger there's a lot of ice in space; all objects apart from our own world are made of it, and the stars are actually fragments of ice). As the Sun gradually devours the inner planets, more planets appear on the edge of the solar system and take their place. Proofs of the existence of the ether were hailed as proofs of Welteislehre, despite the obvious dissimilarities between the ether and the viscous fluid Horbinger described. There was no attempt to integrate the World-Echidna into this theory. Eventually this doctrine became another Nazi fad; like Hohlweltlehre, above, it was hailed as an Aryan version of cosmology, free of Jewish influence, with the added advantage that Horbinger, like Hitler, was an Austrian. The ease with which this theory spread in Germany seems to have embarrassed the Nazis; at one point they found it necessary to issue an order pointing out that belief in it was not a prerequisite for party membership. It was largely discredited with the fall of Nazism, and suffered additional blows when it was eventually proved that the Moon and Mars are not covered in ice, and that the Moon is moving away from the Earth. There appears to be no English-language literature related to this theory, apart from occasional translated publications of the Horbinger Institute.
8.2.5 The Cool Sunback to contents
'The popular notion that the Sun is on fire is rubbish, and merely a
[The Temperate Sun: Rev. P. H. Francis 1970]
Sir William Herschel, an extremely influential astronomer, is mainly responsible for this idea. He believed that the other planets are also inhabited, and extended this theory to embrace the Sun. Briefly, he stated that the hot surface of the Sun is its upper atmosphere, concealing cooler habitable lands beneath. Sun spots are holes in its atmosphere, revealing the cool regions below.
Unfortunately there are several flaws in this idea, not least the fact that "cool" Sunspots average a temperature of roughly 4500 degrees C. They look dark by comparison with the rest of the Sun's atmosphere (6000 degrees), but are still hotter and brighter than any arc light or furnace. In 1953 a German supporter of this theory was sued for failure to pay out DM25,000 previously offered to anyone who could prove that the Sun was hot.
There are innumerable variants on this idea, most suggesting that the Sun reflects or focuses heat and light from other sources.
Fiction on this theme includes 'Through The Sun In An Airship' [John
Mastin 1909] and 'The Sun Queen' [H. Kaner 1946], plus several earlier
8.2.6 Panspermiaback to contents
Unlike many of the ideas discussed in this section, Panspermia is neither proved nor disproved; most scientists believe that it is wrong, but it has many vocal supporters and is backed by some moderately persuasive evidence.
Briefly, Panspermia is the belief that life did not evolve on Earth, but was instead carried here by meteors or tough spores. This moves the problem of the origins of life off Earth and into space, since it is then necessary to explain why life evolved there.
While this argument was originally based on certain fossil-like markings on meteors, the discovery of the World-Echidna showed that our world itself was created by life that had crossed interstellar space. This obviously adds more weight to the panspermia argument, but the World-Echidna seems very different to any other life on Earth; it can be argued that it had no direct part in evolution, apart from its role in the original formation of the Earth. Even some Pansperia supporters doubt that the World-Echidna was involved in the process; for example, Hoyle believes that the World-Echidna is actually a comparative latecomer and is parasitising the Earth.
Comparatively recent examples of forms of Panspermia can be found in
Olaf Stapledon's 'Last And First Men' , John Varley's 'Titan'
 and sequels, and Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels [1968 onwards]
8.2.7 Mystery Airshipsback to contents
From 1892 to 1903 mysterious explosions were heard along both coasts of the English Channel. From 1896 onwards there were also dozens of reports of airships and flying cities, most notably over the USA, but also off the British, French, and German coasts. None was connected with any known aviation project. The stories were seized on by hoaxers and journalists, and magnified out of all proportion.
Similarities to the 1950s UFO craze are obvious (and the mystery has been worked into most subsequent UFO theories), and there is still no certainty about the explanation. However, the discovery of the aerofauna does present one possibility; all of the reports came from areas under aerial 'jungles' or aerofauna migration routes, and where there was little artificial lightning, and all known species are kept aloft by hydrogen, which fluoresces under high voltages. Freak electrical conditions or some other effect, such as bombardment with cosmic rays, could make the aerofauna glow, looking a little like dimly illuminated airships; on a dark night, with no sky glow from street lighting, the glow could be visible from the ground. At very high voltages the hydrogen might even ignite, causing the mystery explosions. While this theory is conjecture, it should be noted that the reports gradually ceased as gas and electric street lighting spread. Some UFO sightings in isolated areas could still have this explanation.
While there seems to have been no fiction about this mystery at the
time, there was a related airship hoax; it was claimed that Edison had
built the airship seen over America, and messages "dropped" from the
craft were widely publicised. Edison eventually had to go to the Press
to deny these reports. The real mystery has gradually become one of
the staples of steampunk SF. See especially various novels by James
Blaylock and K. W. Jeter.
8.2.8 Atlantis and Muback to contents
'....if Mr. Jones shuddered at the beginning it was the turn of his audience to shudder afterwards.... he had proved clearly that an Atlantean spirit might be a portentous bore....' [LM:2]
Every culture has a flood myth. The earliest story of all is the legend of Gilgamesh, which includes an encounter with Uta-Napishtim, who was warned by a god and survived the flood; the Biblical story of Noah is almost certainly a retelling of this legend. There may be multiple origins for the tale, since floods and other natural disasters are common in coastal areas and river valleys, where most civilisations developed. Memories of flooding at the end of the last Ice Age, around 8000 B.C., may also have sparked some of these stories, since many low-lying areas were permanently drowned.
The oldest records of Atlantis are in Plato's Kritias, written around 355 B.C., and relating a historical conversation of about 590 B.C.; unfortunately it seems almost certain that the original conversation (if it ever took place) was referring to a mythical land. It is described as "bigger than Libya and Asia put together", and a military rival to Athens. Later authors (such as Aristotle) treat it as a fable. The most plausible theory suggests that this particular version is mainly derived from folk tales of the collapse of Cretan civilisation, drowned by tidal waves when the volcano Thera exploded in about 1400 B.C.
Despite the lack of any real evidence, in 1882 Ignatius Donnelly published 'Atlantis, the Antediluvian World', which claimed that Atlantis was a continent in the Atlantic, was the Aryan homeland, and was destroyed by advanced weapons. Racist overtones of this theory were soon picked up by German authors and incorporated into the general body of writing that eventually became the mystic and mythical justification for Hitler's excesses. Donnelly's version of Atlantis also became part of Theosophy and other fringe religions.
Since the publication of Donnelly's book there has been periodic interest in Atlantis; Gladstone proposed an expedition to find the lost continent, the Theosophists and others incorporated it into their beliefs, and it is a staple of UFO / Bermuda Triangle / conspiracy theory sensationalism. Nevertheless there is no real evidence that the place ever existed...
Mu is another 'lost continent' whose story is a shining example of human stupidity. Very briefly, during the Spanish conquest of South America the bishop Diego de Landa organised the burning of almost all written records in the Mayan language. Years later he changed his mind and decided to learn it, but insisted on interpreting pictographs (each standing for a complete word) as letters of the Mayan 'alphabet' (which did not exist). The alphabet and dictionaries he produced were totally useless. Nevertheless later scholars used it to 'translate' the Troano Codex, producing an incoherent account of the destruction of an imaginary continent, named Mu because two repetitive symbols in the text were assigned the sounds M and U by de Landa. Mu was supposedly a continent in the Atlantic, destroyed by volcanoes rather than by floods.
From 1926 onwards various books by Colonel James Churchward, allegedly based on Tibetan records, continued the story of Mu, with a similar emphasis on racial stereotypes, Aryan master races, etc., and a similar impact on Theosophy, other cult religions, and Nazism. It is certain that the records which started this process had nothing whatever to do with a lost continent; linguistic techniques have improved, and they have since been translated as a treatise on astrology.
Atlantis, Mu, and the similar lost continent of Lemuria, supposedly in
the Pacific and dreamed up on even more flimsy 'evidence', are all
staples of fringe science and occult literature, and Atlantis
especially has featured in hundreds of books and stories. See
Forgotten Futures II for more on Atlantis.
8.2.9 Omphalosback to contents
The word means 'Navel', and refers to the idea that Adam had a navel, even though he was not born from a womb, because it is an essential feature of Man and thus part of God's handiwork. In a nutshell, this theory is a peculiar version of creationism, which states that God created the world in 4004 BC, complete with all living creatures and species that are found today. He created it as a going concern, and was thus logically compelled to include fossil evidence that appears to prove that evolution took place, that the universe is billions of years old, etc. The argument was first put forward in these terms in 1849, by the philosopher Philip Gosse, and is still occasionally used today.
This theory is inherently unprovable, since by definition it leaves the world looking exactly like a world in which evolution has taken place. By the same assumption, God might just as well have created the universe while you were reading this paragraph; the evidence of its past would include a false memory of your preceding life and of reading this worldbook.
Omphalist arguments are mostly put forward by those who dislike
conventional evolutionary theory but can't ignore the evidence against
creationism. The idea is occasionally used in science fiction and
fantasy (see especially Robert A. Heinlein's They  and Job: A
Comedy Of Justice , Philip Jose Farmer's The Maker Of Universes
, and Terry Pratchett's Strata ), and is a common theme in
8.2.10 Phrenology And Physiognomyback to contents
In 1800 Franz Josef Gall proposed that the principal emotions were controlled by 27 regions of the brain. If some of these regions were well-developed the skull would naturally expand to accommodate them, and it should thus be possible to determine personality by examining the shape of the skull. Within a few years this initial scheme was discredited by the Paris Institute, but that didn't stop his followers adding more regions and subdividing those that already existed, until it would have been almost impossible to distinguish an important bump from a pimple. Meanwhile evidence that the brain simply doesn't work this way, which was already strong, became overwhelming; for instance, brain injuries often affected faculties and emotions that (according to phrenology) were far apart.
By 1900 the 'science' was virtually dead, except for fairground personality readings, although it still had a lay following that included Walt Whitman and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As late as 1927 scientific suppliers still offered phrenological model heads in their catalogues. While it was taken seriously it accumulated such refinements as mechanical "bump readers" (some were measuring devices linked to mechanical or electrical plotting systems, others were fraudulent), complex terminology, and a huge body of literature.
'...At one end of the room was a large portrait of Professor Crookes, which was flanked by a second of Lombroso, while between them was a remarkable picture of one of Eusapia Palladino's seances....' [LM:12]
Physiognomy was superficially a more convincing study, which assumed that personality was reflected in facial features. Unfortunately there was little real evidence to support the idea; the psychiatrist and spiritualist Cesare Lombroso developed this 'science' by studying the faces of known criminals, rather than the population as a whole, and assumed that the features he found were certain signs of criminality.
Obviously there is often some relationship between facial appearance
and personality; for example, someone who is unusually ugly may suffer
from psychological problems, caused by the reactions of those around
him, but this is not a certainty. Lombroso erred in trying to assign
certain combinations of features to certain criminal traits, and
assuming that these associations would always hold good. He also
failed to distinguish between inherited features and the results of
injury, malnutrition, and disease. Some of the worse criminals would
pass completely undetected by this 'test'. For example, Sladek has
pointed out that without his moustache, Hitler would have looked like
a plumper version of Kirk Douglas. Rondo Hatton, an actor who played a
series of brute-like criminals and was known as 'The ugliest man in
Hollywood', owed his looks to a bone disease following exposure to gas
in the First World War; he was a decorated war hero and happily
married man. Celebrity look-alikes are legion, and often have very
different personalities from the person they resemble.
8.2.11 Lamarckism And Weismannismback to contents
Originally proposed in the early 19th century, before Darwin's theory of evolution, Lamarck suggested that different species evolved by acquiring characteristics and passing them on to their offspring; for instance, the ancestors of giraffes stretched for food so often that their necks were deformed, and this deformity was inherited by their descendants. The essential feature of this idea was the concept of repeated use; if a particular group of muscles was used every day, it would become stronger, and this strength would be inherited by the next generation.
The unfortunate flaw in this theory was the fact that acquired characteristics often weren't inherited, and that it often confused cause and effect; the children of athletes or body builders aren't necessarily any stronger than other children - if they are, a careful check may show that the parents took up athletics or body-building because they were unusually strong. Diet and other environmental factors may also be very important in cases of apparent inheritance of characteristics.
'..numerous papers, including 'The Underlying Fallacy of Weismannism'..' [LW:2]
Weismann (a German biologist) disproved Lamarckism by various experiments towards the end of the 19th century; most notably, he cut off the tails of 1592 mice over 22 generations, and found that all of the offspring were born with tails. He guessed that characteristics were inherited or modified via the germ plasm of the reproductive cells, and suggested that any acquired characteristic that did not affect the germ plasm would not affect offspring. Unfortunately he went on to suggest that the germ plasm was almost impossible to modify, which would have made evolution unworkable. This doctrine, known as Weismannism, was subsequently attacked by Professor Challenger and others. It is now known that the germ plasm can mutate spontaneously, and can be damaged by radiation and chemicals. These changes explain evolution satisfactorily.
Despite Weismann's experiments, Lamarckism was attractive because it
suggested that an organism could shake off the restrictions of the
past as an act of will. It tied in well with strong political beliefs
such as Communism. Until the late 1950s the official Soviet
evolutionary doctrine was Lysenkoism, a form of Lamarckism tailored to
Communist theory, with disastrous consequences for Russian
8.2.12 Piltdown Manback to contents
In 1912 the British amateur palaeontologist Charles Dawson discovered a Neanderthal skull in a gravel pit in Sussex, with features that made it appear to be the long-sought "missing link" between man and ape. The discovery followed a long period in which the science had made little progress in Britain, and was received enthusiastically.
Some aspects of the find were disturbing; the pit also contained fossils of animals that were otherwise unknown in Britain, and wasn't easily fitted into the fossil ancestry of mankind that was slowly emerging from other specimens.
In 1926 Professor Challenger was allowed to take samples from the skull, and proved that it was actually a recent human skull combined with the jawbone of an orang-utang, both stained to look like fossils; the pit had been salted with real fossils to make the find look more convincing. The identity of the faker has never been confirmed, but Dawson is known to have experimented with the staining of bones and is the most likely candidate. News was slow to reach the public, and books published as late as 1935 still treated the find as genuine.
'Return To The Lost World' by Nicholas Nye [1991 - see Appendix 3]
suggests that Challenger himself created the fakes, in an attempt to
discredit another scientist. Challenger's reaction to accusations of
fraud [LW:2 etc.] shows that this idea isn't tenable. This seems to be
the only fiction related to this incident.
8.2.13 Focal Sepsisback to contents
The first half of the twentieth century saw immense advances in surgery, and there was a tendency to try surgical solutions to any mysterious medical problem, without necessarily looking for less drastic cures.
A mainstream medical concept throughout the period covered by this worldbook, the idea of focal sepsis was simple; any illness which could not readily be diagnosed must be caused by "pockets" of bacteria in the body, and removing the "pocket" would remove the bacteria and cure the illness. Tonsils, adenoids, and the appendix were obvious targets for removal, if there seemed the least sign of infection, but testicles, kidneys, ovaries, teeth, and sections of gut were also sacrificed on the altar of this peculiar idea. The obvious consequences of its use in medical problems was that the patient added immense pain to an existing illness, and sometimes suffered surgical complications, up to and including death. This treatment was also applied to psychiatric problems, which by the definitions of the period (especially in Nazi Germany) included homosexuality and masturbation. For some curious reason patients rarely showed much improvement...
Fortunately the frequency of these operations declined after the
Second World War; antibiotics plus greater understanding of disease
and psychiatry seemed to offer better answers. Tonsillectomies and
appendectomies remained common until the 1980s, and even today there
is good reason to believe that many unnecessary operations take place,
in cases where drugs, hormone therapy, or psychiatry would be more
8.2.14 N-Raysback to contents
'Discovered' in 1903 by Professor N. Blondlot of the University of Nancy in France, N-Rays were supposedly emitted by many metals and natural materials, but not by wood; they could be perceived by the human eye in a darkened room. Researchers throughout France duplicated the phenomenon, and more than 100 papers were published within a year of the original report. Oddly, very few scientists could duplicate the effect elsewhere in the world.
In 1904 R.W. Wood, an American scientist then working in Britain, visited France and Blondlot's laboratory. He couldn't see N-Rays even when Blondlot was running the experiment, and suspected that they might not exist. Since the apparatus was in a darkened room, Wood was secretly able to remove a vital component, reportedly either the metal 'N-Ray source' or an aluminium prism used to refract the rays, and replace it with a piece of wood. When Blondlot still said he could see N-Rays, Wood made further checks, which proved that the 'discovery' was an illusion; Blondlot was unable to tell the difference between 'functioning' and 'faulty' apparatus. Other experimenters had apparently jumped onto the N-Ray bandwagon because this type of visual illusion is common in very dim light, and because they wanted to believe that France had produced a new discovery to rival X-Rays. Once Wood's findings were published, most of the N-Ray papers were quietly withdrawn. The coincidence of Wood's name and the material used is considered highly significant by some Forteans.
While the ease with which other scientists 'saw' N-Rays may seem surprising, there are several interesting parallels in mainstream scientific work. For example, students trying to see Brownian motion, the random movement of smoke particles buffeted by gas molecules, may sometimes be victims of a similar illusion; it can only be seen by looking down a microscope and trying to spot tiny white dots against a darker background. The human eye often has tiny drops of moisture on its surface; under these conditions they are very easy to see, and seem to move erratically as the eye moves to follow them. The surprising success rate for this moderately tricky experiment may owe more to this effect than to the real workings of physics. See my article "The Great Brownian Motion Swindle", New Scientist 1991, for more on this topic.
Note: Science has moved on; at the time of writing microscopes
equipped with low-light video cameras were virtually unknown, today most
schools own one and demonstrating Brownian motion is easy.
8.2.15 Wave-Particle Dualityback to contents
'Armed with the deadly CRALE (Corpuscular Ray Amplifying Light
Emissions) weapon, its beams of coherent light-particles capable of
initiating spontaneous human combustion, the ether-ships of this alien
race pursue sinister goals almost incomprehensible to mankind...'
[UFOs - Threat From Counter-Terra: Mark Lee 1988]
A popular theory in late 19th century physics, but now completely discredited, wave-particle duality combines the wave nature of light with the so-called corpuscular theory, which stated that light was made up of particles. Although the idea was superficially convincing (and was even studied by Einstein!), it involved many peculiarities; for example, light was simultaneously a particle and a wave, rather than the simple wave propagated through the ether we know today. It did have the advantage of easily explaining some phenomena, such as the photoelectric effect, although it is now accepted that this is inherent in the multidimensional nature of the ether.
This idea was already in decline at the turn of the century, and the Poison Belt episode finished it off, by furnishing dramatic proof of the existence of the ether. It still survives, to a limited extent, in some of the more speculative nooks and crannies of theoretical physics, but it is unlikely that the final theory to emerge from these ideas will look much like 19th century concepts.
Like the airship mystery of the 19th century, this is now one of the
staples of steampunk SF and UFO literature, as in the example above.
8.2.16 Sourcesback to contents
With one exception (section 8.2.15) all of the above examples are genuine, albeit modified for the Challenger world, and all of the sources quoted are real. Obviously there are many other examples of unusual and fringe science; for instance, I haven't covered cryptozoology (the search for unknown species which have somehow avoided discovery), spontaneous human combustion, or alien abduction. This brief account is no substitute for the extensive literature that exists. You are especially referred to:
Can You Speak Venusian by Patrick Moore
A Directory Of Discarded Ideas by John Grant
The Fringes Of Reason: A Whole Earth Catalogue ed Ted Schultz
The New Apocrypha by John Sladek
Fads And Fallacies In The Name Of Science by Martin Gardner
This list does not include prime sources, such as publications of the Flat Earth Movement or Horbinger Institute; the vast amount of literature available, and its general unreadability, makes it difficult to recommend especially useful material.
It's surprisingly easy to use these sources to generate plot ideas, by selecting two or more topics randomly and inventing a connection between them. A convenient way to do this is to use an index or page numbers and roll dice. For example, doing this with The New Apocrypha produced references to Einstein and to the Hollow Earth, which led to the first adventure idea in section 8.4 below; subsequent tests suggested plots combining Atlantis and faith healing, Nazi race theories plus Velikovsky's peculiar version of planetary physics, and the prophecies of Mother Shipton with flat Earth cultists and sensationalist journalism. Obviously this method won't work every time, but it's a useful starting point if you run out of ideas.
GURPS Atomic Horror (Steve Jackson Games) includes extensive notes on
careers and opportunities in Weird Science, and has many more examples
of peculiar scientific disciplines, skills, and concepts. Lurid Tales
Of Doom [West End Games, for Ghostbusters] and Tabloid [TSR, for The
Amazing Engine] both include ideas for weird science adventures based
on the tabloid press. Teenagers From Outer Space [R.Talsorian Games]
also has some ideas on using weird science.
8.3 The Challenger Scholarshipsback to contents
From 1920 onwards Professor Challenger funded a science scholarship at Edinburgh University. The terms were simple; the scholarship was awarded to one student per year, who was required to demonstrate knowledge of a wide range of scientific topics. The fund would pay for a maximum of five years tuition fees, provided that the scholar agreed to a course of study emphasising maximum breadth of knowledge. For example, topics studied by the first four Challenger Scholars were:
|1920||R. Mcpherson||Chemistry, botany, and mathematics|
|1921||B.W. Clark||Microbiology and nuclear physics|
|1922||A.A. Gold||Physiology, etheric physics, and archaeology|
|1923||F. Bailey||Zoology, Chemistry, and electrical engineering|
While these may seem peculiar combinations, McPherson's paper on the mathematics of cell growth was an interesting precursor of some modern work on fractal-like biological structures. Clark did some pioneering work on mutation. Gold's paper on the physiology of the Poison Belt episode (and possible links to the dancing mania of the Middle Ages) is generally considered to be the first accurate account of the neurochemical processes that led to world-wide coma. Bailey first suggested the luminescent aerofauna explanation for the 19th century mystery airship sightings, and later solved the Loch Ness mystery.
After Challenger's death his estate funded ten more scholarships, all
on similar terms, with the list of permissible topics broadened to
include parapsychology and spiritualist concerns. There are four
places at Edinburgh, two each at Oxford, Cambridge, and London
University, and one scholarship to a university of the candidate's
choosing (which may include overseas institutions). The places are now
awarded by a committee with representatives from the universities, the
Psychical Research Society, the Royal Society, and the trustees to the
estate. Fortunately the trustees invested wisely, and the scholarships
continue today. Usually there are at least fifty applicants per year.
8.4 Adventures In Scienceback to contents
Most of the adventures are related in some way to scientific research and experimentation. The Challenger stories are mostly about changes in our understanding of the universe, and referees should not be afraid to change the universe if it will make an adventure more enjoyable; for example, the description of Atlantis in section 8.2.8 assumes that the place didn't exist, but there is no reason why this shouldn't be wrong.
Even such matters as the structure of the Earth might be less certain than this worldbook has stated. While Challenger apparently proved that the core of the Earth is occupied by the World-Echidna, all that he really showed was that there was living matter under England; maybe the world is flat or hollow, and the World-Echidna is a local phenomenon. Maybe the universe really was created while you were reading the last sentence...
1910. Although the North Pole was recently reached by an American expedition, supporters of Symmes' theory believe that the explorers were misled by faulty compasses, and that there may be an opening to the interior at the true North Pole. They have wealthy backers, and are preparing an expedition to look for the hole. The adventurers are amongst the explorers approached to join the team.
One scientist with an interest in the matter is Albert Einstein, currently a patent clerk in Switzerland but already a renowned physicist and mathematician. Evidence for the existence of the ether is already strong, but critics of the Michelson-Morely experiments believe that there might still be a case for an alternate idea, wave-particle duality. Einstein thinks the results were misleading because the apparatus was too small. To get really precise measurements the equipment must be scaled up; if the world is really hollow, the interior void would be a perfect size for the experiment he has in mind. He has persuaded the backers to fund his work and include the equipment on the expedition. It's bulky, delicate, and weighs several tons; naturally Einstein is coming along to make sure that it works properly.
Even if Symmes was right, will there be a clear passage into the Earth's interior, and what else will the explorers find besides an empty cavity? If he was wrong, what will Einstein do when his hopes are crushed, and can the adventurers help him to find another way to perform his experiment?
Scotland Yard is baffled by a series of burglaries in which the thieves were apparently able to open safes as though they knew the combinations. Disturbed during one of the robberies, the thieves abandon a curious device, a wooden case containing a peculiar arrangement of aluminium prisms and other odd components, with elaborate vernier controls for adjusting their positions. For some reason the police ask the adventurers for their help in identifying the equipment - if they can't, an NPC should eventually remember the N-Ray story. Metric screw threads and dimensioning of components suggest that the box originated in Europe, not Britain. Has someone found a way to make N-Rays work, or is it all an elaborate ruse to cover an inside job or some other form of deception?
The 1920s. Lord John Roxton organises an expedition to Tibet, its goal the capture of a yeti. Naturally there are snags - not least, the fact that the hunt takes the adventurers to Shamballa, better known as Shangri-La, a lost valley ruled by psychic priests who have no desire for the outside world to learn anything about their ancient mysteries, and aren't nearly as nice as later stories will claim...
A variant of this idea is included in the adventures accompanying this collection.
While visiting some curious location (such as Shamballa, see above), the adventurers find evidence which suggests that Atlantis really existed; moreover, that it was identical with Lyonesse, supposedly a sunken island kingdom west of Ireland, and a major element of Arthurian myth. The evidence includes some Atlantean artefacts, which show evidence of advanced technology, and clues to the island's location. Somehow news leaks out, and the scene is set for a race between treasure hunters and looters, archaeologists, Arthurian enthusiasts, and everyone else who might possibly have an interest in the find.
1939. Professor Challenger's brain is stolen from the museum
collection at Edinburgh University. Is it a student prank, or a
prelude to something much more serious?
9.0 Charactersback to contents
Characters are listed in order of appearance in the stories, in order of publication. While it has been possible to include the important personalities from most of the stories, it wasn't feasible to cover everyone appearing in The Land Of Mist. Those selected below are felt to be the most useful characters for role playing purposes. Most of the birth-dates mentioned below are estimates. Where two skill levels are shown (eg [5/7]), the earlier figure is the skill before the Great War, the latter is the skill afterwards.
Edward Malone (Journalist) [LW, PB, LM, DM, WS] (born 1891)
BODY , MIND , SOUL , Artist (author) , Athlete (all sports) , Brawling , Marksman [5/7], Military arms [-/5],
Quote: "If you want to write good copy you must be where the things are."
Notes: Malone is the narrator of most of these stories, and probably the most important character in The Land Of Mist. He begins as a young journalist and well-known Rugby football player. His decision to look for 'a mission' to impress Gladys Hungerton leads him to join Challenger and others on their visit to South America. When he returns he finds that she has married someone else. He is well-known as an author, primarily for his accounts of the Lost World and Poison Belt episodes, which have been published as books as well as in the newspaper; most of the profits went to the Daily Gazette. During the Great War he serves in an infantry regiment, and is lucky enough to avoid injury. In the late 1920s he is converted to spiritualism and loses his job, but carries on as a free-lance writer and, later, business manager for Professor Challenger. He marries Enid Challenger in 1928.
Mr. R. McArdle (editor) [LW, PB, LM, DM] (born 1853)
BODY , MIND , SOUL , Business , Detective (investigative journalist) 
Quote: "You don't mean to say you really believe this stuff of his about mammoths and mastodons and great sea sairpents?"
Notes: McArdle is a Scotsman's Scotsman, a former investigative reporter who has become one of London's premier editors. Always referred to as "old", he was probably in his fifties at the time of the Lost World expedition, and is nearly eighty when last seen, but still in apparent good health. He is a sceptic, always unwilling to take on new ideas without a good deal of evidence. Of course he has seen numerous hoaxes, which may explain his attitude. He smokes cigarettes in a glass holder. His first name is never stated.
Jessie Challenger (Wife of Professor Challenger) [LW, PB] (born 1869)
BODY , MIND , SOUL , Actor (hysterics) , Artist (cookery and home-making) , First Aid 
Quote: "Oh, George, what a brute you are! Nothing but scandals from one end of the week to the other."
Notes: Mrs. Challenger is described as 'a small, bright, vivacious, dark-eyed lady, more French than English in her type'. She is obviously physically frail, and The Poison Belt implies that she might be at least partially an invalid; the statement '..Mrs. Challenger is in the habit of keeping her room of a morning..' suggests some illness which limits her activities. In view of her susceptibility to the "bad ether" in the Poison Belt episode, and her eventual death from pneumonia following influenza, it seems possible that she is an asthmatic.
Austin (Manservant and Chauffeur) [LW, PB] (born 1874)
BODY , MIND , SOUL , Brawling , Driving , Mechanic 
Notes: Austin (no other name is ever stated) is primarily Professor Challenger's chauffeur, but fills in as a general servant on the frequent occasions when someone else resigns or is given notice. He is extremely taciturn, rarely saying more than two or three words; his longest speech is in The Poison Belt, when he has been affected by Daturine. He has an extremely strong Cockney accent. Challenger periodically gives him his notice, but carries on paying him his wages when he doesn't leave. Austin is best summed up by his lament at the end of The Poison Belt, after hearing that the other characters passed the Bank Of England: '...all them millions inside and everybody asleep... ...and I not there!' [PB:6]
A good role model is Parker, from the TV series Thunderbirds.
Professor George Edward Challenger (Zoologist, Independent Thinker,
and Genius) [LW, PB, LM, DM, WS] (born 1863)
BODY , MIND , SOUL , Athlete (Mountaineer) , Brawling , Detective , Doctor , First Aid , Linguist (Portuguese, German, Amerind dialects) , Marksman , Scientist 
Quote: (roars) "You are the rankest impostor in London -- a vile, crawling journalist, who has no more science than he has decency in his composition!"
Notes: Challenger is the foremost original thinker of his day, an egotistical genius with an unfortunate habit of annoying his colleagues and suffering fools extremely badly. He has the body of a very large man, marred by short legs, and is heavily bearded, with dense body hair. Ignoring his high skull, he greatly resembles one of the ape-men of Maple White Land. He is independently wealthy, and owns a London flat (but seems to move frequently, possibly to avoid irate neighbours) and a country house. For more information see the stories and earlier sections of this worldbook.
Professor Summerlee (Scientist) [LW, PB, LM] (born 1844)
BODY , MIND , SOUL , Actor (barnyard impersonations) , First Aid , Marksman , Scientist 
Quote: "Like all such tribes, I shall expect to find them of polysynthetic speech and of Mongolian type."
Notes: Summerlee (no other name is stated) is a good second-rank scientist, widely respected as a careful observer and an honest man. He dresses carelessly, often forgets to wash, and is exceedingly absent-minded. He is addicted to pipe smoking. In the field he is whole-heartedly devoted to the collection of birds, insects, and other specimens. In [LM] he is mentioned as dead, and a message is received from his spirit.
Lord John Roxton (Adventurer) [LW, PB, LM] (born 1866)
BODY , MIND , SOUL , Athlete (all sports) , Brawling , Business , Detective , Driving , Linguist (Afrikaans, Portuguese, Amerind dialects) , Marksman , Melee Weapon , Military Arms [6/7], Pilot , Riding , Stealth .
Quote: "That's the rifle I used against the Peruvian slave-drivers three years ago. I was the flail of the Lord up in those parts, I may tell you, though you won't find it in any Blue-book."
Notes: Roxton is a seasoned explorer and hunter with an international reputation as a sportsman. He fought a guerrilla war against slavery in Peru, and is widely known and respected throughout South America. He dresses neatly and is always impeccably groomed, even on an expedition. He is lightly built but impressively strong, and fenced, boxed, and rowed for his college. He often speaks colloquially and drops the final 'g' from words. During the Great War he led a guerrilla force in East Africa, raiding German possessions, and was badly wounded.
Zambo (Negro bearer) [LW] (born 1885)
BODY , MIND , SOUL , Athlete (Running, weight lifting) , Brawling , Linguist (English, Portuguese, Amerind dialects) , Melee Weapon 
Quote: "I not leave you. Whatever come, you always find me here."
Notes: Zambo is described as 'a black Hercules' and 'as willing as any horse, and about as intelligent', but is obviously MUCH brighter than Malone believes; note that he speaks reasonably good English and several native dialects, and is the only member of the party to avoid all of the hazards of Maple White Land!
Gomez and Manuel (Treacherous Half-Breeds) [LW] (Born 1883 and 1886)
BODY , MIND , SOUL , Actor (feign loyalty) , Brawling , Linguist (English, Amerind dialects)  (Gomez only), Marksman , Melee Weapon , Stealth , Thief 
Quote: (Gomez) "As you lie dying, think of Lopez, whom you shot five years ago on the Putomayo River. I am his brother..." (Manuel does not speak English)
Notes: Gomez is a treacherous rat, Manuel his willing accomplice. Together they try to kill the members of the Lost World expedition, coming to suitably sticky ends when their treachery is revealed. No other names are stated for them, and Gomez is probably a pseudonym.
Mr. Joyce-Armstrong (Aviator) [HH] (born 1889)
BODY , MIND , SOUL , Detective , Driving , Marksman , Mechanic , Pilot , Scientist 
Quote: "This note-book may explain what I am trying to do, and how I lost my life in doing it. But no drivel about accidents or mysteries, if you please."
Notes: A pioneer of high-altitude flight, and a scientific martyr, Joyce-Armstrong deduced the presence of life in the upper atmosphere and set out to bring back proof. Unfortunately he didn't survive his second flight, but his notes and some corroborative evidence led to the eventual exploration of the aerial jungles, and the classification of their life. No first name is stated.
Enid Challenger (Daughter of Professor Challenger) [LM] (born 1896)
BODY , MIND , SOUL , Artist (writer) , Linguist (French, German, Italian) , Medium  (but is initially unaware of her ability, and untrained).
Quote: "Sorry, Father. You spoke with such assurance, I thought you knew something about it."
Notes: Enid is an up-to-date woman, who has tried to make her own career as a journalist and writer. She was educated in Switzerland, but later lives with her father, and eventually marries Edward Malone. She has raven-black hair, blue eyes, and a fresh complexion, and is "striking, if not beautiful, in appearance". She is softly spoken but has a very strong personality, and is quite able to hold her own against her father's outbursts.
Mrs. Debbs (Clairvoyante and Medium) [LM] (born 1876)
BODY , MIND , SOUL , Linguist (speak in tongues) , Medium 
Quote: "Vibrations! I want helpful vibrations. Give me a verse on the harmonium, please."
Notes: Tall, pale, and very thin, with an aquiline face. She wears gold-rimmed glasses. When in a trance she can see and hear the spirits of the dead, who clamour for her attention. Usually she only spends a few moments on each before moving on to the next.
Tom Linden (Materialisation Medium) [LM] (born 1882)
BODY , MIND , SOUL , Medium 
Quote: "The silly idiots kept on putting things into my mind. 'That's surely my Uncle Sam', and so forth. It blurs me so that I can see nothing clear."
Notes: Linden is an extremely powerful medium and clairvoyant who is capable of materialising the forms of the dead from ectoplasm. He is exhausted after each seance, and easily distracted by a hostile audience.
Silas Linden (Brute and Fake Medium) [LM] (born 1884)
BODY , MIND , SOUL , Actor (conjuror) , Brawling , Melee Weapon , Thief 
Quote: "You mind your own business, curse you!"
Notes: Silas is an ex-boxer, a brute and a bully who helps to trick his elder brother into prison, and systematically abuses his own children. He has an extremely short career as a false medium, unmasked after his first performance. He is eventually murdered.
The Reverend Charles Mason (Spiritualist Priest) [LM] (born 1879)
BODY , MIND , SOUL , Actor (preach) , Medium 
Quote: "I picture such a spirit lurking in the dark of the house which he curses by his presence, and ready to float out upon all whom he can injure."
Notes: Mason might best be described as a ghost-psychologist, who uses religious arguments and his powers of persuasion to make contact with ghosts and help them to reach higher planes. He prefers not to perform exorcisms, saying that they simply anger most ghosts.
Dr. Maupuis (French Psychic Researcher) [LM] (Born 1883)
BODY , MIND , SOUL , Artist (photography) , Detective , Psychology , Scientist 
Quote: "The pulse is now at seventy-two, but rises to one hundred under trance conditions. There are zones of marked hyper-aesthesia on his limbs. His visual field and pupillary reaction is normal."
Notes: The Doctor is more interested in the mechanisms of spiritualism than in its ethics and religious aspects. His English colleagues believe that this makes his work potentially dangerous. Maupuis specialises in experiments which display the physical truth of materialisations and other phenomena.
Theodore Nemor (Scientific Mercenary) [DM] (Born 1886)
BODY , MIND , SOUL , Linguist (Russian, German, English, Polish) , Mechanic , Scientist 
Quote: "I could imagine the whole Thames Valley being swept clean, and not one man, woman, or child left of all these teeming millions!"
Notes: Nemor is a genius, many years ahead of his time, who somehow finds out some of the fundamental secrets of the ether. Unfortunately he has no scruples or conscience, and would happily see the world destroyed to prove a scientific point. He vanishes without trace soon after his meeting with Professor Challenger.
Peerless Jones (Artesian Engineer) [WS] (born 1887)
BODY , MIND , SOUL , Artist (writer) , Athlete (Rugby Football) , Business , Mechanic (drilling) 
Quote: "Good heavens! You propose to sink a shaft through the Earth's crust?"
Notes: Jones, a former footballer and friend of Malone, is called in to help with the final stages of the Hengist Down experiment. He is lucky to survive the experience.
APPENDIX A - Sir Arthur Conan Doyleback to contents
Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan, 1859-1930, knighted 1902.
For portraits see 00_Doyle.GIF
Born in Edinburgh, Doyle qualified as a doctor in 1882, but wrote to supplement his income. He is best known for his creation of Sherlock Holmes, but was a prolific author of historical novels and other fiction. As well as the Challenger stories, his other work included several scientific romances, some supernatural fiction, comedies and romances, fantasy, horror, books and articles on spiritualism, plays, history, and works defending British actions in the Boer War (in which he helped to run a field hospital for several months), and attacking Belgian conduct in the Congo. His knighthood, reluctantly accepted, was an acknowledgement of his war work and of his fiction.
In addition to his writing, he was a well-known cricketer and sportsman, a pioneer of sports skiing, and one of Britain's first motorists. He successfully acted as a detective in several cases, although his skills seem to have been deficient in his dealings with psychic phenomena; his acceptance of the ludicrous Cottingsley "fairy photographs", and belief that Houdini was using psychic powers instead of normal conjuring tricks (in spite of Houdini's denials), suggest unusual credulity.
He probably ties with Rudyard Kipling as the most quoted author of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but this is mainly a result of the continuing popularity of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Most of his other fiction is now relatively obscure; his scientific romances, in particular, are rarely reprinted.
Professor Challenger was possibly his favourite character. He is probably based on Professor Rutherford of Edinburgh University, one of Doyle's teachers. Doyle even prepared a Challenger costume, complete with false beard, which was used for some faked photographs when The Lost World was serialised in The Strand Magazine in 1912. He also attempted to use the costume to fool members of his own family, most notably E.W. Hornung, the author of the Raffles crime stories. The Land Of Mist bases characters on his associates and other famous spiritualists; see the appendix at the end of the novel for some of the sources.
The list that follows is not complete; it concentrates on scientific romances and fantasy (starred stories are in this collection):
The Lost World was re-released as part of the collection Five Classic Adventure Novels (Harper Collins paperback 1995) with an introduction by George MacDonald Fraser. The other stories in the collection are Beau Geste, King Solomon's Mines, The Prisoner Of Zenda, and Under The Red Robe. They are accompanied by a filmography.
All of the Professor Challenger stories were reprinted as The Lost World and other
Stories (Wordsworth Classics 1995); this is by far the cheapest source for these books
on paper, and is still in print.
APPENDIX B - Sherlock Holmes In A Challenger Campaignback to contents
In a word, DON'T. Even Challenger should rarely be encountered; adding Holmes to any plot will inevitably cause problems.
Although Doyle created Professor Challenger and Sherlock Holmes, both characters have extraordinarily strong personalities and incredibly useful skills. He certainly never seems to have considered using them together; the only novel by other hands which uses them both is "Sherlock Holmes' War Of The Worlds" (see below), which still finds it necessary to keep them apart most of the time. Any campaign that takes both of them on board is going to run into major problems. Players are supposed to be the heroes of a role playing game; with these NPCs involved, adventurers are going to find it hard to make a real difference to the outcome, and will probably become spectators at a clash of the Titans.
While it's tempting to go into the matter in much more detail, most
referees should see the point. It isn't just coincidence that no-one
has ever written a Sherlock Holmes role playing game; there really are
fundamental reasons why the Holmes brand of omnipotence doesn't work
in this genre.
APPENDIX C - Professor Challenger Stories By Other Authorsback to contents
I suspect that this character has appeared elsewhere, and would
welcome more information.
APPENDIX D - Recommended Reading And Viewingback to contents
Film And TV
The 1925 version is a good silent evocation of the novel, with stop-motion animation of dinosaurs by Willis O'Brien, who later made King Kong.
The 1960 remake, an Irwin Allen production, uses trick photography to enlarge lizards into extremely unconvincing dinosaurs.
The 1992 remake (Harmony Gold Pictures) went straight to video. There are some changes to the plot;
It's not even a turkey; it's bad, but not so bad it's funny or memorable! On the other hand, it is genuinely based on Doyle's book and acknowledges the fact. Jurassic Park and its sequel The Lost World conspicuously fail to mention Doyle.