Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Classic Sci-Fi: The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska Press/Bison Books
Date: 1918 (1999)
Acquired: purchased used
Read: because I love old science fiction
Reading time: one week
Note: This edition comprises all three Caspak books, The Land That Time Forgot, The People That Time Forgot, and Out of Time's Abyss
Bowen Tyler, Jr., is on his way to the war in Europe when the ship he's on is torpedoed by a German U-boat. Through an odd series of events, he ends up on said U-boat with a motley crew of Germans, Americans, and one lady, only to wind up floating around the South Pacific and running into the legendary island of Caprona. Once on Caprona, the adventurers encounter creatures from the earth's prehistoric past as well as humans in varying stages of evolution. Separated by attacks and treason, Tyler, crew member Bradley, and would-be rescuer Billings forge three separate narratives of this strange new land.
The first two parts of The Land That Time Forgot are excellent adventure tales, filled with action, mystery, and a little bit of romance. Unlike some older books, Burroughs' writing has not become antiquated with time, and the novel is as easy to read as any recent book. Other than most of the Germans being double-crossing sabotagers, the book does not carry many of its era's stereotypes, either. I was quite surprised when *spoiler alert* two of the main characters married Caspak natives after having said repeatedly that they do not love them, the girls being of other "castes" designed to be somewhat similar to Neanderthal people.
The evolutionary aspect of Caspak is interesting, though I never figured out Burroughs' purpose in designing it as such. Individuals evolve from tadpoles to nearly-modern humans as they move from south to north on the island, a journey which takes an unknown (but very long) number of years. Very few people - and then only at the top of the evolutionary chain - are born as are regular humans. In some ways, the novel could be viewed as an outline of evolution contained in one individual rather than by species' changes over millennia, but Burroughs does not delve far enough into scientific details for that.
The third part of the book is more bizarre, moving from science fiction into fantasy. It's almost as if Burroughs wrapped up the storyline at the end of the second part, then remembered there were a few loose ends and finished them in the final part. Here we meet the Wieroos, a skeletal-looking, murdering bunch with wings. Normally an ultimate show-down between the Wieroos and highest order of humans would be expected, but everyone from our world leaves before anything is resolved, with the Caspakian order remaining as before. It's a rather unsatisfying ending to an otherwise satisfying read.