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Literature / The Poison Belt

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The Poison Belt is a 1913 sequel to The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle. Professor George Edward Challenger (the cantankerous hero of The Lost World) predicts that the Earth will pass through a belt of "poisonous ether" which will kill all life on the planet. Together with his wife and his companions from his previous adventure, Intrepid Reporter Edward Malone, Gentleman Adventurer Lord John Roxton, and Absentminded Professor (and Challenger's former rival) Professor Summerlee, Challenger holes up in an airtight room of his own design to await, and hopefully survive, the coming apocalypse. Has a Twist Ending!

Tropes used in this novel:

  • Ascended Extra: Challenger's wife Jessie and their chauffeur Austin have larger roles than they did in The Lost World.
  • After the End: The last part of the story, wherein the character emerge after Earth has finished passing through the belt and the ether has dissipated. The most effective part of the book involves Challenger and the others driving through the countryside and witnessing the devastation wrought by everyone dropping in their tracks (mostly automobile collisions and construction accidents). Doyle really makes the reader feel the weight of loss as the characters do.
  • Apocalypse How: Planetary. Challenger believes the titular belt will wipe out all of humanity and that only he and his friends, locked in their airtight room, will survive. As it turns out, the ether was just a sedative.
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  • Cozy Catastrophe: The Challengers and their friends sit out what they think is the end of the world in the airtight room, which is pretty comfy even by modern standards. It's the waiting and anxiety that makes it difficult.
  • Deadly Gas: The titular poison belt, which is described as being made up of a kind of undefined "ether."
  • Demoted to Extra: Malone, Roxton and Summerlee don't have a lot to do in this story.
  • Depopulation Bomb: The ether before it turns out it isn't poisonous.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: What Challenger predicts the planet passing through the ether belt will result in.
  • Everybody Lives: The Twist Ending is that the ether wasn't poisonous, it merely knocked everyone out.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Professor Challenger is still Professor Challenger; the novel begins with him back to his old reporter-assaulting ways after one of Malone's fellow journalists deigns to bother him at home.
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  • Instant Sedation: The actual effect of the ether, instead of death.
  • Just Before the End: Much of the novel takes place during the leadup to Earth's passing through the belt of ether. The Twist Ending, of course, reveals it isn't really the end.
  • Killed Mid-Tuneup: Austin collapses from the effects of the gas in the middle of working on the car. Since the ether turns out to be non-fatal, it instead turns out to be Collapsed Mid-Tuneup.
  • Locked in a Room: The bulk of the book involves the main characters waiting out the end in a special room Challenger designed.
  • Long Title: The book's full title is "The Poison Belt: Being an Account of Another Amazing Adventure of Professor Challenger."
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Though the ether isn't directly lethal, there are consequences to knocking out the entire planet so quickly. Trains crash and cities catch fire, killing thousands—though the protagonists find that number joyously low, since they thought the gas had killed billions.
  • Twist Ending: Of course, the ending reveals that (almost) Everybody Lives. The earlier gut-wrenching drive through the countryside and the horrifying sight of all the seemingly dead people makes it all the more joyous and triumphant when the main characters find a half-conscious policeman, followed by everyone else slowly waking up. As Twist Endings go, it's definitely on the happier side.
  • Un-Paused: When humans wake up from the ether's sedative effects, they resume whatever they were doing before without any pause. It takes a while for the protagonists to convince everyone that they're missing 38 hours of time.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: The protagonists are dismayed when they look out the window and see Challenger's chauffeur, Austin, succumb to the gas. With shame, Malone realizes that none of them had even considered inviting Austin—or any of Challenger's other house staff—into their apocalypse shelter.