The Poison Belt by Arthur Conan Doyle
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This story is of novelette or novella length.
Although I'm quite fond of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, I've never ready his Professor Challenger stories. Sherlock Holmes takes place at an earlier age - horse-drawn carriages and things like that - but I haven't tended to react to them as being "dated". Perhaps, that is because the horses and such are generally incidental to the story. Perhaps, it is because this is a story about a scientist and a cosmological event that The Poison Belt did leave me with more of a “dated” feel.
The premise is that astronomers have detected changes in the spectrums being received from other stars and planets. The conclusion is that there is something out in space (the “ether” according to the story) interfering with the light from those sources. Professor Challenger concludes that whatever it is could be a hazard to Earth. Within a day or so, there begins to be signs of health problems among humans. This is rather sudden, leaving little time to respond. Nevertheless, I didn't find it very satisfying that Challenger's idea is to seal up a room with four other people and a few canisters of oxygen to let them live long enough to watch everyone else die first. (And there is no suggestion Challenger advised others elsewhere to attempt to do this. Nor do they invite in any of their servants.)
They only use the sealed room after they start feeling serious effects. Both before and after entering the sealed room they discuss some matters related to the ether and the extinction of animal life on Earth. The story isn't very much about solving this problem or doing other things. It's more about talking on topics that didn't strike me as being that relevant today. (Of course, we face threats to the future of humanity today, but I don't think these discussions shed light on today's threats.)
It's hard to say too much more with out spoilers. Further comments, which include spoilers, are below the following Science Issues section.
There are dated elements of science. Outer space is referred to as the ether. (“Ether” was a concept which had been disproved some years previously. “Ether” was supposed to be a mainly immaterial presence filling the universe.) The fact this part of the ether had an aspect that is poisonous to Earth life certainly suggests it had a material / chemical nature - but this is not treated as being a serious issue conflicting with the supposed immaterial nature of the ether. More confusion on this matter occurs when they are in the sealed room and Challenger sees living protozoa in a microscope slide he sealed the previous day. He insists that the slide is sealed so it's not getting the room’s extra oxygen to compensate for the poison, but the poisonous ether can get through the slide's sealing because material things don't stop ether. Yet, somehow this immaterial ether affects living things and the light from astronomical sources,
Comments with Spoilers
Not everyone dies. Of course, that's less depressing than if they did. However, one may feel one has been hoodwinked as far as what readers have been led to believe. So the story summary is: Everyone is going to die. Let's have a few people sit around with some oxygen so they can watch everyone else die, and then a few hours later die themselves. Everybody else dies. Everybody doesn't die. They appreciate the value of life.
The apparent purpose of this story - the "moral of the story" - is the suggestion that a near-miss with extinction would make the human race wake up, perceive what was truly important in life and work in that direction. Unfortunately, The Poison Belt was published in 1913 - one year before the outbreak of WWI. The horrors and millions of dead in that war did not wake up humanity enough to prevent WWII only 20 years later. While there have been a variety of positive changes in the world since then, humanity still has difficulty focusing its resources on threats such as global climate change. Perhaps, Doyle will be proven correct that when we do face as imminent and universal a threat of total extinction we will take a new path. We may have the opportunity to find out.