The Greatest Adventure: A Science Fiction Classic [MultiFormat]
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eBook by John Taine
eBook Category: Science Fiction
eBook Description: "A Crisp Style and Soaring Imagination!" So writes Robert Silverberg, the multi-award winning author of the Majipoor Chronicles about the science fiction of John Taine. In this classic 1928 novel of what Silverberg calls "provocative ideas and roaring adventure," a daring young woman flyer joins a band of scientists on a voyage to Antarctica in search of a strange land where evolution runs wild. Before it is over she will experience peril, make an almost impossible trek across the ice, discover love, and share in one of the most remarkable discoveries in the history of science. The Greatest Adventure is part of what the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction hails as Taine's "best and most interesting work--a long sequence of mutational [science fiction novels] involving rapid and uncontrolled evolution ... that helped extend the horizons of sf and is one of [its] outstanding early products." Here there be beasties, and dinosaurs, the remains of a civilization whose science once outstripped its wisdom, and a deadly new form of life that if released could threaten the world. John Taine (1883-1960) was really California Institute of Technology professor Eric Temple Bell, a renowned mathematical theorist with an interest in all the sciences that lends a solid foundation to the scientific speculations in his novels. But Taine possessed formidable literary talents as well. No wonder Robert Silverberg praises his "crisp style--knack for storytelling and sense of narrative flow [that], combined with his background as a professional scientist to make, him almost uniquely qualified to write excellent science fiction?"
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner, Published: 2005
Fictionwise Release Date: June 2005
CHAPTER I BIRD OR REPTILE?
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UNDOUBTEDLY Dr. Eric Lane was a man to be envied. With ordinary luck he might yet look forward to thirty-five years of the keenest pleasure a highly intelligent and healthy man can experience, the discovery of natural laws and their application to the good of his fellow men.
Although today was his fortieth birthday he felt not a day over eighteen. He smiled as the thought occurred to him, for it reminded him of his daughter Edith. She was just the age that he felt.
"We're a pair of kids," he laughed, looking fondly at the white and gold porcelain image of a sleepy tomcat, which she had deposited on his worktable as a birthday offering. Their appreciation of cats was but one among scores of likings which they shared in perfect understanding. Edith's gift of sympathy no doubt was responsible for her father's continued widowerhood. Not once in the ten years since his wife's death had Dr. Lane thought of marrying. His wife had been like Edith, quick to understand when he left the thought but half expressed, and tactfully willing to let him think in silence for days when the mood was on him. Her early death had broken him for a year or two, but with Edith and his work to live for, he had gradually taken a grip on himself and set his face to the future.
"I wonder what she is doing," he mused, dwelling affectionately on the sleepy cat of her offering. As if in answer to his unspoken thought the study door opened noiselessly two inches. An appraising brown eye took in the situation.
"Come in," he called. "I'm not working. Your precious cat makes me long to sleep."
Edith entered. "Have you everything you want?" she asked, ready to withdraw at the slightest symptom of work on her father's part.
"Everything," he replied with a smile, "but you. Come in and stay a bit. Birthdays come only once a year."
Edith joined him by the worktable with its litter of microscopes and queer looking specimens pallid in their neatly stoppered alcohol jars.
"Do you know," he said, "it sometimes scares me a little?"
"What scares you, dear?" she queried, for once at a loss.
"Why, that I do have everything I want."
"Well, why shouldn't you? Surely you have earned it."
"So have thousands of other men. Yet they have nothing while I have everything."
"Oh," she laughed, "it isn't so bad as all that. You are not a billionaire. Nor do you want the whole earth as some of the others do, and cry when they can't get it."
"Still," he persisted, "there are thousands of men as able as I am who slave all their lives and have nothing but a bare living to show for all their labor."
He strolled over to the French windows and stood gazing absently at the clear spring beauty of San Francisco Bay and the tawny Marin hills on the farther shore. With all the world to choose from he had selected this spot its his abiding place, high upon Telegraph Hill overlooking San Francisco and the whole sublime sweep of the harbor. Often he would stand at this window for an hour at a time, lost in thought, only half consciously watching the swift white ferry boats rounding Goat Island with the clock-like precision of mechanical toys.
In all weathers the colorful panorama of bay, city and steep hills had a stimulating yet soothing effect on his mind. Although much of his work with the strangely diseased things of the sea was not beautiful, the ever changing beauty of his outlook seemed to infuse him with inexhaustible energy for the repellent drudgery which is the necessary foundation of any scientific advance. The warm spring breeze rustling the leaves of the young eucalyptus by the open window brought him back to the present and his surroundings.
"Yes," he continued, "there is young Drake, for instance, twenty-nine and as poor as a crow. When I was has age I had been a millionaire several times over for almost six years. Yet Drake has a fundamentally better mind than I have. He simply did not have my chance. That is all."
"But suppose he had been given your chance," Edith protested, could he have taken it?"
"No," her father replied thoughtfully. "There's not a grain of business sense in him. Still, for all that, I maintain that his head is better than mine."
"Then why doesn't he use it?" There was just a tinge of scorn in Edith's retort. Her father glanced up at her face in surprise.
"I thought you and Drake were great pals," he said.
"We are," she admitted readily enough. "But the sheer futility of his everlasting inscriptions rather gets on my nerves. I do wish he would turn his brains to something less trivial."
"How do you know his work is so useless?" the Doctor parried.
"Oh, if you are going to begin one of your scientific attacks on me," she laughed, "I'll retire at once to my humble corner. I'm routed. But can't you see," she protested earnestly, "that all his deciphering of outlandish inscriptions cannot make an atom of difference, one way or the other, to human beings today? What does it matter how a half-civilized race, extinct centuries ago, predicted eclipses of the moon? And who on earth cares whether they counted by twenties instead of by tens as we do? Will it make life more endurable for any human being to know how those dead and forgotten people disposed of their corpses?"
"Perhaps," the Doctor hazarded with a smile, "you would prefer to see our young friend Drake turning his unique talents to the unsolved problem of infant colics?"
"It would be more useful," she flashed.
"But consider," her father demurred, "what would become of the Mexican and Guatemalan inscriptions in the meantime. Who would ever read them, fully and satisfactorily? If Drake can't do it, nobody can. After his brilliant success with the Bolivian puzzles he is almost certain to make short work of the rest."
"Yes," Edith admitted. "And if he does, what then?"
"Why, my dear, he will have saved numberless future generations of young Drakes from wasting their lives on a useless piece of tomfoolery."
She laughed. "I knew when we began that you would corner me. Still, I'm morally right, because you slipped out by the back door. That isn't what you really think of Drake's work."
"It isn't, angel child," he admitted. "You must look at life in a broader way. The conquest of disease and the discovery of the origin of life are not even half the problem. As the old fellows used to say, the whole is one, and you can't change the smallest part in any place without altering the entire fabric everywhere. Drake's Bolivian hieroglyphics are just as vital a part of science as are the obscure fish parasites that I mess with in the hope of learning something about cancer. And I shouldn't wonder," he concluded half seriously, "if some day Drake's work gives us a clue to the central--"
"And shows us what life is?" she laughed. "When it does, I'll eat that."
She pointed to a particularly loathsome reptile in a glass jar. It was one of the Doctor's favorites, as the tumor to which it had succumbed appeared to be something unique in the history of disease.
"You will eat it without salt or pepper?" he stipulated.
"Absolutely," she agreed.
"Very well then. We shall see."
Edith turned to go. "Shall I send up anyone who comes with a real specimen?"
"Only if it looks pretty good."