Sunday, January 13, 2013

Fortnightly Book, January 13

I spent second grade through seventh grade (and senior year of high school) in Carlsbad, NM, which is on the Pecos River. The Pecos River is an extraordinary breeding ground for carp, which are already a hardy and fertile fish species. Carp can be a pretty destructive species, crowding out other fish and unbalancing ecosystems, so it helps to have something in place to keep their numbers down. Every so often there would be a carp tournament in the Carlsbad Municipal portion of the river. You'd go down for the day with rod and reel and lots of white bread (easily the best bait for carp, rolled into little balls and put on the hook) and pull carp up like you wouldn't believe. I don't remember much in the way of detail, although since they were fishing tournaments there probably wasn't all that much to remember. But one year (fifth or sixth grade, perhaps) we managed to get a prime location near a water outlet, and just kept pulling them up without stop. I remember a little bit more about that year because I won a place in some contest or other (sponsored by a radio station, I think). I think it was third place. And the prize was an ice chest and a choice between a book and something else, I forget which. For a bookish kid like myself, there was no contest there, and so I came into possession of a copy of The Teka Stone: A Science Fiction Story by George B. Markle IV. Since school is starting up this week again and this term I am behind on preparation due to some sort of sinus/cough thing that won't entirely go away, I needed the fortnightly boook to be a light burden -- a re-read, not too difficult. And so I've decided to revisit this one.

Almost certainly the reason the book was one of the prizes was that it was written by a resident of Carlsbad. George B. Markle IV is actually better known for his writings on health; his most cited work, at least at first glance, seems to be a work published in the November 1988 American Medical News satirizing the push for organ donations among executed prisoners, and several other works I've come across (usually letters to editors) show the same interest in general medical ethics. He was an M.D. and general surgeon -- is still listed as practicing, although I don't know how extensively. According to the blurb on the back of the book, he was born in Hazelton, PA and graduated from Yale and the University of Pennsylvania. The Markles are a very old, and historically very wealthy, family in that area; all sorts of things are named after them.

The book is an adventure story of a deliberately old-fashioned kind. The blurb on the back gives this explanation:

George B. Markle IV is a doctor of medicine, a general surgeon, an artist, philosopher, lecturer, columnist and writer. He was raised on good literature and deplores the dearth of writers today who can hold the attention of all ages as could H. Ryder [sic] Haggard, Robert Lewis [sic] Stevenson, H. G. Wells and others of the past who told marvelous stories without filth, explicit sex or gratuitous violence.

Here is an adventure story - call it a science fiction novel, if you will - that harks back to the days when a book could be spellbinding without being degrading or sordid.

The publisher, as you might guess from a blurb like that, seems to be a small private publishing firm; I'm not even sure if it still exists. Nonetheless, the description is really rather accurate. There is something rather H. Rider Haggard-ish about the story, there is no explicit sex, and there is no gratuitous violence. Rather than sex and violence, the story relies on suspense, and does so, if my memory is correct, quite as well as one could wish.

It all starts when an archeology professor joins an expedition to the Yucatan. Things go horribly wrong when their plane is forced down in a little-known and dangerous part of the jungle, where they discover the ruins of the long-lost Teka civilization and learn the terrible secret of their downfall....


  1. MrsDarwin8:01 AM

    This sounds earnestly delightful.

    I read King Solomon's Mines about a decade ago, and was most surprised not at the prevalent cultural attitudes, which were to be expected, but at the crucial role played by a set of dentures -- it wasn't so much the actual incident as that the youngish character had had all his teeth pulled, and Haggard mentions it without batting an eye, as if you, the reader, should have assumed that in that day and age, someone in the party would have been without their teeth.

  2. branemrys8:54 PM

    I had forgotten about the dentures, but you're right that we wouldn't normally think of it as standard adventuring equipment.


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