Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Out of Time’s Abyss by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Weakest link in the Caspak series
Out of Time’s Abyss was originally published in the November 1918 issue of the pulp fiction periodical Blue Book Magazine. It is the third novel in Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Caspak trilogy, following The Land That Time Forgot and The People That Time Forgot. The three volumes relate the adventures of a group of lost travelers stranded on the lost continent of Caprona, also known as Caspak, where creatures from all stages of evolution coexist side by side. Though the stories of the three books are intertwined, each novel stars a different hero. Out of Time’s Abyss focuses on Bradley, one of the British sailors who arrived on the island in the first book. Although I found the first two volumes only mildly entertaining, I’m a sucker for a trilogy, so I stuck it out until the end. Unfortunately, the final novel is the least interesting of the three.

Bradley is captured by a winged creature called a Wieroo, an intelligent humanoid species unique to Caspak. The Wieroo takes him to the island of Oo-oh, where he is imprisoned within the Wieroo capital city. While in captivity, Bradley gains first-hand experience of Wieroo culture, which places the most brutal and violent killers at the apex of their social, political, and religious hierarchy. He also learns the strange mechanics of how evolution works on Caspak. The previous volumes had hinted at this mysterious secret so thoroughly that the ultimate revelation is anticlimactic. The final explanation is also terribly confusing and leaves many questions unanswered. While engineering his own escape, Bradley discovers that he is not the only human captive in the Wieroo citadel. He frees a woman prisoner named Co-Tan, and together the two seek a means of egress from the island.

Despite the science fiction elements carried over from the first two novels, this book is purely a horror story. The Wieroo are hideous demons more at home in a tale of the supernatural than in a lost world adventure. What I liked about the first two novels was the biological and evolutionary diversity of Caspak. The fictional world that Burroughs created is loaded with possibilities, but here the concept is squandered even more than in the first two volumes. By focusing on the Wieroo, Burroughs abandons the prehistoric subject matter entirely, instead opting for creepy, blood-thirsty villains that could just as easily inhabit another planet. Aren’t tyrannosaurs, pterodactyls, woolly mammoths, sabre-toothed tigers, and Cro-Magnon hunters exciting enough? Why does Burroughs have to resort to bat-winged vampire men? To be fair, there are a few moments of spine-tingling suspense and macabre thrills among the Wieroo, but mostly it’s just the usual repetitive cycle of capture and escape.

The appearance of Co-Tan provides yet another opportunity for a cavewoman romance, which, after the first two books, feels all too familiar. In fact, the grand finale of the series only reinforces how little the three novels differ from one another. Reading the adventures of Tyler, Billings, and Bradley—the three heroes of the three Caspak novels—is a lot like experiencing the same story thrice. The second book, The People That Time Forgot, is the best of the three, but in its foreshadowing of future revelations it makes promises that Out of Time’s Abyss doesn’t keep. If you’re reading this review, it’s probably too late to advise you to avoid the first two installments, but I can warn you that this third and final volume is probably not worth your time.
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