By GW Thomas
Cameron's book is a real treat. Well-paced, a page-turner, and not much like the silly Disney movie. It is the most fun you can have for so cheap a price too. Go to any used book store and you'll find a dozen copies in the cheapie bin. Unjustly forgotten. Island, like so many other books used by Hollywood, suffered from quick-buck merchandising. The 1974 cover features the movie poster and looks like a bad movie tie-in. People have forgotten the original along with the movie.
The basic storyline involves a group of rescuers in search of a pilot, the son of the expedition's leader, who has disappeared in the Arctic, into a place where the native Inuit will not go. The rescue party ventures to this mysterious volcanic island, but not in an airship. (That idea was stolen from Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan at the Earth's Core (1929) where a dirigible enters the fantastic land of Pellucidar through a polar opening.) Cameron's original team travel by ship and then on dog-sleds.
Ian Cameron was a bit of a mystery since the name is a pseudonym. The author is actually Donald Gordon Payne, an English writer who had his first hit with Walkabout (1959) as James Vance Marshall. He wrote other books, but none under his real name. The Lost Ones was the first of three novels he would pen between 1960 and 1976 in a Jules Verne mode.
The second book was titled The Mountains at the Bottom of the World (1972), an obvious connection to the Disney movie, but was later released as Devil Country. This novel has a team of explorers going to the Andes to dispute a border between countries, but find a race of sasquatch-like creatures who are the survivors of a prehistoric race. The journey is difficult, as the Andes are some of the toughest mountains in the world, but the cavemen are worse, being man-eaters. The captives are held prisoner for a while, the cavemen saving them to be eaten later. Cameron does some of his best writing in this book, but the plotting sadly is very familiar to anyone who has read The Lost Ones. Despite this, and yet more volcanic escapes and chases, the story never lags and the characters are enjoyable.
We get to experience a number of fantastic scenes involving volcanoes (again!) as well as a giant squid, a snow petrel that is somehow linked to the mystery of the San Delmar (a Spanish ship that foundered on the island in 1820), and the ghost of a dead girl. In the end you find out what happened and how Susan exorcises her spirits. The plot is not as active as the preceding novels, for the scientists are stranded on an island, but Cameron does work in plenty of fumaroles and 1970s-style interest in the supernatural. Of his three books, I think it is the most grounded in reality, but consequently the least interesting. It was "Ian Cameron's" last Vernian adventure novel. Payne continued to write military novels and non-fiction under this name.
Was Ian Cameron the last of the old-style adventure writers, mixing fact and fancy in a restrained blend that skirted the edge of unbelievably? I think not. The three novels by Michael Crichton: Congo (1980) Sphere (1987), and Jurassic Park (1990) effectively spring-boarded from three classic adventure novels by HR Haggard, Jules Verne, and A Conan Doyle. Crichton doesn't rewrite them so much as take inspiration from them, mix in plenty of present-day technology, and see what happens. It's a much hipper way of doing what Cameron did and they all ended up as movies that didn't ruin the author. In the case of Jurassic Park, a movie franchise that is still going today. And Crichton is not the last either, with good writers like James Rollins taking us all over the world for daring-do in Subterranean (1999), Excavation (2000), Deep Fathom (2001), Amazonia (2002), Ice Hunt (2003) and the Sigma Force franchise. Adventure is not dead, merely the best-selling genre it was back in H. R. Haggard's day..
GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.