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The Purple Cloud (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

M P Shiel
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 July 2012 Penguin Classics

Dark, desolate and fantastical, The Purple Cloud was a pioneer in the genre of apocalyptic novels, and the first great science fiction work of the twentieth century. It inspired authors such as H. P. Lovecraft and Stephen King.

The Purple Cloud tells the grandly bleak story of Adam Jeffson: the first man to reach the North Pole and the last man left alive on earth. A sweet-smelling, deadly cloud of poisonous gas has devastated the world, and as Jeffson travels the stricken globe in search of human life, he slowly succumbs to madness, and unleashes fire and destruction on his planet.

John Sutherland's introduction discusses M. P. Shiel's dissolute life, the originality of his book and its place within the context of 'last man' novels. This edition also includes a chronology, notes and further reading.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (26 July 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141196424
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141196428
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.7 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 88,556 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


Fantastic, weird, macabre...imaginative, fascinating, convincing, as some dreadful nightmare...a remarkable piece of work...head and shoulders above the average tale of fantastic adventure (New York Times Book Review )

Delivered with a skill and artistry falling little short of actual majesty (H P Lovecraft )

The first great science fiction novel of the science fiction century (John Clute )

One of the best last-man books, The Purple Cloud still surprises with its passionate despair and prescient scenes of mass extinction, motorcars, electrified billboards and telephone sex by undersea cable (Times Literary Supplement )

About the Author

M. P. Shiel (1865-1947) was born in Montserrat in the West Indies. At the age of fifteen he was crowned by his father 'King Felipe of Redonda', Redonda being a rocky islet in the Caribbean. In 1885, Shiel came to England and from 1895 onwards, he earned his living through writing, specializing in wildly imaginative science fiction with a sideline in detective novels. He had a tumultuous private life, fathering several children by different women, and in 1914 he was sentenced to sixteen months in Wormwood Scrubs for 'indecently assaulting and carnally knowing' his partner's twelve-year-old daughter. In his old age, he settled in a cottage in Sussex and became increasingly preoccupied with religious themes. Shiel died in 1947, and is today chiefly remembered for his novel The Purple Cloud (1901).

John Sutherland is emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London. He has edited numerous titles for Penguin Classics and is the author of many works of literary criticism, biography and memoir.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A little known gem 30 Oct 2012
By Moelwyn
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is something special. I came across it by accident and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a pioneer of the last man novels but what I most like about it is that it is a pioneer of the schizophrenic novel too. The main charachter Adam Jeffson slips in and out of psychosis throughout this book and battles with the darkside and the light. He calls these black power and white power. This is a theme in many schizophrenics life, I know this from personal experience. M P Shiel as far as I know did not suffer from mental illness, but he has a good insight into the condition. Remember Shiel wrote about the anti hero with full blown psychosis many many years before Philip K Dick got there.

The writing is like H G Wells on acid. It deserves a wider readership. It's one of the best reads that I've come across in a long time IMHO. If like me you are a fan of the old long dead authors you should buy this book. I'm sure that you'll enjoy it. If you like the modern horror writers you should probably give it a miss.This book is a not so well known gem and deserves to be more widely read.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars nice 18 Mar 2014
By a
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
very good book
very nice
you like sci fi you read this
must be good english to read book this
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too Much of Nothing 1 Feb 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
With its occult overtones and highly-strung language, this early disaster novel is more reminiscent of Poe and Lovecraft than it is of Wyndham or Christopher, for example.

It starts well. There is a spot of intrigue in London then our narrator, Adam Jeffson, sets sail for the Arctic in a ship packed to the gunwales with period details. After a spot more intrigue en route he reaches the North Pole, which is depicted here as a satisfyingly weird landscape. Amusingly, a completely redundant editor's note informs us that this description is not based on a true account. *

Meanwhile, a purple cloud envelops the rest of the world and poisons everybody. Returning south, Jeffson finds a macabre scene awaiting him, which he describes with some flair. He searches for other survivors, but finds none. This is unfortunate, not so much for him as for us, as the dearth of other characters results in a lack of drama in the long middle section of the book. The narrative drive fades away and Jeffson collapses into decadence. I suppose one should make allowances, given the extremity of his situation, but this is a man whose idea of a worthy activity is to build a bungalow of gold. His prose style doesn't help either. His habit of repeating, repeating words for emphasis starts to drag, and he has a fetish for detail, particularly concerning objects of the Near East, that transcends the evocative and ventures well into the realm of the tedious.

Eventually Jeffson finds a fragment of plot amidst the ruins of Istanbul, but it's too little, too late. Having started with enthusiasm, after 260 pages I was glad to leave his company.

* Excessive annotation is common fault of Penguin Classics, but this book is the worst example I've found. The notes are occasionally informative, but more usually inconsequential. Worse, some of them refer forward to events later in the book. I advise casual readers to ignore the asterisks, which litter the text like bird droppings.
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