Mind-bending Prose at the End of the World Feb 19, 2008
This flawed but still magnificent 1901 work was an early "end of the world" novel, exerting an influence on Stephen King's "The Stand" among many others. Shiel's work is distinguished by indescribably ornate prose and a wide range of erudite references. The power of "The Purple Cloud" is also its downfall; the last third of the novel can't match the first sections, in which Shiel paints, with insane visionary power, the enduring modern fantasy of finding oneself the last man alive on earth. The protagonist Adam Jeffson is the first to reach the North Pole, where his presence seems to trigger a bizarre phenomenon of natural vengeance for his hubris- descending by ship from the pole, he finds not a single soul alive, as a lethal cloud of purple poison has spread over the earth, obliterating all life in its path. Jeffson, borne on waves of Shiel's billowing, decadent poetry of the damned, begins his own campaign of obliteration, burning the dead cities of the earth. Shiel achieves a heightened, widescreen glory unencumbered by plausibility- you will love or hate this book depending on your appreciation for verbal audacity and 50-cent words. Fans of Poe, Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith will find much to appreciate here.