24 March 2016

Early SF Tales from the Eaton Collection: The Next Crusade by Robert Cromie

Brief prelude to point out that my attempt to catch up on audio reviewing continues, with the second meeting of the Eighth Doctor and River Song this month, in the second volume of DOOOOOOOOOOOM COALITION.

Hardcover, 240 pages
Published 1896
Borrowed from the Eaton Collection
Read January 2015
The Next Crusade by Robert Cromie

This is, without a doubt, the best of the books I read at the Eaton Collection. It's apparently a sequel to an 1889 novel called For England's Sake, but stands alone from it, as I never was confused. I don't know if they share any characters, or just a future history. I did like what Cromie says of his project in the preface: "I make no apology for taking upon myself to write the history of the future. This method already has many students; and certainly some advantages over that of writing the history of the past. It can hardly be so full of errors" (v). Basically, it's Turkey and Russia and Germany vs. England and Austria, which isn't quite the way the next war lined up, but whatever.

Cromie's story doesn't have the fantastic inventions that George Griffith would bring to the future war genre the next year, but Cromie groks what few of his contemporaries did: that he could have actual character stories playing out against his future-history backdrop. The Next Crusade isn't really the tale of the Anglo-Turkish War, but of the poor gentleman Charlie Cameron, his friend John Jackson, and the delightfully crotchety sergeant-major Joe Huggins. In some ways it's a very pessimistic story, in other ways it's very jingoistic (Cromie really hates on the Turks*), but on the whole, it's a rollicking war story of one of the better kinds: good characters and great naval battles!

* "The purpose of this enterprise was intrinsically barbaric and brutal, but, alas! necessary. Absolutely it was wrong. Relatively it was right. It was the least wrong possible, for it would displace a greater wrong. It was a New Crusade, the grandest that had ever sailed from the West unto the East" (72-3).

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