|Hardcover, 240 pages|
Published 1976 (originally 1891)
Borrowed from the library
Read June 2018
Alas! that it is always thus with the brilliant, god-like science begotten of organic life. The touch of a baby's finger, the falling weight of a hair, and it bites the dust before the demon wrath of inorganic force. (238-9)It's hard to read this book and not conclude that H. G. Wells was inspired by it when he wrote The First Men in the Moon (1900-01): a wacky, abstracted scientist builds a sphere-shaped spaceship because he's figured out something about gravity, and uses it to travel to another world where he interacts with the inhabitants, and the whole story ends with the spaceship destroyed (as the above quotation refers to). But apparently Wells's Moon story was not inspired by Cromie's Mars one. In any case, as always, Wells's is the much better book, and as always, Cromie blandly operates in the subgenre that Wells questions the assumptions of.
The plot of A Plunge into Space is pretty straightforward. Henry Barnett works out the secret of gravity; his explorer pal Alexander MacGregor recruits a group of people to go on a mission to Mars with them, consisting of a financier, a literary man, an artist, a politician, and a reporter. They go there and spend the middle of the book learning a lot of boring stuff about the supposed utopian society of Mars (Cromie clearly thought that attempts to restructure the Earth's political system were doomed to failure); also one of the group's members falls in love with a Martian woman. Then they go home, but the Martian woman story away so she has to be jettisoned into space so the oxygen doesn't run out. Her lover is so overcome by grief that he destroys the ship, killing Barnett.
This makes the whole thing sound more exciting than it is. I liked Cromie's future-war novel, The Next Crusade (1896), a decent amount because it had actual character stories, but A Plunge into Space is characteristic of mediocre early sf, filled with flat characters (each member of the expedition has exactly one personality trait corresponding to their occupation; the financier is greedy, the politician is self-aggrandizing, and so on) and boring descriptions of a boring utopia. Whether Wells read Plunge or not, his reworking of it was vastly superior and much more delightful. Thank God he came along and upset the genre to its everlasting betterment. Plunge is an interesting historical curiosity but little more; it didn't even give me very much new material for thinking about scientists in Victorian literature.