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A Plunge Into Space

by Robert Cromie

Other authors: Jules Verne (Preface)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1421,448,931 (2.67)2
"A Plunge into Space" was first printed in 1890 and continuously reprinted until 1910, earning the enthusiastic plaudits of Jules Verne. This edition features a foreword by Jules Verne, the only foreword that Verne ever wrote.In the book, Henry Barnett discovered how to control the ethereal force after 20 years of experimenting, "which permeates all material things, all immaterial space" and that combines electricity and gravity: "...I have discovered the original and essence of that law which, before me, never man did ought but name, or, at best, did but chronicle its known effects --the law which makes that universe of worlds a grand well-ordered army instead of helpless mob of mutually destroying forces; when I tell you that within this ragged room, there stands a man who --grant him but ten years of human life-- could sway a star in its course, could hurl a planet from its path? Man, I have discovered the mightiest secret of creation. ...I have discovered the origin-of-force!"Barnett succeeds in his experiments and a large, black and globular spaceship called the "Steel Globe" is secretly built in an inaccessible region in Alaska. "A spiral staircase wound round the interior circumference of the globe. This staircase, or rather sloping path, had one very curious feature. The handrail was duplicated, so that if by any superhuman means the enormous bulk could be turned upside down one could walk on the underside of the spiral... Across the center of the Steel Globe a commodious platform swung like a ship's lamp. On this a very large telescope was fixed... the platform was literally packed with astronomical instruments. Strange registers, the graduated lines on which were so fine as to be almost invisible without the aid of a magnifying glass, were set into the woodwork of a solid table in the middle of the swinging deck. Strongly made iron tanks filled a considerable portion of the interior space. ...These tanks contained compressed air. ...Innumerable windows pierced the whole circumference of the globe."With the Steel Globe, Barnett and his friends travel to Mars where they find utopia. The Martians travel around in luxurious airships, but also have other means of negating gravity at their disposal: The Martians "were instructed....in the strange exercise of what may be called --in default of a better name-- animal elecricism. This discovery enabled the Martians to regulate at will the attraction of gravity upon them so that they could move at any distance they wished from the ground."On the return trip they discover a stowaway --a Martian girl. The life-support systems of the ship cannot accommodate and extra passenger, and each crew member has some essential skill for bringing the ship safely to earth. The drama builds with enormous tension to a fateful climax as the girl becomes the key to life --or death-- for the space voyagers.Robert Cromie (1856-1907) was a Northern Irish writer and journalist.… (more)
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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.
  Stevil2001 | Aug 17, 2018 |
With a strangely-written introduction by Jules Verne, this book has a very Verne-ish feel to it - but it is not up to par with most of JV's work. First published in 1891, I suppose one has to give some leeway on the 'science' aspects. However, the story suffers from more than some outdated scientific ideas. In short, the character development is rather poor. Also, for an adventure story set on another planet, the entire visit there was boring, (this was an actual plot point but it was a poor choice by the author as he spent way too much time explaining how bored his group of adventurers were with Mars). The final chapter also absolutely ruined this book for me. If it were not for the ending, I might have given this 3 stars. As it is, I can only muster 2 - maybe 2.25 stars. ( )
  ScoLgo | Jun 6, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert Cromieprimary authorall editionscalculated
Verne, JulesPrefacesecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Miller, RonEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"A Plunge into Space" was first printed in 1890 and continuously reprinted until 1910, earning the enthusiastic plaudits of Jules Verne. This edition features a foreword by Jules Verne, the only foreword that Verne ever wrote.In the book, Henry Barnett discovered how to control the ethereal force after 20 years of experimenting, "which permeates all material things, all immaterial space" and that combines electricity and gravity: "...I have discovered the original and essence of that law which, before me, never man did ought but name, or, at best, did but chronicle its known effects --the law which makes that universe of worlds a grand well-ordered army instead of helpless mob of mutually destroying forces; when I tell you that within this ragged room, there stands a man who --grant him but ten years of human life-- could sway a star in its course, could hurl a planet from its path? Man, I have discovered the mightiest secret of creation. ...I have discovered the origin-of-force!"Barnett succeeds in his experiments and a large, black and globular spaceship called the "Steel Globe" is secretly built in an inaccessible region in Alaska. "A spiral staircase wound round the interior circumference of the globe. This staircase, or rather sloping path, had one very curious feature. The handrail was duplicated, so that if by any superhuman means the enormous bulk could be turned upside down one could walk on the underside of the spiral... Across the center of the Steel Globe a commodious platform swung like a ship's lamp. On this a very large telescope was fixed... the platform was literally packed with astronomical instruments. Strange registers, the graduated lines on which were so fine as to be almost invisible without the aid of a magnifying glass, were set into the woodwork of a solid table in the middle of the swinging deck. Strongly made iron tanks filled a considerable portion of the interior space. ...These tanks contained compressed air. ...Innumerable windows pierced the whole circumference of the globe."With the Steel Globe, Barnett and his friends travel to Mars where they find utopia. The Martians travel around in luxurious airships, but also have other means of negating gravity at their disposal: The Martians "were instructed....in the strange exercise of what may be called --in default of a better name-- animal elecricism. This discovery enabled the Martians to regulate at will the attraction of gravity upon them so that they could move at any distance they wished from the ground."On the return trip they discover a stowaway --a Martian girl. The life-support systems of the ship cannot accommodate and extra passenger, and each crew member has some essential skill for bringing the ship safely to earth. The drama builds with enormous tension to a fateful climax as the girl becomes the key to life --or death-- for the space voyagers.Robert Cromie (1856-1907) was a Northern Irish writer and journalist.

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