Thursday, 6 September 2012

Book Review: A Plunge Into Space by Robert Cromie

This is the first Singularity & Co. book kickstarter campaigners got once it was funded.  The company's idea is to  make ebooks of out of print SFF.

Pros: Mars?, historic significance

Cons: annoying characters, bad science, racist and sexist remarks

Henry Barnett's scientific breakthrough allows him and an interesting group of travellers to journey to Mars.

The opening of the book lends itself to a great mystery.  The scientific discovery is not explained for several chapters, allowing for the building of the ship they use to travel to Mars and the introduction of the rest of the characters.  But while it's myserious, it's also quite boring.  The characters, gathered in Alaska for the ship's completion, end up hunting and wasting time as setbacks have delayed the launch (not that they know there's a launch coming).

The cast consists of: Alexander MacGregor, an adventurer, always looking for the next undiscovered land.  Sir George Sterling, who finances the mission and is looking for a new source of speculation.  Walter Durand is an author, Victor Graves an artist, Frederick Gordon a special correspondent for a newspaper and Charles Blake, a politician.

It is this motley crew that travels to Mars, and you'd think, given their interests, that Mars would be a wonderful inspiration.  Alas, it's not.  The characters are soon quite bored with the wonders of the Red Planet, a response that simply baffles me (surely the artist could find SOMETHING interesting to paint on an alien planet).  And the other characters seem to complain that what they're interested in has already been done by the Martians or the Martians have no interest in (to which I scream: wouldn't their culture/history/science/politics be worth studying?).

The characters, all from the Commonwealth, have a disparaging view of everyone from Indians (Alaskan Natives in this case), women (on Mars - and apparently Earth given some of their comments), and Martians (calling them highly advanced in one breath while then pointing out their 'childish' practices the next).  Most of this is understandable given it's publication date, 1891, when such attitudes were the norm.  Still, modern readers will find their attitudes unpleasant.

The science is laughably bad now, but again, given the date of publication, was surprisingly advanced for the time.  Also consider that this book was published several years before H. G. Wells' The First Men on the Moon.

It's easy to see how people could read books like these and become interested in science and space.  But outside of an interest in the history of science fiction, this isn't a good read.

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