A PLUNGE INTO SPACE (1890) – Written by THE Robert Cromie, later editions of this novel came with a preface by Jules Verne himself. Scientist Henry Barnett, after 20 years of labor, has mastered “the ethereal force which permeates all things,” a combination of electricity and gravity. This mastery will allow for interplanetary space travel.
Barnett and a select group of colleagues establish a secret base in Alaska, where they construct a spherical fifty-foot black metal Flying Ball. The craft includes air tanks, a huge telescope, sophisticated instruments and more.
In anticipation of encounters with hostile life-forms on other planets, the clique has also manufactured disintegrator weapons, with which they fight off curious parties of indigenous tribes in order to preserve their secret.
At last the vessel is ready for a flight to Mars. The crew will consist of Barnett as the Science Officer, plus MacGregor, a famous explorer and other presumed specialists in various fields, even politics, finance and literature. (Think of Napoleon’s military expedition to Egypt which took along scholars in many disciplines.)
The black spaceship heads for Mars at a speed of 50,000 miles per minute and arrives after roughly 12 hours. The crew learn that the so-called “canals” of Mars are really prolonged simooms (fast-moving wind-storms) and not canals at all. The planet has an atmosphere in which the Earthlings can breathe normally but is largely a desert.
Eventually the ship lands in a fertile, developed region where the space travelers are welcomed by the Martian community. The denizens of the Red Planet are humanoid and thoroughly pacifistic.
The Martians have equality between the sexes and function with just the bare essentials of a government, since their cultivated and serene natures require very little oversight or restriction. Their technology is far beyond that of Earth.
These gentle aliens know how to levitate and have guided aircraft which crisscross the planet at high speeds via locked-in flight plans. They also have video broadcasts/ television. Despite their scientific prowess, they have lost the lust for exploring the unknown and this is presented as a downside of too much automation.
As time goes by the character flaws of the Earthlings begin to cause trouble. Durand the literary scholar begins romancing a Martian beauty named Mignonette or something similar, since the aliens insist Earth tongues cannot pronounce her full name.
In addition, the financier Sterling angers the Martians by trying to sell them on plans to “develop” their vast desert regions and the politician Black finds ways of stirring up civic strife even among the tranquil Martian people. Earth’s emotion-based arts and literature fill the aliens with distaste, as well.
With hostile feelings against the Earthlings threatening to come to the surface, Barnett abandons the planned two-year visit and departs with his crew. On the way back to Earth our heroes discover that their vessel’s air tanks are much lower than they should be.
The reason? Mignonette, lured by the “unstable” emotions that the wooing Durand excited in her, decided to stowaway on the spacecraft to continue being with him. With too little air for all hands to survive all the way to Earth, Durand offers to throw himself out into space to save the others, since his courting of the Martian woman put the crew in this danger. (Hey, it’s more than Gene Hackman in Marooned would have the decency to do.)
Mignonette, fully appreciating what love means, beats Durand to the punch by ejecting out of the craft herself to spare her beloved and his colleagues. The Martian’s noble sacrifice proves sufficient, and the spaceship arrives back on Earth with no more lives lost.
Alarmed by the potential dangers of interactions between inhabited planets, Durand and Barnett allow the other passengers to leave the ship then blow up the vessel, taking themselves and the secret of “the ethereal force” with them. Hopefully humanity’s character will have improved by the time someone else discovers the means for interplanetary space travel, etc. You know the trope.
A Plunge Into Space makes for a fun blend of Steampunk and 1950s B-Movie sensibilities. Check part of your mind at the door and just have fun with it. +++
FOR WASHINGTON IRVING’S 1809 depiction of an invasion from the moon click here: https://glitternight.com/2014/05/05/ancient-science-fiction-the-men-of-the-moon-1809-by-washington-irving/
© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.