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Cromie, Robert

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1855-1907) Irish journalist and author, who began his career as an author of fiction with a Future War novel, For England's Sake (1889), a somewhat congested tale set in Near Future India, in which loyal native forces turn the tide against invading Russia; a later loosely connected tale, The Next Crusade (1896), continues the action in eastern Europe: luckily, the novel ends with the Mediterranean transformed into "a British lake". The protagonists of A Plunge into Space (1890) comprising a Vernian assortments of types – travel in a spherical Spaceship powered by Antigravity to Mars, where they discover humans living under Utopian conditions, and a romance ensues between a human and the Martian known as Mignonette. The cast re-embarks for earth only to find that Mignonette has stowed away, and that there is not enough air to support them all; rather closely presaging the outcome of Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations" (August 1954 Astounding), the girl then semi-voluntarily plunges into space. The 1891 edition includes a preface ostensibly by Jules Verne (in Science Fiction Studies XX #59 [March 1993], Robert M Philmus and Arthur B Evans plausibly suggest that – as there is no bibliographical record of this piece in any Verne bibliography, and as there was no French version of the novel and Verne did not read English – the preface may be bogus, or, which is very close to bogus, written or inspired by his son Michael Verne). Of his later work, A New Messiah (1902) features an advanced submarine and Near Future political intrigue in which a German attempt to dominate the world is thwarted; and El Dorado (1904; vt From the Cliffs of Croaghaun 1904) is a Lost World tale set in the Amazon; once again political intrigue intersects with generic devices.

Cromie is best known for his third sf novel, The Crack of Doom (1895), which is set in the year 2000; the protagonist runs across a politically radical villain (the secret society he controls is vitiated by Feminism and other unacceptable beliefs) who dominates his attractive sister through Telepathy and has also developed a device to unlock the Nuclear Energy contained in matter. He plans to use his formula to destroy the world through a Manichaean conviction that matter is an occlusive evil whose effect on primal reality is to torture it. There is no doubt of Cromie's intention: as he explains, the first use of atomic energy had, thousands of years earlier, destroyed the fifth planet and created the Asteroids; though hazily described; his use here of a nuclear device to end civilization marks the first occurrence of a theme which would dominate the next century (see End of the World). In a heavily plotted denouement, the protagonist alters the formula, so that only a South Pacific Island is evaporated, and all is saved.

There seems no doubt that Cromie was unable to create narratives which would sustain the stress of thought. It is not so much that H G Wells and others "stole" his ideas; what counted is that they could tell the tale. [JC]

see also: Crime and Punishment; History of SF; Power Sources.

Robert Cromie

born Clough, County Down, Ireland: 17 July 1855

died Belfast, Northern Ireland: April 1907



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