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Milne, Robert Duncan

Entry updated 28 June 2021. Tagged: Author.

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(1844-1899) Scottish-born journalist and author, in the USA from about 1864, who published at least 60 sf stories of very considerable conceptual ingenuity, prefiguring many of the themes of the modern genre. Beginning with "A Modern Robe of Nessus" in 1879, he published most of these tales in the San Francisco journal The Argonaut, one of whose editors, Ambrose Bierce, was strongly influenced by his work. Forgotten for many decades after his death, Milne was rediscovered by Sam Moskowitz, who in Science Fiction in Old San Francisco, Volume 1: History of the Movement from 1854 to 1890 (1980) forcefully argued the case for treating him as an important figure, and who assembled some of Milne's tales in a companion volume, Into the Sun and Other Stories (coll 1980), several of these being set in California. Typical of Milne's vigorous creative mind are "Into the Sun" (18 November 1882 The Argonaut) and its sequel, "Plucked from the Burning" (16 December 1882 The Argonaut), which together describe a worldwide Disaster caused by a Comet, detail the protagonist's escape in a Balloon from the effects of impact, follow him first to Tibet and then back to a devastated world full of apocalyptic scenes, and end in the creation of a new and better society based on the political thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). "Professor Vehr's Electrical Experiment" (24 January 1885 The Argonaut) ingeniously describes a device to enable Matter Transmission. In "A Question of Reciprocity" (15-22 November 1891 San Francisco Examiner), the resentful new government of Chile attacks America with a drone bomber, though fatally this weapon is commanded via cable from shipboard, and fails to reach the whole of San Francisco; in retaliation the American military destroys the Chilean ship with a self-directing torpedo called the Vampire Bomb. Throughout his work – much of which remains uncollected – can be perceived the workings of a mind for whom science and Technology granted far more to the imaginative mind when their rules were obeyed, or at least understood. Milne was one of the first genuinely extrapolative thinkers to work in the field. [JC]

Robert Duncan Gordon Milne

born Carslogie House, Cupar, Fife, Scotland: 7 June 1844

died San Francisco, California: 15 December 1899



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