Wednesday, June 11, 2008

H G Wells' "The Star" (short story, science fiction, free): Precursor to Arthur Clarke's "The Hammer of God" & Hollywood movie "Armageddon"

Quote from short story titled The Star by H G WellsMost obvious difference with Clarke's "The Hammer of God" & "Armageddon" is: there is no attempt in this story to deflect the heavenly body that is about to destroy earth; there is much less time too. May be space travel wasn't seen as optimistically in Wells' time.

I was unclear whether the impacting body is really a star. Once he calls it "a great white star", another time "strange planet from outer space". And he's probably relying on telescopes less powerful than now available.

Also, at the time the story was written, Solar System probably ended at Neptune.

Clarke's story titled "The Star" is different & unrelated to this one.

Story summary.

On "the first day of the New Year" sometime "early in the twentieth century", 3 different observatories simultaneously announced having noticed unexplainable perturbations in the motion of planet Neptune. It will be soon be found that this is due to a foreign star - a "strange wanderer ... a great white star" from outside Sol has been captured by Sun, & is now on its fall towards Sun.

On the way, it will take down Neptune by direct impact - the two merging into one body headed for merger with the Sun. On their way down, the very hot body will be deflected by Jupiter so earth also is now in the way of fall! It will eventually pass close enough to earth/moon system to destroy most life on earth & making earth a much harsher place to live. Only a few humans will survive. And "the moon, shrunk to a third of its former size, took now fourscore days between its new and new." Entire story happens over just a few days - the heavenly body seems to be moving rather fast.

Much of the story is about the masses' reaction to the knowledge of the impending event. Initially unconcern - why should I worry about some fireworks near Neptune. Slowly, two suns in the sky forces it to be noticed. Then heat, earthquakes, tidal waves, impossible weather - panic.

Story ends on a sobering note that will resonate in some Ray Bradbury stories later: 'The Martian astronomers -- for there are astronomers on Mars, although they are very different beings from men -- were naturally profoundly interested by these things. They saw them from their own standpoint of course. "Considering the mass and temperature of the missile that was flung through our solar system into the sun," one wrote, "it is astonishing what a little damage the earth, which it missed so narrowly, has sustained. All the familiar continental markings and the masses of the seas remain intact, and indeed the only difference seems to be a shrinkage of the white discoloration (supposed to be frozen water) round either pole." Which only shows how small the vastest of human catastrophes may seem, at a distance of a few million miles.'

Collected in.

  1. H G Wells' "The Door in the Wall and Other Stories", download collection.

Fact sheet.

First published: The Graphic, December 1897.
Rating: A
Download full text: See "Collected in" section above.
Listed in "William G Contento's Top Ten Most Reprinted Stories".

Note: This file is a filled up version of the tiny post created during the flood of posts during early May 2008.


Anonymous said...

Clarke's Story also titled "The Star" is related to this story. It was written as a response. Wells suggested that that humanity was overly proud in considering that it was noticecd by the universe; Clarke asks whether or not such notice, if it did exist, would be morally justified.