This is a very involved story - best read as a short novel, though only of novelette length.
At a gross level, it's simple enough: a mad man comes in possession of a novel weapon, & dreams of becoming a world dictator. Hero, with help, will foil his plans. But there are many characters, threads, backgrounds, technology, ...
Title is related to social background of story. This is a world that has taken the "code of Devarupa", a man modeled after Mahatma Gandhi, to heart. Killing is banned, even by state. So the punishment for extreme crimes is "one-way trip": you're put in a rocket with enough provisions for your "calculated" life & blasted out to space with variable unspecified velocity - rocket might go in orbit around earth, moon, or somewhere else, but you're never going to talk to anyone else.
"Lovestonite".A clay found in Australia, discovered some 20 years ago. Also, the glass made from this clay. This glass has a curious property - light passes through it at about a quarter of its vacuum speed.
No one knew what to do with it, till recently. Emigdio "Mig" Valentinez, a very famous painter/tinkerer - a sort of Leonardo da Vinci, has taken up a project to paint himself. He finds mirrors unsatisfactory, & apparently still photography wasn't available.
Valentinez discovers that speed of light is not fixed in Lovestonite, but can be varied - from near 0 to near its normal (vacuum?) speed - by subjecting it to carefully controlled electromagnetic field. So he builds the gadget - combination camera & display device.
You stare at the gadget for a while while speed is set to near zero. You press a button so the light quickly goes to other side & again slows down. So you have your staring image coming out from other side for a while!
A crook finds his secret, & thinks up another use: as a weapon. Let a lot of sunlight enter it at slow speed; so glass acts as a battery, storing solar energy. Then release it at will at a specific target!
At the end of the story, hero will propose yet another use for it: as enabler for colonization of Mars because a thin sheet can store enough energy to burn a town! Made me wonder what the melting point of this glass be!
- A quote from story: "the practical vigor & solemnity of the western religion with the sublime mysticism of the orient."
I've lived all my life in India, & I haven't seen much "sublime mysticism". I wonder where the myth of mystic East originated. Or may be India is not counted in the East?
- Story features a "World State", centered in US (of course). And there is a "world-wide spread of Basic English".
May be the author could have suggested a solution to India's babel of languages, & saved us many a protest & riots! Going by India's experience, I have serious doubts on the feasibility of any single "world language".
- Bob Shaw's "Slow Glass" (download) is a more realistic story on Valentinez's gadget.
Caution: at the moment, download link doesn't seem to be working - apparently due to server overload. But it should work eventually. At least it did when I copied the link.
- L Sprague de Camp's hilarious "The Exalted" also features a similar slow-glass weapon. But de Camp uses it in passing, as one of the inventions of a genius prankster.
Fact sheet.First published: Astounding, August 1943.
Download full text as part of the scans of Astounding issue where it originally appeared.
Among the stories from John Campbell's Astounding/Analog.
Related: Works of Anthony Boucher; fiction from 1940s; Tuesday Classics.