Prominent Golden Age authors - Педагогика

Beginning in the late 1930s, a number of highly influential American science fiction authors began to emerge, including: Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Alfred Bester, James Blish, Leigh Brackett, Ray Bradbury, Fredric Brown, L. Sprague de Camp, Lester del Rey, Philip K. Dick, Gordon Dickson, Philip José Farmer, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, C. M. Kornbluth, Henry Kuttner, Fritz Leiber, C. L. Moore, Frederik Pohl, Robert Silverberg, Clifford D. Simak, Theodore Sturgeon, William Tenn, etc.

End of the Golden Age

It is harder to specify the end of the Golden Age of Science Fiction than its beginning, but several coincidental factors changed the face of science fiction in the mid to late 1950s.

The second half of the 1950s, therefore, opened with a marked reduction in the visibility and marketability of science fiction. At the same time, technological advances, culminating with the launch of Sputnik 1 in October 1957, narrowed the gap between the real world and the world of science fiction, challenging authors to be bolder and more imaginative in an effort not to become yesterday's headlines. Newer genres of science fiction emerged, which focused less on the achievements of humans in spaceships and laboratories, and more on how those achievements might change humanity.

Besides, impact of actual or imagined science upon societies or individuals has always been in spotlight. Sometimes it is very difficult to say what it is: prediction or fantasy. Nobody knows what can happen, and nobody knows the future. That’s why nobody can say will we have our beautiful future or horrible. Sometimes science fiction it is broadcast.

Besides such acknowledge masters of the genre as Clarke, Heinlein, and Asimov, science–fiction writes of notable merit in the postwar period included A. E. Van Vogt, J. G. Ballard, Ray Bradbury, Brain Aldiss, Frederik Pohl, Frank Herbert and others. These writers’ approaches included predictions of future societies on Earth, analyses of the consequences of interstellar travel, and imaginative explorations of form of intelligent life and their societies in other worlds. Radio, television, and motion pictures have reinforced the popularity of such kind of genre as science fiction.

Heroes of R. Bradbury and Arthur Clarke and many other authors included in this book travel in space, fight and make treaties with other civilizations but they always stay humane, open-minded, and earthly.

Science fiction learn us believe in good predictions and beautiful future.

HERBERT WELLS (1866 – 1946)

«Human history becomes more

and more a race between

education and catastrophe.»

H.G. Wells

English novelist, journalist, sociologist, and historian, whose science-fiction stories have been filmed many times. Wells's best known books are The Time Machine (1895), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of The Worlds (1898). Wells wrote over a hundred of books, about fifty of them novels.

«No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their affairs they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water» (from War of the Worlds)

Along with George Orwell's Nineteen–Eighty–Four and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, which was an pessimistic answer to scientific optimism, Wells's novels are among the classical works of science–fiction, but his romantic and enthusiastic conception of technology later turned more doubtfull. His bitter side is seen early in the novel Boon (1915), which was a parody of Henry James.

H.G. Wells was born in Bromley, Kent. His father was a shopkeeper and a professional cricketer, and his mother served from time to time as a housekeeper at the nearby estate of Uppark. His father's business failed and to elevate the family to middle–class status, Wells was apprenticed like his brothers to a draper, spending the years between 1880 and 1883 in Windsor and Southsea. Later he recorded these years in KIPPS (1905). In the story Arthur Kipps is raised by his aunt and uncle. Kipps is also apprenticed to a draper. After learning that he has been left a fortune, Kipps enters the upper–class society, which Wells describes with sharp social criticism.

In 1883 Wells became a teacher/pupil at Midhurst Grammar School. He obtained a scholarship to the Normal School of Science in London and studied there biology under T.H. Huxley. However, his interest faltered and in 1887 he left without a degree. He taught in private schools for four years, not taking his B.S. degree until 1890. Next year he settled in London, married his cousin Isabel and continued his career as a teacher in a correspondence college. From 1893 Wells became a full–time writer.

After some years Wells left Isabel for one of his brightest students, Amy Catherine, whom he married in 1895. As a novelist Wells made his debut with The Time Machine, a parody of English class division and a satirical warning that human progress is not inevitable. The Time Traveller lands in the year 802701 and finds two people: the Eloi, weak and little, who live above ground, and the Morlocks, carnivorous creatures that live below ground. Much of the realism of the story was achieved by carefully studied technical details.

The basic principles of the machine contained materials regarding time as the fourth dimension – years later Albert Einstein published his theory of the four dimensional continuum of space–time. The work was followed by such science–fiction classics as The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), in which a mad scientist transforms animals into human creatures, The Invisible Man (1897), a Faustian story of a scientist who has tampered with nature in pursuit of superhuman powers, and The War of the Worlds (1898), a novel of an invasion of Martians. The story appeared at a time when Percival Lowell's «observations» of «canals» on Mars arose speculations that there could be life on the Red Planet. Inspite of the technological superiority of the Martians, their plan fails – they start to die off because they have no immunity to the bacteria of Earth. The First Men On The Moon (1901) was prophetic description of the methodology of space flight, and The War in The Air (1908) was a hybrid that places Kipps–like Cockney hero in the context of a catastrophic aerial war. Altough Wells's novels were highly entertaining, he also tried to pave way for a wiser attitude about the future of the mankind.

Dissatisfied with his literary work, Wells moved into the novel genre, with Love And Mr. Lewisham (1900). He strenghtened his reputation as a serous writer with Kipps, Tono–Bungay (1909), and The History Of Mr. Polly (1909), an ode to vanished England. He also published critical pamphlets attacking the Victorian social order, among them Anticipations (1901), Mankind In The Making (1903), and A Modern Utopia (1905).

Passionate concern for society led Wells to join in 1903 the socialist Fabian Society in London, but he soon quarreled with the society's leaders, among them George Bernard Shaw. This experience was basis for his novel The New Machiavelli (1911), where he drew portraits of the noted Fabians. At the outbreak of war in 1914, Wells was involved in a love affair with the young English author Rebecca West, which influenced his work and life deeply.

«Nothing could have been more obvious to the people of the early twentieth century than the rapidity with which war was becoming impossible. And as certainly they did not see it. They did not see it until the atomic bombs burst in their fumbling hands» (from The World Set Free, 1914)

After WW I Wells published several non–fiction works, among them The Outline of History (1920), The Science of Life (1929–39), written in collaboration with Sir Julian Huxley and George Philip Wells, and Experiment in Autobiography (1934). At this time Wells had gained the status as a popular celebrity, and he continued to write prolifically. In 1917 he was a member of Research Committee for the League of Nations and published several books about the world organization. In the early 1920s he was a labour candidate for Parliament. Between the years 1924 and 1933 Wells lived mainly in France. From 1934 to 1946 he was the International president of PEN. In 1934 he had discussions with both Stalin and Roosevelt, trying to recruit them to his world–saving schemes. However, he despaired of the whole business when the global war broke the peace for the second time.

«The professional military mind is by necessity an inferior and unimaginative mind; no man of high intellectual quality would willingly imprison his gifts in such calling» (from The Outline of History, 1920).

In The Holy Terror (1939) Wells studied the psychological development of a modern dictator based on the careers of Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler. In 1938 Orson Welles' Mercury Theater radio broadcast, based on The War of the Worlds, caused a panic which spread across the United States. Wells lived through World War II in his house on Regent's Park, refusing to let the blitz drive him out of London. His last book, Mind at the end of its Tether (1945), expressed pessimism about mankind's future prospects. Wells died in London on August 13. 1946.


It was on the first day of the New Year that the announcement was made, almost simultaneously from three observatories, that the motion of the planet Neptune, the outermost of all the planets that wheel about the sun, had become very erratic. Ogilvy had already called attention to a suspected retardation in its velocity in December. Such a piece of news was scarcely calculated to interest a world the greater portion of whose inhabitants were unaware of the existence of the planet Neptune, nor outside the astronomical profession did the subsequent discovery of a faint remote speck of light in the region of the perturbed planet cause any very great excitement. Scientific people, however, found the intelligence remarkable enough, even before it became known that the new body was rapidly growing larger and brighter, that its motion was quite different from the orderly progress of the planets, and that the deflection of Neptune and its satellite was becoming now of an unprecedented kind.

Few people without a training in science can realise the huge isolation of the solar system. The sun with its specks of planets, its dust of planetoids, and its impalpable comets, swims in a vacant immensity that almost defeats the imagination. Beyond the orbit of Neptune there is space, vacant so far as human observation has penetrated, without warmth or light or sound, blank emptiness, for twenty million times a million miles. That is the smallest estimate of the distance to be traversed before the very nearest of the stars is attained. And, saving a few comets more unsubstantial than the thinnest flame, no matter had ever to human knowledge crossed this gulf of space, until early in the twentieth century this strange wanderer appeared. A vast mass of matter it was, bulky, heavy, rushing without warning out of the black mystery of the sky into the radiance of the sun. By the second day it was clearly visible to any decent instrument, as a speck with a barely sensible diameter, in the constellation Leo near Regulus. In a little while an opera glass could attain it.

On the third day of the new year the newspaper readers of two hemispheres were made aware for the first time of the real importance of this unusual apparition in the heavens. «A Planetary Collision» one London paper headed the news, and proclaimed Duchaine’s opinion that this strange new planet would probably collide with Neptune. The leader writers enlarged upon the topic; so that in most of the capitals of the world, on January 3rd, there was an expectation, however vague of some imminent phenomenon in the sky; and as the night followed the sunset round the globe, thousands of men turned their eyes skyward to see–the old familiar stars just as they had always been.

Until it was dawn in London and Pollux setting and the stars overhead grown pale. The Winter`s dawn it was, a sickly filtering accumulation of daylight, and the light of gas and candles shone yellow in the windows to show where people were astir. But the yawning policeman saw the thing, the busy crowds in the markets stopped agape, workmen going to their work betimes, milkmen, the drivers of news–carts, dissipation going home jaded and pale, homeless wanderers, sentinels on their beats, and in the country, labourers trudging afield, poachers slinking home, all over the dusky quickening country it could be seen–and out at sea by seamen watching for the day–a great white star, come suddenly into the westward sky!

Brighter it was than any star in our skies; brighter than the evening star at its brightest. It still glowed out white and large, no mere twinkling spot of light, but a small round clear shining disc, an hour after the day had come. And where science has not reached, men stared and feared, telling one another of the wars and pestilences that are foreshadowed by these fiery signs in the Heavens. Sturdy Boers, dusky Hottentots, Gold Coast Negroes, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Portuguese, stood in the warmth of the sunrise watching the setting of this strange new star.

And in a hundred observatories there had been suppressed excitement, rising almost to shouting pitch, as the two remote bodies had rushed together; and a hurrying to and fro, to gather photographic apparatus and spectroscope, and this appliance and that, to record this novel astonishing sight, the destruction of a world. For it was a world, a sister planet of our earth, far greater than our earth indeed, that had so suddenly flashed into flaming death. Neptune it was, had been struck, fairly and squarely, by the strange planet from outer space and the heat of the concussion had incontinently turned two solid globes into one vast mass of incandescence. Round the world that day, two hours before the dawn, went the pallid great white star, fading only as it sank westward and the sun mounted above it. Everywhere men marvelled at it, but of all those who saw it none could have marvelled more than those sailors, habitual watchers of the stars, who far away at sea had heard nothing of its advent and saw it now rise like a pigmy moon and climb zenithward and hang overhead and sink westward with the passing of the night.

And when next it rose over Europe everywhere were crowds of watchers on hilly slopes, on house–roofs, in open spaces, staring eastward for the rising of the great new star. It rose with a white glow in front of it, like the glare of a white fire, and those who had seen it come into existence the night before cried out at the sight of it. «It is larger,» they cried. «It is brighter!» And, indeed the moon a quarter full and sinking in the west was in its apparent size beyond comparison, but scarcely in all its breadth had it as much brightness now as the little circle of the strange new star.

«It is brighter!» cried the people clustering in the streets. But in the dim observatories the watchers held their breath and peered at one another IT IS NEARER,» they said. «NEARER!»

And voice after voice repeated, «It is nearer», and the clicking telegraph took that up, and it trembled along telephone wires, and in a thousand cities grimy compositors fingered the type. «It is nearer» Men writing in offices, struck with a strange realisation, flung down their pens, men talking in a thousand places suddenly came upon a grotesque possibility in those words, «It is nearer». It hurried along wakening streets, it was shouted down the frost–stilled ways of quiet villages; men who had read these things from the throbbing tape stood in yellow–lit doorways shouting the news to the passersby. «It is nearer». Pretty women, flushed and glittering, heard the news told jestingly between the dances, and feigned an intelligent interest they did not feel. «Nearer! Indeed. How curious! How very, very clever people must be to find out things like that!»

Lonely tramps faring through the wintry night murmured those words to comfort themselves–looking skyward. «It has need to be nearer, for the night`s as cold as charity. Don`t seem much warmth from it if it IS nearer, all the same».

«What is a new star to me?» cried the weeping woman kneeling beside her dead.

The schoolboy, rising early for his examination work, puzzled it out for himself–with the great white star shining broad and bright through the frost–flowers of his window. «Centrifugal, centripetal», he said, with his chin on his fist. «Stop a planet in its flight, rob it of its centrifugal force, what then? Centripetal has it, and down it falls into the sun! And this–!

«Do WE come in the way? I wonder–»

The light of that day went the way of its brethren, and with the later watches of the frosty darkness rose the strange star again. And it was now so bright that the waxing moon seemed but a pale yellow ghost of itself, hanging huge in the sunset. In a South African City a great man had married, and the streets were alight to welcome his return with his bride. «Even the skies have illuminated», said the flatterer. Under Capricorn, two negro lovers, daring the wild beasts and evil spirits, for love of one another, crouched together in a cane brake where the fire–flies hovered. «That is our star», they whispered, and felt strangely comforted by the sweet brilliance of its light.

The master mathematician sat in his private room and pushed the papers from him. His calculations were already finished. In a small white phial there still remained a little of the drug that had kept him awake and active for four long nights. Each day, serene, explicit, patient as ever, he had given his lecture to his students, and then had come back at once to this momentous calculation. His face was grave, a little drawn and hectic from his drugged activity. For some time he seemed lost in thought. Then he went to the window, and the blind went up with a click. Half way up the sky, over the clustering roofs, chimneys and steeples of the city, hung the star.

He looked at it as one might look into the eyes of a brave enemy. «You may kill me» he said after a silence. «But I can hold you–and all the universe for that matter–in the grip of this little brain. I would not change. Even now».

He looked at the little phial. «There will be no need of sleep again», he said. The next day at noon––punctual to the minute, he entered his lecture theatre, put his hat on the end of the table as his habit was, and carefully selected a large piece of chalk. It was a joke among his students that he could not lecture without that piece of chalk to fumble in his fingers, and once he had been stricken to impotence by their hiding his supply. He came and looked under his grey eyebrows at the rising tiers of young fresh faces, and spoke with his accustomed studied commonness of phrasing. «Circumstances have arisen–circumstances beyond my control» he said and paused, «which will debar me from completing the course I had designed. It would seem, gentlemen, if I may put the thing clearly and briefly, that–Man has lived in vain».

The students glanced at one another. Had they heard aright? Mad? Raised eyebrows and grinning lips there were, but one or two faces remained intent upon his calm grey–fringed face. «It will be interesting», he was saying, «to devote this morning to an exposition, so far as I can make it clear to you, of the calculations that have led me to this conclusion. Let us assume–»

He turned towards the blackboard, meditating a diagram in the way that was usual to him. «What was that about `lived in vain?`» whispered one student to another. «Listen», said the other, nodding towards the lecturer.

And presently they began to understand.

That night the star rose later, for its proper eastward motion had carried it some way across Leo towards Virgo, and its brightness was so great that the sky became a luminous blue as it rose, and every star was hidden in its turn, save only Jupiter near the zenith, Capella, Aldebaran, Sirius and the pointers of the Bear. It was very white and beautiful. In many parts of the world that night a pallid halo encircled it about. It was perceptibly larger; in the clear refractive sky of the tropics it seemed as if it were nearly a quarter the size of the moon. The frost was still on the ground in England, but the world was as brightly lit as if it were midsummer moonlight. One could see to read quite ordinary print by that cold clear light, and in the cities the lamps burnt yellow and wan.

And everywhere the world was awake that night, and throughout Christendom a sombre murmur hung in the keen air over the country side like the belling of bees in the heather, and this murmurous tumult grew to a clangour in the cities. It was the tolling of the bells in a million belfry towers and steeples, summoning the people to sleep no more, to sin no more, but to gather in their churches and pray. And overhead, growing larger and brighter as the earth rolled on its way and the night passed, rose the dazzling star.

And the streets and houses were alight in all the cities, the shipyards glared, and whatever roads led to high country were lit and crowded all night long. And in all the seas about the civilised lands, ships with throbbing engines, and ships with bellying sails, crowded with men and living creatures, were standing out to ocean and the north. For already the warning of the master mathematician had been telegraphed all over the world, and translated into a hundred tongues. The new planet and Neptune, locked in a fiery embrace, were whirling headlong, ever faster and faster towards the sun. Already every second this blazing mass flew a hundred miles, and every second its terrific velocity increased. As it flew now, indeed, it must pass a hundred million of miles wide of the earth and scarcely affect it. But near its destined path, as yet only slightly perturbed, spun the mighty planet Jupiter and his moons sweeping splendid round the sun. Every moment now the attraction between the fiery star and the greatest of the planets grew stronger. And the result of that attraction? Inevitably Jupiter would be deflected from its orbit into an elliptical path, and the burning star, swung by his attraction wide of its sunward rush, would «describe a curved path» and perhaps collide with, and certainly pass very close to, our earth. «Earthquakes, volcanic outbreaks, cyclones, sea waves, floods, and a steady rise in temperature to I know not what limit»–so prophesied the master mathematician.

And overhead, to carry out his words, lonely and cold and livid, blazed the star of the coming doom.

To many who stared at it that night until their eyes ached, it seemed that it was visibly approaching. And that night, too, the weather changed, and the frost that had gripped all Central Europe and France and England softened towards a thaw.

But you must not imagine because I have spoken of people praying through the night and people going aboard ships and people fleeing toward mountainous country that the whole world was already in a terror because of the star. As a matter of fact, use and wont still ruled the world, and save for the talk of idle moments and the splendour of the night, nine human beings out of ten were still busy at their common occupations. In all the cities the shops, save one here and there, opened and closed at their proper hours, the doctor and the undertaker plied their trades, the workers gathered in the factories, soldiers drilled, scholars studied, lovers sought one another, thieves lurked and fled, politicians planned their schemes. The presses of the newspapers roared through the night, and many a priest of this church and that would not open his holy building to further what he considered a foolish panic. The newspapers insisted on the lesson of the year 1000–for then, too, people had anticipated the end. The star was no star–mere gas–a comet; and were it a star it could not possibly strike the earth. There was no precedent for such a thing. Common sense was sturdy everywhere, scornful, jesting, a little inclined to persecute the obdurate fearful. That night, at seven–fifteen by Greenwich time, the star would be at its nearest to Jupiter. Then the world would see the turn things would take. The master mathematician`s grim warnings were treated by many as so much mere elaborate self–advertisement. Common sense at last, a little heated by argument, signified its unalterable convictions by going to bed. So, too, barbarism and savagery, already tired of the novelty, went about their nightly business, and save for a howling dog here and there, the beast world left the star unheeded.

And yet, when at last the watchers in the European States saw the star rise, an hour later it is true, but no larger than it had been the night before, there were still plenty awake to laugh at the master mathematician–to take the danger as if it had passed.

But hereafter the laughter ceased. The star grew–it grew with a terrible steadiness hour after hour, a little larger each hour, a little nearer the midnight zenith, and brighter and brighter, until it had turned night into a second day. Had it come straight to the earth instead of in a curved path, had it lost no velocity to Jupiter, it must have leapt the intervening gulf in a day, but as it was it took five days altogether to come by our planet. The next night it had become a third the size of the moon before it set to English eyes, and the thaw was assured. It rose over America near the size of the moon, but blinding white to look at, and HOT; and a breath of hot wind blew now with its rising and gathering strength, and in Virginia, and Brazil, and down the St. Lawrence valley, it shone intermittently through a driving reek of thunder–clouds, flickering violet lightning, and hail unprecedented. In Manitoba was a thaw and devastating floods. And upon all the mountains of the earth the snow and ice began to melt that night, and all the rivers coming out of high country flowed thick and turbid, and soon–in their upper reaches –with swirling trees and the bodies of beasts and men. They rose steadily, steadily in the ghostly brilliance, and came trickling over their banks at last, behind the flying population of their valleys.

And along the coast of Argentina and up the South Atlantic the tides were higher than had ever been in the memory of man, and the storms drove the waters in many cases scores of miles inland, drowning whole cities. And so great grew the heat during the night that the rising of the sun was like the coming of a shadow. The earthquakes began and grew until all down America from the Arctic Circle to Cape Horn, hillsides were sliding, fissures were opening, and houses and walls crumbling to destruction. The whole side of Cotopaxi slipped out in one vast convulsion, and a tumult of lava poured out so high and broad and swift and liquid that in one day it reached the sea.

So the star, with the wan moon in its wake, marched across the Pacific, trailed the thunderstorms like the hem of a robe, and the growing tidal wave that toiled behind it, frothing and eager, poured over island and island and swept them clear of men. Until that wave came at last–in a blinding light and with the breath of a furnace, swift and terrible it came–a wall of water, fifty feet high, roaring hungrily, upon the long coasts of Asia, and swept inland across the plains of China. For a space the star, hotter now and larger and brighter than the sun in its strength, showed with pitiless brilliance the wide and populous country; towns and villages with their pagodas and trees, roads, wide cultivated fields, millions of sleepless people staring in helpless terror at the incandescent sky; and then, low and growing, came the murmur of the flood. And thus it was with millions of men that night––a flight nowhither, with limbs heavy with heat and breath fierce and scant, and the flood like a wall swift and white behind. And then death.

China was lit glowing white, but over Japan and Java and all the islands of Eastern Asia the great star was a ball of dull red fire because of the steam and smoke and ashes the volcanoes were spouting forth to salute its coming. Above was the lava, hot gases and ash, and below the seething floods, and the whole earth swayed and rumbled with the earthquake shocks. Soon the immemorial snows of Thibet and the Himalaya were melting and pouring down by ten million deepening converging channels upon the plains of Burmah and Hindostan. The tangled summits of the Indian jungles were aflame in a thousand places, and below the hurrying waters around the stems were dark objects that still struggled feebly and reflected the blood–red tongues of fire. And in a rudderless confusion a multitude of men and women fled down the broad river–ways to that one last hope of men–the open sea.

Larger grew the star, and larger, hotter, and brighter with a terrible swiftness now. The tropical ocean had lost its phosphorescence, and the whirling steam rose in ghostly wreaths from the black waves that plunged incessantly, speckled with storm–tossed ships.

And then came a wonder. It seemed to those who in Europe watched for the rising of the star that the world must have ceased its rotation. In a thousand open spaces of down and upland the people who had fled thither from the floods and the falling houses and sliding slopes of hill watched for that rising in vain. Hour followed hour through a terrible suspense, and the star rose not. Once again men set their eyes upon the old constellations they had counted lost to them forever. In England it was hot and clear overhead, though the ground quivered perpetually, but in the tropics, Sirius and Capella and Aldebaran showed through a veil of steam. And when at last the great star rose near ten hours late, the sun rose close upon it, and in the centre of its white heart was a disc of black.

Over Asia it was the star had begun to fall behind the movement of the sky, and then suddenly, as it hung over India, its light had been veiled. All the plain of India from the mouth of the Indus to the mouths of the Ganges was a shallow waste of shining water that night, out of which rose temples and palaces, mounds and hills, black with people. Every minaret was a clustering mass of people, who fell one by one into the turbid waters, as heat and terror overcame them. The whole land seemed a–wailing and suddenly there swept a shadow across that furnace of despair, and a breath of cold wind, and a gathering of clouds, out of the cooling air. Men looking up, near blinded, at the star, saw that a black disc was creeping across the light. It was the moon, coming between the star and the earth. And even as men cried to God at this respite, out of the East with a strange inexplicable swiftness sprang the sun. And then star, sun and moon rushed together across the heavens.

So it was that presently, to the European watchers, star and sun rose close upon each other, drove headlong for a space and then slower, and at last came to rest, star and sun merged into one glare of flame at the zenith of the sky. The moon no longer eclipsed the star but was lost to sight in the brilliance of the sky. And though those who were still alive regarded it for the most part with that dull stupidity that hunger, fatigue, heat and despair engender, there were still men who could perceive the meaning of these signs. Star and earth had been at their nearest, had swung about one another, and the star had passed. Already it was receding, swifter and swifter, in the last stage of its headlong journey downward into the sun.

And then the clouds gathered, blotting out the vision of the sky, the thunder and lightning wove a garment round the world; all over the earth was such a downpour of rain as men had never before seen, and where the volcanoes flared red against the cloud canopy there descended torrents of mud. Everywhere the waters were pouring off the land, leaving mud–silted ruins, and the earth littered like a storm–worn beach with all that had floated, and the dead bodies of the men and brutes, its children. For days the water streamed off the land, sweeping away soil and trees and houses in the way, and piling huge dykes and scooping out Titanic gullies over the country side. Those were the days of darkness that followed the star and the heat. All through them, and for many weeks and months, the earthquakes continued.

But the star had passed, and men, hunger–driven and gathering courage only slowly, might creep back to their ruined cities, buried granaries, and sodden fields. Such few ships as had escaped the storms of that time came stunned and shattered and sounding their way cautiously through the new marks and shoals of once familiar ports. And as the storms subsided men perceived that everywhere the days were hotter than of yore, and the sun larger, and the moon, shrunk to a third of its former size, took now fourscore days between its new and new.

But of the new brotherhood that grew presently among men, of the saving of laws and books and machines, of the strange change that had come over Iceland and Greenland and the shores of Baffin`s Bay, so that the sailors coming there presently found them green and gracious, and could scarce believe their eyes, this story does not tell. Nor of the movement of mankind now that the earth was hotter, northward and southward towards the poles of the earth. It concerns itself only with the coming and the passing of the Star.

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.


Some business had detained me in Chancery Lane nine in the evening, and thereafter, having some inkling of a headache, I was disinclined either for entertainment or further work. So much of the sky as the high cliffs of that narrow canon of traffic left visible spoke of a serene night, and I determined to make my way down to the Embankment, and rest my eyes and cool my head by watching the variegated lights upon the river. Beyond comparison the night is the best time for this place; a merciful darkness hides the dirt of the waters, and the lights of this transitional age, red glaring orange, gas–yellow, and electric white, are set in shadowy outlines of every possible shade between grey and deep purple. Through the arches of Waterloo Bridge a hundred points of light mark the sweep of the Embankment, and above its parapet rise the towers of Westminster, warm grey against the starlight. The black river goes by with only a rare ripple breaking its silence, and disturbing the reflections of the lights that swim upon its surface.

«A warm night» said a voice at my side.

I turned my head, and saw the profile of a man who was leaning over the parapet beside me. It was a refined face, not unhandsome, though pinched and pale enough, and the coat collar turned up and pinned round the throat marked his status in life as sharply as a uniform. I felt I was committed to the price of a bed and breakfast if I answered him.

I looked at him curiously. Would he have anything to tell me worth the money, or was he the common incapable–incapable even of telling his own story? There was a quality of intelligence in his forehead and eyes, and a certain tremulousness in his nether lip that decided me.

«Very warm» said I; «but not too warm for us here».

«No» he said, still looking across the water, «it is pleasant enough here . . . . just now».

«It is good» he continued after a pause, «to find anything so restful as this in London. After one has been fretting about business all day, about getting on, meeting obligations, and parrying dangers, I do not know what one would do if it were not for such pacific corners.» He spoke with long pauses between the sentences. «You must know a little of the irksome labour of the world, or you would not be here. But I doubt if you can be so brain–weary and footsore as I am . . . . Bah! Sometimes I doubt if the game is worth the candle. I feel inclined to throw the whole thing over–name, wealth and position–and take to some modest trade. But I know if I abandoned my ambition–hardly as she uses me–I should have nothing but remorse left for the rest of my days».

He became silent. I looked at him in astonishment. If ever I saw a man hopelessly hard–up it was the man in front of me. He was ragged and he was dirty, unshaven and unkempt; he looked as though he had been left in a dust–bin for a week. And he was talking to ME of the irksome worries of a large business. I almost laughed outright. Either he was mad or playing a sorry jest on his own poverty.

«If high aims and high positions», said I, «have their drawbacks of hard work and anxiety, they have their compensations. Influence, the power of doing good, of assisting those weaker and poorer than ourselves; and there is even a certain gratification in display . . . . .

«My banter under the circumstances was in very vile taste. I spoke on the spur of the contrast of his appearance and speech. I was sorry even while I was speaking.

He turned a haggard but very composed face upon me. Said he: «I forgot myself. Of course you would not understand».

He measured me for a moment. «No doubt it is very absurd. You will not believe me even when I tell you, so that it is fairly safe to tell you. And it will be a comfort to tell someone. I really have a big business in hand, a very big business. But there are troubles just now. The fact is . . . I make diamonds».

«I suppose» said I, «you are out of work just at present?»

«I am sick of being disbelieved» he said impatiently, and suddenly unbuttoning his wretched coat he pulled out a little canvas bag that was hanging by a cord round his neck. From this he produced a brown pebble. «I wonder if you know enough to know what that is?» He handed it to me.

Now, a year or so ago, I had occupied my leisure in taking a London science degree, so that I have a smattering of physics and mineralogy. The thing was not unlike an uncut diamond of the darker sort, though far too large, being almost as big as the top of my thumb. I took it, and saw it had the form of a regular octahedron, with the curved faces peculiar to the most precious of minerals. I took out my penknife and tried to scratch it–vainly. Leaning forward towards the gas–lamp, I tried the thing on my watch–glass, and scored a white line across that with the greatest ease.

I looked at my interlocutor with rising curiosity. «It certainly is rather like a diamond. But, if so, it is a Behemoth of diamonds. Where did you get it?»

«I tell you I made it» he said. «Give it back to me».

He replaced it hastily and buttoned his jacket. «I will sell it you for one hundred pounds,» he suddenly whispered eagerly. With that my suspicions returned. The thing might, after all, be merely a lump of that almost equally hard substance, corundum, with an accidental resemblance in shape to the diamond. Or if it was a diamond, how came he by it, and why should he offer it at a hundred pounds?

We looked into one another`s eyes. He seemed eager, but honestly eager. At that moment I believed it was a diamond he was trying to sell. Yet I am a poor man, a hundred pounds would leave a visible gap in my fortunes and no sane man would buy a diamond by gaslight from a ragged tramp on his personal warranty only. Still, a diamond that size conjured up a vision of many thousands of pounds. Then, thought I, such a stone could scarcely exist without being mentioned in every book on gems, and again I called to mind the stories of contraband and light–fingered Kaffirs at the Cape. I put the question of purchase on one side.

«How did you get it?» said I.

«I made it».

I had heard something of Moissan, but I knew his artificial diamonds were very small. I shook my head.

«You seem to know something of this kind of thing. I will tell you a little about myself. Perhaps then you may think better of the purchase». He turned round with his back to the river, and put his hands in his pockets. He sighed. «I know you will not believe me».

«Diamonds», he began–and as he spoke his voice lost its faint flavour of the tramp and assumed something of the easy tone of an educated man–are to be made by throwing carbon out of combination in a suitable flux and under a suitable pressure; the carbon crystallises out, not as black–lead or charcoal–powder, but as small diamonds. So much has been known to chemists for years, but no one yet had hit upon exactly the right flux in which to melt up the carbon, or exactly the right pressure for the best results. Consequently the diamonds made by chemists are small and dark, and worthless as jewels. Now I, you know, have given up my life to this problem–given my life to it.

«I began to work at the conditions of diamond making when I was seventeen, and now I am thirty–two. It seemed to me that it might take all the thought and energies of a man for ten years, or twenty years, but, even if it did, the game was still worth the candle. Suppose one to have at last just hit the right trick before the secret got out and diamonds became as common as coal, one might realize millions. Millions!»

He paused and looked for my sympathy. His eyes shone hungrily. «To think», said he, «that I am on the verge of it all, and here!

«I had,» he proceeded, «about a thousand pounds when I was twenty–one, and this, I thought, eked out by a little teaching, would keep my researches going. A year or two was spent in study, at Berlin chiefly, and then I continued on my own account. The trouble was the secrecy. You see, if once I had let out what I was doing, other men might have been spurred on by my belief in the practicability of the idea; and I do not pretend to be such a genius as to have been sure of coming in first, in the case of a race for the discovery. And you see it was important that if I really meant to make a pile, people should not know it was an artificial process and capable of turning out diamonds by the ton. So I had to work all alone. At first I had a little laboratory, but as my resources began to run out I had to conduct my experiments in a wretched unfurnished room in Kentish Town, where I slept at last on a straw mattress on the floor among all my apparatus. The money simply flowed away. I grudged myself everything except scientific appliances. I tried to keep things going by a little teaching, but I am not a very good teacher, and I have no university degree, nor very much education except in chemistry, and I found I had to give a lot of time and labour for precious little money. But I got nearer and nearer the thing. Three years ago I settled the problem of the composition of the flux, and got near the pressure by putting this flux of mine and a certain carbon composition into a closed–up gun–barrel, filling up with water, sealing tightly, and heating».

He paused.

«Rather risky» said I.

«Yes. It burst, and smashed all my windows and a lot of my apparatus; but I got a kind of diamond powder nevertheless. Following out the problem of getting a big pressure upon the molten mixture from which the things were to crystallise, I hit upon some researches of Daubree`s at the Paris Laboratorie des Poudres et Salpetres. He exploded dynamite in a tightly screwed steel cylinder, too strong to burst, and I found he could crush rocks into a muck not unlike the South African bed in which diamonds are found. It was a tremendous strain on my resources, but I got a steel cylinder made for my purpose after his pattern. I put in all my stuff and my explosives, built up a fire in my furnace, put the whole concern in, and–went out for a walk»

I could not help laughing at his matter–of–fact manner. «Did you not think it would blow up the house? Were there other people in the place?»

«It was in the interest of science», he said, ultimately. «There was a costermonger family on the floor below, a begging–letter writer in the room behind mine, and two flower–women were upstairs. Perhaps it was a bit thoughtless. But possibly some of them were out.

«When I came back the thing was just where I left it, among the white–hot coals. The explosive hadn`t burst the case. And then I had a problem to face. You know time is an important element in crystallisation. If you hurry the process the crystals are small–it is only by prolonged standing that they grow to any size. I resolved to let this apparatus cool for two years, letting the temperature go down slowly during the time. And I was now quite out of money; and with a big fire and the rent of my room, as well as my hunger to satisfy, I had scarcely a penny in the world.

«I can hardly tell you all the shifts I was put to while I was making the diamonds. I have sold newspapers, held horses, opened cab–doors. For many weeks I addressed envelopes. I had a place as assistant to a man who owned a barrow, and used to call down one side of the road while he called down the other.

«Once for a week I had absolutely nothing to do, and I begged. What a week that was! One day the fire was going out and I had eaten nothing all day, and a little chap taking his girl out, gave me sixpence––to show off. Thank heaven for vanity! How the fish–shops smelt! But I went and spent it all on coals, and had the furnace bright red again, and then–Well, hunger makes a fool of a man.

«At last, three weeks ago, I let the fire out. I took my cylinder and unscrewed it while it was still so hot that it punished my hands, and I scraped out the crumbling lava–like mass with a chisel, and hammered it into a powder upon an iron plate. And I found three big diamonds and five small ones. As I sat on the floor hammering, my door opened, and my neighbour, the begging–letter writer came in. He was drunk–as he usually is. «`Nerchist,` said he. `You`re drunk,` said I. ``Structive scoundrel,` said he. `Go to your father,` said I, meaning the Father of Lies. `Never you mind,` said he, and gave me a cunning wink, and hiccuped, and leaning up against the door, with his other eye against the door–post, began to babble of how he had been prying in my room, and how he had gone to the police that morning, and how they had taken down everything he had to say–``siffiwas a ge`m,` said he. Then I suddenly realised I was in a hole. Either I should have to tell these police my little secret, and get the whole thing blown upon, or be lagged as an Anarchist. So I went up to my neighbour and took him by the collar, and rolled him about a bit, and then I gathered up my diamonds and cleared out. The evening newspapers called my den the Kentish Town Bomb Factory. And now I cannot part with the things for love or money.

«If I go in to respectable jewellers they ask me to wait, and go and whisper to a clerk to fetch a policeman, and then I say I cannot wait. And I found out a receiver of stolen goods, and he simply stuck to the one I gave him and told me to prosecute if I wanted it back. I am going about now with several hundred thousand pounds–worth of diamonds round my neck, and without either food or shelter. You are the first person I have taken into my confidence. But I like your face and I am hard–driven».

He looked into my eyes.

«It would be madness» said I, «for me to buy a diamond under the circumstances. Besides, I do not carry hundreds of pounds about in my pocket. Yet I more than half believe your story. I will, if you like, do this: come to my office to–morrow . . . . «

«You think I am a thief!» said he keenly. «You will tell the police. I am not coming into a trap».

«Somehow I am assured you are no thief. Here is my card. Take that, anyhow. You need not come to any appointment. Come when you will».

He took the card, and an earnest of my good–will.

«Think better of it and come» said I.

He shook his head doubtfully. «I will pay back your half–crown with interest some day–such interest as will amaze you» said he. «Anyhow, you will keep the secret? . . . . Don`t follow me».

He crossed the road and went into the darkness towards the little steps under the archway leading into Essex Street, and I let him go. And that was the last I ever saw of him.

Afterwards I had two letters from him asking me to send bank–notes–not cheques–to certain addresses. I weighed the matter over and took what I conceived to be the wisest course. Once he called upon me when I was out. My urchin described him as a very thin, dirty, and ragged man, with a dreadful cough. He left no message. That was the finish of him so far as my story goes. I wonder sometimes what has become of him. Was he an ingenious monomaniac, or a fraudulent dealer in pebbles, or has he really made diamonds as he asserted? The latter is just sufficiently credible to make me think at times that I have missed the most brilliant opportunity of my life. He may of course be dead, and his diamonds carelessly thrown aside–one, I repeat, was almost as big as my thumb. Or he may be still wandering about trying to sell the things. It is just possible he may yet emerge upon society, and, passing athwart my heavens in the serene altitude sacred to the wealthy and the well–advertised, reproach me silently for my want of enterprise. I sometimes think I might at least have risked five pounds.


John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris (10 July 1903 – 11 March 1969) English science–fiction writer, who gained fame with his catastrophe novels The Day of the Triffids (1951), The Kraken Wakes (1953), and The Chrysalids (1955). The central theme in Wyndham's major works is the struggle for survival in extreme situations. His heroes are often ordinary people, who try to sustain civilized values, when the normal social system has collapsed. The famous American writer Stephen King has called Wyndham “perhaps the best writer of science fiction that England has ever produced”.

John Wyndham usually used the pen name John Wyndham, although he also used other combinations of his names, such as John Beynon and Lucas Parkes. Many of his works were set in post-apocalyptic landscapes. Wyndham was born in the village of Knowle in Warwickshire, England, the son of George Beynon Harris, a barrister, and Gertrude Parkes, the daughter of a Birminghamiron master. His early childhood was spent in Edgbaston in Birmingham, but when he was eight years old his parents separated and he and his brother, the writer Vivian Beynon Harris, spent the rest of their childhood at a number of English preparatory and boarding schools, including Blundell's School in Devon during the First World War. His longest and final stay was at Bedales School in Hampshire (1918–1921) which he left at the age of 18, where he blossomed and was happy.

After leaving school, Wyndham tried several careers including farming, law, commercial art and advertising, but mostly relied on an allowance from his family. He eventually turned to writing for money in 1925, and by 1931 was selling short stories and serial fiction to American science fiction pulp magazines, most under the pen names of 'John Beynon' or 'John Beynon Harris', although he also wrote some detective stories.

During the Second World War Wyndham first served as a censor in the Ministry of Information, then joined the army, serving as a Corporal cipher operator in the Royal Corps of Signals. He participated in the Normandy landings, although was not involved in the first days of the landings.

After the war Wyndham returned to writing, inspired by the success of his brother who had had four novels published. He altered his writing style and by 1951, using the John Wyndham pen name for the first time, wrote the novel The Day of the Triffids. His prewar writing career was not mentioned in the book's publicity, and people were allowed to assume that it was a first novel from a previously unknown writer.

The book proved to be an enormous success and established Wyndham as an important exponent of science fiction. He went on to write and publish six more novels under the name John Wyndham, all of which appeared in his lifetime. In 1963 he married Grace Wilson, whom he had known for more than 20 years; the couple remained married until he died. He moved out of the Penn Club in London, and lived near Petersfield, Hampshire, just outside the grounds of Bedales School.

He died aged 65 at his home in Petersfield, survived by his wife and brother. Subsequently, some of his unsold work was published and his earlier work re-published.

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