The Star • 1897 • Apocalyptic SF short story by H.G. Wells

★★+

Our Sun has captured a celestial body which collides with outermost planet Neptune on a course to Earth. Initially, it is only relevant for astronomers, but after some time the media generate a hype aorund the approaching apocalypse. People really start to react when the star lightens up the nights and reaches the size of the Moon. Martians witness how the polar ice caps start to melt causing floods, Earthshakes cause further desaster, most of human population is whiped out, the Moon is displaced to an outer orbit, but the final impact doesn’t come: the star heads towards the Sun. Humans resettle on the climate poles.

H.G. Wells is considered as one of the SF founding fathers. Hugo Gernsback named him as one of his top three influences (besides E.A. Poe and Jules Vernes) when he formed Astounding. Wells didn’t want see himself in the tradition of Jules Vernes who explored innovations and discoveries; he wanted to describe normal peoples‘ reactions to phantastic or speculative elements. Impact events are an ever-recurring topic in SF with movie adaptions like 1998’s Armageddon or Deep Impact or novels like Niven’s Lucifer’s Hammer. Written at the end of the 19th century, the scientific part demonstrates the visionary capabilities of Wells. Compare the build-up to modern works:

  1. The Event of the desaster
  2. The Dawning: someone realizes that it might be a problem
  3. Taunting: average people laugh about it or even consider it as a good omen
  4. Refused Proof: some crazy scientist’s proof is disregarded or even scoffed at
  5. Panic: most people realize the facts, situation gets out of control
  6. Last Minute Rescue Attempts
  7. Resolution: It was bad but the worse didn’t happen, we have to live on with the consequences.

Wells’s world view of Scientific rationalism clearly shows in the voice of the Mathematician, but also his scepticism of scientists‘ influence which are disregarded by media, politicians, and religious leaders. I see a connection to our contemporary Alternate Facts, here.

As a vision, the story works very well. As a story, not so good – it is more a list of emotionally distant scientific statements with pastiche-like reactions of average people to the apocalypse. Though not very long, it feels slow. As such, it doesn’t transfer to our times well enough.

 

Meta: isfdb. Read in The Road to Science Fiction: Volume I: From Gilgamesh to Wells and The Big Book of SF. Available online.

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