Deadline (science fiction story)
|Published in||Astounding Science Fiction|
|Publisher||Street & Smith|
|Media type||Print (Magazine)|
|Publication date||March 1944|
"Deadline" is a 1944 science fiction short story by Cleve Cartmill which was published in Astounding Science Fiction. The story described the then-secret atomic bomb in some detail. At that time the bomb was still under development and top secret, which prompted a visit by the FBI.
In 1943, Cartmill suggested to John W. Campbell, the then-editor of Astounding, that he could write a story about a futuristic super-bomb. Campbell liked the idea and supplied Cartmill with considerable background information gleaned from unclassified scientific journals, on the use of Uranium-235 to make a nuclear fission device. The resulting story appeared in the issue of Astounding dated March 1944, which actually appeared early in February of that year.
By March 8 it had come to the attention of the Counter-Intelligence Corps, who saw many similarities between the technical details in the story and the research currently being undertaken in great secrecy at Los Alamos. Fearing a security breach, the FBI began an investigation into Cartmill, Campbell and some of their acquaintances (including Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein). It appears that the authorities eventually accepted the explanation that the story's material had been gleaned from unclassified sources, but as a precautionary measure they requested that Campbell should not publish any further stories about nuclear technology for the remainder of the war.
Campbell, in the meantime, had guessed from the number of Astounding subscribers who had suddenly moved to the Los Alamos area, that the US government probably some had sort of technical or scientific project ongoing there. He declined to volunteer this information to the FBI.
Historical interest aside, "Deadline" is not one of Cartmill's best stories and was described by Robert Silverberg as "a klutzy clunker" and by Cartmill himself as "that stinker". According to Silverberg, Cartmill also used the phrase "it stinks" when describing the story to a postman who was acting as an informer for military intelligence.