The Star (Clarke short story)
|Author||Arthur C. Clarke|
|Published in||Infinity Science Fiction|
|Publication date||November, 1955|
"The Star" is a science fiction short story by English writer Arthur C. Clarke. It appeared in the science fiction magazine Infinity Science Fiction in 1955 and won the Hugo Award in 1956. The story was also published as "Star of Bethlehem". It is collected in Clarke's book of short stories, The Other Side of the Sky. Later it was also reprinted in the January 1965 issue of Short Story International as the lead-off story for that issue.
A group of space explorers from Earth return from an expedition to a remote star system, where they discovered the remnants of an advanced civilization destroyed when its sun went supernova. The group's chief astrophysicist, a Jesuit priest, is suffering from a deep crisis of faith, triggered by some undisclosed event during the journey.
The destroyed planet's culture was very similar to Earth's. Recognizing several generations in advance that their sun would soon explode, and with no means of interstellar travel to save themselves, the doomed people spent their final years building a vault on the outermost planet in their solar system, whose Pluto-like orbit was distant enough to survive the supernova. In the vault, they placed a complete record of their history, culture, achievements, and philosophy, hoping that it would someday be found so that their existence would not have been in vain. The Earth explorers, particularly the astrophysicist-priest, were deeply moved by these artifacts, and they found themselves identifying closely with the dead race's peaceful, human-like culture and the profound grace they exhibited in the face of their cruel fate.
The final paragraph of "The Star" reveals the source of the priest's pain. Determining the exact year of the long-ago supernova and the star system's distance from Earth, he calculated the date the emitted light from the explosion reached Earth, proving that the cataclysm that destroyed the peaceful planet was the same star that heralded the birth of Jesus. The scientist's faith is shaken because of the apparent capriciousness of God:
[O]h God, there were so many stars you could have used. What was the need to give these people to the fire, that the symbol of their passing might shine above Bethlehem?
The story was later dramatized as a Christmas episode of the first revival of The Twilight Zone. Although the original story ended on a negative note, this version had a more upbeat ending, as the ship's captain reminds the scientist that the planet's population knew that they were about to die and were prepared for it, and had celebrated the fact that their deaths would bring light to a new civilization — humanity.
- GRB 080319B, one of five gamma ray bursts detected by the Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission satellite within the 24-hour period around Clarke's own death.
- Original text
- The Star title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- The Star was adapted by the drabblecast.