The Star (Wells short story)
|Author||H. G. Wells|
In January (about 1900, presumably), the people of Earth awaken to the news that a strange luminous object has erupted, into the Solar System, after disturbing the normal orbit of the planet Neptune. The object is a celestial body whose luminosity is distinguishable on the sky about the constellation of Leo.
Although initially it is only of interest to astronomers, eventually the world media announces that it is a whole star, heading in a collision course toward the center of our star system. The star has already consumed Neptune. Many people are concerned by this, but on the whole it amounts to little more than a temporary fad.
The rogue star continues on its path, now affecting the planet Jupiter and all its moons. At this point, the studies of a mathematician are published throughout the world. He explains that the intruding star and our Sun are exerting reciprocal gravitational attraction, and as a result it is being pulled deeper into the Solar System. Based on its orientation, it is determined that the star will either hit Earth or pass by at close proximity, which would lead to apocalyptic ecological consequences. As the luminosity disrupts nights on Earth, many people begin to worry, but cynics cite the year 1000, in which humanity also anticipated the world's end.
The English winter softens progressively into a thaw, as the intruding star grows fast in the sky. Its high speed is evident during the worst hours of the event. On that day, in the sky above England the relative size of the star was equivalent to a third of the size of the Moon. Upon reaching the skies of the United States the relative size has already increased to the size of the Moon.
Soon all of the ice on Earth's surface begins to melt, causing widespread flooding. The star then begins to overshadow the Sun, whose hours seem darker. The planetary crust is affected too, with massive cracks forming and releasing lava on to the surface of the Earth. Tidal waves hit, particularly in the Pacific area, and leads to devastation across the world. Most of the human population perishes, and its works are rendered unusable: cities, farms, etc. The few survivors witness the Moon interposing before the traveling star, creating a weak eclipse, as it is permanently removed from its steady orbit about the Earth into a new, more distant orbit. The star then resumes its path to finally meet the Sun.
Earth manages to survive despite the massive havoc wreaked upon its surface. Extensive areas of Greenland have thawed and are now green and pleasant for habitation. Humans settle in new areas close to the poles, where the climate is more temperate. Meanwhile, Martian astronomers have witnessed the event, concluding that not much has changed on the distant planet apart from the melting of ice at the poles.
An astronomer named Ogilvy appears at the start of the story. An astronomer named Ogilvy also appears at the start of Wells' novel The War of the Worlds.
The early part of the story, before the dire danger had become obvious, includes a reference to a South African city where "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". This is considered to be a snide reference to Cecil Rhodes, at the height of his power and influence at the time of writing.
The master mathematician's defiance of 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 small brain. I would not change. Even now" is a clear statement of 19th-century Scientific rationalism, the world-view which Wells strongly shared.
This story is often credited with having created a science fiction subgenre depicting the impact event of a planet or star colliding, or near-colliding with Earth—such as the 1933 novel When Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer (made into a film in 1951), Fritz Leiber's The Wanderer (1965), and Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (1977).
However, it was preceded by two stories in 1894: Omega: The Last Days of the World by Camille Flammarion (the astronomer of the Flammarion Catalog) and Olga Romanoff or, The Syren of the Skies by George Griffith. In 1895, Griffith used an comet disaster again in The Outlaws of the Air.
The radio anthology series Radio Tales adapted the story into an episode called "Asteroid".
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