The Book: “Night” by Don A. Stuart (pseudonym of John W. Campbell). Story originally published in 1935 by Astouning Stories. Read in the anthology Where Do We Go from Here? edited by Isaac Asimov published by Fawcett Crest in 1972.
The Setting: Earth
The Story: An anti-gravity experiment goes haywire, catapulting its pilot to very nearly the end of time. But don’t worry, he gets back to his present. A race of machines based on Neptune help him.
The Science: Again, Asimov comments on the science.
- Anti-gravity and time travel: Here, I’ll let Asimov do the talking. Take it, Isaac!
The story contains two notions that are very common in science fiction: anti-gravity and time-travel. Both are quite impossible in the light of our present knowledge of the Universe.
According to Einstein’s theory of relativity there is no way of insulating one’s self from the effect of a gravitational field, nor is there such a thing as gravitational repulsion.
As for time-travel, that would seriously compromise the law of cause-and-effect, of of the fundamentals on which science is based. Breaking the law would introduce unusual paradoxes. […]
Science fiction writers have written very ingenious stories to take care of such paradoxes, but orthodox science will have none of it.
- Sentient machines: The main character is rescued from the dead planet Earth by a race of machines based on Neptune. They were built by humans to be curious and learn, but they’ve pretty much learned everything they need to know. Now, all they really want is for the universe to end so they can stop existing. It sounds like a downer, but these are no Marvin the Paranoid Android. They’re just realistic. Are machines ever going to reach such a level of self awareness? Not for a while, but it certainly seems plausible to me. Terrifying, but plausible. Which is probably why it’s such a common component of science fiction stories and films.
The Reaction: I’m not sure if everyone in the 1930s just spoke like they were doing dialogue out of a bad film noir, but it seems to be the case in these stories I’ve read lately. The beginning of the story has some bad narration, almost to the point of being hard to follow, but once we get to the re-telling of the adventure story, it livens up and becomes interesting because of the situation of the main character. All in all, not a bad way to spend 20 pages.
The Cover: A generalized science fiction anthology cover with what may be planets or molecules or whatever. But mostly, ASIMOV.
Next Up: The Legion of Space by Jack Williamson.