The Book: The Big Eye by Max Ehrlich. Originally published in 1949, the edition read was published by Bantam Books in 1958.
The Setting: Earth, 1960, New York City and Palomar, CA
The Story: David Hughes is an up-and-coming astronomer who wants to get it on with his actress lady friend, but the world is on the brink of nuclear extinction and strange things are happening… Like a planet headed for collision with the Earth and no chance of escape!
The Science: David Hughes works at the Palomar observatory, which houses “The Big Eye,” a 200 inch telescope. What I did not realize is that this telescope is real! The telescope opened the same year the book was published. That’s pretty cool. Moreover, the telescope is still in use for science, which is super awesome. Built to last!
Most of the story, however, is concerned with the impending collision of an extra-solar planet-like body on a collision course with Earth. At the beginning of the book there are mysterious tremors and other things being caused by the interference of this body, even though it is not even near Earth yet. But, when the body is practically filling the sky, there’s hardly any gravitational interference with the planet. So that doesn’t make any sense. I mean, the main characters were living in an apartment building at the end of the book! I don’t get it.
The Reaction: I actually finished reading this book a few weeks ago. But it took me a long time to get through it and just as long to temper my resentfulness of the book with time. Because, oh my god I hate this book. It’s part melodrama, part attempted social commentary, and part dude only thinking about sexing it up with his lady friend. The story has potential, but way too much of the book is spent talking about what is happening the world over. It’s very ineffectual. Also, the casual misogyny is annoying – it’s not even tempered by awesome storytelling. This book is so not worth the effort.
The Cover: The cover is probably the thing I like best about this book. It’s got an awesome font going, and AN EYE! Above a city! There’s a very strong mid-century vibe in the painting which I like. Although the front blurb “with only two years left for all the laughing and loving of a lifetime” puts me on the fence between loving the camp and rolling my eyes so far that it hurts.
Next Up: “Critical Mass” by Arthur C. Clarke