Penguin Classics £9.99
The Black Cloud, By Fred Hoyle
Sunday 21 November 2010
Sir Fred Hoyle was a mathematician and astronomer of the front rank, whose theory of how elements are formed – in stars, from hydrogen – was resoundingly right (although he seems to have been resoundingly wrong in dismissing the "Big Bang" theory, as he sarcastically dubbed it). He was also a sci-fi writer of some renown, and this is a welcome reprint of his best-known work, from 1957.
A cosmic black cloud, first seen through the telescopes of amateur astronomers, is rushing towards Earth. Around the world, scientists get to work, analysing its composition and calculating its size and the rate and direction of its advance: it seems likely to engulf the planet and blot out the sun, ending life on Earth. A team of British, American, Australian and Russian scientists, pressured by their short-sighted and scientifically illiterate governments, gathers at a hideaway to grapple with the problem. The cloud behaves in such a way that it appears to be sentient; the task is to communicate with it...
The hero is Professor Christopher Kingsley: brilliant, maverick, cynical, outspoken and always right; plausibly, a self-portrait by Hoyle. As an insight into how scientists work – a combination of theory, observation, deduction and prediction, driven by a hefty engine of ego – The Black Cloud is fascinating.
In his erudite afterword, Richard Dawkins claims this is "one of the greatest science fiction novels ever written". I'd not go that far – the characterisation (Kingsley apart) is perfunctory, and there are too many passages in which theories are explained, questioned and defended by characters who become little more than mouthpieces. But if the emphasis is on the science rather than the fiction, there are indeed few sci-fi novels to touch it. And you certainly want to keep reading to find out what happens.
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Forget 'The Dress': Here are five of the biggest news stories you might have missed
- 2 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 Saudi Muslim cleric claims the Earth is 'stationary' and the sun rotates around it
Skrillex and Diplo's 24-hour DJ set shut down by police after 18 hours
Drake matches The Beatles' record with 14 singles in top 100 chart at the same time
Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl: First look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Justin Kelly interview: On James Franco playing a gay man who renounces his homosexuality
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'