‘Atomic Power’ by Don A. Stuart
Don A Stuart is John W Campbell Jr, the father of hard science fiction and the bloke who is ultimately responsible for this anthology. So what has he got for us? Well, a strange story in four disparate parts that starts off diamond hard and ends up hippy soft.
1) An introduction of sorts involving a tour of an atomic power planet. Along with the title, this subtly sets up the fact the story will have something to do with atomic power.
2) A scientist discovers the world has gone completely wrong. Rather than taking action, he labouriously explains his reasoning to a colleague. Sample quote:
“I measured it against a potentiometer hook-up. Now a potentiometer is a regular arm-and-pan balance for electrical voltages, as you ought to know, even if you a civil engineer. You take a standard cell, an outside current, and standardize the thing, then substitute your unknown voltage. The system will measure a ten thousandth of a volt if you do it correctly. The point is that a potentiometer uses nothing but electrical balances. It balances a fixed current through a resistance against an electrical potential.”
After a couple of pages of that they do actually decide to try and do something about it.
3) The wrongness has now manifested itself and we get a long descriptive passage of the over-crowding panic that sinks the last ship out of New York . It seems ripped out of a disaster novel and is excessively long and jarring in tone in the context of this otherwise dry story.
4) Back to the scientist. He has solved the problem: what if our universe is just, like, one atom in an super-universe and someone else is using it in a power plant? To which you can only reply: cut your hair, Campbell. Armed with this knowledge, the scientist makes our universe taste unpleasant to the super-universe power planet and then plots to rebuild the ravaged Earth through the glory of – you guessed it – atomic power.
Hardness: ***** or *