Thursday, June 13, 2019

Crashing Suns

The Fantastic Technology of Crashing Suns

Last night I finished reading Crashing Suns by Edmond Hamilton, (AKA the World Wrecker) published in the August & September 1928 issues of Weird Tales.
Random Chance or just Carelessness? You Decide.

The story is set in our solar system some time in the future when the EIGHT planets are inhabited. [Pluto's discovery was still two years away.] The solar system is threatened by a rogue star hurtling on a collision course with Sol. This would result in annihilation of the human race and all its works.

The protagonist, Jan Tor, is a pilot of the Interstellar patrol. He is tasked with leading the expedition to the approaching star to find if there is a way to avert this disaster.

Space Opera, indeed.

The story is actually a straightforward affair of exploration, discovery, capture, escape, conflict and a last minute rescue. By now, this is a by-the-numbers tale of not great impact. We've seen it before. In 1928, though? This might have been hot stuff. Hamilton's reputation among space opera/sci-fi writers is outstanding, even if he's less well known today than during his lifetime.

The story's structure is heavy on exposition and description (needs to be, set in another solar system), light on dialogue and character development. Beyond their names, I saw only the scantest details to differentiate the hero and his companions.

But that's not what I found interesting about this story.

The interesting part is this gizmo that Hamilton invented to explain how the fantastic events of the story were set off.

You see, the star that threatens to destroy the Solar System, or 'universe' as the characters insist on calling it, was not a merciless fate cast on the Earth by a random and unfeeling universe.

The race of beings that lived around Alto, the rogue star, and populated its solar system intended and purposed to cause their star to collide with ours!

THIS is space opera, Ladies and Gentlemen!
Watch Out for those Space Rays!

The people of Alto had developed a 'ray' of staggering power that was able to alter the rate at which Alto spun upon its axis. The physics of this is believable, in that a spinning sphere is affected in its direction by changes in the spin rate.  It was going to pass near our Solar System on its natural course, but the people of Alto caused it to change direction. By altering the spin rate, the locals 'aimed' their star at ours. The reason for this I will leave unspoiled so you still go read this story.

Hamilton does not waste his time or ours trying to explain the means by which this ray can accomplish this monumental feat. How does a device that can be mounted aboard a space-ship get the power needed to alter the motion of a behemoth star? Who cares? The science lecture needed to answer that question would completely derail the story, even if Hamilton could have come up with a half-way believable explanation.

The rate of Alto's movement through space is orders of magnitude faster than happens in real life. If Jan Tor and company had a thousand years to come up with a solution, the story would have no urgency or drama. Hamilton didn't let scientific accuracy get in the way of telling his story.

It is speculated by the Earth exploration crew that if the 'ray' is applied too much, a star might spin itself apart, becoming a binary star! The destruction this would cause to the local solar system still beggars comprehension.

I am tempted to introduce at least the Rumor of such a device into my Traveller Universe.

Imagine the stakes involved if some Mad Scientist actually managed this, and sets a red giant star careering through inhabited space! What chaos and destruction! What upheaval, and what fertile ground for high stakes and High Powered Adventure!

What Tech Level would be appropriate to assign to this star killer device? I say at a minimum TL 20. Maybe the Tech Lords built this . . .
Every government and power-hungry Noble in space would be turning the universe upside down trying to find this device, whether to use it or to destroy it. If someone claimed to have it, they could re-order the universe in ways never before attempted.

Star Wars gave us the Starkiller base and the Sun Crusher, but Hamilton gave us a star used as a weapon nearly three quarters of a century earlier. Appreciate the pulp era for all that it gave modern readers.

How would your PC's react to the possibility of finding a Star Aiming Ray?

Photo credits:
icijbr at Pixabay
Gerd Altmann at Pixabay


  1. Those interested can find the story at Baen Books, here.

    Or here, if you want to copy/paste: