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The Giant Stumbles

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Corgi, London, 1961
(originally published by Hodder & Stoughton, 1960)
price: 2/6; 160 pages

The blurb on the back:

Man's experiments with nuclear fission produce phenomena which lead Nigel Rhodes to one inescapable conclusion:
In five days man's world will end.
How is he to convince people that what he has to say is neither a stunt nor a lunatic's imaginings, but the simple, horrifying, inevitable truth?
The Giant Stumbles, a novel of the near future by John Lymington, author of Night of the Big Heat, is: ‘Undoubtedly the best science fiction since Quatermass’ — Daily Mirror

opening lines:
The first storm came on the night of August the sixth. It happened with great suddenness, following weeks of calm, very hot weather.

So there are these strange storms, see, that suddenly appear out of (literally) a clear blue sky, and disappear just as rapidly. And only one scientist understands what’s going on: ‘the sum total of all nuclear fission has created a charge within the earth’s composition, in just the same way as electricity can be charged in a storage battery.’ (p.27) And the result will be that in a few days time the spin of the Earth will for a short period slow down, almost certainly bringing humanity to an end.

So what does one do? Is it responsible to publicise such an event? Should one imply try to escape the catastrophe oneself and damn the rest?

It’s a decent little concept, and perfectly readable, even if it doesn’t quite capture the enormity of the events that it seeks to describe. And it does have some nice bits, which still resonate. Here’s a layman trying to get to grips with modern science:

’You scientists — you're always beggaring about with one thing or another and getting it all wrong. Look at the doctors: one week something's good for you, next week it's poison. You ought to be in my business. Oranges. Eat 'em up. Give you energy, vitality, every bloody 'ity'. Next week, don't bother with 'em. Nothing in 'em. Week after that, "new orange diet, builds up sex appeal", or some sludge like that. It's all a racket. They don't know what they're talking about. That's all. One week the scientists say atoms ruin the weather. Next week it makes no difference.’ (p.108)


science fiction