With a giant meteor 150 foot wide (or 45 meters) narrowly missing the earth by 17,200 miles (or 27,000 kilometres) and another one exploding over the Ural Mountains in Russia (shattering windows and injuring over 400 people), it makes us realise how utterly insignificant this little planet is in the vastness of space. At the same time it also makes us realise just how miraculous our very existence and continued survival is, surrounded by the indifferent universe.
It reminded me of a book I read recently. I picked it up last year for one pound and fifty pence at the Southbank book market under Waterloo Bridge, just in front of the BFI Southbank Cinema. The book was called The Big Eye by Max Ehrlich, and I bought it a) because I’d never heard of it before, b) I liked the cover (it looked like a bit of pulp science fiction from the 50’s), and c) it was only one pound fifty!
I have a theory that many good books get lost. Due to the vast number of books published each year I’m certain that many either do not find their audience or simply get forgotten in the rush for the next new thing. This book appears to be one of the forgotten ones, it’s not perfect by any means but as an ‘end-of-the-world by giant meteor’ scenario goes, it is quite interesting. The population come to terms with their inevitable demise rather than the now predictable movie sci-fi solution of saving themselves by blasting the thing out of existence.
The story begins with quite another threat to the human race – that of nuclear war. The book was originally published in 1949 (and first published in 1951 in the UK – my copy was published by Boardman Books in 1954) and it is set in the early 60’s. The cold war obviously made this eventuality quite plausible. I believe that I’m in the last generation to feel the threat of all-out nuclear holocaust, when I was young it was still a very real possibility. I remember hearing about ‘Threads’ and ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ and the ‘Protect and Survive‘ Public Information Films, all of which heightened the fear of nuclear war.
The imminent threat of the giant meteor heading towards the earth makes the warmongering countries realise how futile their posturing is in the face of complete annihilation from outer space and an era of peace begins, unlike any other in the history of mankind. The date for the end of the world is set for Christmas Day 1962 (just imagine, the world would only ever know the Beatles for ‘Love Me Do’).
I wont give away the ending – is the earth smashed to smithereens, is it saved, or is there a ‘Day The Earth Caught Fire’-like ending? I’ll let you find out…!