By David Dowling (auth.)

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G. Wells read about Professor Soddy and the 'Interpretation of Radium' and wrote to his friend Simmons, 'I've suddenly broken out into one of the good old scientific romances again, and I want to know quite the latest about the atomic theory and sources of energy .... My idea is taken from Soddy. Men are supposed to find out how to set up atomic degeneration in the heavy elements just as they found out long ago how to set up burning in coal. ' 2 The World Set Free, dedicated to Soddy and published just before the Great War, accurately predicted the Curies' discovery of radioactivity, even to the year 1933.

As well, it has to frame a technological world within the humanistic bounds of literary significance. 4 The conflict between the positivist and spiritual or sacramental world view is well illustrated by Perry Miller in his historical survey of American apocalyptic literature. He contrasts two eschatological works of the seventeenth century: Burnet's The Sacred Theory of the Earth (1681) and Whiston's A New Theory of the Earth ( 1696). The former looks forward to the Apocalypse, and attempts to identify it with specific geological events such as the eruption of Mount Vesuvius (since the Romish Pope must be Antichrist); the latter book describes a wholly mechanical universe, with stray disasters such as the collision of 21 22 Fictions of Nuclear Disaster Earth and a comet and even the possibility of a beneficial future - 'it will perhaps cause a change of heart and bring about a calculus of earthly felicity'.

It had started with the plants themselves. They'd given up on trying to explain the facts to the people - tough, almost indigestible facts couched in abstruse mathematics, of course; they hadn't faced up to the fact that some way could always be found to make anything understandable, given time. Instead of hiring the best minds to find the way, they'd made the secrets even more esoteric. And when trouble came they'd been forced to try to conceal it and depend on trickery. Morgan's proposal might work, but not forever.

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