The Black Cloud by Frank Hoyle
The Black Cloud, published in 1957, is the first science fiction novel written by the astronomer and mathematician Fred Hoyle and an in a modern day setting charts the arrival of a gigantic cloud of gas into our solar system from deep space, and the consequences of its appearance.
At the Palomar Observatory in California a young astronomer notices that a curious black mass has suddenly appeared at the edges of our galaxy. Other astronomers around the world have also noticed something strange happening through their telescopes and results are presented at a British Astronomical Association meeting. Here we meet once of the central characters of the novel, Chris Kingsley, who is the Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge University, and rather blunt in his approach to working with others, particularly politicians, whom he regards as being like ‘the instruments on the dashboard of my car. They tell me what is going on in the engine of state, but they don’t control it.’
On a brief visit to the US, Kingsley at the UK’s Astronomer Royal discuss with those who first noticed the cloud what it could be, where it is going and what will happen to Earth if a huge gas cloud inserts itself between us and the Sun. It is agreed upon that there are only around 16 months left before it arrives, and as this filters up to the heads of state in the US and UK we follow Kingsley at a team of astronomers and others as a base is set up at a manor estate in the Cotswolds, which contains the most cutting edge radio technology available.
It is several months before the public become aware and the cloud becomes visible to the naked eye. Evacuation programmes are taking place in some countries, whilst others merely wait to see what happens but soon temperatures increase due to the effects of the cloud moving in and the death toll begins to rise. Unfortunately for many people on Earth this is just the beginning, but for others the arrival of the cloud is the next step for mankind in its search for knowledge.
I think the Black Cloud works so well as an example of science fiction because Fred Hoyle clearly knows what he is writing about. Indeed, throughout the text we are given equations and diagrams which can mean absolutely nothing to somebody who is not an astronomer, but it is the depth of detail in the discussions of what the cloud is, what it is made of and how its presence affects life on Earth that I find gives it a solid base for the political and humanitarian story threads to build on.
The majority of the novel is focused on Kingsley’s team in Nortonstowe and their advancements in the use of radio communication, and The Black Cloud can feel a little detached when the horrific natural disasters caused by the cloud destroy the majority of the planet, but with such a huge concept, maybe this is unavoidable. The main thrust of the book is scientific experimentation and the hunt for facts, with the central figure of Kingsley, a sharply clever but not the most approachable of people, carrying this forward. It is said that Kinsley is based on Fred Hoyle himself and his own blunt manner. Other criticism could be levelled at the lack of female characters who actually do something apart from make coffee or play the cello for the scientists’ amusement. Whether this is symptomatic of its time and of the profession, or whether this is just Hoyle’s personal view could be debated but I think this is another part of the novel failing to engage more deeply in the humanitarian aspects of the cloud’s appearance.
The Black Cloud takes an interesting turn once the cloud arrives, which I do not want to spoil by giving away, but which brings with it a whole new set of questions regarding what this means for humankind and its place in the universe. Overall this is a fascinating idea very well explained that rises above the apocalypse to grasp at what may possibly be out there.
This The Black Cloud book review was written by Cat Fitzpatrick
Have you read The Black Cloud?
We've found that while readers like to know what we think of a book they find additional reader reviews a massive help in deciding if it is the right book for them. So if you have a spare moment, please tell us your thoughts by writing a reader's review. Thank you.
The Black Cloud reader reviews
8.5/10 from 1 reviews
There are currently no reader reviews for this book. Why not be the first?
Write a reader review
Thank you for taking the time to write a review on this book, it really makes a difference and helps readers to find their perfect book.
More recommended reading in this genre
A father and his young son walk alone through burned America, heading slowly for the coast. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. They have nothi...
Hidden away in the Record Department of the sprawling Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith skilfully rewrites the past to suit the needs of the Party. Yet he inwardly rebels ag...
The year is 2033. The world has been reduced to rubble. Humanity is nearly extinct. The half-destroyed cities have become uninhabitable through radiation. Beyond their boun...
Oryx and Crake
Snowman may be the last man on earth, the only survivor of an unnamed apocalypse. Once he was Jimmy, a member of a scientific elite; now he lives in bitter isolation and lo...
The Last Man Standing
Italy is on the brink of collapse. Borders are closed, banks withhold money, the postal service stalls. Armed gangs of drug-fuelled youths roam the countryside. Leonardo wa...
The Drowned World
Fluctuations in solar radiation have melted the ice caps, sending the planet into a new Triassic Age of unendurable heat. London is a swamp; lush tropical vegetation grows ...
Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse
John Joseph Adams
Famine, death, war, pestilence. These are said to be the harbingers of the biblical apocalypse-Armageddon. The End of the World. Whether by nuclear warfare, a biological di...
The Crystal World
Through a ‘leaking’ of time, the West African jungle starts to crystallize. Trees metamorphose into enormous jewels. Crocodiles encased in second glittering ski...
Emily St John Mandel
What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty. One snowy night in Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whil...
An illness spreads through an unnamed city. It has only one symptom: blindness. It comes without fanfare, pain, or warning. One moment a man waits in his car at the traffic...
A modern Britain. An age-old cruelty. Britain's magically skilled aristocracy compels all commoners to serve them for ten years - and now it's the Hadleys' turn...
The Reapers are the Angels
God is a slick god. Temple knows. She knows because of all the crackerjack miracles still to be seen on this ruined globe... Older than her years and completely alone, Temp...
Legends of the Red Sun
Mark Charan Newton
An ice age strikes a chain of islands, and thousands come to seek sanctuary at the gates of Villjamur. It’s a city of ancient spires and bridges, a place where banshe...
The Return Man
The outbreak tore the USA in two. The east remains a safe haven. The west has become a ravaged wilderness. They call it the Evacuated States. It is here that Henry Marco ma...
Facing down an unprecedented malevolent enemy, the government responds with a nuclear attack. America as it was is gone forever, and now every citizen – from the Pres...
Looking for more suggestions? Try these pages:
Best of 2016
What are Strungballs? Ten-year-old Sydney is about to find out... but first he must have a cube of his flesh removed. Sydney will transgress everything he was taught to believ...
Books of the Month
A selection of books - old and new alike - that were a joy to read.
When Vivian is evacuated from London in 1939, she expects to be staying in the countryside. Instead, she is whisked away to Time City – a place that exists outside time and space. It is a strange and remarkable place, where technology rules – yet important events of both past and future are marked by the appearance of mysterious Time...
The Guns of Empire
As the roar of the guns subsides and the smoke of battle clears, the country of Vordan is offered a fragile peace... After their shattering defeats at the hands of brillian...
At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth....
Events are coming to a climax in the Banished Lands, as the war reaches new heights. King Nathair has taken control of the fortress at Drassil and three of the Seven Treasu...
For Kivrin Engle, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity's history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the four...
The Banished Lands are engulfed in war and chaos. The cunning Queen Rhin has conquered the west and High King Nathair has the cauldron, most powerful of the seven treasures...