The Star (Centennial Version)
by Blake Linton Wilfong

Editor's Notes by Blake Linton Wilfong

      H. G. Wells' "The Star", published in 1897, is one of the best early science fiction short stories. In 1996, to honor its approaching centennial, I wrote a new short-short version that brings the tale up to date with a new twist based on actual recent events.
      Alas, it takes knowledge of the original H. G. Wells story to fully appreciate my version, and its literary style and scientific accuracy--or lack thereof--resemble the wonder-filled, naive tales of pre-Golden Age science fiction more than modern SF. Birdpeople living in the upper atmosphere of a gas giant? Impossible! (Never mind that alien biology probably thumbs its nose at our Earth-centric notions of "impossible".) So the major science fiction magazine editors rejected it.
      Their loss is your gain. Here for your enjoyment is my centennial version of "The Star". I suggest you read the original H. G. Wells story first; it too is available on this Web site.

NASA artist concept of the T'klak disaster.
The birdpeople of the planet T'klak possessed language, intelligence, and compassion--the key ingredients of sentience. But lacking hands to build tools, especially telescopes, all they saw of the coming disaster was a faint new star, visible only during those fleeting moments when the clouds above parted to admit the celestial lights.

And so these brightly-plumed creatures--"birdpeople" is perhaps a misnomer, for their flexible bodies could soar effortlessly through tornados, and their biochemistry differed radically from ours--continued their lives as usual: tacking and gliding merrily through the windy skies between their floating aeries, singing melodic love songs, and feeding their chicks. They were completely oblivious to the doom that hurtled toward the great gas giant in whose upper atmosphere they lived. Perhaps it was a merciful ignorance, for they had no means to escape their fate.

Twenty-one times their entire gaseous planet roiled thunderously. Twenty-one times immense firestorms and devastating atmospheric compression waves blasted the T'klakians' nests, vaporized their incubating eggs, and charred and crushed their feathery bodies. Twenty-one times screams of the dying echoed around the world, carried on roaring winds.

The population of T'klak was decimated. A hundred million beings perished. In all their history, never before had such a horrific tragedy occurred. The generations that followed would call these days the C'kulka tak K'tarr.

"Wrath of the Gods."

Earth's astronomers designated the celestial object "Comet P/Shoemaker-Levy 9" and observed that it consisted of a train of 21 icy fragments spread across more than 700,000 miles of space. The largest was more than a mile in diameter. Of greatest interest, however, was the comet's course: its components would slam into Jupiter (known as T'klak to the birdpeople) over a period of several days beginning on July 18, 1994. As the date approached, astrophysicists spoke excitedly of the "spectacular" impact and its probable effects on the banded clouds of Jupiter. Eagerly, they peered into telescope lenses and studied computer screens, awaiting a heavenly brand of July fireworks. They knew they would never forget this historic event, the first collision of two solar system bodies to be witnessed by Man.

But for the public at large, it was at best a seven-day wonder. Although telescopic photographs depicting the incident were widely circulated via newspapers, magazines, television, and the Internet, they revealed only a few tiny, innocuous dark blotches on the familiar face of Jupiter. The great planet continued steadily in its orbit, and its overall shape, color, composition, temperature, and mass remained, for all practical purposes, unaffected.

And there were, after all, more important and immediate issues: "How did they do the special effects in Forrest Gump?", "Who killed O. J. Simpson's ex-wife?", and "Will there really be another baseball strike?"

Which only shows how small the vastest of...catastrophes may seem, at a distance of a few million miles.
H. G. Wells, "The Star", 1897

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