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The Black Cloud

The Black Cloud - Fred Hoyle I think it was Brian Aldiss who said: "Science fiction is no more written for scientists than ghost stories are written for ghosts." Well, that may be true of most science fiction but I think this is an exception. A science fiction book written by a scientist, for scientists. That is not to say you won't enjoy it unless you are a scientist, I'm certainly not, but you may get an additional kick out of it if you are.

There's something about English SF written in the 50's, a somewhat old fashioned, genteel approach that is charming and quintissentially English. A style that disappeared in the 60's with the advent of New Wave and a more modern styling prevailed. There's something about this style that I find pleasing, as I did with John Wyndham and John Christopher. Perhaps it's the clear, consise prose and the characters of integrity and principle, of a bygone age before exploring their flaws became the predominate focus?

In this book there's an impending cosmic phenomenon descending on our solar system that could be devestating for life on earth. The scientists have detected it, are going to go on finding out about it's nature and in their capable hands the fate of humanity rests. And thanks to the protagonist Kingsley, who is willful and clever enough to stand up to the politicians, they will be the ones in charge, not the government.

One can't help wondering how much of himself the author saw in his leading character Kingsley. He's clever, decisive and insightful. Brave, selfless and plain talking. Not to mention popular with the ladies. In particular he has a great disdain for politicians, perhaps reflecting Hoyle's own experience in dealing with them?

The science of this book isn't generally too technical and can be skimmed without loosing much of the story if following through their thought processes and reasoning isn't your thing. At one point we see a footnote detailing the "simple" process by which they worked out how long the cloud would take to reach earth using calculous. But generally speaking there's enough of an interesting story and other ideas in here to keep your general SF reader interested.