by Christopher Anvil

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Astounding Science Fiction, April 1957

collected in —

War Games

April 2010

Experiment with a missile

Christopher Anvil's short story "Torch" is a small parable of the Cold War era told via brief news announcements or lead paragraphs, concerning a new Soviet "May Day" missile being tested in Siberia. This is a major weapon:

New York, May 1st — Seismologists report violent tremors occurring shortly after 8:00 a.m. G.M.T. this morning.

Washington, May 1st — The Soviet May Day missile is suspected here to have been the first of the new "groundhog" type, capable of penetrating underground shelters. But no one here will comment on certain rumored "strange characteristics" of the blast.


Washington, May 3rd — The Atomic Energy Commission this morning assured reporters there is no danger of the world "taking fire" from recent Soviet blasts.


An explosion in Russia, a rather messy catastrophe, and a rather daunting climatological challenge. Since "Torch" is a story in Astounding Science Fiction rather than a humdrum disaster novel, we may presume that this is a problem that at least has some potential solutions; and since it is by Christopher Anvil, will also present even large blunders with humor. It's a neat little story in its own right, as well as a premonition of future alarms and diversions both about nuclear testing and about Earth's climate and Man's ability or inability to influence it.

Readers familiar with Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, published later in the same year — December 1957 — may be reminded of Wyatt's Torch. As it happens, I first encountered Anvil's story before I read Rand's.

The Soviet Union under that name is gone, and issues of climate have stormed this way and that, since "Torch" appeared in 1957. It's still a fun story.


© 2010 Robert Wilfred Franson

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