What if the end came and we were never given the warning or escape plan? The short story No Morning After by Arthur C. Clarke looks at just that scenario but with a twist only Clarke can get away with. What if the one guy who could save us simply didn’t care?
Once again digging into the 1978 anthology “The Worlds of Arthur C. Clarke – Of Time and Stars” from Puffin Publishing we’ve had the pleasure of referencing previously here at Amazing Stories, we find a fantastic short story.
First published in 1954 in a collection edited by August Derleth titled Time to Come: Science-Fiction Stories of Tomorrow, the story No Morning After has a lot of literary elements including humor, satire, irony, tragedy, and a little bit of prophetic charm.
William Cross is a disgruntled rocket scientist whose girlfriend just left him for another man. After years of designing missiles for the military and a sudden epiphany that his dreams of space travel may never come to fruition, he turns to the bottle to ease his sorrows.
Over five hundred light-years away, an alien race called Thaarns realize Earth’s sun is going to explode. In an attempt to warn the humans and help them escape, they use telepathy and bridge a worm hole with hopes of contacting them. Unfortunately, the only person they are able to make contact with is William Cross. Deep in a drunken stupor, the man believes he is hallucinating.
The future existence of mankind rests in the hands of a cynical man at perhaps the lowest moment in his life. Clarke gives his readers a lot to think about in this story. What if all hope is ignored because our hero simply doesn’t care anymore?
At one point, the character Cross explains his exasperation to the aliens.
“It would be the best thing that could possibly happen. Yes, it would save a whole lot of misery. No one would have to worry about the Russians and the atom bomb and the high cost of living. Oh, it would be wonderful! It’s just what everybody wants. Nice of you to come along and tell us, but just you go back home and pull your old bridge after you.”
The fear of Russians and the atom bomb is a clear indicator of the social climate of the mid 1950’s, but I found the reference to the high cost of living humorous because this complaint is global and timeless. Now I doubt the end of the world is “just what everybody wants,” but Clarke was a master at finding ways to draw on the reader’s emotions in one way or another, regardless of their background.
Sure there are a lot of unanswered questions in the end, but that is the point of the story. It creates thought and hopefully conversation. Is the character Cross the protagonist or antagonist? Is he a hero as the voice of mankind? Would anyone have listened to him if he tried to warn others? Did the aliens fail or does the fault lay with Cross?
No Morning After is one of those stories you can read over and over and find something new every time. Of all the stories by Arthur C. Clarke, this one stands out because of vast content packed into a mere 2234 words. You can find the text of this gem at various locations across the interweb, so check it out if you get a chance and let me know what you think.