Arthur C. Clarke’s short story ‘‘The Star’’ appeared in the science fiction magazine Infinity Science Fiction in 1955. It was reprinted in a collection of Clarke’s short stories called The Other Side of the Sky in 1958. In his introduction to this collection, Clarke noted that he wrote the story for a contest in the London Observer on the subject ‘‘2500 AD.’’ ‘‘I realized that I had a theme already to hand. The story was written in a state of unusually intense emotion; needless to say, it wasn’t even placed among the ‘also rans.’’’ The story deals with themes treated in a work by H. G. Wells also titled ‘‘The Star’’ (1897). In Wells’s story, a planetoid’s collision with Jupiter and the destruction of that planet chillingly reminds the human race that it could just as easily have been destroyed. Clarke’s story similarly places the human race in an intergalactic context that suggests that the planet Earth and its inhabitants may not be all that important in the cosmic scheme of things.
Religion, and in particular religious faith, are central themes in ‘‘The Star.’’ The narrative is the interior monologue of the central character, a Jesuit astrophysicist. He is aboard a starship on a mission to investigate the causes of a supernova in a distant galaxy. He and the rest of the crew discover the artifacts of a highly developed civilization, carefully preserved on the only planet that remains in orbit around the supernova. Knowing that all life would be wiped out when their sun flared into a supernova, this race of sentient beings left a record of who they were and what they accomplished. The pictures, sculptures, music, and other relics of a very human-like race doomed to destruction depress the crew and investigating scientists, who are far from their own homes and lonely. What the narrator has learned but not yet communicated to the others is that the supernova that destroyed this civilization was the Star of Bethlehem, which burned brightly in the sky to herald the birth of Jesus Christ. His discovery has caused him to reexamine and to question his own faith.