The Black Cloud Critical Essays

Fred Hoyle


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Black Cloud was the first science-fiction novel written by one of the world’s most widely recognized cosmologists and astrophysicists, Fred Hoyle. For many years, Hoyle was a professor of astronomy at Cambridge, and he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. He also was the chief exponent of the steady state theory of the universe, which contradicted the popular big bang theory, in which the majority of astronomers had believed for many years. The Black Cloud was Hoyle’s fictional demonstration of his theory. He also hypothesized that life began by the movement of huge interstellar clouds through the universe and the subsequent seeding of planets, including Earth. He explained his complex theory in a best-selling nonfiction book called The Nature of the Universe (1950); that work was attacked obliquely by the most famous exponent of the big bang theory, George Gamow, in his The Creation of the Universe (1952).

The Black Cloud became a best-seller and one of modern science fiction’s more famous examples of an author’s ability to combine the subgenres of superbeing with catastrophe (although, in this case, the cloud turns out to be both intelligent and benign). What makes this novel so compelling is the scientific authenticity that Hoyle’s vast background brings to both the characters and the complex nature of information that makes up the narrative. Hoyle became the acknowledged leader of the Cambridge cosmographers and continued to argue for the steady state theory of the universe.