The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Black Cloud concerns the apocalyptic visit of an enormous gaseous cloud to Earth in the years 1967-1968. It is first sighted by a young Norwegian astronomer as he is studying the night sky through the Schmidt Telescope at the Mount Wilson Observatory in California. World-renowned astronomers are immediately informed at England’s Cambridge University, where Dr. Christopher Kingsley, an astronomy professor, calls for a meeting with scientists from the United States, England, and Australia. Scientists at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena predict that it will take the cloud approximately eighteen months to arrive. Even though the damage will be cataclysmic, precautions can be taken, depending on where people live. Survival will depend on people’s ability to bury themselves deep enough in the ground to protect themselves first from the intense heat caused by molecular collisions in the upper atmosphere and then from the cold that results when the cloud blocks the sun’s rays.

Both the president of the United States and the prime minister of England fear that knowledge of the cloud’s arrival will result in mass panic, so they try to suppress the facts. Kingsley, however, threatens to expose the coming of the cloud if these officials fail to do so. Kings-ley, who becomes the leader of the scientists, decides to move their equipment to an estate called Nortonstowe, which he establishes as the center of radio communication for...

(The entire section is 524 words.)