(Short Stories for Students)

The Aftermath of Atomic War
When Clarke published his story in 1951, humankind had already witnessed the U.S. wartime detonation of two atomic bombs as well as several atomic tests. As people realized the destructive capabilities of atomic weapons, many science fiction writers envisioned the potential aftermath of atomic war in stories like this one. When Marvin views his first earthrise, he refers to the atomic quality of the destruction. As the narrator says, ‘‘the glow of dying atoms was still visible, a perennial reminder of the ruinous past.’’ Because radioactive atoms take a long time to die, they are visible from the moon even when their targets, the humans who fought in the atomic war, are long dead. Clarke was also familiar with the processes by which atomic radiation would eventually be cleansed from earth. Says the narrator, ‘‘[t]he winds and the rains would scour the poisons from the burning lands and carry them to the sea.’’ It is in the vastness of the oceans that the radiation poisons will finally be diluted enough so that ‘‘they could harm no living things.’’

The characters in Clarke’s story experience a planetary exile. Marvin has never even stepped foot on earth, having been born in the lunar colony. The narrator notes this fact when describing Marvin’s first view of earth: ‘‘There in that shining crescent were all the wonders that he had never known.’’ Marvin has only read about earth in books, a thought that makes him feel even more ‘‘the anguish of exile.’’ This feeling gets worse as he...

(The entire section is 651 words.)