This work is a narrative only in the most minimal sense. The first section offers no characters, only types, each of whom speaks from the perspective of a particular discipline. The sole “plot” is an immediate threat of a comet striking Earth, in early July of an undisclosed year in the twenty-fifth century.
The novel describes an assembly of world scientists, in the “new palace of the Institute,” in Paris. The narrator first discusses, using many technical graphs and numerical calculations, the nature of the comet and its arrival time. Then the director of the observatory of Paris speaks. He consoles his audience, saying there will be a “partial disaster, of the highest scientific importance, but leaving behind its historians to tell the story.” The next speaker, the president of the Academy of Medicine, gives a grim account of humankind suffocating as the colliding comet fills Earth’s atmosphere with carbonic oxide. Other scientists, including geologists, meteorologists, paleontologists, and even a veterinarian, offer learned theories. Their alternating optimism and pessimism sway the audi ence back and forth. The debate is interrupted by a message from Martian astronomers. In a terse message, they present a precise calculation of the time and place of impact. The comet will not destroy all of Earth, only Rome.
The scene shifts to Rome, where church leaders debate the coming catastrophe. The first speaker, a traditional...
(The entire section is 523 words.)