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Book Title: A Pail of Air|
Date of issue: July 1964
ISBN: No data
ISBN 13: No data
The author of the book: Fritz Leiber
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 795 KB
Read full description of the books A Pail of Air:This story clearly attempts to fall into the category of hard science fiction, but a few scientific inaccuracies make it a bit flawed, even for the fifties.
I like the overall idea -- the 'Big Jerk' event during which the Earth was ejected from its system by an extinguished nomad star or maybe a black hole, so the temperatures dropped to the point where the planet's atmosphere freezes. Some details are pretty elaborate -- long-distance radio communications are rendered impossible since the ionosphere no longer exists, the stars in the sky do not twinkle, the Nest's residents suffer hallucinations caused by inhaling toxic fumes from the coal, etc. That's pretty cool.
I expected the Nest to be some sort of airtight room with air-locking systems that would prevent any air leakage from the room. But no, it's insulated only by blankets, and it even has a chimney. I'm not a physicist, but I'm pretty sure the air in such room would be sucked out into the outside vacuum in no time without proper air locks.
They bring in frozen air in buckets by simply scooping it from the ground. Actually, it's pure oxygen, since oxygen has the lowest freezing point of all air components, so it apparently froze and snowed last. Once they are inside the room, they allow it to melt and boil, thus providing the necessary breathable gas. But how do they regulate air pressure in such conditions? Besides, one does not simply put a bucketful of frozen oxygen into a room with normal temperature; liquid oxygen's expansion ratio is 1:860, so even as small a quantity as a single pail of it would rapidly increase air pressure in the room once it started boiling, possibly killing all its dwellers. Not to mention its combustibility, and there's a fireplace in the room.
Just after the black hole arrived to the Solar system, people reported seeing stars 'blotted out', obscured by the black hole. However, due to the effect of gravitational microlensing, the stars would actually look magnified during the black hole's transit.
The narrator also says that the deposited layers of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and oxygen (oxygen snow being on top) were 'neatly separated', which I'm sure is impossible because strong winds and torrential rains would inevitably coincide with the solidification of the atmosphere, constantly stirring whatever there is on the ground.
I don't think any type of primitive hand-made suit could protect a person from such low temperatures.
Plus the snow would not be white, but blue.
Nevertheless, I liked the story. It's entertaining and creepy at the same time. And I liked the subtle antiwar themes.
Read information about the authorFritz Reuter Leiber, Jr. was one of the more interesting of the young writers who came into HP Lovecraft's orbit, and some of his best early short fiction is horror rather than sf or fantasy. He found his mature voice early in the first of the sword-and-sorcery adventures featuring the large sensitive barbarian Fafhrd and the small street-smart-ish Gray Mouser; he returned to this series at various points in his career, using it sometimes for farce and sometimes for gloomy mood pieces--The Swords of Lankhmar is perhaps the best single volume of their adventures. Leiber's science fiction includes the planet-smashing The Wanderer in which a large cast mostly survive flood, fire, and the sexual attentions of feline aliens, and the satirical A Spectre is Haunting Texas in which a gangling, exo-skeleton-clad actor from the Moon leads a revolution and finds his true love. Leiber's late short fiction, and the fine horror novel Our Lady of Darkness, combine autobiographical issues like his struggle with depression and alcoholism with meditations on the emotional content of the fantastic genres. Leiber's capacity for endless self-reinvention and productive self-examination kept him, until his death, one of the most modern of his sf generation.
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