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I’m Your Fire

Galactic Storm

By John Brunner 

29 Nov, 2022

Shockwave Reader


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John Brunner 1951’s Galactic Storm is a stand-alone1 near-future science fiction novel. Published under the Gill Hunt penname, it was Brunner’s debut, appearing when Brunner was still a teenager.

And how has this terrible bit of juvenilia stood the test of time?

Paul Shay isn’t the messiah but he knew the world’s savior back when tragic genius hero Sharp was simply a meteorology-obsessed academic in the days before routine flights to Mars, and not a beloved heroic figure who sacrificed his mind to save the world. [Editor’s note: James tells me that this sentence is an homage to the clunky prose of the original.] Although the tale of how the world was saved is no doubt well known, Shay sets out to explain to the reader how it all happened.

The quest to save the world began when Sharp managed to get a block of time on Charlie, this era’s greatest supercomputer, in part by lying about how much time will be involved. Due to the complexity of Sharp’s models, the program takes longer than expected to run (much to the alarm of atomic bomb scientist Honey Hayling, who needs Charlie to run the numbers on the californium bomb). The results are crystal clear: humanity faces calamitous climate warming.

As soon as Washington is informed that runaway climate change is a mere fifty years away, the government leaps into action2. An expedition is immediately funded and dispatched to the South Pole, where the effects of the warming should be more dramatic. Sharp, Shay, and Hayling are only a small part of the expedition but an important one, as they will be the only ones to survive the next sentence.

An unexpected earthquake and ice slide kill the entire expedition and its ship, sparing only Shay, Sharp, and Hayling. Although they have a plane, its radio is too short-range to reach anyone who might help. They cannot fly out. The plane itself is a short-range scout. The trio are trapped, seemingly doomed.

Salvation comes in the form of Venusians! Not because Venusians are helpful beings. Aware humans could be an impediment to their plan to Venusform Earth, the aliens intend to study human weaknesses, the better to exterminate humanity. The three have been rescued but will survive only as long as it takes to arrive at a cunning method of obliterating the human race.

The malevolent aliens have not planned for Shay’s telepathy, Sharp’s genius, or Hayling’s familiarity with californium.


This was terrible in almost every way a debut novel could be terrible, except in two respects. It’s short, so the pain does not last long; it appeared under a penname so at least it did not besmirch the Brunner brand later on.

It’s odd that the novel does not end when the characters have saved the world from inbred, imperialist Venusians (genocide is involved3). Brunner ends with a flourish of future history. The Americans, British, and Russians combine to take over the world (for its own good, naturally). Too bad that even benevolent despotism may not be able to save humanity from itself. Bummer.

It’s important to bear in mind this novel appeared when Brunner was seventeen. He might not have been old enough to drive when he started this novel. How many great novels have been penned by teenagers? And how many people would be pleased to discover something they wrote as a teenager was still available for the world to read?

Still, Brunner was at least trying to be creative in the novel’s structure, arranging it as he does as a flashback to entice the reader with unanswered questions like from what did Sharp save the world” and why did he go mad?” I am not a hundred percent sure Brunner had worked out the answer to the second one when he began. It was also an unexpected surprise to encounter global warming as the number one threat to humanity in a novel published more than seventy years ago.

Although of interest only to Brunner completists, Galactic Storm is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Chapters-Indigo). I did not find it at Book Depository.

1: ISFDB says this is part of the Interstellar Empire series. It doesn’t seem to fit my memory of Interstellar Empire. If when I get to Interstellar Empire it turns out I am wrong, I’ll come back and edit this.

2: The quick government action to avert planetary warming is surely the most implausible thing in the novel.

3: The Venusians are terribly inbred and the handful who are not deranged from their genetic disorders are too few to save the race, so they would have gone extinct anyway. Or so the human narrator assures us. He has the recorded testimony of a sane Venusian who is (alas) too dead to be cross-examined.