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"I went back to science fiction to try a few experiments …and my first experiment was a disaster…"
- Alfred Bester

Self-Sustaining Nuclear Reaction  
  An 'atomic fire' is started that consumes all matter in reach!  

Like Edison, a human and an alien try endless combinations of materials to create an atomic fire:

The cover was removed from the great caldron-like furnace and an odd set of metallic plates was placed inside, together with a small quantity of mercury. Then the cover was replaced and the air exhausted from the interior by means of a small electric pump. For a whole day a current with titanic voltage and strength crackled between the plates. Aggar Ho and Sark Ahar, wearing thick goggles and hiding behind lead shields, which alone saved their lives from the dangerous emanations, watched the white-hot inferno through a little quartz window set in the side of the furnace. The whole ship fairly reeked with heat, and the meters registered an enormous consumption of power. Finally Aggar Ho threw the great switches. The light slowly faded from the plates. The first attempt had been a failure. Mercury had refused to give up its atomic energy.

The plates were changed and another substance was placed in the furnace — this time silicon. Another trial was made — also without any hint of success.

Day after day the same soul-searing work went on — new elements, new compounds, new plates, new voltages — all to no avail.

Finally, the two are successful.

Sark Ahar awoke with a start. His dream had been part reality. The chamber was glowing like a white hot inferno, and flickering black shadows of fantastic pieces of apparatus were dancing on the walls. The light in the illuminating globes had somehow died out. The young Aerthian could hear a thunderous roar quite dis- tinct from the noise the furnace had once produced. It was louder and more terrible. The air all about was terrifically hot. It scalded Sark Ahar's lungs. There was a vapor in it — a strange fiery gas. He could see long, slender pencilings of it reaching over and under the thick lead shields around the furnace like the tentacles of a luminous octopus. Luckily for him he was behind one of those lead shields ; if he had not been, the deadly emanations would have killed him.

What had happened? Atomic energy! Atomic energy at last! The words fairly shrieked through his brain. But what of it? It was too late to do anything. Besides, that terrific power couldn't be controlled. He'd almost forgotten that. It couldn't be controlled!

He grabbed a long buckler-like sheet of lead which had a hand-grip on one side of it. It was convex and was as tall as a man and resembled the shields which archers of a forgotten antiquity had used. It would protect him from the dangerous rays.

He held it out in front of him and peered through the glazed peep-hole which was on a level with his eyes. The bottom of the furnace must have melted away. There was a dazzling mass of bluish incandescence visible beneath the lead shields around the caldron-like piece of apparatus. It was hissing and spitting like a violently active chemical. The steel floor was burning! And the atomic fire was spreading — consuming everything in its path! In a few minutes the whole ship would be a fiery mass of incandescence!

...A CRAZY idea, that marked him forever as a genius, came to Sark Ahar. How it was born no man may tell. Quick as a flash he gripped the steering lever and swung it around a full quarter turn. The space flier lurched, then it swung inward and headed straight toward the moon, falling more and more rapidly every instant!

...The pieces of the space-ship glowed brighter and continued their headlong descent. Still Sark Ahar dove after them. In a few minutes the fragments crashed into the satellite, scattering themselves over mountain, crater and dead sea bottom. Nor did their fire die out! It increased in intensity fed by the fine sand which covered most of the moon. It was spreading rapidly, enveloping everything in its path.

Sark Ahar was smiling. "Do you understand, Chief?" he asked.

Aggar Ho had completely forgotten his habitual calm. "I do !" he cried. "You meant to kindle an atomic fire on the moon and make it take the place of our sun! And you have succeeded!"

The two men returned to Aerth. Within three days the moon's surface had become entirely incandescent.

Technovelgy from Atomic Fire, by Raymond Z. Gallun.
Published by Amazing Stories in 1931
Additional resources -

Arthur C. Clarke uses the same basic idea at the end of 2010.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Atomic Fire
  More Ideas and Technology by Raymond Z. Gallun
  Tech news articles related to Atomic Fire
  Tech news articles related to works by Raymond Z. Gallun

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