THE SICKLE OF FIRE (1896) – Written by Charles Kelsey Gaines, an American author who set this particular short story in British Columbia. The main characters are our narrator and a scientist named O.D. McKazy.
Hydropyrogen, a newly discovered element, is theorized to be a lost element that was used by the ancient Greeks for their never-recreated Liquid Fire. The element is the lightest element known (in this fictional context). Hydropyrogen is derived by burning a certain seaweed under an electric current.
When put under pressure and extreme cold, the element solidifies into sharp, slender crystals colored red. Those crystals can be stored in glass containers but if they come into contact with water they burst into flame.
While experimenting with the crystals at a remote lake in the mountains, McKazy miscalculates. When he drops some crystals into the body of water, the reaction is far greater than in previous experiments. The crystals virtually explode, burning McKazy alive and leaving the narrator with severe burns.
The flaming water leaks out of the confines of the lake and is carried downhill by streams, jeopardizing forests through which they flow. If the hydropyrogen spreads to the oceans all life on Earth will be in danger.
SPOILER: In the end it turns out that the salt in seawater can extinguish the flames. Luckily, this means that the experiment run amok cannot spread through the oceans and CAN be controlled in future experimentation.
The Sickle of Fire is short enough to not grow boring and it makes for a nice change of pace in a science fiction story. It’s well worth a read.
FOR MORE ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION CLICK HERE.
FOR TEN MORE EXAMPLES OF ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2014/03/03/ten-neglected-examples-of-ancient-science-fiction/
FOR WASHINGTON IRVING’S 1809 depiction of an invasion from the moon click here: https://glitternight.com/2014/05/05/ancient-science-fiction-the-men-of-the-moon-1809-by-washington-irving/