“The Star,” Arthur C. Clarke, 1955 — Three thousand light-years away from the Vatican, a Jesuit astrophysicist comments on the depression of the crew, now that they have learned a disturbing truth which is initially concealed from the reader. He wonders what his colleagues will make of this new knowledge, if it will end the story of their religion. He muses on the end life of stars, of supernovae.
They were to visit the remnants of such a catastrophe, from thousands of years ago. No one expected to find a planet, but they did, and one that was once inhabited. Encircling a mysterious pylon is a radioactive bullseye left behind for an intelligent race to recognize as a map to the Vault. In the Vault, they find a chronicle which greives for the fate of the dead race but also serves as a celebration of the lost culture, one the humans suspect may have been superior to thier own. As far away from home as they are, as lonely as they have been, the “loss” of this culture affects them profoundly.
The narrator knows that it will affect those at home, as well. Knowledge of a civilization destroyed so completely in the “fruit of its flower” will suggest to non-believers that the universe has no plan. That there is no God. Others will maintain that this doubt is the result of hubris, that it is blasphemy. God has no need to justify His actions. But the speaker’s faith has faltered, as well. The evidence suggests that the night of the supernovae was the same night that the star of Bethlehem appeared. He asks: “What was the need to give these people to the fire, that the symbol of their passing might shine above Bethlehem?”
Comments: Read in A Century of Science Fiction, with an introduction by Damon Knight. Also see the H. G. Wells story by the same name, which also deals with hubris and a destroyed civilization.
Author: Wikipedia: “Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, CBE, FRAS, Sri Lankabhimanya, (16 December 1917 – 19 March 2008) was a British science fiction author, inventor, and futurist, famous for his short stories and novels, among them 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and as a host and commentator in the British television series Mysterious World. For many years, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Clarke were known as the ‘Big Three’ of science fiction.”