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Topic: SF story about a hollow asteroid ~1968

From: Victor Bast
Location: San Ramon, CA
Date: 03/12/2008

Dear Greg,

I read a science fiction book when I was in seventh or eighth grade (1967-69) that influenced my decisions about college and career (Im an engineer). I have no idea about the title or author, but I remember the story line very well, along with many details, including some specific words.

If you, or anyone else, knows anything more about the story, please email me. Id love to get a copy, or at least find out more about it.

Several astronauts, young American men, of course, were traveling through space towards another solar system. They observed an asteroid that weighed far less than they expected based on its size. They landed on the asteroid to investigate.

They found a precisely shaped, box-like hole in the surface, just a little deeper than they were tall. They got into the hole, and saw a row of dark spots on one wall. They touched one of the spots, and a roof closed overhead. They were in an elevator that took them into the asteroid. A door opened and revealed a gargantuan, sun-drenched chamber, filled with air, where fields of crops were growing, along with animals, trees, bushes, grass, and streams and ponds. The asteroid was hollow.

They met two young people, teenagers, a boy and a girl, who wore simple, peasant-style clothes, and lived in this chamber. They were part of an agrarian culture, who grew crops and raised animals. One of the traditions of their culture, passed down by countless generations, was to go on a once-in-a-lifetime journey outside their world, to prove their maturity, become adults, and share with the next generation, what they learned about the darkness the places where there was no sunshine, rain, or anything living except other people.

So the astronauts joined them on the journey. They got back in the elevator, touched a different spot, and went to another level of the asteroid. The door opened into a dimly lit hallway, which was crowded with people wearing what looked like helmets, driving around in electric wheelchairs. The people welcomed the young astronauts and peasants as if they were expected, but why dont you come here more often kind of greeting.

This chamber was something like todays multiplex cinemas. They watch movies all day long, and the headgear that looked like a helmet was called an empathizer. It created feelings that went along with the movie in the person wearing it. So people were laughing hysterically, crying, etc. at the appropriate scenes. The people loved movies so much that they had lost their ability to walk, or at least they saw no need for it anymore, they just drove from movie to movie in their wheelchairs, plugged in their empathizers, and thats how they lived.

But there was also a library in this chamber. And there were books that had been written by people just a few generation earlier, and they mention repeatedly a mythological place called "urth", where life began. I pronounced it oorth, so I missed an obvious clue about the origins of the asteroid.

The next place they went was nasty. Almost completely dark, full of gigantic machines that were noisy, smelly and very scary, especially to the peasants. The astronauts recognized it as the part of the asteroid that generated power for the sunlight, and kept the air, water and other nutrients at the levels necessary to sustain life for the people and the plants and animals. They got out of there as quickly as they could.

The last stop was something like Mission Control at NASA in Houston. Dimly lit rooms with guys wearing short-sleeved shirts and pocket protectors. (Ive added the pocket protectors.) One of the nerdy guys greets them in a similar way as the empathizer people, why dont we see you more often? Except they add you must be excited about the end of our journey!

These guys were the scientists, engineers and technicians who were keeping the asteroid running. It was a spacecraft, built by humans from earth hundreds or even thousands of years earlier, by hollowing out an asteroid and building an artificial habitat that would support life until they could get to another planet like earth. The solar system they were in had a planet with oceans and an earth-like atmosphere, and they were just about to send a landing craft down to explore.

The theory was that the humans from earth, and their decendants, would move around freely between the earth-like sunny area, and the entertainment zone, and they would only go to the power plant life-chemicals area and the control room to work. But the nature-lovers stayed put in the natural environment, the movie-lovers never left the movie area, and the techies spent all of their time keeping the machines running and working on getting the asteroid to the next planet with potential to support human life.

Re: SF story about a hollow asteroid ~1968

From: Greg Bear
Date: 03/15/2008

I don't recognize this one right off the bat--but our readers may be able to help...

Re: SF story about a hollow asteroid ~1968

From: Art Laramee
Location: Arizona
Date: 10/07/2014

I am 75 and I TPP read this story. I tried to find it years later but failed. I thought the title was starman's son. It referred to urth rather than earth

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