I am trying to find a book I read 30 or more years ago.

It was sci-fi and included space battles. I think they were between Earth’s humans and aliens but I’m not sure. I seem to think the humans won the final battle and war.

A new development was an 'Uncertainty Drive' with up to four or five levels of uncertainty that could be used to power rocket motors and beam weapons. Energy could be wantonly stored in tanks of mercury (Hg) for controlled (or self destructive rapid) release.

The drive name may have been some other but equally non-descriptive term but it was not the Infinite Improbability Drive from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series.

I recall one of the ships was sacrificed by targeting the mercury storage tank with the on-board beam weapon.

  • 3
    not an infinitely improbable drive?
    – NKCampbell
    Apr 19, 2016 at 19:50
  • @NKCampbell It may have been, but not the one from Hitchhikers Guide.
    – KalleMP
    Apr 19, 2016 at 20:17
  • 1
    @user14111 "wantonly" may be accurate if the Mercury storage was unstable.
    – Xantec
    Apr 19, 2016 at 21:27
  • 1
    I remember that the amount of energy could be charged and drained fast, "wantonly" was deliberate but not a very technical term I will grant. I will leave it as it describes how I remember the application in the book.
    – KalleMP
    Apr 19, 2016 at 21:33
  • 1
    wanton adjective : not limited or controlled. From mirriam-webster fits better with what I was thinking
    – KalleMP
    Apr 19, 2016 at 22:08

1 Answer 1


I think you're slightly mis-remembering The Ultimate Weapon by John W. Campbell. The mercury based technology is a weapon not a drive.

Aliens from the star Mira (unsurprisingly called the Mirans) attack the Earth because they want to migrate there. Their own planet is becoming uninhabitable due the the instability of the star Mira.

The Mirans have such a hugh technological advantage that they are undefeatable until the protaganist Buck Kendall creates a weapon based on Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. The weapon stores vast amounts of energy in pools of mercury and this can be used as a weapon.

The different stages of uncertainty are:

Kendall looked at it for long minutes. "That," he said at length, "is what I expected. There are four degrees of uncertainty, we generated 'Uncertainty of the First Degree,' 'Mass Uncertainty,' when we started. That, as here shown, takes little energy concentration. Then we increased the energy concentration and got 'Uncertainty of the Second Degree,' 'Molecular Uncertainty.' Then I added more power, and reduced the field, and got 'Uncertainty of the Third Degree'—'Atomic Uncertainty.' There is 'Uncertainty of the Fourth Degree.' It is barely attainable with our atostors. It is—utter uncertainty

  • And so John you track down both of my lost books, quite a memory and a prolific reader you are. This one is not one of the sentimental sort but it left an impression on my teenage memories. Been rereading it at Project Gutenberg. gutenberg.org/files/23790/23790-h/23790-h.htm and I have read better stuff since but it is nice to take a trip back. Odd how people remember different things from long lost books.
    – KalleMP
    Apr 20, 2016 at 18:27
  • 1
    @KalleMP: you're welcome :-) Until you posted i hadn't noticed that both the questions I answered today were yours. You're in luck because I normally only get one in ten of the story id questions. You had a one in a hundred chance of me being able to answer them both! Apr 20, 2016 at 18:30
  • I completed my read and enjoyed it again. The "mercury" system WAS for energy storage for "projector beams" and shields, the new "apparatus" was the one able to harness the uncertainty principle. It was a Mars base that self-sacrificed. This must all have been pretty bleeding edge back in 1936. ---- Deenmor station vanished ..... as the ton of atomically distorted mercury was exploded by a projector beam turned on the tank. ---- the apparatus that created 'Uncertainty of the Fourth Degree' was destroying matter ..... tons of discharged mercury metal had been completely charged ----
    – KalleMP
    Apr 21, 2016 at 21:12
  • The uncertainty apparatus could be harnessed as a weapon, a faster than light drive and a near unlimited energy source. I thought that it included inertia-less drive capabilities but this is discounted as uncontrollable in the story. ---- install it .... as a weapon. .... as an energy source ---- extra-space drive. .... works on the fabric of space. .... the tremendous field intensities available by the material engines, .... will 'dig their toes' into space ---- For the high-speed drive, .... use the Uncertainty. .... break down. .... the law of the speed of light. ----
    – KalleMP
    Apr 21, 2016 at 21:31

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