A well-respected scientist informs a member of Congress that he could solve a certain technical problem if it weren't for the inverse-square law. The congressman obliges by offering up a bill to repeal the inverse-square law, despite the fact that no one can find the law on the books. When the scientist hears of this, he is appalled by the danger and races to forestall the bill's passage into law, but is too late: Throughout the area governed from Washington, light becomes painfully bright and gravity pulls everyone hard to the ground. And then the entire United States with all its territories and dependencies is ripped away from the Earth, unable to resist the gravitational pull of the Sun.

In a postscript, the editor invited readers to comment on why this couldn't happen. I was tempted to write a response but did not, and didn't see the following issue either, so I never reached closure, and that is why I remember it. No, I am not asking for an explanation; I would, however, like to know when and where this silly farce was published so I can put it to rest.

I read this forgettable story, probably in 1964-69, in a then-current issue of a US science fiction magazine, and never encountered it in an anthology. In the 1960s, editors sometimes reprinted older stories, so it's possible that this one was originally published in the 1930s to 50s; the style suggests that. I've gone through the tables of contents of Analog, If, Galaxy, Fantastic, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction without recognizing the title. I know I read the June 1964 and September 1966 issues of Fantastic, the September 1966 issue of Analog, and the October 1966 issue of Galaxy; I recognize the covers. It's not in Galaxy Oct. 1966, but it may be one of the other issues.

  • 3
    Not the story you thinking about. But, perhaps the author might have been influenced by the so called "Indiana Pi Bill" activities. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indiana_Pi_Bill If so, maybe searching for pop culture references related to the Indiana Pi Bill you might find the story in question.
    – beichst
    Oct 27, 2019 at 13:38
  • It would be a longshot ... Living in a small city as I do, library resources are limited. Visited a big city library last summer and had a ball reading old sci fi books. But their old magazine runs were on microfilm, so I put that off for a later visit. Oct 27, 2019 at 15:21
  • Dang this sounds so easy to find but it’s not... Oct 27, 2019 at 17:21
  • Tell me about it. Set me loose in a library with long runs of old magazines, and I'd find it in a few minutes. Oct 28, 2019 at 12:40
  • 1
    scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/153260/… was a Story-ID question about what might be called the reverse of this situation. Congress realizes they have never codified the Law of Averages, and it is no longer "enforcing itself," so it's time to regulate all sorts of consumer behavior so that it all "averages out" on each day of the week, etc.
    – Lorendiac
    Oct 28, 2019 at 23:50

1 Answer 1


"Why the Heavens Fell," first published in Wonder Stories (May, 1932), appearing under the name of Epaminondas T. Snooks, D.T.G., but actually written by C. P. Mason, who (as a little Googling informs me) was actually part of the editorial staff at Wonder Stories, having been hired by Hugo Gernsback a couple of years earlier (around late 1929 or early 1930).

The story was much later reprinted in *Famous Science Fiction* (Fall 1968); a digest-sized edition. That's probably where you read it. But if you click on the "Why the Heavens Fell" link I provided, you can read a scanned version of the original publication from 1932.

The narrator of the story describes himself as a field man for the Supernational Electric and Radiation Corporation. He is sent to visit Professor Schnickelfritz and give him some royalty checks for inventions which the professor has previously allowed the company to mass-produce and sell, and the narrator's boss ("the Old Man") has made it clear that the narrator (whose name is never mentioned) should use this chance to find out if the professor has developed anything else which would be of serious commercial value.

There's some rather funny stuff as Professor Schnickelfritz demonstrates various new inventions to the narrator, including one which projects the newly-discovered Nu Nu Lambda ray through the air, but only reaching a short distance (just far enough to melt a hole in the wall on the other side of the room). The professor then explains that if he had four times as much generator, he could make the ray penetrate twice as far. The narrator asks why not four times as far, and the Professor says it is because of the Law of Inverse Squares. The Professor does not advocate getting rid of that law; nor does he explain just what type of law it is. The narrator apparently assumes it is some hidebound old law which Congress (or some other legislative body) must have passed many generations ago, and then everyone forgot about it. Ergo, when the narrator returns to his boss's office to report, we have this:

Flushed with success, I laid before the Old Man the secret which the professor had confided to me at the last moment: the possibility of radio power transmission, if once the law that hampered us could be done away with. "To undertake to disregard it outright,” I said, “with the elections coming on, is to invite too much campaign publicity; even if the overhead expense for official connivance isn’t too high. But I understand that this Law of Inverse Squares is a pretty old one; and it may be possible to get a court decision that it is obsolete, or at least, to be interpreted in the light of modem business conditions.”

“Better than that,” said the Old Man, with that immediate grasp of the situation that makes him a leader of international business: “I think it possible that we can get Congress to repeal it. Slip the repeal clause into an appropriation bill in conference, just before the inauguration, and it will go through, without too much notice to some of the outsiders who would like to get in on the ground floor. I’ll get Senator Bloughard on the phone this afternoon. Leave it to me.”

Then, in the final bit of the story, after both houses of Congress have passed the bill in question, the narrator happens to meet the professor in the streets of Washington, D.C., and gives him the joyous news that in another minute or so the President will be signing into law the bill to repeal the Inverse Square Law.

The astonishment on the great scientist’s face seemed painful, instead of the rejoicing I had reason to expect. He gripped my arm:

“You lie!” he exclaimed.

“It is true,” I answered proudly: “We’ve fixed all that. In another minute the Law of Inverse Squares will cease to apply in the United States.”

“Mein Gott!” exclaimed Schnickelfritz: “Radiation, gravity, the sun! For your lives, stop him!”

He turned as if to dash toward the Capitol and, in that moment, I felt throughout my whole frame that the presidential pen had finished its task. The Law of Inverse Squares had been repealed!

A giant hand seemed to crush down on that milling throng, as the full force of all earthly gravitation was exerted upon them; and, as I fell, I realized that the great dome of the Capitol, too, had fallen to that irresistible force of attraction!

No time to think! It was but an instant later that the greater power of solar gravitation exerted its force. The entire United States, with its insular possessions (including Alaska) had been wrenched from the bosom of puny Mother Earth by the resistless grip of the Sun! And, as the whole solar radiation of light and heat, no longer restricted by the Law of Inverse Squares, burst upon us, the whole heavens became one mass of incalculably-heated yellow flame, into which we plunged, without creating even a ripple, and were there utterly, instantly consumed!

That's the end of the story. Of course, it leaves wide open the question of how the narrator was able to subsequently narrate this detailed account of how it had all gone wrong. Is his ghost communicating with someone outside the borders of the United States via Ouija board, or something?

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    @InvisibleTrihedron The power of Google. From previous experience on this site, I knew that the contents of many old SF magazines are available in various formats at archive.org, so I Googled for certain combinations of key words, such as "inverse square," "Congress, "repeal," "science fiction," etc., and restricted the search to just that website. Got a bunch of hits, looked through several of them, and finally found the correct trail . . .
    – Lorendiac
    Oct 29, 2019 at 1:20
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    Great find (+1) but I think you should have linked to the Internet Archive scan of the 1968 reprint which, besides being more legible, includes the editorial challenge mentioned by the OP. The follow-up discussion is in the Spring 1969 issue of Famous Science Fiction.
    – user14111
    Oct 29, 2019 at 5:13
  • 1
    @user14111 Yes, this has to be it. The issue contains the editorial challenge (though at the beginning instead of the end), a memorable story illustration, and two other stories that I remember now that I can see them, though I don't recall the cover art. Your citing of both this issue and the followup issue allows me to reach closure after fifty years. Thanks! Oct 29, 2019 at 19:28
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    @Lorendiac In the next issue, provided by user14111, the editor pointed out the same problem as you did, i.e., how the narrator survived to tell the tale. Well, this is something of a shaggy dog story, so it doesn't matter so much. Oct 29, 2019 at 19:30
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    @InvisibleTrihedron And Fred Schobert, the reader who sent in the winning entry, was rewarded with a free subscription to a magazine that died with that issue!
    – user14111
    Oct 29, 2019 at 21:16

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