Probably appeared in Analog, Galaxy or Fantasy and Science Fiction between 1964 and 1968. The protagonist has written a massive PhD thesis - over 250,000 pages long - that claims to be the design for a fusion reactor. The abstract alone is 10,000 pages. Nobody ever reads the thing, but a reactor is built to the design, it explodes and destroys much of London. The protagonist is asked for his reaction. He replied something to the effect "You know all those people who said that all those pages of plots looked like contour maps of the moon? They were right."

I think it may have been titled Plasmaphantasmagoria, or that just might be my imagination 50 years later.

1 Answer 1


Presumably this is Phantasmaplasmagoria by Herbert Jacob Bernstein.

It was published in the April 1968 edition of Analog Science Fiction.

The man had obviously been a fool or a liar; but Zave decided to humor him. "Go on."

"I shall come to the point promptly. I did not quite comprehend the meaning of the contour plots. Perhaps you would be good enough to enlighten me?"

I think I know what you mean, the terrain maps of the moon. Right?"

"Quite," the man had said with obvious glee. "What do the valleys represent?"


"No, no. I want to know what they are valleys in. The energy output of some system?"

"Only in gravitational potential energy. Those are simply terrain maps of the moon, an academic joke. You're only the third person to learn..." Zave had stopped when the man turned a shade of purple, and ran out of the office.

This is a critical point, and the questioner panicked because the people running the experiment in London (that was about to go horribly wrong) had assumed that those valley represented stable lower-energy points in the fusion reaction, and were tuning their reactor to them. And we know how well that worked out.

(In fact it did more than just destroy London.)

A fireball 3.5278 kilometers in diameter flared into brief existence. Oxford, Gloucester, Wilts, Berks, and Buckingham were gone. A fault formed, and half of northern England slid on molten limestone into the North Sea. Kent shifted with great majesty until the White Cliffs of Dover were blocking the port of Calais. The tidal waves finished damage the war had started in the coastal regions of Europe.

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    I'm struggling to find a review, but a user here mentions that the story relates to fusion; antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2016/12/…
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 23:40
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    @user14111 - Incredibly easy. I used isfdb and just searched for the title word plasmagoria and scrolled down the list.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 0:40
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    Cheers for adding quotes.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 3:10
  • Thanks - haven't seen this since reading it in the then brand-new issue of Analog in my high school library. @DavidW - did you manage to find an online copy of the story, or do you have a very complete collection of Analog?
    – Llaves
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 4:18
  • @Llaves I have a bunch - albeit with gaps - of Analog from the late 60s through the 90s; I was just fortunate that the late 60s/early 70s are accessible. I know where the rest must be, but it would be a job of hours to retrieve them.
    – DavidW
    Commented Jun 16, 2020 at 4:08

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