I'm currently reading (almost finished) a SF book titled The Coward's Way of War by Christopher G Nuttall.

In the extract below (the US have just nuked Riyadh) it mentions an old science fiction story.

Can anyone please identify it?


Burtis shook his head as he walked over to meet Doug. “Once, years ago, I read this science-fiction story about a team recording a nuclear blast,” he said. Under other circumstances, Doug would have teased him about a Marine actually reading a book, but somehow it didn't feel right, not under the mushroom cloud. “They slowed the video down until they could see it second by second. And, at one point, they could see an image of a devil’s head, laughing at them."

  • 3
    I've read that too. I can tell you it was published before 1970, probably before 1960.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Jan 12, 2023 at 16:56
  • Didn't we have this one identified here recently?
    – DavidW
    Jan 12, 2023 at 17:09

1 Answer 1


This is a (very) short story by Isaac Asimov, Hell-Fire, first published in 1957 in his collection Earth is Room Enough.

As the question says, a super-slow motion film is made of a nuclear explosion. As the audience view the footage they see:

the oval fireball had sprouted projections, then paused a moment in stasis, before expanding rapidly into a bright and featureless sphere. That moment of stasis — the fireball had shown dark spots for eyes, with dark lines for thin, flaring eyebrows, a hairline coming down V-shaped, a mouth twisted upward, laughing wildly in the hell-fire — and horns.

  • 3
    Quick Draw Mcgraw!
    – JRE
    Jan 12, 2023 at 17:16
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    @JRE My reflexes have been trained by JohnRennie ;) Jan 12, 2023 at 17:19
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    Arg! You beat me this time :-) Jan 12, 2023 at 17:57
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    It had to happen one day Jan 12, 2023 at 18:12
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    I'd forgotten all about that story -- in the sense that I hadn't even thought about it for many years. But as I read this answer, it came back to me. It reminds me of one I hadn't forgotten -- Asimov's "Silly Asses," in which humanity is about to be registered as finally being a "mature" species (meaning we now understand nuclear physics) -- but then the alien official changes his mind when he realizes that we are the first and only species to ever think it would be a great idea to test nuclear weapons on the surface of our own planet, instead of launching them into outer space first.
    – Lorendiac
    Jan 14, 2023 at 3:04

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