I read this story in the late 90s, in an anthology. I was reading a lot of Asimov, Bradbury and P.K.Dick at the time, and the story feels like a Bradbury one, but I can't find it.

In the story as I remember it, the earth is blockaded by an enemy (can't remember if aliens or humans) and no ship can get away. They are trying to build a spaceship that would avoid the blockade, through some kind of FTL hyperspace travel, but the ship always explodes upon reentry. Since they can't make it work, their last resort is to launch it directly at the planet of their enemy, and have it explode inside as it stops.

A bit before launch something goes wrong and since they are out of options they call upon the main character of the story, an old tinkerer who has a way with machines, and ask him to help them fix it. He fixes the rocket, it launches, but instead of exploding in the core of the planet, nothing happens.

The man is sorry he failed them, but the others realize that he actually fixed the FTL drive, and therefore saved them as they can now bypass the blockade entirely.

I've been thinking back to that story from time to time, going on a spree of trying to find it again, but I never managed.

If anyone knows its name, or even just remembers it, I'd love to know that I didn't make it up.


1 Answer 1


This is The Variable Man by Philip K. Dick.

Cole eventually succeeds and an Icarus device is launched towards Proxima Centauri, with the intention of destroying the star along with its planets while Earth's fleet attacks the empire's forces in space. The device fails to affect its target, leading to a crushing defeat for Terra.

Investigation reveals that the star did not explode because Cole had made the Icarus device function fully according to its inventor's intentions, solving the problem that had destroyed the prototype. Instead of a powerful bomb, humanity now has a working FTL drive that cannot be intercepted by the Centaurans. The Terran authorities realise they are now free to travel beyond the limits of the Centauran Empire and there is no further need for war.

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