Ballantine/del Rey, 1978


During my senior year at Swarthmore college I happened across an illustration in Misner, Thorne and Wheeler's text Gravitation, which showed how an advanced civilization might build a shell around a black hole in order to extract energy from it. Inspiration, or what I took for it, struck and I spent much of the next 9 months working out the details of a planet based on the idea. I began the novel when I was 22, during final exam week and it was finished about 14 months later. In the meantime I actually lost the manuscript in the trunk of a car while hitchiking around Scotland, only to have it mysteriously returned to me the next day. In those days, I wrote quickly, and about a third of the novel was written in the space of a week, which served to extricate me from a depression I had fallen into at Cambridge University. This is a well-known phenomenon: the depression is deepest before the dawn.

The World is Round became my first work accepted for publication and my second work to appear. As already indicated, it takes place on an artificial planet, with a diameter fifty times that of the Earth, built around a small black hole. Even at that time I was concerned with the history of science and the question of how we know what we know, and so I used the setting to ask whether people living on the planet (not realizing that it was artificial) could determine its true nature, for instance that the world was round. In this way I hope the novel taught some physics.

As a graduate student at the Relativity Center in Austin, I learned that the energy-extraction method discussed by Misner, Thorne and Wheeler did not work as well as they had thought. This provided one basis for the article "Demythologizing the Black Hole. To my embarrassment, in terms of sales, The World is Round has remained my most successful book. However, I am no longer the person who wrote it and cannot look at it. The World is Round is long out of print but people occasionally tell me they have run accross it in second-hand book stores.

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