The Light of Other Days

"Oft in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Fond mem’ry brings the light
Of other days around me"

Thomas Moore, 1815
This is an extraordinary time to be alive. Each day, there are yet more examples of just how extraordinary our world is - both big examples and small. It's particularly startling when a fantastic concept familiar from science fiction emerges in the news as a practical science fact.

According to this story in today's Telegraph, researchers at two universities in the UK have discovered that: "Light can be slowed down so that a beam of sunlight can travel at a leisurely stroll, be brought to a standstill, or even stored for later use in the form of a rainbow."

As soon as I came across this article, I thought: slow glass! They're talking about slow glass!

My Dad and brothers will know what I'm talking about, I'm sure. I can't remember the first time I read about slow glass - probably some time in the early 70s - but the idea has stayed with me all these years. Googling for the source, I found the complete text of Irish writer Bob Shaw's 1967 short story "Light of Other Days".

Reading it again just now, it's easy to see why the story has stayed with me all this time. It's a terrific piece of writing, woven around a powerful, evocative central idea.

"The most important effect, in the eyes of the average individual, was that light took a long time to pass through a sheet of slow glass. A new piece was always jet black because nothing had yet come through, but one could stand the glass beside, say, a woodland lake until the scene emerged, perhaps a year later. If the glass was then removed and installed in a dismal city flat, the flat would—for that year—appear to overlook the woodland lake."

The tensions and subtexts in this remarkable little story must have been completely wasted on me when I first read it. I can't have been much more than 11 or so when I found it in one of Dad's many books of collected sci-fi shorts, but I can easily see why it has stayed with me all these years. Very glad to have found it again now, prompted by that Telegraph piece.

OK, so the discovery reported in the Telegraph isn't really much like Shaw's idea of slow glass - but still worth a "Wow!"