Fred Hoyle was first and foremost a scientist, and a very good one at that. A professor of astronomy at Cambridge University with an international reputation in the fields of cosmology and astrophysics, he had made his name in the late 1940s with a paper on a revolutionary new steady-state theory of the universe. Earlier theories that the universe is expanding had been confirmed by the work of the American astronomer Edwin Hubble in the 1920s but this brought with it a problem. For this expansion meant that going back in time, the universe had been progressively smaller, and this in turn implied a beginning when its volume was zero or very close to it.

Like many atheists Hoyle was strongly against the idea that the universe had a beginning since this implied a cause, and a cause a creator. The appeal of the steady-state theory was that it allowed for a universe which has always been expanding with no beginning. Central to this was the proposition that as galaxies move apart new matter is created in the space between them, and the accretion of this matter over time eventually forms new galaxies.

The theory brought Hoyle to the attention of the media and in 1949 he was interviewed on BBC radio. It was during this interview that he coined the term 'Big Bang' to describe the notion that the universe had a beginning. He later denied he had meant the term derisively but in a series of lectures for BBC radio in 1950 he again referred to 'this Big Bang idea' and after that the name stuck. Whatever his intention, the radio series itself was very popular and a book based on it soon followed called The Nature of the Universe, an excellent read which Penguin published as a Pelican Book in 1963.

The chance discovery in 1964 of the Big Bang's afterglow in the form of cosmic background radiation put an end to the steady-state theory though Hoyle continued to defend it for some time afterwards. But by then few were listening and the Big Bang became the accepted paradigm, which it still is today.

FRED HOYLE The Black Cloud, 1971 The Black Cloud (1466) by Fred Hoyle

1971 reprint with a cover by David Pelham.

Hoyle's busy academic career must have left him with little spare time to dash off sf novels yet by 1971 he had eight to his name, along with two novellas and a collection of short stories. Some were co-authored by his son Geoffrey or the writer John Elliot, with whom Hoyle collaborated on A for Andromeda, a BBC television series screened in 1961, and a sequel, The Andromeda Breakthrough, which aired the following year, with Elliot then reworking both scripts into novels.

FRED and GEOFFREY HOYLE Fifth Planet, 1971 Fifth Planet (2244) by Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle

1971 reprint with a cover by David Pelham.

Hoyle's first novel The Black Cloud had been published by Penguin in 1960 with a cover blurb announcing it as 'science fiction by a scientist'. This might be construed by some as a warning, but Penguin published two more of Hoyle's novels, and all three were reprinted in 1971 with covers by David Pelham.

FRED HOYLE October the First is Too Late, 1971 October the First is Too Late (2886) by Fred Hoyle

First published 1966.

Published by Penguin Books 1968 and reprinted 1971, shown left, with a cover
by David Pelham.

The results more than did the books justice. Pelham's triptych of sleek black covers featured simple geometric designs based on shaded circles that cleverly linked to each book's contents. Colour was introduced for the stencilled typo- graphy, though in keeping with the covers' minimalist ambitions there was no sf banner, its absence suggesting a further comparison with the textbooks of Hoyle's day job.