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"I started writing in the 1930's when I was eighteen years old. And deep inside me I'm still eighteen and it's still 1938."
- Isaac Asimov

Sustained Atomic Reaction  
  The idea that a sustained reaction could lead to an atomic explosion.  

Never before in the history of warfare had there been a continuing explosive; indeed, up to the middle of the twentieth century the only explosives known were combustibles whose explosiveness was due entirely to their instantaneousness; and these atomic bombs which science burst upon the world that night were strange even to the men who used them. Those used by the Allies were lumps of pure Carolinum, painted on the outside with unoxidised cydonator inducive enclosed hermetically in a case of membranium. A little celluloid stud between the handles by which the bomb was lifted was arranged so as to be easily torn off and admit air to the inducive, which at once became active and set up radio-activity in the outer layer of the Carolinum sphere. This liberated fresh inducive, and so in a few minutes the whole bomb was a blazing continual explosion. The Central European bombs were the same, except that they were larger and had a more complicated arrangement for animating the inducive.

Always before in the development of warfare the shells and rockets fired had been but momentarily explosive, they had gone off in an instant once for all, and if there was nothing living or valuable within reach of the concussion and the flying fragments then they were spent and over. But Carolinum, which belonged to the beta group of Hyslop's so-called 'suspended degenerator' elements, once its degenerative process had been induced, continued a furious radiation of energy and nothing could arrest it. Of all Hyslop's artificial elements, Carolinum was the most heavily stored with energy and the most dangerous to make and handle.

From The World Set Free, by H.G. Wells.
Published by Not Known in 1914
Additional resources -

Physicist Leo Szilard patented the idea of a sustained nuclear reaction, but assigned his patent to the British Admiralty where it would be kept out of the public eye, and away from other European scientists. Szilard later wrote "knowing what this would mean - I had read HG Wells' The World Set Free - I wanted the patent kept secret."

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