Cliff McKenny tells the story of his boss, John Harman, and his quest in 1973 to build a rocketship to The Moon. Harman is opposed by Otis Eldredge, who uses his status as a religious leader to incite people against John Harman's rocket ship and against science in general.
Eldredge, and others like him, have been promoting moral virtues over scientific sins since 1945. Harman wants to change that with his rocketship, Prometheus. Named for the Grecian mythological titan who brought fire/technology from the heavens, Harman plans to use his rocket to go to The Moon and return, to inspire people to create more scientific advances.
Shelton, one of the people helping Harman with the rocket, creates a fault in the fuel tanks, causing the rocket to explode when activated for test flight. Since Shelton died in the explosion, the general population initially took it as evidence that Harman either did it deliberately or was receiving divine punishment for trying to leave Earth's gravity. It takes another five years before Harman is able to try again, and during this time, almost all scientific progress has been brought to a halt, using the rocket accident as evidence for why this was needed.
This story has been reprinted several times; Men Against The Stars (1950), Great Science Fiction Stories About The Moon (1967), First Flights To The Moon (1970), The Early Asimov (1972), A Spectrum Of Worlds (1972), Urania (issue #625, August 1973), and Isaac Asimov Presents: Great Science Fiction Stories of 1939 (1979).
"Trends" provides examples of:
- 20 Minutes into the Future: John Harman complains about the technology in 1973 not being far enough in advance of the technology of 1923 (the story was published in 1939). He's preparing to set off in the first manned rocketship, to the consternation of religious fundamentalists who believe that humankind was meant to stay on Earth.
- Dark Messiah: Otis Eldredge is a charismatic leader of the Twentieth Century Evangelical Society, and opposed to the idea of manned spaceflight. He's been using his position as religious leader to incite people against John Harman's rocket ship.
- Evil Luddite: Otis Eldredge incites people against the pursuit of scientific advancement, personified in the form of John Harman, who is trying to build a rocketship to The Moon.
- First-Person Peripheral Narrator: The story is told from the perspective of Cliff McKenny, an assistant to John Harman, who is trying to build the first rocket to space.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Shelton sabotages Harman's rocket, and the subsequent explosion sends shrapnel into the crowd. Sheldon failed to get out of the blast radius in time, dying due to the explosion he created.
- Inspirational Martyr: When his friends warn him that he could die for his experiment, Harman insists that such a death would only serve to galvanize people into trying to build upon the failure until space-travel was successful. He considers his life secondary to that objective.
- Make It Look Like an Accident: Shelton sabotages Harman's rocket, and the subsequent explosion is assumed to be evidence that Harman either did it deliberately or was receiving divine punishment for trying to leave Earth's gravity.
- Moral Guardians: Otis Eldredge uses religious rhetoric to lead the country against scientific progress. One of his results is the creation of the Federal Scientific Research Investigatory Bureau, a government organization that has veto power over scientific research proposals. In fact, they outlaw all research aside from that which they specifically request.
- Rabble Rouser: After Harman's rocket exploded, Eldredge encouraged the people of New York City to turn into a mob. While their destructive acts take place off-screen, the lynch mob (led by Eldredge) almost managed to arrive at the hospital where Harman was recovering.
- Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: In this story, these two opposing philosophies are presented as religion and science. During the First World War, people became more unconventional and technology-minded. In the fifty years since then, the "pendulum" swung back, and society has become religious traditionalists again. Otis Eldredge, a charismatic religious leader, represents Romanticism while John Harman, who has sunk his personal fortune into the rocketry project and scientific progress, represents Enlightenment.
- Sabotage to Discredit: Shelton sabotages the launch of Harman's first rocket, which actually succeeds in discrediting it to the point that all research into rocketry is made illegal.
- Shout-Out: Classical Mythology is referenced by Harman's decision to name his rocketships after the titan Prometheus who brought fire (technology/science) from the heavens to human beings. Harman plans to go into the heavens and bring back science in the form of working space technology.
- Space Travel Veto: Eldredge and his followers believe space travel is literally defiance of the will of God, and want it outlawed before it can even get started. They're willing to use sabotage, mob action, and later on the force of law to prevent Harman (or anyone else) from launching rockets into space.
- Title Drop: The title is used to refer to the cyclical nature of culture and their irresistible force."Trends are things of centuries and millenniums, not years or decades. For five hundred years we have been moving towards science. You can't reverse that in thirty years." — John Harman.
- Vehicular Sabotage: Shelton sabotages Harman's rocket by breaking the liquid-oxygen compartments (fuel), so that when the engine was engaged, all of the fuel exploded at once, instead of being used as controlled propulsion. 28 people nearby the launch site die as a result, but Harman survives through good fortune.