AT Book Club

Toasters Reads: A Fall of Moondust

The best of science fiction are those stories in which the science is creating a believable framework for the story.* That is not to say that those stories where the science is a giant leap, edging in on fantasy, aren’t enjoyable. But it is something special to be able to visualize the events of the story being achievable in just a few short years, if technological development and scientific investment progressed along the right path.

One such book is Arthur C. Clarke’s A Fall of Moondust, from 1961. Like many of Clarke’s stories it is told within a realm of fact and realism. Additionally the tale reflects an interesting take on the optimism of the ongoing space race. In the book, the optimistic piece is that Earth has built permanent bases on the Moon, as well as multiple space stations in orbit. The interesting aspect is that by the point in the timeline at which the story takes place, the fact that we are on the Moon is basically taken for granted, and considered no big deal. It is a little hard to imagine anyone in the early 1960s feeling blasé about being able to take a vacation to see the surface of the Moon.

The Moon tourists of the future are able to go out on a sightseeing adventure in a special craft. While later found to be inaccurate, it was believed at the time that parts of the Moon, the  lunar seas, might be filled with a super fine dust, a powder far finer and drier than contents of deserts on Earth, that would flow more like water than like the dirt we see. The ship is a sort of combination boat/surface skimmer/spaceship that plies the the Sea of Thirst, (located within the Sinus Roris); her name is the Selene.

On the day of our tale, the ship is manned by captain and crew, and full of tourist passengers. The crew has some back story, some history, and when calamity arises they begin to work through their struggles, both internal and external. What befalls them is a moonquake, which causes a rift in the sea of dust that engulfs the tiny ship. If not for the courage of the fearless crew…well, you’ll have to read the book. I will say that the story does involve a most surprising twist involving thermodynamics that will have fans of the science giddy with excitement, and I dare say there aren’t many books that can say the same.

This tale is the right mix of engaging and suspenseful, and I rank it high on my list of favorite Clarke books, despite its seeming to be a much lesser known work.

*As has been the case with the book reviews I have done so far, I hit up the book’s Wikipedia page to check and make sure I haven’t jumbled any of the facts of the story around in my recall efforts. In this case, the entry linked me to a page for ‘hard science fiction‘, which turns out to be the term for the type of story I am describing– science fiction characterized by an emphasis on scientific or technical detail, or on scientific accuracy, or on both.. This particular book also turns out to be one of the primary examples of such a work.

Images from the Flickrs of  Travelin’ Librarian and kuja, and

  • CaptianNemo2001

    I have some hard SciFi that I need to drag out and start reading… But for now I will stick with the latest English translations of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea's and The Mysterious Island, both by Jules Verne. You can read the latest translations online for free, you just need to know where to look… Or I can link it here,

  • schigleymischke

    Who is the illustrator of the first cover? I should know who it was. His style was always those tall, multi-decked ships. They have that mix of aircraft carrier and super freighter that gives them brutality, dynamism, and optimism all at once. No doubt piloted by stern faced, steely-eyed men secure in the righteousness of their cause and their place in the universe.