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A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarke

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First published in 1961, this science fiction novel by British author Arthur C. Clarke (1917–2008) is essentially a ship disaster and rescue story—but this one takes place on the Moon. By the 21st century, humans had colonized the Moon and tourists could take cruises across one of the lunar seas called the Sea of Thirst. Unlike Earth seas, lunar seas are made of fine dust, not water, so the specially-designed "dustcruisier" (named Selene) skims over the surface of the dust. One day while carrying its usual load of passengers, the Selene suddenly finds itself sinking in a "giant whirlpool" because of an underground moonquake that has upset the dust's equilibrium.

The boat's captain, Pat Harris, reacts to this terrifying situation by momentarily flashing back to a childhood memory of antlions:

He was a boy again, playing in the hot sand of a forgotten summer. He had found a tiny pit, perfectly smooth and symmetrical, and there was something lurking in its depths—something completely buried except for its waiting jaws. The boy had watched, wondering, already conscious of the fact that this was the stage for some microscopic drama. He had seen an ant, mindlessly intent upon its mission, stumble at the edge of the crater and topple down the slope.

It would have escaped easily enough—but when the first grain of sand had rolled to the bottom of the pit, the waiting ogre had reared out of its lair. With its forelegs it had hurled a fusilade of sand at the struggling insect, until the avalanche had overwhelmed it and brought it sliding into the throat of the crater.

As Selene was sliding now. No ant-lion had dug this pit on the surface of the Moon, but Pat felt as helpless now as that doomed insect he had watched so many years ago. Like it, he was struggling to reach the safety of the rim, while the moving ground swept him back into the depths where death was waiting. A swift death for the ant, a protracted one for him and his companions. (Clarke 1961, 19).


Clarke, Arthur C. 1961. A Fall of Moondust. London: Gollancz.

Wikipedia contributors, "A Fall of Moondust," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed July 8, 2012).

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