Forgotten book: A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarke

Obviously, the computer is fixed. It wasn’t a big deal, I should have figured it out myself.
Meanwhile, this is another in my series of forgotten or seldom read books

This may or may not truly be a “forgotten book”, but it is certainly not much read these days. I know I hadn’t thought about it for a very long time until, reading Jo Walton’s An Informal History of the Hugo Awards, I saw it listed and discussed. So I decided to reread it. The copy shown is my copy, the January 1963 Dell edition of the 1961 original published by Harcourt Brace.

Jo Walton’s comments are right on target, for the most part, so I’m quoting some of them:

“I remembered this book as an exciting technical story about a rescue on the moon—and my goodness, that’s what it still is. A Fall of Moondust remains an edge-of-the-seat exciting technical story of a rescue on the moon. It’s the 2050s. The solar system is being colonized. On the moon, they want to make some money from tourism. They have a boat that skims over the dust in the “Sea of Thirst,” just a tour bus, really, out there to give the tourists a show—until the day when there’s a moonquake and the boat slips down into the dust.”

From that point on, the book tells how, with brains, luck and patience, the craft is located and the passengers rescued. The “dust” is made up of such tiny particles that radio signals can’t penetrate it, so the dust-drowned craft is completely out of touch with Moonbase. They can’t send any signal without opening a door or hatch, which would let the dust flow in and suffocate everyone in minutes.

The passengers, not knowing how deep they may be, can’t risk trying to “swim” through the dust, which flows like a liquid and is blinding and deafening, trying to find the surface. Then what? To sink again. So the passengers settle in for a wait, for rescue.

The people on the surface work frantically to rescue them. As Walton says, “It’s as unputdownable today as when I first read it.”

The tension never lets up. The ship goes under the surface, and time is ticking and heat is rising and oxygen is running out and more things keep happening—it’s riveting. You can never forget you’re on the moon. All Earth can do is watch. Some of the passengers are comic relief, but the vast majority of the characters in this book are competent men doing their jobs. Even the grumpy astronomer is a competent man doing his job with a bit of sarcasm.

“This is the future that didn’t happen, the future where the boffins of the 1950s rose up and colonized the solar system with slide rules and general cooperative intellectual competence. This moon was first reached in 1967 by the Soviets—and this was published after Kennedy announced the space race, so Clarke was putting his money on the other side. The hotels have notices in English, Russian, and Chinese, but there’s no indication that the Cold War is still a problem.”

A Fall of Moondust is a classic of science fiction—a “man against nature” story, at one-sixth gravity and in a sea of dust that’s halfway to being a liquid. The characters are thin, but the prose is full of the poetry of science. We have come a long way since 1961, but this is readable, exciting, and chock-full of sense of wonder.

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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9 Responses to Forgotten book: A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarke

  1. Jerry House says:

    I remember reading this 1963 Dell edition and being completely enthralled. Great choice, Rick!

  2. Jeff Meyerson says:

    This is yet another SF ‘classic’ that totally slipped by me, though I’ve read a bunch of Clarke’s other books. Nice one.

  3. Like Jerry, I read this 1963 DELL edition of A FALL OF MOONDUST when I was a teenager. Arthur C. Clarke was a major SF writer back then with successes like CHILDHOOD’S END, THE DEEP RANGE, and THE CITY AND THE STARS. Of course, Clarke would write the classic
    2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

  4. tracybham says:

    Now I want to read this book and the new Jo Walton book, which I will be ordering soon.

  5. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I just picked up the Walton – all 575 pages of it – at the library, along with PLANETSIDE, which Rick reviewed on Monday, plus Brendan DuBois’ RED VENGEANCE, the sequel to DARK VICTORY.

  6. Guy says:

    Hi

    I read or reread this, Earthlight, and The Sands Of Mars over Christmas. Although the vIew of he solar system is now out of date I enjoyed them all. The pace was good, the action exciting and they reminded me of (or were) the SF I was reading just as the space race was starting and any thing seemed possible.

    Regard
    Guy

    • Thanks for your comment, Guy. With these Clarke books, what we know now about the solar system doesn’t matter so much as the way he presented what was known and his extrapolation therefrom. He really wrote terrific true hard SF.

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