The Moon and Mars: Two Classic Sci-fi Vistas with Arthur C. Clarke
by Daniel C. Smith
in 1961, when the world powers were taking the first tepid steps into
outer space, books like A
Fall of Moondust only
opened wider the eyes of young people everywhere-- the first generation
to be born in a world where the sky was no longer the limit.
Arthur C. Clarke's
early novel is great science-fiction set in the near future.
At its heart is a story that underscores what great fiction (of any
type) is all about-- real people in real situations facing obstacles
both self-imposed and natural and overcoming these obstacles through
character growth. Few writers have mastered characterization
as well as Clarke, and his power of description transports the reader
to the most glorious of settings, in this instance, the surface of our
own moon. And Clarke's talent is able to animate the lunar
landscape just as electrically as he does his characters.
Somewhere on the
moon's surface, specifically in The Sea of Thirst, on an ocean of the
finest dust particles, a tourist bus (the Selene)
driven by giant rubber blades which propel the ship through the fine
silt just like water, has lost power and is sinking fast. On
board are twenty-two people, and no less than the future of humanity on
the moon is at stake.
colonization in Clarke's novel hinges upon successful ventures such as
those spawned by tourism and industry-- in other words-- as with any
industrial and technological endeavor-- colonizing the moon must be
profitable… or it can't and won't be done).
Such is the stage as
it is set for a real page turner.
Clarke uses two
protagonists to move the story forward: Captain Pat Harris, skipper of
who is in charge of trying to hold together twenty-two very different
and frightened people trapped beneath the lunar surface and Chief
Engineer Lawrence who is leading the Earthside team charged with
finding the cruise ship in time to mount a rescue under the sea of
dust. The ship itself has no power to communicate its
position or to recycle the oxygen and the Earthside team has no
technology that can readily probe beneath the dust-- time is running
out from the first chapter.
Together these two
men race to save those aboard the Selene and
future of human settlement on the moon as well. The loss of
almost two-dozen tourists would not only be a tragic calamity, but
would probably kill tourism on the lunar surface, thus restricting or
even eliminating the human presence there.
Published almost a
decade earlier, The
Sands of Mars is
the story of Martin Gibson, a science fiction writer on a real
to Mars. Once on Mars Gibson becomes heavily involved with
the political strife between the colonization effort (struggling to
make Mars as self-sufficient as possible) and the bureaucracy of Earth,
millions of miles away. He also discovers life indigenous to
Mars and a secret plan to terra-form the Martian surface, allowing the
colonists to come out from under the pressure domes.
One of the more
interesting aspects behind Clarke's vision of terra-forming was his
idea to 'ignite' the Martian moon of Phobos, creating a second sun to
warm the planet surface, similar to what was done with one of the moons
of Jupiter in his later novel 2010:
The Year We Make Contact , providing a second sun for humans
to colonize the Jovian satellites. To spark this ignition
Clarke imagined a 'meson-resonance reaction', a process to produce
low-temperature nuclear reactions, a possibility that has recently been
discovered and currently being researched by today's non-fictional
These books champion
the power of human beings to overcome the obstacles nature throws in
their way as they enter new and unexplored frontiers. As
riveting today as they were almost thirty years ago (at least for me),
I believe that they are both must reads, especially for those who want
to write speculative fiction.
Of course his name
will forever be linked to the phenomenal movie by Stanley Kubrick's-- 2001:
A Space Odyssey (based
upon Clarke's short story The
Sentinel), and probably more than any other film, 2001
science fiction movies into the mainstream of pop culture.
But that epic
adventure is really just the tip of the iceberg for Arthur C. Clarke,
who has not only won all of the awards available in the field (as well
as being knighted, which technically makes him Sir
C. Clarke), but the love and respect of everyone who has come to know
him as well.
If you are interested
in getting to know him better, I highly suggest the five short stories
collected in SFWA:
The Grand Masters volume II (edited
by Frederik Pohl), and the novels Rendezvous with Rama
End . The short story collection The
Other Side of the Sky is
also highly recommended.
But again, these are
only starting points.
Tidbit: Clarke's novel the Sands
of Mars is
credited with the title for the Jimi Hendrix album First
Rays of the New Rising Sun , an album Hendrix died before
completing the final mixes, recently refinished and refurbished,
repackaged, re-released and well worth the $13.98 list price!
© 2011 Daniel C. Smith
Daniel C. Smith has published over a hundred stories, poems, articles and reviews in venues such as Bare Bone, Tales of the Talisman, The Leading Edge, Star*Line, and Space and Time.
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