quinta-feira, agosto 20, 1987

Swallowed by the Sea of Thirst: "A Fall of Moondust" by Arthur C. Clarke

(My own copy bought in 1987 at Bertrand Bookshop)

“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.”

In “A Fall of Moondust” by Arthur C. Clarke

Back in the day, I worked in IT for real as a lowly SysAdmin, also known as a computer whisperer (like a horse whisperer, only in binary...). When I was done gently soothing my big beasts with the soft lullaby of 0's and 1's, I always ended by singing them the song their daddy taught them: "Daisy, Daisy . . . " Don't laugh, it worked! Really. They all frequently express their continued enthusiasm for the mission.

A director like Paul Greengrass could really make “A Fall of Moondust” tense (remember United 93). The problem would be that, as Clarke himself admitted, the sea of dust idea is a myth, disproved by later research. Still a good story though. Yes indeed - they'd have to modify it so perhaps it was a sink hole caused by mining - extraction of water etc. But come to think of it, no need. I'd happily suspend any amount of disbelief to watch a film version of A Fall Of Moondust”. Retro-futuristic, perhaps? That would be fun. Lots of flashing lights and magnetic tape whizzing around representing a 1960's view of the far future.

Standing the test of time is part of what constitutes "greatness," surely. Clarke was obviously much more influential than Phil Dick when they were writing and because he paid such attention to technical detail, any number of ideas he popularized later came to be. But Phil Dick has risen in stature as the unthinkable (Nazis openly accepted as leaders in America, for example) in his books has become plausible. He starts to feel almost prophetic whereas when he wrote it probably just seemed a silly idea for a story. And while "Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" has a few rough edges, it poses most of the pertinent questions in bioethics; Clarke for all his brilliance was more of a science booster  than a science critic.