Inconstant Moon

Inconstant Moon

Infobox Book
name = Inconstant Moon

image_caption = Sphere pb cover
author = Larry Niven
cover_artist = Eddie Jones
country = United Kingdom
series = Known Space (some)
genre = science fiction
publisher = Victor Gollancz Ltd (hc), Sphere Books (pb)
release_date = 1973
media_type = hardcover & paperback
pages = 200
isbn = ISBN 0-575-01586-1 (1st edition hc)

"Inconstant Moon" is a science fiction short story by American author Larry Niven that was published in 1971. "Inconstant Moon" is 1973 anthology of Larry Niven's short stories that includes the title piece. The title is a quote from the balcony scene in William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet". The anthology was assembled from the US collections "The Shape of Space" and "All the Myriad Ways". The short story won the 1972 Hugo Award for best short story.

Story synopses (Sphere edition)

The 1974 Sphere paperback version of the anthology was cut from 12 to 7 stories.

Inconstant Moon

First appearance: 1971 short story collection "All the Myriad Ways".

Stan, the narrator, notices that the moon is glowing much brighter than ever before. The people he meets as the story begins all praise the moon's increased beauty but lack the scientific background to understand its cause. However the narrator surmises that the Sun has gone nova, the day side of the Earth is already destroyed, and this is the last night of his life. He then calls and visits his girlfriend Leslie, presuming her ignorant of the situation, but she realizes it independently when Jupiter brightens with appropriate delay; they then enjoy their last night on the town, before rain and winds start.

Later, he realizes one other possibility. In case he is right, they find appropriate supplies and seek refuge from the coming natural disasters in Leslie's high-rise apartment. The second possibility turns out to be correct: the Earth has merely been struck by an enormous solar flare. The vaporized seawater leads to torrential rains, hurricanes and floods. Most (if not all) people on the Eastern Hemisphere are presumed dead. The story ends at the break of an overcast, gray morning, with the narrator "wonder [ing] if our children would colonize Europe, or Asia, or Africa".

In 1996, the story was made into an episode of the "Outer Limits" television series with Niven himself writing the script - see Inconstant Moon (The Outer Limits).

Jo Walton in 1997 wrote a short poem, [ "The End of the World in Duxford"] as "an unauthorised version of "Inconstant Moon", a British equivalent." [] .

Bordered in Black

First appearance: "The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction", April 1966.

A prototype faster-than-light spacecraft crewed by two men is sent to the Sirius system, known from robotic exploration to include an earthlike world. In orbit around the world, they notice that one of the continents has a thin, strange border all the way round its coastline, which radiates a low heat. After exploring the edges of the smaller continents, discovering that the ocean hosts only one lifeform, algae they think might have been genetically engineered, they decide to explore the large continent with the border.

When they discover just what the black border is, the result is the death, by suicide, of one of the crew, and the self-destruction of the ship by the survivor just before he is rescued when he makes it back to Earth - and a chilling reminder that there may be great danger waiting for further human explorers.

In the notes to his collection "Convergent Series", Niven wrote that Bordered in Black

: does not belong to the Known Space universe. (...) When I wrote Bordered in Black, Known Space had not taken form. I was playing with some preliminary ideas, and one of these – the "Blind Spot" effect of this form of faster-than-light travel – was later incorporated into Known Space. But it's a different timeline entirely. Similar statements hold for One Face (...) Hair styles and human colony worlds from this story later entered Known Space; but the story does not belong to that universe.

How the Heroes Die

First appearance: "Galaxy Science Fiction", October 1966. A Known Space story.

The 15-man team setting up the first base on Mars experience tragedy when a murder is committed. "Carter", the murderer, in the process of escaping on one of the transportation buggies crashes through the plastic bubble which holds in the base's atmosphere in an attempt to kill everyone else; however, it fails, and he is soon chased by "Alf", the brother of the victim on another buggy.

The lethal chase, with the two combatants in constant radio communication, slowly reveals the community stresses which resulted in the murder. Alf wants to kill Carter in revenge for his brother, while Carter wishes the same "and" to try once more to destroy the base .... but with limited oxygen in their tanks, the two men must ensure that they have enough left to return to base with.

At the Bottom of a Hole

First appearance: Galaxy Science Fiction, December 1966. A Known Space story.

A sequel to "How the Heroes Die". Muller, a smuggler with a cargo of precious magnetic monopoles, attempts to use Mars (the 'hole' of the title; to spacers, planets are merely gravity wells to be avoided if possible) as a means to whip his ship to a new orbit that will enable him to escape the customs authorities who are chasing him. His plan fails, and he crashlands, close to the now-abandoned base. Over the next few days, he explores the ruins and finds out the terrible story of what happened. Unfortunately, he himself suffers the same fate as the original colonists - all of which he commits to his log, which is later recovered.

Niven's use of the term "gravity well" in the story is the third use of the phrase in science fiction recorded by Oxford English Dictionary researchers [] .

The two Mars stories do belong to "Known Space" and they are specifically referred to and to some degree influence the plot of "Protector", which takes place a long time later.

One Face

First appearance: "Galaxy Science Fiction", June 1965.

During a routine hyperspace jump an accident, involving a small meteor striking into the machinery, causes the ship to jump billions of years into the Solar System's future, at which time the sun has become a greenish-white dwarf and the earth has lost its atmosphere and become a "one-face" world, ie it presents one side to the sun. The ships main computer has also been damaged, so its decision to have the captain replaced by one of the passengers to maximise survival causes disagreement.

Reluctantly, the decision is made to land on Earth, despite the lack of an atmosphere - they have no means to go elsewhere. Once landed, the new captain, convinced that there is a remnant atmosphere frozen on the dark side uses the ship's drive to begin to re-spin the earth, which will, hopefully, convert this frozen atmosphere back to gas.

Becalmed in Hell

First appearance: "The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction", July 1965. A Known Space story.

A ship with a two-man crew, a normal human Howie and Eric – a disembodied brain of a previously injured man taking the part of ship's computer, is exploring the upper atmosphere of Venus, using the empty fuel-tank as a dirigible device.

About to return to earth, Eric reveals that something is wrong with the ramjet that propels the craft, necessitating a landing in order to fix the problem. When Howie can find nothing physically wrong with the system, he can only conclude that, disturbingly, the problem is with Eric. Finally, after a harrowing repair scenario, they finally manage to leave Venus and reach earth. When the reasons for the breakdown are discovered, Howie gets a surprise.

"Becalmed in Hell" was nominated for the 1965 Nebula Award for best short story.

Death by Ecstasy

First appearance: "Galaxy Science Fiction", January 1969 (as "The Organleggers"). A Known Space story, first of "Gil the Arm" line.

Asteroid miner Owen Jennison is found dead in an apartment on Earth, apparently of suicide: He was a Wirehead, directly stimulating the pleasure center of the brain, and starved.

Gil Hamilton, an operative of the United Nations Police (and friend of Owen's) must solve what appears to be a classic locked room mystery: he does not believe that Owen was the type to commit suicide, so the death must have been planned by somebody else.

His investigations lead him to names associated with "organlegging" - the illicit handling and sale of spare body-parts. Eventually, he comes into contact with a West-Coast organlegging gang where his psychokinesis - a "third arm" - becomes very useful.

Death by Ecstasy has been adapted as a graphic novel by Bill Spangler, Terry Tidwell, and Steve Stiles in 1991. []

Publication history

* 1973, ISBN 0-575-01586-1 Gollancz, hardback, First Edition: In addition to the stories in the Sphere paperback edition, above, the Gollancz hardback also contained five following stories:
** Wait It Out
** Not Long Before the End ("The Magic Goes Away" "mana" series)
** Passerby
** The Deadlier Weapon
** Convergent Series ("The Long Night")
* Oct 1974, PB, ISBN 0-7221-6383-5 (UK edition), Sphere
* 1977, PB, ISBN 0-7221-6381-9 (UK edition), Sphere
* Nov 1988, PB, ISBN 0-7221-6408-4 (UK edition), Sphere
* Aug 1991, PB, ISBN 0-7088-8375-3 (UK edition), Orbit

External links

* [ First part of the story Inconstant Moon]
* [ Collection contents]
* [ Release details] at Fantastic Fiction

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