I normally review new books but I am making an exception for this classic by one of the grandmasters of science fiction himself, Sir Arthur C Clark.
I am doing this partly because the book is similar to both Passengers and in some ways to the Martian. Reading it, its amazing to think it was published in 1961, before Apollo was even on the drawing board. While there are a few things that show it’s age, the science is amazingly good overall.
One thing I very much like about it is that its a very human disaster story, in this way it reminds me of Passengers. There really are no bad guys, no earth shattering consequences of failure, just the lives of twenty-two people.
In the story the moon has a small but notable number of tourists every year. Its costly but affordable for thousands of people (I get the impression you need to have six figures income). One of the spots that tourists go is called the Sea of Thirst. The Sea of Thirst if a large set of interconnected craters that are full of dust. Dust that in most places of the moon is less then an inch thick, but in the sea it can be more then a hundred feet thick. This dust flows like water, and is as dense as rock.
The Selene is a craft the size of large bus that goes over the sea in a way similar to a jetski. They are several hours out when a large bubble of gas from below them erupts and causes the normally stable surface to open up and swallow them.
The book follows two main threads, first the people on the Selene. The tensions of the people are written realistically. The significant problem of how to stay keep everyone calm when you have a week of air left and nothing whatsoever you can do to help yourself.
The second thread centers on Chief Engineer of Earthside Lawrence. When he first has to find out what happened when the Selene went missing, then how to get them back. Remember that the dust may act like a liquid but it is still rock. The Selene can’t even transmit through it. Then how do you get to them and get them out?
There is even a much shorter third thread about a rather prickly astronomer who helps early on, and how it changes him.
This book is a good example of how science can help tell good stories, rather then hold them back by placing limits on what you can do. Many of the problems the Selene has are logical and predictable but so outside what anyone has dealt with that they fail to see the problem until almost too late.
If you like science fiction disaster stories you will like this book, or for that matter if you want a good hard science fiction.