Inconstant Moon is a science fiction short story collection by American author Larry Niven that was published in The title refers to "O, swear not by the moon, th' inconstant moon", a quote from the balcony scene in William Shakespeare 's Romeo and Juliet. The Sphere paperback version of the collection only contained seven of the twelve stories originally included in the Gollancz hardback edition. First appearance: short story collection All the Myriad Ways. The short story won the Hugo Award for best short story. Stan, the narrator, notices that the Moon is glowing much brighter than ever before.
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I was watching the news when the change came, like a flicker of motion at the corner of my eye. I turned toward the balcony window. Whatever it was, I was too late to catch it. When the first commercials came on I got up to reheat some coffee. Commercials came in strings of three and four, going on midnight. The moonlight caught me coming back. If it had been bright before, it was brighter now. I opened the sliding glass door and stepped out onto the balcony.
These past months the view had been lovely, especially around sunset. The Power and Light Company had been putting up a glass-slab style office building. So far it was only a steel framework of open girders. Shadow-blackened against a red sunset sky, it tended to look stark and surrealistic and hellishly impressive. I had never seen the moon so bright, not even in the desert. The moon was never bigger I had read somewhere than a quarter held nine feet away.
But, glowing high over the San Diego Freeway to the west, the moon seemed to dim even the streaming automobile headlights. I blinked against its light, and thought of men walking on the moon, leaving corrugated footprints.
Once, for the sake of an article I was writing, I had been allowed to pick up a bone-dry moon rock and hold it in my hand…. I heard the show starting again, and I stepped inside. But, glancing once behind me, I caught the moon growing even brighter—as if it had come from behind a wisp of scudding cloud.
Get up and… can you get up? The phone clunked. I waited. Through my own window, the moon burned like a textured spotlight. That way the gods can see if Los Angeles is still there. Afterward I sat in the dark, trying to think of someone else to call. So I thought of some names. But the girls who belonged to them had all dropped away over the past year or so, after I started spending all my time with Leslie.
One could hardly blame them. The English girl? Or her last name. Besides, everyone I knew punched a time clock of one kind or another. Me, I worked for a living, but as a freelance writer I picked my hours. Ah, well…. The Johnny Carson Show was a swirl of gray and a roar of static when I got back to the living room. I turned the set off and went back out on the balcony.
The moon was brighter than the flow of headlights on the freeway, brighter than Westwood Village off to the right. The Santa Monica Mountains had a magical pearly glow. There were no stars near the moon. Stars could not survive that glare.
I wrote science and how-to articles for a living. I ought to be able to figure out what was making the moon do that. Could the moon be suddenly larger? Waves fifty feet high… and earthquakes! San Andreas Fault splitting apart like the Grand Canyon! Jump in my car, head for the hills… no, too late already…. The moon was brighter, not bigger. I could see that. And what could possibly drop the moon on our heads like that? A million people must be watching the moon right now, and wondering, like me.
An article on the subject would sell big… if I wrote it before anyone else did…. Well, how could the moon grow brighter? Moonlight reflected sunlight. Could the sun have gotten brighter? It must have happened after sunset, then, or it would have been noticed…. Besides, half the Earth was in direct sunlight.
A thousand correspondents for Life and Time and Newsweek and Associated Press would all be calling in from Europe, Asia, Africa… unless they were all hiding in cellars. Or dead. Or voiceless, because the sun was blanketing everything with static, radio and phone systems and television… television: Oh my God. All right, start over. The moon had become very much brighter. Moonlight, well, moonlight was reflected sunlight; any idiot knew that. Then… something had happened to the sun.
It lights up the whole city. The hills are all silver. I got my throat working again. I mean it. We may never have a night like this again. To hell with your diet. Leslie lived on the fourteenth floor of Building C of the Barrington Plaza. I rapped for admission, and waited. There must be other ways to spend my last night on Earth, than with one particular girl. Or I could have called my brother, or either set of parents—. Well, but brother Mike would have wanted a good reason for being hauled out of bed at midnight.
Any of my parents would have reacted similarly. Well, I had a good reason, but would they believe me? And if they did, what then? I would have arranged a kind of wake. What I wanted was someone who would join my… farewell party without asking the wrong questions. She opened the door just a crack for me. She was in her underwear. A stiff, misshapen girdle in one hand brushed my back as she came into my arms.
I stooped to get my arms under her ribs, straightened up with effort, and walked us to the bedroom with her feet dangling against my ankles. My pride demands it. Once in our lives I had tried to lift her cradled in my arms, in conventional movie style.
Leslie was a big girl, my height, and almost too heavy around the hips. I dropped us on the bed, side by side. I reached around her from both sides to scratch her back, knowing it would leave her helpless to resist me, ah ha hahahaha. She made sounds of pleasure to tell me where to scratch. She pulled my shirt up around my shoulders and began scratching my back. We pulled pieces of clothing from ourselves and each other, at random, dropping them over the edges of the bed.
Some nights I had a nervous tendency to hurry our lovemaking. Tonight we were performing a ritual, a rite of passage. I tried to slow it down, to make it last. I tried to make Leslie like it more. It paid off incredibly. I forgot the moon and the future when Leslie put her heels against the backs of my knees and we moved into the ancient rhythm.
But the image that came to me at the climax was vivid and frightening. We were in a ring of blue-hot fire that closed like a noose. If I moaned in terror and ecstasy, then she must have thought it was ecstasy alone.
I was watching the news when the change came, like a flicker of motion at the corner of my eye. I turned toward the balcony window. Whatever it was, I was too late to catch it. When the first commercials came on I got up to reheat some coffee. Commercials came in strings of three and four, going on midnight. The moonlight caught me coming back.
Science Fiction Friday: “Inconstant Moon” by Larry Niven – Bring On that Nova Weather
It first appeared in a short-story collection, All the Myriad Ways. Inconstant Moon is also the title of a short story collection published in One late night in California, Stan notices the moon shining unusually bright. It continues to grow brighter until it is bright enough to leave an afterimage in his eyes. He telephones Leslie, his girlfriend, and they admire its beauty. After they hang up, Stan, who writes pop-science articles for a living, decides to reason out what is causing the phenomenon.
What are you going to do with it? Despite the late hour, almost midnight, he calls Leslie, a quasi-girlfriend with benefits. The lovers make love and then head out into the night for decadent desserts and drinks to shut down the bars. However, a lack of aurora and subsequent shockwave has them daring to hope that their half of the planet might actually pull through the arising tempests and apocalypse. This story is illustrated by artist contest winner Bernardo Mota. Ron Hubbard. I received the anthology through Net Galley.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels. More importantly, who would you choose to be with? This story begins in San Diego, California late one night when Stan notices that the moon is alarmingly bright, big, and getting bigger. Stan writes science fiction articles for a living so the lucky reader gets a bit of an elementary astronomy lesson in this one.
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