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The Sentinel by Arthur C. Clarke

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“The Sentinel” is a 1951 science fiction short story by Arthur C. Clarke. It is about an ancient monument discovered on the moon.

Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:

“The Sentinel” follows Wilson, a geologist that is part of a team exploring the Sea of Crisis on the moon. As they are traveling along the southern mountains Wilson notices something gleaming high up in the range. He and his assistant make the trek up the mountain and make an amazing – and scary – discovery.

I was turning away when my eye caught a metallic glitter high on the ridge of a great promontory thrusting out into the sea thirty miles to the west. It was a dimensionless point of light, as if a star had been clawed from the sky by one of those cruel peaks, and I imagined that some smooth rock surface was catching the sunlight and heliographing it straight into my eyes. Such things were not uncommon. When the Moon is in her second quarter, observers on Earth can sometimes see the great ranges in the Oceanus Procellarum burning with a blue-white iridescence as the sunlight flashes from their slopes and leaps again from world to world. But I was curious to know what kind of rock could be shining so brightly up there, and I climbed into the observation turret and swung our four inch telescope round to the west.

My Two Cents:

• The good:

  • A classic piece by one of the most famous SciFi authors of all time!
  • The idea of a monument set up by an ancient civilization is pretty darn cool. Although I’ve seen this theme in other stories, I would wager that “The Sentinel” was one of the first to employ it.

• The bad:

  • Wow – there is so much talk of geology and mountains! The whole first half of “The Sentinel” is a description of the moon’s landscape!
  • The pdf version I read contained a few annoying grammatical mistakes – but nothing too big.

Fact Sheet:
• Page Count: 6
• Word Count: 3,816
“The Sentinel” garnered the following awards:

  • It placed 17th in the 1971 Astounding / Analog All-Time Poll for best short fiction.

Where you can find “The Sentinel”:

Some Interesting Links:

  • Did you know that this story was the “seed” for Arthur C. Clarke’s book 2001: A Space Odyssey? Yep. And that eventually spawned the famous movie of the same name.

Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you might also like The Hunted Heroes, about a team of uranium miners who are captured by a madman on Mars, by Robert Silverberg.