Eclipses in Science Fiction

Partial eclipse over the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center. Copyright David Dickinson, November 3, 2013

Ever wonder about the eclipses that you won’t see? Life is short, and the span of eclipse cycles is long. Often, the only way to experience these”eclipses of the mind” that occurred in the far past, the distant future, or from the surface of another world is to use our imagination. 

Eclipses — especially total solar eclipses — do crop up in culture and fantasy/science fiction from time to time, with varying degrees of accuracy.  An eclipse marked the “day without a night and the night without a day” in the film Ladyhawke. An eclipse also turned up — impossibly, falling on the same day as a Full Moon (!) — in Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto. A total solar eclipse was even actually filmed live for the 1961 movie Barabbas, though with the historical crucifixion occurring near Passover, you’d think a total lunar eclipse would be a better fit. Strangely, annular and total lunar eclipses are nearly absent in fiction and movies… apparently, Hollywood is only interested in “killer asteroids bigger than Texas,” and always goes for the gusto with the top billed celestial event: a total solar eclipse.    

We recently hatched some fictional ideas for stories that involve eclipses ourselves. As is often the case with the creative process, what started out as one story idea swiftly grew into about half a dozen and an idea for a short story anthology.  Our first published tale, Exeligmos, covers a key question that is in the mind’s eye of many an eclipse chaser: what eclipse would you travel through time and space to see, if you could? The title Exeligmos refers the name of the 54-plus year triple saros series of eclipses and the protagonist’s floundering travel agency. But when cutting edge tech gives him the ability to fulfill his obsession, there’s no eclipse in time and space out of his grasp. What’ll it be? The first annular eclipse in the distant Neoproterozoic era 900 million years ago, or the final total solar eclipse 14 millions of years hence?    

The second story of the series, Shadowfall, takes place on a distant fictional world. It will, of course, draw inevitable comparisons to The Hunger Games, though we had Stephen King’s story The Long Walk in mind when we wrote it. The story itself arose from a recent thought experiment: with the Moon slowly receding from the Earth, would there be a time in the very distant future when one could follow the umbra during an eclipse on foot? Such a feat would certainly give a new and literal dimension to the term “eclipse chasing…” After some discussion and rough calculations, it seemed better to locate such an event on a fictional exoplanet, complete with a large moon in a retrograde orbit. Hey, in science fiction, we can always brew up a world fit to order straight from the imagination!  

What’s next? Well, what might eclipse tourism look like from an alien perspective? Might an eclipse play a role in a future surprise assault on an imperial Earth? And could the penultimate eclipse far off in time play a role in a washed out metal band’s comeback?

Watch for these tales and more over the coming months, as well as the real world total lunar eclipse of October 8th and the partial solar eclipse of October 23rd, both visible from North America.   

The total solar eclipse of August 21st, 2017 promises to bring a new awareness of this fascinating phenomenon to millions, and will doubtless spawn a new generation of world-spanning eclipse chasers bitten by the bug. Sure, you might not be able to journey through time or to other worlds to spy exotic eclipses, but you can make plans now — as many small towns across the United States are already doing — to witness the next total solar eclipse to grace the contiguous U.S.

Where will you be in 2017?  

Exeligmos on Amazon 

Shadowfall on Amazon