Better sandcastles: the angle of repose

My story, The Empty Quarter was inspired by the concept of the angle of repose.

The angle of repose is a kind of tipping point. It's the highest slope that the pile can form without becoming unstable and beginning to slide, a point of balance. It's the reason why wet sand makes better sandcastles than dry sand — it has a much higher angle of repose.

Sand castle in shape of Dover Castle

Image: Sandcastle, Dover Castle (cropped), Gaius Cornelius via Wikimedia, Creative Commons licence  Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International ] [Read more about the science at Wikipedia ]

What if one of the contaminants in sand was an alien species? What if, as a result, the sand dunes towered upwards at angles impossible back on Earth? In my story, the steep dunes cause an accident which is a turning point, a tipping point, for the people involved. Just like the angle of repose is a tipping point.

But there's a second tipping point in my story, not for individuals but for the culture of the human colonists on my alien planet. What will they do when the truth about their past is revealed? Will they make an ethical choice? I hope it's never too late for that.

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Young person climbing sand dune against background of stars


The Empty Quarter (a short story)

Book cover showing young person climbing sand dune with a sky full of stars A science fiction short story about personal and ecological loss.

What if your colony's glorious history was a lie?

Two young surveyors travel into the desert dunes.

It's been 500 hundred years since human colonists terraformed their planet. No signs of alien life have surfaced in all that time.

But now, a tragic accident in the sands uncovers a long-buried secret. The early settlers lied, and the future is changed forever.

A 2200 word short story.

First published in 2018 in the Australian science fiction and fantasy magazine Aurealis edition 115, edited by Dirk Strasser.

Newly published as an ebook. BUY ebook