I think I read this science fiction story online something like 10–15 years ago. I think it was a fairly short story.

I barely remember anything about it, except that the terminator line (the line between night and day on the planet) was central to the story.

I think it was about one male stranded on the planet, perhaps a prisoner.

I've googled it but not found anything. If you Google it and find this from five years ago:

I remember reading a Science Fiction short story several years back. Probably online.

I believe a guy was left alone on a planet as a sort of imprisonment or punishment, and the terminator line (between day and night) played some role in the story, though I can't recall what.

I think it may have proceeded with him meeting another person there, but I'm not sure.

Anyone know?

...that was me asking.

  • I should add that I think the terminator line was mentioned by that name in the story. I think part of why I remember the story is that this was the first time I heard the term.
    – Henrik N
    Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 20:31
  • Some decades ago, I read a short story where an astronaut stranded on the moon had to keep running to stay in sunlight so his solar-powered suit would keep working until rescue came. I wasn't able to find any reference with Google, but maybe this will help someone else find it. Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 20:44
  • @TripSpace-Parasite That doesn't sound familiar to me, but does sound interesting! :)
    – Henrik N
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 8:22
  • 1
    I, too, have been looking for this book for YEARS!!! I agree that it is a short story. I don't recall enough about it to add much - was he trying to make it to a city? Was there someone else with him at first? Was he just trying to stay in the terminator zone, like outrunning the light/dark side? Something about that seems familiar. Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 22:03

8 Answers 8


You didn't give us much to go on, but it is possible that you are remembering Larry Niven's short story: "Wait it Out."

As the story opens, the first-person narrator is already trapped on the surface of Pluto. The extreme cold has put him into a form of cryogenic sleep -- when it's "night," meaning the narrator's part of the surface is turned away from the sun, his body is essentially at absolute zero as I recall, and he is completely oblivious to what's happening around him.

Whenever that bit of Pluto is facing the sun again (technically "daytime," although it doesn't get very bright when you're that far from the sun), he warms up just enough for his central nervous system to function at a minimal level. He can see what is happening in front of him, and can think about it. (He can't so much as twitch a muscle, however.) But it's his calculation that he is thinking and perceiving things very, very, very slowly -- so slowly that he may be able to "wait it out" until, several years from now, a rescue ship might finally show up from Earth to try to recover and defrost him.

So you could say that the terminator line is important to the plot -- the only times when the narrator is capable of thought are the times when the planet has recently rotated to put the sun "above the horizon" again.

You mentioned that there may previously have been another person on this planet with the main character. In "Wait it Out," we learn the narrator had been one of two astronauts who landed on Pluto. When something damaged their landing vessel so they couldn't take off again, the other guy opened up his spacesuit helmet as a means of committing a quick suicide. But the narrator decided that if he stripped off his suit entirely, very fast, he might be preserved (rather than simply killed, as you or I would expect) by the extreme cold.

  • Thank you! Had a look but sadly it doesn't seem to be this one.
    – Henrik N
    Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 20:36
  • You've got the temperature effect backward. What the narrator/protagonist eventually concludes is that his nervous system is becoming superconducting and able to access memories and mental skills on ly when cold enough -- at night. He sees just a hint of each sunrise, because he's facing local east -- which, because of the way the sun seems to accelerate as it clears the horizon, gives him the clue.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 11:09
  • 1
    @ZeissIkon I see I posted that answer about six and a half years ago. So I don't really remember what was going through my head -- but I suspect I was "winging it," working from memory, without taking the trouble to dig out a copy of the story and reread the entire thing. Apparently I "felt certain" that the minimal heat from the sun was waking up the protagonist instead of putting him to sleep. But just now I did find a copy and reread it, and you're right. At this late date, it doesn't seem worth changing the details of my answer (especially since it wasn't the right story, anyway).
    – Lorendiac
    Commented Apr 29, 2023 at 14:01
  • @Lorendiac You're surely correct, but I had to throw that in, anyway...
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Apr 30, 2023 at 19:01

It might possibly be Arthur C. Clarke's Summertime on Icarus:

This story tells of engineer Colin Sherrard on an expedition as part of the International Astrophysical Decade, which is intended to get a research spaceship within seventeen million miles of the Sun, shielded by the asteroid Icarus.

Travelling in his one-man mechanical pod, he suffers an accident and loses consciousness. When he comes to, he is not sure where he is - nor are the explorers in the mother ship. His pod is damaged and his communications are unreliable. Just as he is about to fry in the heat of the sun, he finds that he cannot even commit suicide as the controls don't respond [...]

Actually, that story (whether it's the one you want or not) is available to listen to on the BBC's Listen Again service right now (for listeners in the UK, at any rate):

BBC Radio 4 Extra - Arthur C Clarke Stories, Summertime on Icarus (11 hours left to listen!)

At the break of dawn, an astronaut and engineer is stranded on an asteroid too close to the sun.

It's a race against time for Colin Sherrard. After an accident, he wakes up on the asteroid, Icarus, which orbits close to the sun. Dawn is only moments away and it's set to get very hot.

With nowhere to hide and his communication is down, can Colin escape before the first rays of the sun find him..?

  • N.B. The "[...]" at the end of the quotation from Wikipedia is because of a spoiler.
    – user46249
    Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 12:39
  • Thank you! Sadly doesn't seem to be this one – I found the full text here: plainwellschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/… I remember it as being a planet, not an asteroid.
    – Henrik N
    Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 20:47

And I'll add Nightside City by Lawrence Watt-Evans to the longshot pile. This is basically a detective novel set on a tidally locked planet. The protagonist is desperate to get off-planet before its economy collapses. Very noir.

But, given the "left behind" and prisoner possibilities, yeah, Riddick seems like a strong contender. I'd vote against Wait it out which doesn't really have a terminator theme.

  • Thank you. It's not this one – I believe it was a short story, and about someone being stranded and alone or almost alone.
    – Henrik N
    Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 20:50

Possibly Cold Storage by Donald Franson. I found it in Nebula #38 but may well have been anthologised since.

Gard Lorus, a war criminal, wakes up in a habitat on an airless world, with supplies for a month, and a note saying that these will suffice while he awaits liberation.

He is delighted that he can expect to be sprung so soon, though surprised because when they last spoke, the note's author had said that "If I ever get my hands on you, you'll fry". Evidently though, he must have been overruled.

But he has overlooked one thing.

(This was written in 1959, when Mercury was believed to keep the same face to the Sun, but the terminator line supposedly wobbled due to Mercury's orbit not being circular, and this "libration" allowed the Sun to pop up above the horizon in that area). ................................................ "Quickly removing his spacesuit, he searched for the letter, and it confirmed his fears. He had misread it the first time. It didn't say "liberation", it said "libration". . . . So now the Sun, less than forty million miles away, was about to rise over the airless horizon of Mercury. Sandstorm was right. He would fry."

  • Thank you! This sounds quite promising. I'l see if I can track it down.
    – Henrik N
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 15:02
  • It's on the Internet Archive at archive.org/details/Nebula_38_1959-01 . You'll need to register but it's free. The original magazine is available on amazon.co.uk but they want £8 for it so I'd try the Archive first.
    – Mike Stone
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 16:31
  • Very late response – I read it. I didn't see the word "terminator" in the text, but other than that it could be the one. It's been too long to say confidently whether that term was definitely used in the story I read.
    – Henrik N
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 11:37

This might be Wheel of the Winds by M.J. Engh. A single man (a human of Earth descent) is on a tide-locked planet, and the only way he knows to get off the planet is a lander at the "cold pole" -- a place the natives of the world never go. The book follows his efforts (from the POV of a native he hires to take him) to get to a place the natives have never gone before.


The story also sounds a little like the Stargate SG1 episode about the planet where the day and night doesn't move and those on the dark side are actually mutated by an allergic reaction - the whole of SG1 suffers except daniel who remains on the planet, Daniel also suffers from this but it was delayed by the anti histamine he used for hayfever.


The only thing that comes to mind for me is Dragons Egg, by Robert L Forward. Where the Terminator is an artificial one, a scanning laser from a survey ship.

Unfortunately that is about the only criterion met in your description. It is a full length novel, and it does not have a human protagonist (though there are humans in orbit).

It is a fascinating read though.

  • Thank you! Doesn't sound like the right book, indeed, but it does sound interesting! I'll check it out.
    – Henrik N
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 15:36

This description does fit a portion of the film The Chronicles of Riddick (specifically, the escape from the prison planet Crematoria).

  • Can you add any other details?
    – Adamant
    Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 18:11
  • Thank you. It was definitely something I read, not something I watched. To my knowledge I haven't seen that film.
    – Henrik N
    Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 20:36

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