I am looking for a short story that I read in the 1970s (It may have been published in the 60s) about humans using the Earth's dirt to make stuff; as a result the Earth has shrunk and is smaller than the moon; also how nations go to war over a country's amount of dirt; Microcosmic God was in the same book.

Bought book through a science fiction book club; a collection of short stories.


1 Answer 1


This sounds a bit like Willard Hawkins' short story "The Dwindling Sphere," originally published in Astounding Science Fiction in March of 1940. The story was an early example of ecological science fiction. The technological conceit is that a small group of engineer/scientists have discovered a matter-transmutation process—somewhat like the replicator technology on Star Trek—with the property that the mass of the new object is always less that mass of the raw material used to produce it.

It is very puzzling, for the fact remains that the lump has been reduced to a fraction of its original weight and size. There is, after all, only one possible answer: the greater part of its mass must have been converted into energy. The question, then, is what became, of the energy?

The technology rapidly becomes a defining process of human civilization:

Actually, the discovery appears to have been an accident. Frank Baxter took no interest in its development—regarded it as of little account. Think of it! An invention more revolutionary than the discovery of fire, yet its inventor failed entirely to grasp its importance! To the end of his days it was to him merely a by‑product.

The story is told as a series of journal entries from descendants of the inventor of the matter-transformation process across the years and millennia. In the final entry, the size of the moon relative to the earth is mentioned:

I have no doubt he will return later with some other fantastic delusion. On one occasion it was the legend that, instead of being twin planets, our earth and Luna were at one time of differing sizes, and that Luna revolved around the earth as some of the distant moons revolve around their primaries. This theory has been thoroughly discredited. It is true that there is a reduction of the earth's mass every time we scrape its surface to produce according to our needs; but it is incredible that the earth could ever have been several times the size of its companion planet, as these imaginative theorists would have us believe.

And indeed there were resource wars over dirt:

The Eighty Years' War is over... Chief among the basic causes, of course, were the disputes, between adjoining districts over the right to extend their conversion pits beyond certain boundaries.

"The Dwindling Sphere" has appeared in several anthologies, including Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 2 (1940), edited by Isaac Asimov, 18 Greatest Science Fiction Stories edited by Lawrence Jannifer, and others.

A good read, and I remember it frequently...

  • Thanks for the lead. If I find the story I'll know for sure but it sounds like it. I forgot all about asking this question that long ago and am excited to learn someone remembers it. I thought I had checked a few times for an answer, but apparently not. I really appreciate this. The anthology where it appeared was published in the 1970s I'm pretty sure, but since I no longer have the book, can't confirm. I seem to remember that Heinlein's short story "Microcosmic God" (I think that was the name) was also in the same anthology. Oct 4, 2018 at 20:09
  • @NancyWilliams The story's full text is linked in the first sentence of my answer. Please feel free to up-vote (click the up arrow to the left), and to accept my answer (click the checkmark to the left) if it serves. :)
    – Lexible
    Oct 5, 2018 at 15:42

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