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Clarke at 100: Collected Stories

By / April 28, 2017 / no comments

Arthur C. Clarke was not actually the most prolific of short story writers. Yes, his Collected Stories is a big, fat volume containing over 100 pieces, but these are brought together from a career stretching over 60 years. They range from his first published story, “Travel By Wire”, which appeared in an amateur magazine in December 1937, to his last, “Improving the Neighbourhood”, first published in Nature in November 1999. So, 104 stories in 62 years. Though we also need to recognise that only seven stories appeared after his Nebula Award winning novella, “A Meeting With Medusa”, was published in 1971; and of these one, “siseneG”, was only five lines long, and one, “The Wire Continuum”, was a collaboration with Stephen Baxter.

Actually, you could cut all seven of these late stories out of the collection and you wouldn’t do much damage to the book, or his reputation. Similarly, the earliest eight or ten stories could disappear without any great loss.

The Collected Stories of Arthur C. ClarkeBut in between, throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he wrote a string of some of the best science fiction stories there are. Enough to make The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke one of the essential single-author collections for any science fiction reader.

Here, for instance, you will find his Hugo Award winning short story, “The Star”, from 1955, in which a Jesuit astronomer on a mission to the aftermath of a long-ago nova discovers that the Star of Bethlehem actually destroyed an advanced alien civilisation. Or “The Nine Billion Names of God” from 1953, in which modern computer technology allows the monks in a remote buddhist monastery to fulfil their task of recording every possible name of god. It’s the story with perhaps the most famous last line in all of science fiction: “Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.”

Those two are probably the most famous of his stories, but there are lots of others that are just as good. “Hide-and-Seek” from 1949 has one solitary man in a spacesuit on Phobos desperately trying to outwit the heavily-armed enemy warship that is pursuing him. Or “Summertime on Icarus” from 1960, in which an astronaut crashes on a tiny asteroid close to the sun, knowing that come sunrise the heat will kill him. Or “Transit of Earth” from 1971 in which the last survivor of the first manned expedition to Mars comes to ters with the fact that he has no way of returning home.

There are stories that would grow into more familiar novels. “Earthlight” from 1951 has the same setting, an observatory on the Moon, but a different story from the novel of the same title that came out in 1955; while “The Sentinel” from 1951 would eventually become the seed from which 2001, A Space Odyssey would grow.

I could go on: “Rescue Party”, “History Lesson”, “A Walk in the Dark”, “The Other Side of the Sky”, “The Songs of Distant Earth”, “Into the Comet”, “Death and the Senator”, “The Longest Science Fiction Story Ever Told”, and more and more and more. The book is filled with sly wit, sharp satire, great drama, technological astonishments, and more examples of what science fiction is capable of achieving than you are likely to find in any other single-author collection.

Buy this book from Amazon.

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