Archive for the ‘Arthur C. Clarke’ Category

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Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke

December 2, 2012

The Book: Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke. Originally published in 1951, the edition read was published in 1954 by Pocket Books, Inc.

Sands of Mars

The Setting: Space and Mars. Mostly Mars.

The Story: A science fiction author and popular journalist travels to Mars for a story, but finds himself.

The Science: Aside from the complexities of space travel and living on Mars (which feel realistically addressed in this book), there are a couple of notable science-y things that happen. One is that the protagonist discovers a species of Martian plant which releases pods of oxygen into the atmosphere. Widespread cultivation of the plant is planned as a long term method of re-forming the atmosphere to make it comfortable for human life. This is neat. I liked this a lot.  Plants do exchange gasses regularly, so it seemed both plausible and convenient.

The Reaction: Not what I was expecting from a book that proclaims “An interplanetary adventure!” on the cover. Sure, there are aliens. Sure, the protagonist finds himself in mortal danger a couple of times. But mostly, the main character is learning about himself and discovering new interests and old connections. Yet it was still a very good read. It felt genuine. Reasonable, even.

The Cover: Cover painting by Robert Schulz. A dome, a rocket taking off, a couple of guys in tin-can spacesuits, a rocky alien landscape… what more can a girl ask for? Dreamy. Just dreamy.

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“Silence Please” by Arthur C. Clarke

March 27, 2011

The Book: “Silence Please” by Arthur C. Clarke. Originally published as “Silence, Please!” in Science-Fantasy, Winter 1950. The story was read as part of Tales from the White Hart published by Ballantine Books in 1957.

The Setting: The White Hart, England, Earth.

The Story: A man at a pub tells a story about a man who invents a machine that cancels out sound and is used, naturally, by a spurned love.

The Science: To cancel out sound, the target sound is captured, amplified, and inverted, effectively canceling it out. That’s in the story. Which is pretty much exactly how it works in reality. Well done, Mr. Clarke.

The Reaction: A nice enough little story, but not very memorable as evidenced by the fact that I completely forgot it between reading it and blogging it – a period of a month or so.

The Cover: Same as before .

Next Up: “Incommunicado” by Katherine McLean.

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“History Lesson” by Arthur C. Clarke

January 31, 2011

The Book: “History Lesson” by Arthur C. Clarke.  Originally published by Startling Stories in 1949, the story was read in Science Fiction Omnibus edited by Groff Conklin.  Edition read was published by Berkeley Books in 1956.

The Setting: Earth and Venus in a distant future.

The Story: A devastating cooling of the sun has caused a final ice age. The last humans carry with them pieces of the mid-20th century as sacred relics. As the end descends, they hide the relics away on the highest peak before they die. Later, Venusians come to Earth and discover these relics, seeking to interpret their meaning and learn of this lost culture.

The Science: The central relic found by the Venusians is a reel of film. At the time of this story, most movies were on nitrate film, a highly flammable and dangerous type of material (the fire at the end of Inglourious Basterds? Nitrate film.). So the idea that a reel of film would survive until the end of time, and then survive the environment of Venus is highly questionable. Although the cold of the ice age would be optimal for preservation of such materials.

The Reaction: ooh, I liked this one. Archaeology and the end times, all in one? Lots of fun.

The Cover: It’s an anthology and clearly this cover has nothing to do with this story, but it’s gorgeous.  I mean, look at all those spaceships!  And they’re such space age spaceships of the future.  Love it.  But I’m a sucker for retro-future spaceships and rayguns.

Next Up: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

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“Critical Mass” by Arthur C. Clarke

December 24, 2010

The Book: “Critical Mass” by Arthur C. Clarke. Originally published in Lilliput in March 1949 according to the ISFDB. Copyright on the story is listed as 1957. Whatever the case, the story was read as part of Tales from the White Hart published by Ballantine Books in 1957.

The Setting: Earth, Southern England.

The Story: A truck carrying boxes, possibly from a radiation research establishment, crashes. Some boxes break open and something emerges…

The Science: Not really applicable here, unfortunately.

The Reaction: Very short, builds a sense of suspense quickly and effectively, with a cute ending. It’s alright.

The Cover: Cover appears to be signed “Powers.” I like this cover a lot. Very fitting for the book. Whimsical and delightful, with a nice spaceship and a drunken octo-alien.

Next Up: “Dark They Were and Golden-eyed” by Ray Bradbury.

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Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C. Clarke

October 31, 2010

The Book: Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C. Clarke.  Originally published in the magazine Startling Stories in 1948, the edition read was published in 1954 by Perma Star, a division of Doubleday.

The Setting: Earth, in a distant future.

The Story: A boy defies his unquestioning, immortal society by traveling outside the bounds of the last city on earth, discovering another city with living people in it, making a friend, and traveling across the stars where he finds the key to rediscover history.

The Science: The book is set at least a billion years in the future. It’s a time so distant that making any assumptions about it are wholly useless because the variables are so many.  But humans remain humans. Clarke makes the beautiful gesture of referencing intervening stages of evolutionary change, which I appreciated immensely. One group of humans is mostly normal, but pretty much immortal – lifespans of at least a million years. The other group of humans is also mostly normal – a more standard lifespan, but they have telepathy. The story reveals, near its end, that it was scientific manipulation of the genome which led to these developments in the first place, but long periods of evolutionary divergence which led to the disparate groups. Not quite species, because interbreeding seems possible, but very disparate.

It’s all the more striking when you compare the timeline of the book, a billion years in the future, with how long it took to go from anatomically modern humans to Homo sapiens. 200,000 years. That’s a blink of the eye to distant future of this story.

The Reaction: This is a story, first and foremost, about what makes us human. There are many parallels with Destination Infinity – a distant future, an isolated and waning civilization, individuals with something so close to immortality it hardly matters whether it is or not, and a character which defies the status quo. But this story has a very likable protagonist – he’s a kid. In fact, I bet this is shelved under Young Adult in many libraries because of that very fact.

I liked this book a great deal. There are a lot of little bits of plot which seem kind of pointless or are unexplored, but this is a good story, and worth reading.

The Cover: Young man running from a desert toward a rocket and stars? Yep, that’s the story right there, with great art and some really excellent 1950s hair.

Next Up: “Fever Dream” by Ray Bradbury