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Reach for Tomorrow

by Arthur C Clarke

(Gollancz, 6.99, 166 pages, paperback, first published 1962, this edition published 12 June 2003.)

The Other Side of the Sky

by Arthur C Clarke

(Gollancz, 6.99, 245 pages, paperback, first published 1958, this edition published 12 June 2003.)

Here, reprinted once more, are two volumes of Arthur C Clarke's early short fiction. If you haven't read these stories before, now's your chance to buy them in attractive new covers; if your 1980s editions are well-thumbed to the point of disintegration, now's your opportunity to upgrade. For this is the stuff that firmly put the science into science fiction, and established the name of one of the genre's principal exponents. I must admit to finding Clarke's novels a bit hit-and-miss, but his short stories rarely fail to please, and even after half a century their lustre hasn't dulled.

Reach for Tomorrow, although the later collection, includes Clarke's first sale -- and, according to the author's original preface, his most popular piece at the time of publication--"Rescue Party". There's curiosity value for the modern reader in this piece, but it's surpassed by other stories in the collection. There's the whimsy of "A Walk in the Dark", "The Awakening" and "Time's Arrow", and the humour of "Trouble With the Natives" and "The Possessed". There's the powerful Wyndhamesque atmosphere of "The Forgotten Enemy". "The Parasite" didn't entirely grab me, and "The Curse" is clearly one of those short pieces that seems like a great idea when the author spots some remarkable thing while on holiday; by contrast, the outstanding high points of the collection are those stories the author describes as "pure science fiction": "Technical Error", "The Fires Within" and "Jupiter Five". Contrary to what we might expect of hard SF nowadays, these tales are told in easily accessible terms, eminently readable and thoroughly enjoyable for the non-scientist reader, and contrary to what we might expect of fifty-year-old science yarns, they haven't aged a day.

This timelessness is more remarkable still in The Other Side of the Sky, which includes the six story serial "Venture to the Moon", and the sequel from which this volume takes its name. Originally popular science pieces written for the Evening Standard, these related-but-independent stories envisaged what, at the time, must have seemed the inevitable culmination of the Space Race. The focus of "Venture to the Moon" should be self-evident, while "The Other Side of the Sky" revolves around one of a trio of manned communication satellites. The idea that communication satellites would need permanently to be manned, and the idea that the world might restrict itself to only three, seems amusingly dated now; yet the engaging human focus, Clarke's precise, unfussy writing style, and the sheer scientific accuracy of the pieces lends them a believability that defies age. It's also surprising how much better planned Clarke's "Venture to the Moon" was than NASA's real-world ventures ...

This collection also includes the original short version of "The Songs of Distant Earth" and eleven other stories. Of the rest, I'd say the highlights are "All the Time in the World" and "Out of the Sun", although the standard in this volume overall is high.

What more do I need to say? The quality of these stories endorses Clarke's reputation as a master of SF, and that they can still hold their own in the twenty-first century is, I think, the best advertisement they could have.

Review by John Toon.

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