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Tales of Ten Worlds

by Arthur C Clarke

(Gollancz, £5.99, 245 pages, paperback, first published 1963, this edition published 11 September 2003.)

Another Arthur C Clarke anthology kindly reprinted by Gollancz, Tales of Ten Worlds is more of a mixed bag than its forebears.

cover scanThere's a touch of the old stuff in "Out of the Cradle, Endlessly Orbiting ... " (not one of Clarke's best titles ... ), "Who's There?" and "Dog Star", three slice-of-life stories that would seem to follow on where the Moonbase/satellite stories in The Other Side of the Sky left off. Of these three, I'd say "Dog Star" is the best, but they all cover ground that is by now rather familiar. There's also a stray Tale From the White Hart in "Let There Be Light", a (ahem) light-hearted story of murder in the astronomical community, which fares a lot better; and "The Road to the Sea", a 1950 piece curiously left out of Clarke's earlier collections. "The Road to the Sea", a piece of far-future whimsy, and "Death and the Senator", in which a politician reaps the penalty for opposing NASA funding (take that, Washington!), both suffer from the same problems: the length-to-content ratio is a little too high, and although both are fine mood/character pieces, they lack a satisfying ending.

You can't call an anthology Tales of Ten Worlds without including some space opera. Step forward, "Into the Comet", an entertaining yarn of astronauts going back to the classroom when their navigational computer breaks down and leaves them stranded. Venus makes an appearance in "Before Eden", while "Summertime on Icarus" sees its hero surviving against the odds on an asteroid inside Mercury's orbit; despite the high-temperature locales, however, neither story really sizzles. And "Trouble with Time", the obligatory Martian story, is simply disappointing. Somewhere in the middle is "Saturn Rising", whose first half is transparently autobiographical and whose second half is an amusing tale of free enterprise in the space age.

There's real fun, though, to be had in the collection's terrestrial stories. In "I Remember Babylon", Clarke cheekily casts himself as the lead in a sensationalist follow-up to his series of communications satellite stories. "Hate" is a slow starter but a long burner, a piece that's strong on character and ending, and one that would have made an excellent episode of The Twilight Zone. "An Ape About the House" is a wicked sketch of urban rivalry in which a house-trained chimp takes up art. I think, however, that in "A Slight Case of Sunstroke" we have the prize of the collection and one of Clarke's finest stories: a synthesis of South American politics, gun-running and football ...

Forty years old it may be, but Tales of Ten Worlds still contains much to delight the modern reader. There's life in the old dog yet.

Review by John Toon.

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