Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Collected Shorts of Arthur C. Clarke

I first encountered Arthur C. Clarke pretty early on in reading books beyond the "Dick and Jane" stage. My first "big kid" book was not science fiction (it actually was a mystery adventure and I wish I could find it!), but the second was (Rocket to Limbo by Alan E. Nourse). Arthur C. Clarke was soon after with Islands in the Sky (part of the wonderful John C. Winston Books "juvenile science fiction series"), Sands of Mars and Dolphin Island. That was all there was in the children's section of the library in my town. Then a friend told me about a movie that was coming out, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and how the book was written by Arthur C. Clarke. I went to the library and found the adult section. There were science fiction books in the adult section? Off to the races!

His short stories were a pretty early encounter, mostly in the collections Tales from Ten Worlds and The Other Side of the Sky. Eventually, after moving, I found additional collections such as Expedition to Earth, Reach for Tomorrow, The Nine Billion Names of God, The Wind from the Sun and Tales from the 'White Hart'. Luckily, Clarke was pretty easy to find, given the popularity of 2001: A Space Odyssey (both the movie and the book), leading to a pretty steady series of reprints of all his fiction (and many of his non-fiction works).

With his death in 2008, his books fell out of print and became scarcer and scarcer in the bookstores. There had been some eBook editions, nowhere near a complete set, and even they were withdrawn as rights were lost and his estate seemed to retreat.

Luckily, that was only temporary. A few weeks ago came the announcement that his books were coming back into "print" as electronic editions. So far it appears to be only his fictional works (I hope that at least his essays come back into print as well!), including most (not quite all!) of his short work in a series of collections.

Most but not all, as I said above. There are a few later short works missing, but only a very few. On the plus side, several items that are rarely seen are included in these collections: the original shorter versions of Earthlight and The Deep Range and what became the first part of Childhood's End, as well as The Lion of Comarre, generally only found in a omnibus that the Science Fiction Book Club made extensive use of (containing also the similarly-themed Against the Fall of Night).

Volume 01: History Lesson (Rosetta eBooks; 2012; ISBN 9780795325045; cover artist not indicated).

Made up of: Introduction (author unknown); Foreword; Travel By Wire!; How We Went to Mars; Retreat from Earth; Reverie (not previously collected); The Awakening; Whacky; Loophole; Rescue Party; Technical Error; Castaway; The Fires Within; Inheritence; Nightfall; History Lesson; Transience; The Wall of Darkness; The Lion of Comarre (previously only available in a small omnibus of The Lion of Comarre/Against the Fall of Night); The Forgotten Enemy; Hide-and-Seek; Breaking Strain; Nemesis; Guardian Angel (later part of Childhood's End); Time's Arrow; A Walk in the Dark; Silence Please; Trouble with the Natives; The Road to the Sea.

Counts as twenty-nine (29) entries in 2012: The Year in Shorts.

With this collection of the early works by Clarke, it is clear to see how much H.G. Wells and Olaf Stapledon, two author's who are often cited, influenced him. What is also clear is a name that is not often as mentioned: John W. Campbell, Jr., especially when he was writing under the pseudonym of Don A. Stuart. From Wells he got his style and from Stapledon he got his feeling for deep time. From "Stuart", I think he got a sense of loss, a feeling so clearly felt in stories

It's interesting here to see the genesis of some ideas that echo throughout his career. There are even some "retreads" of a sort: The Awakening and Nemesis both spring from the same root and even share the same passages at times, but have different endings. The same is true of Rescue Party and History Lesson, with the differences being wider. The stories that show the Stuart influence the most include the aforementioned The Lion of Comarre, The Wall of Darkness and Retreat from Earth. The earliest tales in the collection are the weakest (and only for a completist), but it is interesting to see how many stories that are known as Clarke's best were written so early on.

If there is one irritation in this collection (and the others that follow) it is that the person who wrote the introduction is not credited! What the heck, Rosetta?

Volume 02: The Sentinel (Rosetta eBooks; 2012; ISBN 9780795329050; cover artist not indicated).

Made up of: Introduction (author unknown); The Sentinel; Holiday on the Moon; Earthlight (original novelette version); Second Dawn; Superiority; "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth..."; All the Time in the World; The Nine Billion Names of God; The Possessed; The Parasite; Jupiter Five; Encounter in the Dawn; The Other Tiger; Publicity Campaign; Armaments Race; The Deep Range (original novelette version); No Morning After; Big Game Hunt; Patent Pending; Refugee.

Counts as twenty-one (21) entries in 2013: The Year in Shorts.

The quality of the stories improves in this collection, with only Holiday on the Moon being weak (probably the reason I never encountered it before). Clarke moves into Twilight Zone territory with a couple of these stories such as The Parasite, Publicity Campaign and Armaments Race. And we've got the genesis of two of my favorite novels by him: Earthlight and The Deep Range.

Volume 03: The Star (Rosetta eBooks; 2012; ISBN 9780795329081; cover artist not indicated).

Made up of: Introduction (author unknown); The Star; What Goes Up...; Venture to the Moon (made up of: The Starting Line, Robin Hood F.R.S., Green Fingers, All That Glitters, Watch This Space, A Question of Residence); The Pacifist; The Reluctant Orchid; Moving Spirit; The Defenestration of Ermintrude Inch; The Ultimate Melody; The Next Tenants; Cold War; Sleeping Beauty; Security Check; The Man Who Ploughed the Sea; Critical Mass; The Other Side of the Sky (made up of: Special Delivery, Feathered Friend, Take a Deep Breath, Freedom of Space, Passer-By, The Call of the Stars); Let There Be Light; Out of the Sun; Cosmic Casanova; The Songs of Distant Earth (original short story version); A Slight Case of Sunstroke; Who's There?; Out of the Cradle, Endlessly Orbiting...; I Remember Babylon; Trouble With Time; Into the Comet; Summertime on Icarus; Saturn Rising; Death and the Senator.

Counts as twenty-nine (29) entries in 2013: The Year in Shorts.

The last of Clarke's pre-space age stories. Most of these are set in the White Hart, Clarke's fictional bar (much like Gavagan's Bar of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt or Lord Dunsany's tales told by Jorkens in the Billiards Club), where Harry Purvis spun tales which may or may not have been true to an audience that included various science and science fictional characters, including Clarke himself (both named and as "Charles Willis). Venture to the Moon and The Other Side of the Sky are a series of linked shorter works written for the popular (non SFnal) audience. Some of the best here include Out of the Sun (shows very clearly the effect of Olaf Stapledon on Clarke), The Songs of Distant Earth (which later was expanded into novel length), I Remember Babylon (marred in this edition by some very annoying typographical errors), Into the Comet and Saturn Rising. I especially recommend the later to those who say that Clarke never could write about a character or with emotion!

Volume 04: A Meeting With Medusa (Rosetta eBooks; 2012; ISBN 9780795329111; cover artist not indicated).

Made up of: Introduction (author unknown); Before Eden; Hate; Love That Universe; Dog Star; Maelstrom II; An Ape Around the House; The Shining Ones; The Secret; Dial F for Frankenstein; The Wind from the Sun; The Food of the Gods; The Last Command; Light of Darkness; The Longest Science Fiction Story Ever Told; Playback; The Cruel Sky; Herbert George Morley Robert Wells, Esq.; Crusade; Neutron Tide; Reunion; Transit of Earth; A Meeting with Medusa; Quarantine; siseneG; The Steam-Powered Word Processor); Old Golden Seas; The Hammer of God (original short story version); The Wire Continuum (w/Stephen Baxter); Improving the Neighborhood.

And with this volume, except for a few scattered stories (one, for example, included in an out-of-print collection of otherwise non-fiction essays), we come to the final installment of Clarke's shorter work. This volume was a real mixed bag of the good and the bad. Stories like The Wind from the Sun, The Cruel Sky, Transit of Earth and A Meeting with Medusa show Clarke at the height of his abilities as a author of short works. On the other hand, during this period he received a lot of requests for short stories and would often dash off bits of "humour" that have not really stood the test of tme (The Longest Science Fiction Story Ever Told). More than worth it for those gems, though.

Counts as thirty (30) entries in 2013: The Year in Shorts.

Addendum: In addition to these new collections, a couple of Clarke's older collections came back into (electronic) print. I'm not sure why these were published and not others (or not all others), but here they are. I'll be reading only the introductory materials (if any) for these collections, given they are all part of the other (newer) collections).

Expedition to Earth (Rosetta eBooks; 2012; ISBN 9780795325373; cover artist not indicated).

Made up of: Second Dawn; "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth..."; Breaking Strain; History Lesson; Superiority; Exile of the Eons; Hide and Seek; Expedition to Earth; Loophole; Inheritance; The Sentinel.

Reach for Tomorrow (Rosetta eBooks; 2012; ISBN 9780795325731; cover artist not indicated).

Made up of: Preface; Rescue Party; A Walk in the Dark; The Forgotten Enemy; Techical Error; The Parasite; The Fires Within; The Awakening; Trouble with the Natives; The Curse; Time's Arrow; Jupiter Five; The Possessed

Counts as one (01) entry in 2013: The Year in Shorts.

Tales from the "White Hart" (Rosetta eBooks; 2012; ISBN 9780795325885; cover artist not indicated).

Made up of: Preface; Silence Please; Big Game Hunt; Patent Pending; Armaments Race; Critical Mass; The Ultimate Melody; The Pacifist; The Next Tenants; Moving Spirit; The Man Who Ploughed the Sea; The Reluctant Orchid; Cold War; What Goes Up; Sleeping Beauty; The Defenestration of Ermintrude Inch.

Counts as one (01) entry in 2013: The Year in Shorts.

1 comment:

***Dave said...

Coolness. I've added them to my wish list.

Like you, I grew up with Clarke in my local public library, and ate up his short stories right alongside Asimov's. In many ways, I think they've aged better than the Good Doctor's, perhaps because of that epic feel to them.