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The Collected Stories
Arthur C. Clarke
Victor Gollancz, 966 pages

The Collected Stories
Arthur C. Clarke
Born in 1917 in Minehead, Somerset, England, and living in Sri Lanka since 1956, Arthur C. Clarke is best known for his 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), based on his short story "Sentinel of Eternity." His Against the Fall of Night (1948) and Childhood's End (1953) are also among his best titles. Clarke was voted Grand Master at the 1986 Nebula Awards. His short story "The Star" (1955) won him a Hugo award, as did the movie adaptation of 2001. A writer of hard SF, though not without some elements of mysticism, Clarke has also written a large volume of science-popularizing non-fiction for which he has won UNESCO's Kalinga Prize (1962) and a non-fiction International Fantasy Award in 1972 (for The Exploration of Space). Clarke has also received many honours from the scientific community, in particular for his work in the development of today's geosynchronous communication satellites.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Fountains of Paradise
SF Site Review: The Light Of Other Days
SF Site Review: The Light Of Other Days
SF Site Review: Profiles of the Future
SF Site Review: Arthur C. Clarke & Lord Dunsany: A Correspondence
Arthur C. Clarke Tribute Site
Arthur C. Clarke Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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A few weeks ago, The New York Times ran a short review of The Collected Stories by Arthur C. Clarke. The reviewer criticized the stories, especially the early ones, for being rather crudely written, and somewhat simplistic in their portrayal of characters' emotions. And as far as the traditional literary values of character and style are concerned, he was pretty much right.

But in science fiction, style and characterization, while always a good thing, are not in themselves the reason for the writing of a story. New, interesting ideas, and the ability to present them in an entertaining manner are more important in SF. This was even more true at the time Clarke started his writing career than it is now. By these standards, the stories in The Collected Stories are an unqualified success. Arthur C. Clarke's ideas are prominent among those at the core of what constitutes modern science fiction, and his stories have entertained the entire world.

One thing that becomes apparent early in the collection is the range of Clarke's philosophical thinking. Many of the early tales reflect a certain fatalism towards human history that places Clarke squarely in the tradition of H.G. Wells and Olaf Stapledon. At the other extreme are stories like "Rescue Party," a classic that is steeped in the "What will those amazing humans do next?" attitude that pervades much of 1940s SF. The combination of the two has resulted in an air of seriousness to Clarke's work that is present even in his wildest flights of fantasy, and the tension between the two outlooks is at the heart of much of his best work, from "The Star" to "A Meeting With Medusa."

Those who are familiar only with Clarke's novels may be surprised by the playfulness and sense of humour that surfaces in the short stories. This is most evident in the stories originally collected in Tales from the White Hart. These are classic scientific tall tales told in a pub, and are among the originals for a story-telling formula that thrives in science fiction to this day in, for example, Spider Robinson's Callahan stories, to name just one instance.

Let's face it. This is a near one thousand page volume that contains every piece of short fiction the man has ever published. There is not time here to discuss more than a small portion of it. Most of it is good, some is not so good, some is brilliant. It is a big, thick weighty volume, and that is good. For while you can argue at times about the literary merits, there is no disputing that the ideas of Arthur C. Clarke and the stories he used to tell us about them are one of the cornerstones of 20th-century science fiction. And, for that reason alone, The Collected Stories deserves a prominent place on the bookshelf of every serious reader of SF.

Copyright © 2001 Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson counts Childhood's End among those books that changed the way he looked at the world. His reviews also appear in The New York Review of Science Fiction.


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