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Arthur C. Clarke: Tales from Planet Earth
Belated Book Review
© 2013 James LaFond
I have a confession to make, which will certainly get me barred from the science-fiction fraternity, though it might endear me to stick-fighters worldwide. I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, the classic Stanley Kubrick film, five times! I loved the primitive hominids fighting for feasting rights, and then the one who discovered the club while scavenging a tapir carcass, bashed in a rival head and tossed the bone triumphantly into the sky, and the bone kept rising until it flew metaphorically out into space—and turned into a space ship…
Arthur C. Clarke broadcast the Apollo 11, 12 and 15 missions with Walter Cronkite, belonging as he did to that generation of sci-fi writers who were then regarded as humanity’s prophets of progress, predicting and mapping the future greatness of our kind. However, the film version of his prophecy could not keep me awake. Perhaps that marks me as a symptom of our human propensity to stay on this rock and squabble rather than journey into space, something we have been able to do since I was a child, but have opted not to. Each and every time, after cheering on that nasty scavenging Hominid Einstein, I fell asleep watching the gay wheel-like spaceship coming to earth…and I have the gall to write science-fiction!
I felt so guilty after my last viewing of the ape prologue that I decided to purchase the author’s collection when I saw it listed in a book club catalog. That was in the late 1990s. When the author passed away a few years ago I still had not read it—and guilt was mine again.
I finally picked it up this winter and only fell asleep reading it once, while I was on the bus. I didn’t mind so much, as I woke up with my face in the lap of an attractive young lady who was whispering frantically, ‘Oh my God, Oh my God!’ over and over again as I awoke to the sound of old Arthur’s hardback hitting the deck between her feet and the giggling of her college classmates across the aisle.
Thank you Mister Clarke.
Tales from Planet Earth
Arthur C. Clarke
Illustrated by Michael Whelan
Byron Press, 1990, NY, 307 pages
As a writer I really like the author’s introduction to each story, particularly since they were written as early as 1950. His characters are bland, but transparently believable. I like the absence of predictive or period jargon in the dialogue, and he does dialogue well. The stories tend to have believable in depth conversations between intelligent characters. In a sense he is writing himself and the reader into each story.
The Road to The Sea was a novella that I did not like enough to finish, about two brothers in a far future taking both sides of the progress versus back-to-basics debate. The visual imagery was very nice but I did not like either character enough to care.
Hate is a griping short that reminds one of a Twilight Zone episode.
The Publicity Campaign was a hilarious twist on the alien invasion theme that transfixed even the general public in the author’s day, as a part and parcel of the whole Cold War paranoia complex.
The Other Tiger is good straight up dialogue-based speculative fiction about a morbid conversation.
The Deep Range is of great interest because it is a predictive ecological piece that gave mankind way too much credit.
“If I Forget Thee Oh Earth…” is easily the best story in the collection, about a boy born and raised on the moon.
The Cruel Sky is in the classic genre of the scientist-business tycoon, with a griping personal and comic twist.
The Parasite is a horrific tale of the deepest imaginable terror.
Saturn Rising is a very pedestrian story set in a settled solar system showing the possible worldview of an enlightened citizen of the solar system on his way to dinner.
The Man who Ploughed the Sea is primarily interesting in that the author, as many of his fellow writers were want to do, was making practical predictions as to how technology would be harnessed to improve human conditions on a future earth. The stock characters include the small-time working class scientist as a viewpoint character and the scientist-business tycoons.
Sci-fi writers of the 1950s imagined a Bill Gates type techno-businessman combined with an Einstein mind in one person pushing humanity forward, rather than what has occurred, which is relatively petty uses of technology for massive short term profit. Clarke like Asimov imagined settling space, shepherding the seas and harnessing the powers of the universe. None of these guys imagined the cell phone and smart phone being the central driver of human culture. For such men of science who were born in a horse-drawn age and lived to see space flight, the thought that the greatest movers and shakers on earth would basically be those technology firms that catered to gossip on a worldwide scale, might have been more mind blowing than an alien invasion.
I have come to the point with this book that I do not want to finish it, because I like it that much. It is very good, but not the kind of thing you reread. Therefore I am putting old Arthur back on the shelf, and saving The Wall of Darkness [short], The Lion of Comarre [novelette] and On Golden Seas [novella] for some other time. I’m glad I finally cracked the cover, it’s a good book, too good to retire yet.
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