Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke, The by Clarke, Arthur C., 2000

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It is very difficult to sum up, much less find, any common threads from an author’s entire career, especially one that lasted as long as Clarke’s (or rather, as long as that portion contained in this book, about 63 years (Clarke lived for another eight years past the last story contained herein). Clarke really wrote in at least three different voices. The first depicted an unusually strong focus on the process of scientific discovery, including political angles, and a dogmatic adherence to the known or speculated limits of scientific achievement. There are a lot of radar stories here, for example, which should not surprise because Clarke was a radar-man in WWII. The second voice, and by far his most popular, was typified by a sense of wonder and awe, mostly at the majesty of creation, but also over the things that mankind has done to it. The third, least frequent was satirical and slightly dry.

The stories were not quintessentially “British,” but the most common culture depicted was England’s, and his humor was as stereotypically dry. Clarke was obviously a gentleman, and while crudeness was obviously beneath him, an occasional scatological joke was not. If there is a general structure to these stories, I think it is that they start off often by dropping the reader in media res, proceed through some varied form of scientific process with very little voodoo or hoodum, and end on an ironic twist, sometimes with a genuinely humorous outcome. In many situations Clarke also likes to start off a story on a note completely unrelated to the plot of the main story, then link the precedent and antecedent with an ironic twist.

In order to get through this review I slogged through over 100 short stories. It took over a year to read and write about this book, so believe me when I say that this was a labor of love. Clarke was considered to be in the rarest class of AF author along with Heinlein and Asimov. Like many (most? all?) Clarke borrowed heavily from Olaf Stapledon, but in my opinion, when his game is "on," Clarke does it even better than his master. The stories are arranged chronologically by publication date, not the date that they were written. Even still, its easy for any reader to see how Clarke's own unique style and voice developed. So, without further ado, In the category of my reviews that absolutely nobody is ever likely to read the entirety of, I give you The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke:

Travel By Wire!, 1937, first published in Amateur Science Fiction Stories: This is a somewhat humorous story about the development and marketing of the world's first teleportation network. It was told in interview form. The hook was about infighting between scientists in different disciplines in an enormous academic building.

We obtained another guinea pig, chloroformed it, and sent it through the transmitter. To our delight, it revived. We immediately had it killed and stuffed it for the benefit of posterity. You can see it in the museum with the rest of our apparatus.

The time had obviously come for one of us to try out the apparatus but as we realized what a loss it would be to humanity should anything go wrong, we found a suitable victim in the person of Professor Kingston, who teaches Greek or something foolish on the 197th floor. We lured him to the transmitter with a copy of Homer, switched on the field, and by the row from the receiver, we knew he'd arrived safely in full possession of his faculties, such as they were. We would have liked to have had him stuffed as well, but it couldn't be arranged.

The narrator went on to describe how the physicists that invented the process made themselves into millionaires, and the technical hurdles involved in large-scale deployment of a teleportation network. After telling the interviewer how incredible safe the process was, based entirely on volume, the interviewee admitted that he travelled by rocket.

Travel By Wire! was obviously written by an amateur, but it did have a spark. There was nothing subtle about it at all, but it was loads of fun. Early Clarke is full - absolutely full - of one liners. This is a silly story with an ironic twist at the end that probably would never have survived, but for the publication of this book. This is always the problem with chronological anthologies; you have to start with the crap. Themes: Teleportation, Corporations, Scientists; Rating: 1.5 Stars

How We Went to Mars, 1938, first published in Amateur Science Fiction Stories: This was another humorous story that came off a lot like the last one. This time the competition was between rocket clubs instead of scientists. Rocket clubs and rocket societies existed back in the early days of SF. Prior to the 1940's they were one of the most popular forms of fandom gatherings, and only began to fade when conventions became popular. In this story infighting between rocket societies became frenzied and was resolved when one club, the Snoring in the Hay Rocket Society, designed and built a full-sized rocket ship that they all would fit in. The plan was to buzz the other rocket society's club house. Imagine their surprise when they achieved orbit. How We Went to Mars was a hard SF story, and in it the Clarke that I know and love first began to show himself. The story was full of one liners - some bad ones and some darn funny ones - but there were touches of advanced problem solving and interesting bits of scientific know-how about orbital mechanics and space flight. The only real problem that I had with it was that Clarke's characters showed a conscious disregard for the people around them. After I made this realization it dawned on me that he did the same thing in the last story. His crazy scientists were oblivious to the pain they caused others. I'm just glad that he worked through that. Themes: Rockets, Mars, Scientists, First Contact, Humor, Hard SF; Rating: 1.5 Stars

Retreat From Earth, 1938, first published in Amateur Science Fiction Stories: Cervac, a Martian scientist, is stationed on Earth. His job is to learn all that he can about the planet and its biosphere before his race attacks and captures the planet. During his studies he became interested in insect species, as there are none on his own homeworld. Cervac soon discovered something odd about termites. Wanting to learn more and needing a place to go where he could use all of his technology without alarming any humans who may find him, Cervac went to a termite infested island in the South Pacific. Soon after setting up shop there the termites destroyed his lab, including his atomic power-plant. Cervac was confused about how a small species of insect could inflict so much damage. He scanned the island for brain-waves with a psi-scanner and was alarmed to learn that something with an enormous brain lived under the island. Cervac excavated a metal sphere from the Earth. After tinkering with it he figured that it somehow controlled the termites. Cervac managed to destroy the robotic brain and send a message to Mars to alert them about the termite threat.

Most of this story is written in third person limited. Its almost entirely Cervac’s message to his superiors, but other small bits – at the beginning and the end – establish that the termites themselves are an alien race who arrived at Earth 40 million years ago, just as a non-human race of intelligent beings were dying out. Both races had strong maternal instincts. The termites, in exchange for land and peace, agreed to watch over the former race’s descendants: Humanity. When they became aware of the Martian threat they destroyed the Martian fleet and kept up their side of the ancient bargain. This story has a very palpable feel of Olaf Stapledon about it. It is certainly a change for the better in Clarke’s writing, and it’s subject is infinitely more interesting that the simple super-science stuff as noted above. The boy is clearly becoming the man that I love. Themes: Mythology, Mars, War, Alien Invasion, Insects, History, Anthropology; Rating: 2.5 Stars

Reverie, 1939, first published in New Worlds: An essay in which Clarke argues that there are still original ideas out there that SF has not yet touched on, but even if all of the good ideas have already been written into SF stories, they have not been wrung dry yet. Themes: Essay; Rating: 2 Stars

The Awakening, 1942 (Rev. 1952), first published in Zenith, then in revised form in Future): A hated tyrant has developed heart disease. As artificial hearts had not been invented, he allowed himself to be put into cryogenic storage until his condition could be cured or an artificial heart perfected. His slaves built him a remote crypt near the top of the Himalayas so that none of his enemies would find him. Eventually he was forgotten and left so long that the Himalayas broke apart and sunk beneath the ocean, then eventually rose above the seas where erosion gradually peeled the tons of material that encased the crypt.

Slowly the miles of rock were washed away, until at last the metal sphere which housed the Master’s body returned once more to the light of day – though to a day much longer, and much dimmer.

The Master awoke to find that insects had replaced man. Fun, with some enormously large scientific questions left unanswered, this Stapledon influenced piece reveals a strong pulp pedigree. Themes: Far Future, Slaves, Medicine, Insects; Rating: 2 Stars

Whacky, 1942, first published in The Fantast: An absurdist vignette in which two men have a conversation in the afterlife right after one of them was murdered. Themes: Vignette, Absurd, Afterlife, Murder; Rating: 1 Star

Loophole, 1945, first published in Astounding: A brief story told in the form of official communiques between a number of Martian officials. A division of the Martian Sciences Division has been watching Earth. They detect the detonation of two atomic bombs, ending WWII, then watch for another fifteen years or so as humans launch a manned rocket out of Earth’s atmosphere. They send an armada and broadcast a message telling us that we are not fit to expand because we are so warlike. The Martians place battleships above major cities, then start working on a plan to gas us to death. Before their plan can come together humans work out the trick of teleportation and send atomic bombs to all the cities on Mars.

This story is remarkable because it was Clarke’s first story that was published in a major American market (though the second sold), because it’s the first time Clarke used the image of large enemy ships over human cities, and because it so accurately predicted the end of WWII and the beginning of the space program. Themes: War, Atomic War, Teleportation, WMD, Aliens, Mars, Space Opera; Rating: 2.5 Stars

Rescue Party, 1946, first published in Astounding: Alvaron, the master of a space borne exploration ship is about to arrive at Sol. His home base has advised that Sol will go nova approximately four hours after he arrives. His job is to record all that he can about human civilization, gather some members and get out before the sun explodes. The craft is crewed by individuals from a number of alien species. They are all highly intelligent and very advanced, though each have very different outlooks and abilities. The impending supernova has taken the scientists by surprise. Their habit is to visit every known life-bearing planet every million years so that they can survey changes. The last time they were in Sol system 400,000 years ago Earth was teeming with life but nothing intelligent, and Sol seemed stable. They do not know why Sol has destabilized so quickly, but don’t spend too much time considering it because they have such limited time for their investigation.

They get to Earth in time to discover that the surface has been burned to a cinder by the increasing radiation of the sun. After looking they discover an enormous radio antenna array on the top of a sheared mountain that is focusing very tight beams out into space. The crew split up and searched the rest of the planet. They located a city and tried to find evidence of life, but concluded that transportation advances had emptied the cities generations before the catastrophe. They did find lots of machines and billion of “punch cards holding all that could be recorded of each man, woman and child on the planet.” As time ran out the intensity of their search for human beings increased. Thirty minutes before their scheduled departure time the main party descended a passage way in the city to a subway and became trapped in a car that would hold them for an hour until it reached its destination on the far side of an ocean.

After rescuing the stranded crew members at the last minute the crew boosted out of Sol system and started examining the radio transmissions from the mountaintop system. They discovered it was sending visual images and telemetry from the catastrophe out into space. Alarmed, they changed course and followed the beams to a nebula out in space. As they got closer they realized that the points of light that make up the nebula are really the tail flares of billions of rockets; humanity has embarked on a slower-than-light mass exodus to a new home in chemical powered generational starships. Flabbergasted at the race’s tenacity the aliens decide to help humanity reach a new home, saving them hundreds of years of travel time. The ending of the story is ambiguous, but Clarke makes it sound like that was not the wisest thing for them to do.

To my eye this was Clarke’s first professional-grade story. The story is written in a voice that is mature and smooth and has that characteristic Clarkian “sense of wonder and awe” that in my opinion was the man’s trademark and greatest strength.

On the world once known as Earth the fires were dying out: there was nothing left to burn. The great forests that had swept across the planet like a tidal wave with the passing of the cities were now no more than glowing charcoal and the smoke of their funeral pyres still stained the sky. But the last hours were still to come, for the surface rocks had not yet begun to flow. The continents were dimly visible through the haze, but their outlines meant nothing to the watchers in the approaching ship. The charts they possessed were out of date by a dozen Ice Ages and more deluges than one.

It is with this story that Arthur C. Clarke really arrived on the scene as someone to watch. Evidence of the author he would one day become is plainly visible in this story, and any Clarke completists who have missed this tale owe it to themselves to seek it out now. Themes: Aliens, Catastrophe, Eschatology, Scientists, Generational Starships, Exploration, FTL, STL, Sol System, Hard SF, Far Future; Rating: 4 Stars

Technical Error, 1946, first published in Fantasy: Nelson, an engineer at an enormous, modern electricity generation plant was in the wrong place when the system failed. He received some sort of shock, though not electrical. When he awoke the next day in the hospital he learned quickly that he could no longer read. The doctors at first diagnosed amnesia, but Nelson told them that he could read the letters; they just appeared backward to him. In fact, everything about Nelson had been inverted, from the hand he wore his wedding ring on, to the script in his journal, to the fillings in his teeth and the script on the coins in his pocket.

This is an alternate universe story that made me say “oh yea, I totally saw that coming.” Not much fun, lots of techno-babble, and full of scientific analysis. Themes: Alternate Universe, Accidents, Hard SF; Rating: 1.5 Stars

Castaway, 1947, first published in Fantasy, under the pseudonym ‘Charles Willis’: An alien creature, a cloud-like being made of up of billions of parts that can be constricted or allowed to spread out , has left its home in the photosphere of the sun to explore the outer planets. On Earth Edward Lindsey watches a giant radar screen as an enormous liner he is on plies the sky between Ireland and North America. As the creature came into Earth’s atmosphere large golden aura grabbed hold of its body and crushed it to death. On board the ship Lindsey and other crew members refined the radar’s beam so that they could get a closer look at an ionization anomaly that Lindsey found. They stared on, speechless, at the complex organization of the creature that the radar had just killed. Gas creatures were first popularized by Stapledon (though Clarke has done a pretty damn good job with them in other of his stories, to be reviewed later). This story did little with that symbol, but the emotional impact at the end of the story picked a pretty hard punch. Themes: Aliens, First Contact, Innovation; Rating: 3 Stars

The Fires Within, 1947, first published in Fantasy, under the pseudonym “E. G. O’Brien’: An eccentric, absent-minded and brilliant professor, Hancock, has gotten a government grant to develop a deep ground sonar. After Hancock requested and received more funds, the government sent an observer to watch his progress. Hancock told the observer that he had developed a sonar device capable of seeing fifteen miles down, where the pressure was approximately 9,000 atmospheres. Hancock showed him the monitor and turned the device on. Fifteen miles down the observer was shocked to see that Hancock had discovered cities and an entire new race of intelligent beings that were so dense they could pass through surface rocks like birds through clouds. The observer and Hancock got more funding to examine this new race. Unfortunately the sonar emanations were detected. The “aliens” from the center of the Earth donned pressure suits and came to the surface. For some unexplained reason their presence killed all the humans. At the very end of the story the reader realizes that the story was told in the form of letters about the project that were being read by the alien explorers. One of them realized that since they only lived at 15 miles, there may be other races even deeper in the Earth, and that they could be next. Personally I find the idea of relative density an interesting one; on my website we've occasionally debated the possibility of creatures so dense that earth and rocks are thin enough in their composition that they can pass right through them. The general consensus (one that I happen to share) is that the idea is crap, and Clarke really did nothing to resolve the plausibility problems. He also never allowed any of his "alien" creatures to debate or even think about why their presence killed all the humans on the surface. Themes: Hard SF, Aliens, Hallow Earth, First Contact, Catastrophe, Innovation; Rating: 1.5 Stars

Inheritance, 1947, first published in New Worlds, under the pseudonym ‘Charles Willis’: During the test of a two stage rocket, Goliath, the lifter, refused to separate from David, the primary unit. Fifty miles up both started to spin back to the ground after Goliath’s fuel exhausted, taking the astronaut, also named David, back toward the African launch site. Fortunately human David was able to jettison before the David/Goliath combination impacted the Earth. Later at the hospital David recounted his miraculous escape. When his coworkers asked if he wanted to talk to the reporters gathered outside, he declined. Noticing their worried glances David told them that he had not lost his nerve; he merely wanted to think about the crash. He revealed to them that he had dreams as a young man similar to dreams had by other famous aviators. Igor Sikorsky had one that David knew about from an interview of the man, where Sikorsky was walking down a low corridor with windows on either side on a vibrating floor. This was before planes had been invented. Decades later he walked down the corridor of one of his planes and realized that he had predicted that moment in his dream. David had had dreams of space flight, and in particular one dream wherein he ordered a three-man space craft to dive into the gas of Jupiter. David died in a test flight for the next rocket. For a time all of their dreams were crushed, because everyone on that team had bought into David’s dream. They essentially had bought into helping David realize his dream, because they knew that if they could do that, all of their dreams would be realized too. But when at the funeral they saw how much David’s boy, David, Jr., resembled David, Sr., “quite suddenly I knew that young David would never be an architect.” Dreams do go on, it seems. Themes: Hard SF, Accidents, Scientists, Physics, Rocketry, Dreams, Future Seeing, Family; Rating: 3 Stars

Nightfall, 1947, first published in King’s College Review, and later under the alternate title of The Curse: An awesomely well done description of the destructive power of hydrogen bombs (written years before the first one was deployed, and probably not long after the first atomic bomb was lit off). Clarke’s dagger thrust lay not in the way he treated the misery of the people subject to such an attack. In fact, no people appeared in the story because the land was virtually wiped clean of them. Clarke brought this one home by showing the effect of the blast on Stratford upon Avon, and used the Shakespeare’s headstone to show the enormity of the loss.

Timidly the waters touched the worn gravestones that for more than three hundred years had lain before the vanished alter. The church that had sheltered it so long had given it some protection at the last, and only a slight discoloration of the rock told of the fires that had passed this way. In the corpse-light of the dying land, the archaic words could still be traced as the water rose around them, breaking at last in tiny ripples across the stone. Line by line the epitaph upon which so many millions had gazed slipped beneath the conquering waters. For a little while the letters could still be faintly seen; then they were gone forever.

Good freed for Iesvs sake forbare,
To dig the Dvst encloased heare.
Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones,
And cvrst be he yt moves my bones.

Undisturbed through all eternity the poet could sleep in safety now: in the silence and darkness above his head, the Avon was seeking its new outlet to the sea.

Themes: Nuclear War, Eschatology; Rating: 4 Stars

History Lesson, 1949, first published in Startling Stories, and later under the alternate title of Expedition to Earth: Shann, the leader of a group of farmers driven from their home from advancing sheets of ice, drives his little band of clans forward and to higher ground. He knows that his ancestors have settled in many different places for one, perhaps two generations before the advancing ice from the north has driven them out, and this cycle has been repeated for as long as the oral history allows them to remember. Fearing that his time is approaching, Shann pushes his band up to the top of the highest of a chain of mountains that may offer some refuge. When Shann gets to the top he looks to the south and sees another wall of advancing ice blocking the way out of the valley before him.

Trapped, and doomed, Shann tells his people to farm the valley. He takes his wise men and advances along the summit to a stone crypt where they place all of their revered and magical items. It’s at this point that the reader is informed that Shann is not a pre-human who is trying to survive some past ice age; Shann is our descendant, who lives in the far future. Humanity has been destroyed in the next ice age. The objects that they have include the blades from an electric razor, a telephoto lens, a watch and some gold coins. Also included is a device that sends out an automatic beacon and will never run out of power. It was intended to be placed on an asteroid so that it could always be tracked, but mankind never made it to the belt to use it properly.

A generation later the advancing ice has been brought to a standstill by the high mountain peaks. A few humans survive in the crevices. But as the solar radiation that ruined Earth’s habitability continued to change, Venus became more habitable, and the intelligent creatures there developed the science of anti-gravity over the 5,000 years of Earth’s decline. Soon to the ice-covered northern hemispheres appeared a spacecraft bearing several scientists from Venus who desire to examine Earth, whose ice sheets now make it glow brighter than anything else in the system save the sun. Drawn to the ice-free crevice by the beacon, the Venusian scientists find a film canister. They return to Venus and figure out how to watch the film, and are awed by the spectacle. Over the centuries hundreds of scientists examined and wrote extensively on the film, which was never named but seemed to be something along the lines of Steamboat Willie. I kept waiting for something incredible to happen in this story. It seemed that Clarke was building to some amazing first contact or something like that. But he never got there. All I got in the end was a story that had probably been written a thousand times, even before 1949. I liked the twist about the human tribes not being ancient man, but really the story would not have changed one iota if that part had been completely eliminated. The last story about nuclear war was much better. Mickey Mouse just does not measure up to Shakespeare as an icon of a faded culture. Perfect, I think, for Startling Stories. Themes: Survival, Eschatology, Ice Ages, Dark Ages, Aliens, First Contact. Venus, Scientists, Physics, Anthropology; Rating: 2 Stars

Transience, 1949, first published in Startling Stories: A perspective piece told about the occurrences on a piece of land – a beach ringed by tall mountains – as seen by children of vastly different eras separated perhaps by thousands or even tens of thousands of years. In the first era an ancient boy discovered the beach and imagined what he could do with it. Next modern children and their families played upon it as they watched enormous ships set. Finally, eons after it was impacted by a comet from space, a “human” child as different from us as the ancient boy watches as the adults of his race prepare to abandon the Earth; the entire system has drifted to the center of the galaxy where it will one day be burned to a cinder. The story, in just a few pages, gave the entire history of mankind’s role on the Earth. Clarke skipped over a lot here, and may have picked some pretty mundane things to focus on. The impact was really not because of the passage of eons, but over the hope for the future the children feld when they contemplated the uses they could put the land to. Perhaps it would have been better if adults were the main characters. Themes: Engineering, Evolution, Sol System, Far Future; Rating: 2.5 Stars

The Wall of Darkness, 1949, first published in Super Science Stories: Shervane lives on a tidally locked planet that circles the sun of Trilorne in an alternate universe where his is the only planet. Shervane is the son of a nobleman, and lives in a mansion on lush lands situated in the only inhabitable part of the planet; the band of twilight between the fire scorched land of the north and the ice floes of the south. When Shervane was a young man his father, Sherval, took him just south of the inhabited land and climbed a hill with him From the promontory Shervane could see, deep in the dark and frigid lands to the south, that a darker strip separated the ground from the sky. His father told him it was a wall, and that nobody knew who built it.

The wall was an enigma; nobody knew if god or man built it, why it was there, or what was on the other side. They did know that it ran through a sea, and that it circled the southern part of their globe. Shervane and his friend, Brayldon, discussed it often. During a year abroad to study Shervane and Brayldon decided to extend their studies for a year so that they could go examine the wall. They decided that the wall was not made of ordinary matter, and that an ancient race that had an advanced technology must have made it. Shervane returned to his home to learn that his entire clan had died in an accident and that by inheritance he was now one of the richest men in the world. Shervane and Brayldon dedicated themselves to their professions, but by middle age they felt the wall calling to them again. The two men came up with a plan to build a road to the wall, a village for workers, and a stair system made of dovetailed blocks, to be assembled on-site at the base of the wall. Seven years later Shervane made the climb to the top.

As Shervane crossed the wall’s crown, Trilorne’s light diminished, but only as the light of another sun ahead of him increased. As he came to the precipice of the wall, he looked down into the valley in which he and Brayldon had build their staircase, and found his own face staring back at him. Shervane learned that the outer surface of the wall was actually the wall’s only surface. The other side of the wall was not in his universe. It was in another mirror universe. If this plot seems familiar to you, it’s because Star Trek has done it a few dozen times since. Clarke’s piece was much better than anything Rodeneberry or his merry crew put out though. There is a very palpable tension in this story. I could not wait to get to the end and find out what was going on. Thank God Clarke decided to tell us, and even though the story is by this time horribly overdone, it still felt fresh here in its original form. Themes: Alternate Universe, Coming of Age, Mythology, Journeys, Engineering Projects, Physics; Rating: 3.5 Stars

The Lion of Comarre, 1949, first published in Thrilling Wonder Stories: It is the year 2,600, and the millennia long parade of scientific invention has come to a close. People’s homes are completely automated, and no more gizmos are needed; science and invention have slowed to a crawl. People’s heroes in those times were artists. The story opens as the son of a noted artist has informed his father that he wishes for a career repairing robots, not in the arts. The two fight so the son, Richard Peyton III, jumps out of the window of the enormous tower/archology that they live in before his domineering grandfather, a member of the solar system council, can talk some sense into him. Peyton lands in the cockpit of his personal speeder and whips at 4,000 m.p.h. across the ocean. Peyton’s grandfather is concerned about his grandson. It’s recently been discovered that Peyton personality is very similar to his 22nd great grandfather Thoraldson, the builder of Comarre, the city of pleasure.

Centuries before the invention of artificial intelligence changed the world drastically. Most people employed AI to take care of the mundane details of life so that they could dedicate themselves to the pursuit of beauty and truth, which was “still as elusive as when the Acropolis was built.” But others took it as a sign that the era of humans struggling for anything was over, and built cities all over the solar system where AI could tend to their every single need while they reclined and relaxed. Comarre was the only one of their cities on Earth, and its location was still a secret. During his lifetime Thoraldson – who also invented AI – produced a steady stream of inventions that the government turned its back on. Thoraldson preached that the human race would one come to an end unless it adapted technology at a faster race. During his lifetime he mysteriously disappeared about 20 years after inventing the first AI. Some think he was kidnapped by the government, while others think he escaped to the depths of space; the first and only human to get out past Pluto. Peyton learned this all from his friend in the city of Scientia, the sole remaining bastion of scientific knowledge in the world. He also learned that the government knew where Comarre was, and had tried to destroy it many times. The trouble was, anyone who went there never returned. The scientists of Scientia are certain that Peyton is destined to carry on the work that Thorladson was unable to finish. Unfortunately, his grandfather knows this too, and is determined to stop that from happening.

If it feels like you’ve just entered the world of the Weapon Shops, that is because this story sounds very much like something that A. E. van Vogt would have produced. A subversive, anti-government ideologue with a dangerous theory and young man’s outlook grows up and realizes that he has a destiny to stop tyranny, and to free the people’s minds. Unfortunately, as similar it is in its central conceit, it’s also very similar in prose, with comparatively underdeveloped political theory; in short, all of the bad and none of the good of the Isher stories. I had no idea that Clarke was so adept at the frantic, pushy and paranoid language of this form of political, pulpish space opera.

The rest of the story tells of Peyton’s African search for and then search of Comarre (with the help of a semi-sentient lion), and the AI that he discovers there. It’s already achieved Thoraldson’s dream of becoming sentient. As the story progressed it became less about the conflict between Peyton and his grandfather and more about how Peyton was going to help his ancestor’s desire to emancipate advanced, sentient AI. And while that notion certainly feels modern and contemporary (see the short fiction of David Marusek for example), the way that Peyton got there was a little hackish; he had to navigate a gauntlet of traps that Thoraldson had left as a means of testing whoever wished to follow in his footsteps.

Themes: Politics, Super Science, Africa, Archologies, AI, Psi Powers, Smart Animals; Rating: 2 Stars

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3.5 star(s)


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