Tag Archives: arthur c. clarke

Book Review: Tales From the White Hart by Arthur C. Clarke

Tales of the White Hart by Arthur C. ClarkeHarry Purvis is a master storyteller who regales his fellow patrons every Wednesday evening at the White Hart pub with fantastical yarns of eccentric characters and outrageous scientific catastrophes.

While Tales From the White Hart is considered one of Clarke’s most popular anthologies, I found a handful of the stories—such as “Big Game Hunt”, “Critical Mass”, “Cold War”, and a few others—to be either prosaic, mundane, or anticlimactic. However, there were a number of humorous and rousing romps, including:

“Patent Pending” – After a professor invents a device that records brain waves corresponding to human sensations, his assistant envisions a far more profitable, and sensual, use for the device…

“Armaments Race” – While working on a low-budget SF series for Hollywood, a special effects expert is tasked producing ever more impressive ray guns… until he creates one that actually works—with devastating results.

“The Pacifist” – The military presses a mathematician to construct a computer capable of flawless combat strategy. When the project begins falling behind schedule, the scientist is bullied by a clueless general. In response, a hidden circuit is built into the computer—one that turns out to be hilariously insubordinate.

“The Man Who Ploughed the Sea” – Harry Purvis travels to Florida with a lawyer friend to explore the coastal waters in a small submarine. During their expedition, they encounter a large yacht owned by an elderly chemist who invented a method for collecting elements and precious metals directly from saltwater.

“Moving Spirit” – When an eccentric, reclusive scientist’s still explodes, he finds himself arrested for manufacturing illegal alcohol and requests help from his nephew, Harry Purvis, attorney-at-law. With the odds stacked against them, Harry literally concocts an incendiary defense for his uncle.

“The Reluctant Orchid” – A meek, timid clerk with an affinity for orchids is routinely intimidated by his imperious Aunt Henrietta. After planting a rare, carnivorous species of orchid in his greenhouse, he soon devises a plot to get rid of her…

“What Goes Up” – In the deserts of Australia, a team of scientists are confounded while testing a new design of nuclear reactor. Rather than an explosion, the reactor forms an anti-gravity bubble several hundred feet in diameter. Entering the bubble, however, could prove as dangerous as falling off a mountain…

 

 

 

Book Review: The Wizards of Odd edited by Peter Haining

How can you go wrong with a collection of 25 stories that includes heavyweights such as Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Douglas Adams, Ursula K. Le Guin, Terry Pratchett, C.S. Lewis, Fritz Leiber, Phil K. Dick, Brian W. Aldiss, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, and more?

To be honest, I only enjoyed about half of them. My favorites include:

“The Twonky” by Henry Kuttner – When Kerry Westerfield’s brand new cabinet radio begins walking around the house dictating Kerry’s  every move, he calls in psychiatrist pal Mike Fitzgerald, but this radio is constructed like no other… and it defends itself against anyone who might pose a threat—with fatal results.

“A Great Deal of Power” by Eric Frank Russell – When military scientists create an android assassin to kill top officials and scientists in the enemy’s ranks, they program its mind with a pure hatred of power… but what will the android do when the enemy is eliminated and those giving the orders become the powerful?

“Doodad” by Ray Bradbury – Running from the mob, Gyp Crowell finds himself in a shop called Thingamabobs, Doodads, Whatchamacallits, Hinkies, Formodaldafrays, Hootenannies, Gadgets, and Doohingies. While there, Gyp finds a device that might help him out of his predicament… in ways he didn’t expect.

“Not By Its Cover” by Phil K. Dick – When a special, translated edition of an ancient Latin book is published with animal hide cover, it is quickly discovered that certain passages in the book have been translated differently that in the paperback version, which leads to an astonishing conclusion about the animal hide covers…

“A Good Knight’s Work” by Robert Bloch – Sir Pallagyn of the Black Keep is hurled forward in time by the legendary Merlin to find the Cappadocian Tabouret in a “house of the past.” First, however, he decides to help a new found friend defeat the local mob boss…

“The Rules of Names” by Ursula K. Le Guin – Mr. Underhill lives a reclusive life in the village, practicing his wizardry with often questionable results… until a pirate named Blackbeard arrives with certain suspicions and accusations against Underhill. In response, the old bumbling sorcerer shows his true colors…

“Mythological Beast” by Stephen Donaldson – Norman is a librarian in an age of ignorance when so many among the population can barely read. Norman has a problem when he notices a horn growing in the middle of his forehead. Shortly after, his entire body begins to change into the shape of a creature than cannot be allowed to exist in a controlled society…

“The Adventure of the Snowing Globe” by F. Antsey – A man stops into a toy shoppe to purchase a present and is drawn to a snow globe containing a miniature castle. After shaking the globe, the man is transported to the real castle, meets a real princess being held prisoner by her cruel, oppressive uncle, and finds himself face to face with a real dragon…

“Zaphod Plays It Safe” by Douglas Adams – Zaphod Beeblebrox is hired by the Safety and Reassurance Administration to retrieve items of secretive nature from a crashed ship in the depths of an alien ocean. Despite Zaphod’s increasing misgivings, the authorities assure him that “it’s all perfectly safe”…

“The Odd Old Bird” by Avram Davidson – When the frivolous Prince Vlox indicates to two royal scientists that his property has been frequently visited by a rare bird, the Emperor’s wizard Eszterhazy requests that the prince capture the bird and have it sent to him. However, there is some confusion on the part of the temporary help when the bird is delivered around the same time as the cook was expecting a chicken…

“The Gnurrs Come from the Voodwork Out” by Reginald Bretnor – Quack inventor Papa Schimmelhorn arrives at the local Secret Weapons Bureau determined to demonstrate how his new invention, which resembles a bassoon, will win the war… in the most unimaginable way!

“Captain Wyxtpthll’s Flying Saucer” by Arthur C. Clarke – A pair of hapless aliens land in England on a mission to find and retrieve an intelligent human specimen only to end up incarcerated by the local police as mental patients… until the town drunk helps them escape!

“There’s A Wolf in My Time Machine” by Larry Niven – A time traveller finds himself in a parallel dimension where mankind evolved from wolves instead of apes.

“2BRO2B” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. – In order for newborns to be permitted to live in a dystopian future under strict population control, someone must volunteer to die. What happens when a married couple is expecting triplets, but could locate only one volunteer?

The Wizards of Odd

 

 

 

Book Review: Infinity Two edited by Robert Hoskins

Continuing my recent trend of reading classic speculative fiction anthologies, Infinity Two brings us stories from Poul Anderson, Arthur C. Clarke, James E. Gunn, J.F. Bone, William F. Nolan, and more.  For this reader, the gems of the collection include…

Adam and Eve prepare to restart the human race under strict guidance from God, until Adam starts looking behind the scenes in Michael Fayette’s “The Monster in the Clearing.”

J.F. Bone takes us across the galaxy to a world where humans go into business with a species of cannibalistic, but highly civilized crustaceans. While labor relations seem to be precarious at first, a pheromonal discovery leads to a new and profitable venture in “The Scents of IT.”

Surrounded by technology’s modern conveniences, Sara begins to recall her grandmother’s luddite attitude toward machines, just before every appliance in Sara’s house seems to conspire against her in “The Technological Revolution” by James E. Gunn.

In “The Other Way Around” by Howard L. Myers, a cantankerous Merlin reluctantly takes on a pupil, Raedulf, on his way to Stonehenge. As Raedulf soon learns, Merlin might just be a man out of time…

After surviving a near-fatal accident, a middle-aged man is restored to physical health by a radical series of procedures, one that leaves him in mental and emotional turmoil  in “Legion” by Russell Bates.

“GORF! GORF! GORF!” is the name of the operation when a bullfrog swallows a crateful of experimental growth pellets, eats a Corvette (complete with driver), and traverses 50 miles at a leap! William F. Nolan leads us on a whimsical hunt that includes the military, government bureaucrats, and pellet inventor’s own lovely daughter.

Robert Silverberg leaves us “In Entropy’s Jaws” as we follow wealthy telepath and businessman John Skein on a quest back and forth through time to find the panacea to the psychological breakdown that cost him his career as Communicator. Skein knows his answer lies on a planet with purple sand, blue leaves, orange seas… and a withered skullfaced man with all the answers. Will Skein find the correct world before his fugue episodes destroy him?

Infinity Two Cover

Book Review: 13 Great Stories of Science Fiction edited by Groff Conklin

It’s a rare occasion when I enjoy every story in an anthology almost equally. This is one of those times. All 13 tales in this collection are, as the title boasts, great.  I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise given the talent involved including Arthur C. Clarke, Ted Sturgeon, Poul Anderson, Damon Knight, and others. However, were I forced to choose favorites, those would be…

“The War is Over” by Algis Budrys – Years after an Earth ship carrying an urgent message crash lands on an alien world, the inhabitants construct a vessel to return the message to Earth, though they’re not entirely certain why or even how they learned to build such a craft…

In “Allegory,” William T. Powers offers an entertaining yet frightening glimpse into a humanity controlled by computers and where independent thinking is considered a mental aberration.

In John Wyndham’s “Compassion Circuit,” Janet Shand, a fragile and fretful housewife, is forced to come to terms with Hester, an android servant programmed with emotions. It isn’t long before Janet begins to rely on Hester for her daily care—until she becomes convinced that there is a better way to live through robotics.

Arthur C. Clarke delivers a brilliant send up of corporate guile in “Silence, Please!” To get even with unscrupulous businessman Sir Roderick Fenton, a professor invents a portable sound-cancelling device and sells the patent to Fenton. The professor’s associates are mystified by his decision, until they observe how the devices are used when sold to the public, putting Fenton in the government’s crosshairs.

In Wyman Guin’s “Volpla,” a scientist creates a new, highly intelligent biological species with the ability to fly, speak, adapt, and reproduce. He fabricates a backstory that they had originated on another world and only recently came to Earth. Surely, this gag will spark the intended panic in the zoological community once the creatures are released into the wild. Unfortunately, the biologist’s plan backfires when the Volpla’s take a drastic course of action to preserve their race…

Alan Nelson’s lighthearted “Soap Opera” delivers the hysterical tale of a hapless young member of a soap manufacturer’s advertising team who experiments with skywriting as a marketing tool. “The words vanish too quickly!” cries the company’s owner, sending Everett Mordecai on a quest to find a more permanent solution—one that covers the entire city of San Francisco…

What happens when the government implants a second personality into its citizens, one that forces them to be docile, to be behave contrary to their natural tendencies? In “Analogues,” Damon Knight deftly presents us with this disturbing possibility…

When a homeless man named Ollie swallows what he think is a nut, he suddenly finds his appetite insatiable, no matter how much he eats. After winning an egg-eating competition by consuming over 100 eggs, Ollie is taken to the hospital to be examined. Shortly after, strange foreign objects materialize in Ollie’s stomach, causing intense pain and swelling. At the same time, two aliens arrive after realizing that their matter transfer device is inside poor Ollie. The question is… now what? We find out in William Morrison’s “Shipping Clerk.”

G.C. Edmondon’s “Technological Retreat” brings us the story of extraterrestrial technology run amuck when humans trade simple Earth goods for a device that can instantly repair damage to any surface by making it malleable enough to reshape. It isn’t long before the aliens begin disseminating the device across the planet, with devastating effects on human evolution.

In Ted Sturgeon’s “The Skills of Xanadu,” a haughty scout sent by an advanced alien race lands on the bucolic world of Xanadu. While reluctantly spending time among the primitive “barbarians” of this world, Bril marks them as ripe for conquest. Yet, he finds their manufacturing abilities beyond comprehension. When Bril finally discovers the source of their power in the form of polished stones worn as part of their clothing, he takes one back to his homeworld—where the true conquest begins.

13 Great SF Stories

 

 

 

Book Review: Beyond Belief edited by Richard J. Hurley

I came upon this anthology of eight SF stories while volunteering to sort used books for my local library’s annual book sale. I was intrigued when I saw some of the names included in the collection, especially Asimov, Clarke, Sturgeon, and Matheson.

There were only two stories I would consider weaker than the rest, “The Invasion” by Robert Willey and “Phoenix” by Clark Ashton Smith. The other six were well done, including…

“The Hardest Bargain” by Evelyn E. Smith.  Earth is a remote planet without diplomatic relations with the other solar systems. While still led by humans, the planet is primarily managed by robots. Food is purchased purchased or bartered from alien traders since radiation from the last global conflict sterilized much of the soil. However, when one alien visitor offers technology that can remove the radiation and make the land fertile once more, it’s a good idea to give him exactly what he asks for in return…

“It’s Such a Beautiful Day” by Isaac Asimov. In a utopian future, a device known simply as a Door has been invented that can teleport people to the location of their choice. Yet when a Door malfunctions, one boy discovers the mystery and wonder of actually walking outside in the grass under the sunlight. When he comes to prefer this over the Door, his teacher recommends psychotherapy…

“The Man Who Lost the Sea” by Theodore Sturgeon. You lay there in your spacesuit, half-buried in the sand while someone chatters at you about a toy airplane with pieces that break off. All you want to do is listen to the ocean in the dead of night and watch the satellite pass by overhead in the white-speckled heavens, but perhaps you’re not really near the ocean and perhaps that airplane that broke apart wasn’t truly an airplane…

“Third from the Sun” by Richard Matheson. A rocket scientist convinces his family and neighbors that their world is doomed, but he knows of a planet in a distant solar system where they can start a new life. They just need to get to the ship…

“Keyhole” by Murray Leinster. Mankind intends to settle on the moon, regardless if the native population of small, furry creatures wants them there or not. After an astronaut is killed by one of the lunar creatures,  a scientist captures one in an attempt to learn its species weaknesses. However, humans are not the only ones who gain knowledge from the experience…

“History Lesson” by Arthur C. Clarke. Sensing their doom in the encroaching ice covering most of the planet, the last members of the human race store a number of relics in a stone vault atop a high mountain. These relics are found 5,000 years later by an expedition from Venus, but when the reptilian scientists run a film showing an example of life on Earth, they’re not quite sure what to make of it…

 

Beyond Belief book cover

Book Review: Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

Secretary General Stormgren of the United Nations finds himself in a unique position as ambassador to the Overlords, a group of enigmatic–and seemingly omniscient–alien beings whose ships have hovered over Earth’s major cities since their sudden arrival five years before.

Stormgren is regularly flown to one of the vessels to meet with Karellan, the apparent leader of the Overlords. However, Karellan conducts each encounter from behind a one-way mirror and thwarts  Stormgren’s attempts to catch a glimpse of him.

It is not for another fifty years before Karellan reveals himself to the human race. During that time and shortly after, the Overlords bring peace and prosperity to the planet, ushering in a golden age for mankind, but also a stagnation in science, art, and general cultural development.

Over time, most of the Earth’s population becomes complacent and docile, as there is no longer a need to work for a living or struggle to make ends meet. However,  a small colony forms on a remote island called New Athens with the purpose of maintaining independence from the Overlords and continuing the pursuit of art and culture.

It is around this time when the children of man begin to manifest extraordinary and frightening mental abilities. What does this development mean for the future of Earth, if indeed there is one?

What is the ultimate objective of the Overlords and are they, in fact, serving an even more powerful master?

Childhood’s End has become one of my all-time favorite science fiction novels. One of the golden age masters, Clarke adroitly covers a century of humanity’s relationship with the Overlords without losing momentum.

As with most films that find their genesis in a novel, the contrast between Clarke’s vision and SyFy’s lackluster mini-series are evident.  SPOILER ALERT, but some examples include:

Stormgren (Mike Vogel) remains through far more of the series than he did the novel and dies of a slow, debilitating illness caused by his repeated flights from Earth’s surface to Karellan’s ship. This did not occur in the book.

The scientist character of Milo Rodricks (Osy Ikhile), who stows away aboard an Overlord ship to become the only human to see their world, was named Jan Rodricks in the novel and did not actually step foot on the Overlord’s home planet, but rather, one of their moons.

In the book, Jan had no girlfriend. Thus, the scene in the mini-series where the Overlords return Milo/Jan to Earth after his 80-year expedition and present him with the levitating, preserved corpse of his girlfriend was new for the film and utterly pointless to the story.

The ultra-religious character of Peretta (Yael Stone) did not exist in the novel, nor did anyone fire a gun at Karellan (brilliantly portrayed by Charles Dance). The fact that the SyFy film decided to focus rather heavily on the destruction of religion was a departure from Clarke’s novel, which devoted hardly a page to this.

The mini-series attempted to condense a century into six hours, all the while adding unnecessary characters and subplots and failing to clarify the main plot.  Still, kudos to the SyFy channel for attempting to return to its roots. Childhood’s End was a refreshing and intelligent change from such tripe as Sharknado, various reality shows, and WWE wrestling (which has been thankfully moved to USA).

Childhood's End Book Covers