Tag Archives: arthur c. clarke

Book Review: The Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke

Former SF writer turned journalist Martin Gibson is given the honor of being the first and only passenger aboard the cruise ship Ares on its journey from Earth to Mars. His task is to chronicle both his travels and his time on the red planet and report back on the progress of the Earth colony there.The Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke

Despite a challenging launch to Gibson’s adventure—during which he learns just how much actual space flight differs from what he’d imagined in his novels—he eventually befriends the crew and, to his consternation, discovers a personal connection to the youngest of them, Jimmy Spencer.

While en route to Mars, the Ares is contacted by Earth and told to expect a rocket containing a vital serum intended to battle Martian Fever. However, the rocket’s course is such that the odds of intercepting it are slim unless the Ares is able to contact the rocket’s navigational transceiver and adjust its course. With some jury rigging of equipment, two of the crewman accomplish the mission and the serum is procured.

Destined to land on the Martian moon of Phobos, the Ares is inexplicably diverted to Deimos where it lands and transfers Gibson, his luggage, and supplies to a rocket which will take him to the surface of Mars.

At first, Gibson finds himself unimpressed by the alien landscape and the domed town of Port Lowell, the largest city on Mars. However, as the days pass, Gibson warms to the place and begins to explore—with results that could change the evolution of the red planet and turn Mars into mankind’s second home… if only Earth could be convinced to cooperate.

The Sands of Mars was Arthur C. Clarke’s first finished novel, but was published after Prelude to Space, and the similar concept of a writer hired to report on an expedition was obvious. However, unlike Prelude to Space—with its utter lack of tension and plot—The Sands of Mars was an engaging story with interesting characters (something Clarke was not always known for) and enough foreshadowing, twists, and turns to hold my attention until the end. Clarke did not belabor the reader with lengthy infoblocks of scientific jargon, but kept a steady pace, revealing just enough scientific fact to maintain credibility.



Book Review: Earthlight by Arthur C. Clarke

While tensions simmer between Earth and its colonies on Mars, Venus, and some of Saturn’s moons (collectively known as the Federation), Earth intelligence agent Bertram Sadler travels to the moon observatory in search of a spy leaking information to the Federation.

Working undercover as a cost accountant performing a financial audit of the observatory, Sadler gains access to all departments and staff members—who at first greet him with suspicion. Over time, Sadler builds a list of top suspects while both the Earth and the Federation create weapons of mass destruction in a prelude to war.

The first half of Earthlight is slow and plodding as Sadler meets various members of the observatory’s staff and is schooled on various as aspects of their operations and of astronomy. The only two interesting plot points are the unannounced landing of government ships in an area of the moon normally off-limits, and the two astronomers who decide to venture out in a vehicle to investigate.

The tension in the story begins to build in the second half when the observatory receives a communication warning the staff to dismantle critical equipment and take shelter underground. A war is coming, one that will decide who has control of the moon’s abundant supply of heavy metals deep within its core.


Earthlight by Arthur C Clarke

Book Review: Prelude to Space by Arthur C. Clarke

In 1976, historian Dirk Alexson is sent to England by the University of Chicago to document for posterity the first manned mission to the moon sponsored by a private company called Interplanetary. While in the UK, he interviews and befriends some of the scientists and administrators involved in the project and receives a number of lessons in astrophysics and engineering.

However, Alexson is given very little face time with the crew of the Prometheus until they fly to the deserts of Australia for the actual launch. In fact, of the five possible crew members, only three will be chosen for the mission and that choice is not even made until the entire team reaches Australia.

Prelude to Space reads more like a documentary than a novel. The only character development occurs when our skeptical historian slowly becomes convinced during his assignment that landing a man on the moon is, in fact, feasible and exciting.

There is almost no tension in the story save for one of the astronauts worrying about his pregnant wife. Any risk to the astronauts’ lives is treated lightly. Instead, the narrative merely follows Alexson as he chronicles the events around him.

Much of the book is comprised of info dumps ranging from the backgrounds of some of the characters (as if Clarke just wanted to get that out of the way in order to focus on the technology) to engineering specifications about the Prometheus and space flight in general. Arthur C. Clarke’s scientific prowess is evident in this book, to the point where it eclipses what little story exists. For example, as if an afterthought or an attempt to manufacture tension near the end of the story, a religious zealot fatally fails in an attempt to sabotage the Prometheus a few days before its launch. The character was introduced and killed off within a few pages, all of which seemed pointless.

If you’re looking for an exhilarating fictional tale of man’s first foray to the moon, Prelude to Space will likely be a verbose and tedious disappointment.

Prelude to Space by 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