Fiction Reviews

The Other Side of the Sky

(1958/2003) Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Gollancz, 6.99, pbk, viii +245pp, ISBN 0-575-03988-4


Much of what needs to be said about this short story collection can be found in my review of another Clarke collection, The Wind From The Sun: so please take these comments as read and applicable here.

Now, what is different with this collection? Well this is a reprint of Clarke's third volume of SF, originally published well before I learned to read in 1958. It was therefore written at time in which US SF buffs were watching Science Fiction Theater on TV and British had the excellent Quatermass and the Pit while in the cinemas there was The Fly and the ever-so Freudian I Married a Monster From Outer Space. Nonetheless this collection is not nearly as dated as the afore cinematic and media offerings: so well done Clarke.

In case you have not read Clarke (now then some haven't and everyone has to start somewhere), the man writes hard SF; that is SF based on what might become actuality through science, and not fantasy with its magic, spirits and so forth. His writing, like that of Asimov, stems from what might be considered the genre's centre and so has an appeal for those who occasionally likes SF undiluted with anything else (even if cocktails and blends have tremendous merit of their own).

The stories by and large, have stood the test of time well: though a number are simple by today's standards and (only) slightly dated. But then we are looking back with half a century's hindsight and a lot has happened! In the main Clarke has - as you would think from his reputation - been prescient. Among the stories are The Star about an Earth team exploring the surviving ruin of a supernova-blasted civilization and which was filmed as a 1990s episode of The Twilight Zone, as well as The Songs of Distant Earth. This last Clarke turned into his 1986 novel of the same name which he, in the introduction to the 2003 edition, felt was his best novel. Importantly it features the classic The Nine Billion Names of God.

That Clarke did an introduction for this 2003 edition is most welcome, even if it is short and that the publishers forgot to number the page (Tut.). Also, there is no indication on the copyright page as to the number of previous editions, though we know there were at least two from the two introductions. Further, as with The Wind From The Sun, there is no copyright list. All these are signs of sloppy commissioning editing, which is surprising for Gollancz who have been a bastion of good SF in the UK for half a century. This in itself is kind of symbolic for this collection, but I guess is a sign of today's publishing times: publishers do not invest in commissioning as they used...

Do not let these publishing whinges put you off. Gollancz have done us a great service. Both new and old readers of SF should get this book for the very reasons I gave in my review of The Wind From The Sun. You may not get another chance for quite a while.

Jonathan Cowie

Elsewhere on the site, we have reviews of Clarke's A Fall of Moondust, The Wind From The Sunand 3001: Final Odyssey, as well as The Light of Other Days with Stephen Baxter and Rama Revealed with Gentry Lee.

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