Fiction Reviews


The Wind From the Sun

(1962/2003) Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Gollancz, 5.99, pbk, viii + 193pp, ISBN 0-575-60052-7

 

After over a third of a century since it was originally published - and which saw a subsequent seven reprints through to 1972 but none since then this - 2003 edition is arguably overdue. In fact the original was published with the sub-title 'Stories of the Space Age, which I guess in the 21st century the editors at Gollancz thought to be a little cliched. Placing the book in its original context, it is mildly interesting to note that Clarke, in the preface, says that he was tempted to give this volume the sub-title The Last of Clarke - 'not through any intimations of mortality ([he had] every intention of seeing what really happen[ed] in the year 2001), but because [he] seem[ed] to be doing less and less writing'. Fortunately for Clarke, and us, at least three other volumes of new short stories were subsequently published as well as a number of collections of previous material.

One problem with SF is that it can tend to date. I remember Britain in the early 60s: though not that well I hasten to add as I was very young. Steam trains ruled, (propeller) air flight was a novelty, outside of the major cities street lighting was as often as not gas (with a man coming around in the evening to turn each one on), and (self-service) supermarkets (of the few around) were small and a novelty. It was a world without colour TV, computers (apart from a few giant-roomed machines with the processing power a fraction of today's PCs and short-duration), and low orbit space travel was still headline news. TV SF was The Twilight Zone in the US, and in Britain A For Andromeda and the surreal The Avengers, while for kids there was Supercar. The 'space age' of Clarke's original subtitle really referred to something that was only just dawning and not, as today, almost mundane with space telecommunications (audio and full colour visual), Earth remote sensing for tea-time weather broadcasts, planetary probes, and deep space high-resolution observation in much of the electromagnetic spectrum. Clarke's stories back in the 1960s were seen as wild extrapolations but because we were already moving along the curve he was beginning to get attention.

Writing science fiction set in the future is a risky business: you can so easily get it wrong. Jump forward a third of a century and we have biosphere perturbation, nutritional dysfunction, electronic junk mail, dumbed-down home entertainment opiates for the masses, computer viruses that in their way are every bit as infectious as their biological counterparts which themselves find a dense, highly mobile population far better conditions for emergence (let alone possible pandemic), and the birth of the last purely bio-Darwinian human generation. So SF can easily date. Clarke's stories have not.

It is therefore (only mildly, given the man) surprising and a pleasure to report that The Wind From the Sun collection of shorts still entertains. The stories cover: nutritional issues, orbital physics, emergent biological intelligence, the perils of solar sails, electro-mechanical intelligence (twice), time travel, 'soul' (for want of a better short term) transference, and astrophysics. A list that is as every bit as relevant today as then presented in a way that only needs the slightest of tweaking to remove minor incidental anachronisms.

If you are an old hand then it is worth checking your collection just to see if you have The Wind From The Sun as although with eight editions already under its belt, we had to wait over 30 years for this ninth one. Conversely if you are younger, by which I mean were not reading SF back in 1972 (when the previous edition was published), then you could well find an exploration of this SF of yesteryear a positive delight. Go on: treat yourself.

Meanwhile I hold Clarke to his intention and still await a volume entitled The Last of Clarke as a potential joy to come.

Gripes? The publishers should have included an original where-first-published list. Clarke might have written a second preface 30 years on. Still, as my aunt Gertrude used to say of hyperspatial transformic number theory; 'one can't have everything'.

Jonathan Cowie

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


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