Friday, April 6, 2007

Short stories of Arthur C. Clarke: A reading guide by quality

The very best: "Superiority". How not to go about deploying the latest & greatest technology! Great comedy.

The most influential: "Rescue Party". Almost all Clarke fiction is simply a detailing of this story. Follow the link, & see Influences section in my review of this story.

Outstanding thriller: "Maelstrom II". A man on board a flyer destined to crash has only one option to survive - jump!

Lovely humor: "Travel by Wire!". A variant of Star Trek style personal transporter that can double as a machine to aid weight loss!

Engaging thriller: "Breaking Strain". Only one of the two men can live. Who should? Who will?

Good humor: "Moving Spirit": An ordinary citizen fights irresponsible lawmakers & literal law enforcers, & almost wins.

Note: I now also maintain a separate list of short stories by other authors, again ordered by quality. May be someday I will merge the two lists - but wishes take work to fulfill! For now, they remain separate.

All Clarke stories I have read; entries higher in the list are generally better reading choices:
  1. "Superiority": Humor. How not to deploy new technology.
  2. "Rescue Party": Clarke's first published story. And a smaller version of "The Songs of Distant Earth".
  3. "Maelstrom II" (A); Playboy, April 1962: Thriller. A man on board a flyer destined to crash has only one option to survive - jump!
  4. "Crusade" (A), The Farthest Reaches, ed Joseph Elder, 1968: On a lonely cold world, evolution has produced an AI. And it's out on a crusade to free other AIs from their non-mechanical overlords (like humans).
  5. "Breaking Strain": Only one of the two men can live. Who should? Who will?
  6. "Earthlight" (A); Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1951: Earth fights a war with the Federation of human colonies of Outer Planets over energy resources. Both sides use super weapons. Great descriptions of life on moon. In 1955, this story was expanded to novel length under the same title; I have not read the novel.
  7. "Dial F for Frankenstein" (A); Playboy, January 1964: A monster of an AI is accidentally born!
  8. "Travel by Wire!" (A): Humor. Description of Star Trek style transporter - read the information describing the thing or person being transported by splitting it into particles, move this information to destination electronically, & reassemble there! A subsidiary application is weight loss! There is some confusion if this is to be considered Clarke's first published story, or "Rescue Party" (see note near end of "Rescue Party" article).
  9. "Castaway" (A): Fantasy, April 1947, under the pen name "Charles Willis": How do you recognize an alien when you meet one? Forget recognizing it as alien or sentient, even recognizing it as alive can be tough. And just by looking at it, you might kill it!
  10. "Moving Spirit": Humor. A man's ingenuity against governmental sin taxes.
  11. "Cosmic Casanova" (A); Venture, May 1958: Humor. A playboy meets his match.
  12. "A Slight Case of Sunstroke" (A); "First published in Galaxy, September 1958, as 'The Stroke of the Sun'": Humor. Description of a football match in South America.
  13. "The Defenestration of Ermintrude Inch": Humor. If your spouse speaks too much, help is on the way!
  14. "Loophole": Humor. Aliens bar earthlings from developing rockets, & get the surprised!
  15. [ss] "Playback" (A); Playboy, December, 1966: Reincarnation is not possible with a corrupt mind dump!
  16. "Publicity Campaign" (A), London Evening News, 1953: Humor. Scared humans turn benevolent aliens into malevolent ones!
  17. "Summertime on Icarus" aka "The Hottest Piece of Real Estate in the Solar System" (A); Vogue, June 1960: Shipwreck & rescue on an asteroid currently rather close to Sun.
  18. [novella] "A Meeting with Medusa" (A); Playboy, December 1971: Exploring the upper atmosphere of Jupiter in a manned vehicle.
  19. "Quarantine" (A); Issac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, Spring 1977: Humor. Alien robots destroy earth because they were getting infected with a funny virus.
  20. "Sleeping Beauty": Humor. A man invents a cure for your snoring disorders.
  21. "Second Down": The making of a symbiotic culture of cattle & hominids on an alien world, with cattle as masters.
  22. "Time's Arrow": A visit to Jurassic Park, reversed!
  23. "Dog Star" (B); "First published in Galaxy, April 1962, as 'Moondog'": A man feels sad after preferring own career over his dog.
  24. "The Secret" aka "The Secret of the Men in the Moon" (B); "This Week", 11 August 1963: How to live 3 times longer?
  25. "An Ape About The House" (B): A genetically modified female Chimpanzee, trained for house hold chores & babysitting, is purchased by a household. But she turns out to be more talented than the humans suspected.
  26. "The Next Tenants": In the general gloom following World War II, a man places hope in species other than humans. And decides to play god.
  27. "Patent Pending" aka "The Invention": A man invents the ultimate porn distribution machine.
  28. "The Reluctant Orchid": A murder gone wrong, because the novel weapon used was untested.
  29. "Encounter at Down" aka "Encounter in the Down" aka "Expedition to Earth": Aliens land on earths with intention to advance early humans technologically. But have to leave in a hurry, without helping.
  30. "Jupiter Five": A shorter version of "Rendezvous with Rama".
  31. "The Pacifist": Humor. Tale of a naughty computer.
  32. "Trouble with the Natives": Humor. When aliens visited a little English village.
  33. "The Food of the Gods" (B); Playboy, May 1964: Humor. A corporate FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) campaign.
  34. "The Hammer of God" (B); Time magazine, 28 September 1992: An asteroid on an impact course with earth is deflected with heroic effort & much loss of life. This short story became the basis of the novel of the same name, "a few years later".
  35. "Transit of Earth" (A), Playboy, January 1971: A man watches the transit of earth & moon on the disk of sun - from mars - during a rare alignment that happens once in 100 years. Tragic story - he is the sole man on mars, & about to die.
  36. "Technical Error": An accidental electric short circuit opens fearsome new vistas.
  37. "The Steam Powered Word Processor" (B); Analog, January 1986: Humor. A spin on the life story of Charles Babbage. And the project to build a device that will automatically write sermons for the priest!
  38. "Reunion" (B): Long lost cousins of humanity are coming to earth for a reunion.
  39. "Neutron Tide" (B): Educational story, about how strong gravity gradient of a neutron star affects material.
  40. "The Fires Within": A man begins exploring interior of earth. And dooms humanity's future.
  41. "The Ultimate Melody": Why do you like some music but not other? Are these but crude approximations to an ultimate melody that everyone will like?
  42. "Big Game Hunt": A man discovers a way to make arbitrary animals dance to his tune.
  43. "Cold War": Humor. Californian businessmen want some of the tourist traffic from Florida. So they contrive a plan to dilute the brand image of the Sunshine State.
  44. "The Man Who Ploughed the Sea": A device to mine metals from the oceanic waters.
  45. "Silence Please": Humor. A man invents the ultimate silencer.
  46. "The Star": Star of an alien world explodes, killing local intelligent beings. But something survives.
  47. "The Possessed": Intellect in the abstract!
  48. "Armaments Race": A harmless toy that wasn't so harmless!
  49. "Hide-and-Seek": A sole man is on the run on Phoboes (Phobos?), a Martian moon. He is being hunted by a well armed military unit. Will he be able to outwit his pursuers?
  50. "Guardian Angel" (B): Prelude to "Childhood's End". Aliens quickly colonize earth.
  51. "Love That Universe" (B); Escapade, 1961: Humans in dire peril need to make first contact with aliens!
  52. "Improving the Neighborhood" (B): Earth & moon explode, taking humans & everything else here with them - probably due to an industrial accident. A race of alien robots learns of it, & cries good riddance!
  53. "The Last Command" (C); Bizarre! Mystery Magazine, November 1965: A cold war nuclear holocaust story where US completely decimates USSR.
  54. "Inheritance": Two accidents during lift off - involving manned rocket launches.
  55. "History Lesson": Sun has cooled turning earth into an icy wasteland, & Venus into a habitable world.
  56. "Trouble with Time"; "First published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July 1960, as 'Crime on Mars'": Attempt at an ordinary theft in a museum is foiled due to an unusual confusion.
  57. "The Sentinel" aka “Sentinel of Eternity”: Aliens watching the development of intelligent life on earth have left a beacon on moon.
  58. "Transience": Sun has moved close to galactic center & is about to be swallowed by a Nebula. Humans must vacate solar system, & find home elsewhere.
  59. "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth": All humans are dead after a nuclear war, & earth's surface is radio active. Only survivors are a small group of pioneers that were on moon at the time of the event. They must preserve the legend of earth.
  60. "The Forgotten Enemy": Coping with the next Ice Age.
  61. "I Remember Babylon" (C); Playboy, March 1960: Dated cold war story - Soviets have got a new propaganda medium.
  62. "The Parasite": Men from distant future play telepathic games across time.
  63. "What Goes Up": An industrial accident creates an anti-gravity force field.
  64. "A Walk in the Dark": Circumstances force a man to face the primeval fear of darkness.
  65. "The Awakening": Man shall not inherit the earth!
  66. "Critical Mass": A stampede is averted, in the aftermath of nuclear disaster that wasn't.
  67. "The Curse" aka "Nightfall": Sad & nostalgic. Fate of a bombed city.
  68. "The Nine Billion Names of God" (C); Frederik Pohl (Ed)'s "Star Science Fiction Stories 1", 1953: A certain Buddhist sect believes that the ultimate purpose of life is to spell all the nine billion names of God.
  69. "The Longest Science-fiction Story Ever Told" (C): A recursive story rejection letter from an editor.
  70. "Herbert George Morley Roberts Wells, Esq" (C): Who was the real author of "The Anticipator"?
  71. "siseneG": A joke rather than a story.
I list only those stories here that I have personally read - so I can offer an opinion I can stand by.

Links are to my reviews of specific stories. Note that occasionally the order above might disagree with ratings I have given in review. Rating was given when reading a story alone. Order above is when I see the whole bunch together.

I have had difficulty ordering some stories that are close together. Please read the order above in the right spirit; entries close together are sometimes the same quality.

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