Thursday, April 12, 2007

"Breaking Strain" (short story): Very readable, though dated plot

This 60 year old thriller should properly be called a long story rather than a short one - it's much longer than many of the Clarke's short stories.

While introducing this story in "The Collected Stories of Arthur C Clarke", there is a mention that this "was one of the stories incorporated into the film and novel, 2001".

Story summary (spoiler).
This is a shipwreck & survival story with a very dated theme: Of the two travelers in the ship, there is food enough (till rescue) only for one. Should both die, or one lives? If later, who lives?

Since it is a space travel story - a freighter on earth/Venus route is the one affected - what runs out is not food but oxygen. A little meteor has hit the ship at a vital place, blasting away a major portion of onboard oxygen. And there is nothing onboard to break the carbon dioxide being produced by passengers back to breathable oxygen.

I occasionally found the narrative too long & suspense too obvious, but it is still a good story.

Good reading.

Some technicalities.
This story also describes a spaceship shape different from that common in Clarke's other stories: a dumbbell shape rather than a rotating cylinder or spherical. Only other story I recall with dumbell shape is in "2010 Odyssey 2": the wreck left by "2001 A Space Odeyssy" is described as a craft with this shape; I do not recall if 2001 elaborated on this shape.

And Clarke is more specific on dumbbell design here: a 50 meter diameter sphere at one end; 20 meter sphere at the other end; connected with a 100 meter long cylinder of undescribed diameter. Bigger sphere is living & operational quarters; smaller sphere houses atomic motors that are off bound to all organic matter; what the cylinder contains in not described.

Fact sheet.
Breaking strain, short story, review
Author: Arthur C Clarke
Genre: Thriller
First published: Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1949 under the title "Thirty Seconds - Thirty -Days".
Rating: A

This story has also been published under these titles.

  1. "Thirty Seconds Thirty Days"
The story appears in the following collections.
  1. "The Collected Stories of Arthur C Clarke"
  2. "Expedition to Earth"
  3. "Across the Sea of Stars"
  4. "The Sentinel (collection)"
See also.
  1. Eric Frank Russell's "Jay Score": Published 8 years before this story by Clarke, it is a very similar plot but different tension - meteor hit on earth to Venus run kills propulsion system, making the ship head for the Sun! Very good ending.
  2. "Arthur C Clarke's Venus Prime, Volume 1" of 6: An expanded version of this story as a novel. This novel is by Paul Preuss, apparently with Clarke's blessings.
  3. Larry Niven's "How the Heroes Die": Similar in that only one of the two men can live - because there is oxygen enough for only one to reach back to safety. But rest of the plot is very different.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading this as much now as I did when I first read it in Jr. High around 1970.
His stories generally moved along and although they had a very high hard SF content were remarkably easy to read.
I always appreciated the way Arthur Clarke treated orbital dynamics with the proper respect- unlike the horrible excuse of a movie. He also treated his characters with respect. Grant is the antithesis of evil yet we see his brittleness as he deteriorates under the strain to the point where he actually attempts to kill Grant. That is the real draw -a bit of the "Would that happen to me" appeal.
btw- I could never finish Venus Prime- I absolutely detested it.