Saturday, April 14, 2007

"Inheritance" (short story): Space shuttle foreseen!

This is the third "shipwreck as primary element" story from Clarke I am reviewing, not counting Deep Range that had a shipwreck as a minor episode. After a while, it gets a bit boring!

And this story has a bonus shipwreck - so instead of usual one with happy ending, we have two wrecks here - one with happy & another with sad ending.

Story summary (spoiler).
A manned 2-stage rocket powered with chemical fuels is taking off, develops a snag 50 km above earth's surface where the booster stage refuses to separate. There is miraculous escape of both the rocket & the sole human occupant.

An interesting part of this first episode is: main payload rocket sounds a lot like NASA's modern space shuttles! Remember, this story was written in 1940s!

Second part is a bit of occult. While the hero is recovering from minor injuries sustained in accident, he confides to colleagues what kept him completely confident that he was not about to die after he became aware of the snag. It seems, he has been having dreams where he is in a curious cabin with funny controls & displays with 3 others, all in what he now recognizes as space suites. There is curious additional angle to the dream: among the three occupants is one of the colleagues listening to story, & that colleague is much older in dream.

So hero knows he still has life left - since he has never been part of a 3-man space flight! Reminds me of boring Bipasha Basu movies of last few years where she keeps seeing things in dreams that also keep coming true - I think there are at least 2 such movies.

Third & final part is again essentially occult. A little after the accident, a new kind of nuclear powered rocket is developed - much smaller than chemically powered ones of yore. And who else to take the first flight but the hero? Only this rocket explodes amid euphoria around new technology, killing its sole passenger.

When colleagues of hero visit his home to offer condolences, they are talking to his wife when the son enters. Well, Jr looks just like his father, so the colleague knows it was son in dad's dreams!

Fact sheet.
Inheritance, short story, review
Author: Arthur C Clarke
Genre: Science fiction
First published: New Worlds, no 3, 1947, under the pen name "Charles Willis". This data is from "The Collected Stories of Arthur C Clarke". My notes indicate I have seen another publication mentioning publication year as 1948, but have no record of where I read that. Since Collected Stories is currently in my hands, I will treat that as authentic.
Rating: C

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"

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