Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Elements common to many Arthur Clarke stories

With 20 novels & 41 short stories of Clarke read & reviewed by now, I guess I now have some insight into the commonly found story elements. This is an attempt to document the most visible features of his stories.

1. If you are looking for focused novels that deal with one subject or plot really well, Clarke is the wrong author to read; go elsewhere.

Most of his novels have a main plot element, & a variety of tangents - often, subplots completely unrelated to main story. In some cases, these tangents can occupy as much as half the total pages.

I have now developed a survival technique. I just skip the tangents on first pass. I cover them in second pass only to ensure my reviews here are correct; else I would not have bothered with these tangents.

His short stories tend to be more focused, though some are not.

2. Short stories are often test beds for plot elements. Some of them will become full length novels; others will have elements embedded into one of more novels as subplots. Probably something to read in here for aspiring authors.

This is also why you find far more diversity & originality in his short stories than in novels. Many of them never make it to a novel. Even some of the really great stories never make it to a novel.

3. When you are reading one of the novels whose author list includes two, with Clarke as first author in larger font on the cover, you are essentially looking at a novel produced by a form of outsourcing. Clarke provides specifications ("outline", "synopsis"), & the other author writes the novel.

The quality of such works always appears to depend only on the quality of writing of the other writer. Stephen Baxter & Gentry Lee - skip it. Mike McQuay - go for it.

4. When buying one of his short story collections, beware. An unfamiliar story title doesn't mean you haven't read the story. Many of his stories appear under more than one titles in different publications & anthologies. And there is even a title that can apply to more than one stories! I wonder if that is publisher's selling insight. It sure can waste reader's time.

5. A very simple guideline to impulsively pick his novels in bookstore. Novels first published up to 1960s tend to be generally good; those after 1990 tend to be generally bad. There must be exceptions.

I haven't really verified this conclusion by tabulating publication date & my rating on one page (I may do it, now that I have thought of it). It is the general feel I am getting.

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