One of the biggest names in science fiction, with stories spanning a tremendous SIX decades, this tome is one not to be taken lightly.
But is it any good?
The Collected Stories of Arthur C Clarke is a massive collection of science fiction greatness from one of the legendary writers in the genre of all time, Arthur C Clarke.
The Kindle version of this book was released by Rosetta Books and this edition was published July of 2016, though previous editions had been released.
Where to start with this massive collection of science fiction from a truly legendary author? There are just too many stories to start going through the individual stories contained within, yet to gloss over it at all feels like such an injustice.
Maybe someday I’ll go through and do reviews of every individual story, but for now I want to just touch on kind of a high level overview on things. So, let’s start with the obvious.
Arthur C Clarke, even if you don’t know the name chances are you know his stories, is truly one of the great masters of science fiction storytelling. As the summary said, he may be best known for being the mind behind science fiction film masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, but this collection shows he’s so much more than just that one famous story.
The most fascinating part of this collection is that it takes us through the evolution of his career and development as a writer, from the earliest days as he finds his footing(which let’s be honest, was still pretty damn good and better than most) all the way up through the end of his career when he was ready to call it quits.
Most of the stories include a short paragraph with some thoughts from Mr. Clarke himself, which also serve to better inform us on what he thought of the stories as he reviewed them years later. These short introductions to the stories are some of my favorite parts of the book, as I never cease to be fascinated by what the creators behind these works actually think of the work they have put out over the years. Especially when that is juxtaposed with the “popular reception/opinion” of the stories from the general public. Sometimes they are in total lockstep, other times the author hates something but the readers love it, or vice versa.
Like I said previously, there are just too many stories to be able to really dissect them one by one, however aside from just saying the stories within are “science fiction” I need to talk a bit about Arthur C Clarke’s brand of science fiction.
There are stories that take place in galaxies far away, interstellar travel, and life among the stars. A lot of the stories take place either in permanent space stations or in new bases set up on the moon or other planets, including Mars. There are also a good number of stories that take place right here on Earth, or on other Earth-like locations, that focus on the science fiction side of nature. These stories often include elements of the deep sea, and technologies developed to allow things like “farming sea water for Uranium” or deep sea powered electrical grids and highly intelligent giant squid. There are even some stories that take the slightest tip-toe over the line of straight science fiction and edge ever so slightly into the world of sci-fi horror, and I have to admit that I REALLY wanted him to go all in on the horror in these stories, they were some of my favorites.
But through them all, there is the connection to humanity and the real world.
Some science fiction is purely outlandish, ungrounded in anything here in the real world, and that can be fantastic. Stories that take place in a universe where “Earth” and life as we know it just doesn’t exist. I think of stories like that of Dune by Frank Herbert or even the ever popular Star Wars film franchise. Sure they take place with humans, but our Earth, our way of life, it isn’t part of the story. They have their own worlds, their own customs, their own rules for what is considered normal or “real”.
Clarke’s stories are on the other side of the coin. All of his stories have an element of being grounded, tied to the Earth we know, even if it’s many thousands of years distanced from life as we know it today. As such they feature strongly human focused struggles and are highly relatable on a “real world, human reaction” level.
A fact which, given these are all short stories of varying lengths, helps you as the reader become absorbed into the tale a little quicker than if you were having to suspend all “human nature/real world” beliefs and buy into some fantastical new world you know nothing of. A story like Dune takes time to build and create they world you are experiencing, which is difficult to do in the short story format.
And that’s what makes Clarke’s work so brilliant. And so difficult at the same time.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I’ll be completely honest. This book took me longer to get through than any other book I’ve read in years. Yes, it’s 980 pages of pure, science fiction goodness. Story after story from a true master of his craft that brings us on a beautiful journey through his evolution as a story teller.
But that is also, ultimately, it’s biggest downfall.
This book is not meant for anyone to sit down and read cover to cover, which is exactly how I read it.
I’m glad that I worked through it, a little at a time, from front to back. Experiencing all the stories in order and being welcomed along on the journey through Clarke’s storytelling career. But it also made it extremely difficult to digest.
There is only so much you can take in during a single sitting before the stories start to bleed together and you find yourself zoning out and not appreciating each story for what it is.
As I said on Twitter when I finished it:
What an amazing, grind of a collection. I’m simultaneously glad to be done with it and also so happy to have enjoyed it. “
This is absolutely a book that deserves a spot on your shelf if you are a science fiction lover. However, I strongly recommend that you treat it less like a standard anthology or novel and more like a coffee table book.
Something to be pulled off the shelf when the mood strikes and you want to enjoy a good sci-fi story or two, then put down again. Much like a person would do with an art book of photographs or paintings. Open it, flip through and enjoy a few sections, and then go on about your day.
I plan to get a physical copy of this book for just that reason.
These stories deserve our full attention, so to be able to crack it open at random to a story, read it and then allow myself to really think about what I just enjoyed in that one or two short stories as I go about my day, is really the ideal way to enjoy this book.
I give it a 4 out of 5 stars.
It’s a wonderful collection from a master of his craft, full of not only great stories, but terrific insight from the author himself on his thought process and feelings on each of the individual stories.
I highly recommend this for any fan of science fiction, but with the caveat that I don’t recommend tackling it like you would a standard novel. Instead, take the stories just one or two at a time and allow yourself the joy of really thinking about them before moving on to the next story or two.
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