The Best of Arthur C. Clarke 1937-71

Here’s another book of excellent short fiction, this time a single-author collection, THE BEST OF ARTHUR C. CLARKE 1937-71.

TITLE: THE BEST OF ARTHUR C. CLARKE 1937-71
AUTHOR: Arthur C. Clarke
EDITED BY: Angus Wells
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Collection
PUBLISHER: Hardback – Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1973, ISBN: 0 283 97979 8); Paperback – Sphere Books, London, 1973, ISBN: 0 7221 2426 0)

I have both the above hardback and paperback editions. The paperback was initially released as one volume, but later reissues were split into two volumes. Here is a listing of the contents:

  • 1937: Travel by Wire
  • 1938: Retreat from Earth
  • 1942: The Awakening
  • 1942: Whacky
  • 1947: Castaway
  • 1949: History Lesson
  • 1949: Hide and Seek
  • 1951: Second Dawn
  • 1954: The Sentinel*
  • 1955: The Star
  • 1955: Refugee
  • 1956: Venture to the Moon
  • 1960: Into the Comet
  • 1960: Summertime on Icarus
  • 1961: Death and the Senator
  • 1961: Hate
  • 1965: Sunjammer
  • 1972: A Meeting with Medusa**

This is an interesting one, although there are certainly some stories missing from it that you might expect to appear in any self-respecting Arthur C. Clarke Best of…. To name but a few: The Nine Billion Names of God, “If I Forget Thee, O Earth…”, The Wind from the Sun, Transit of Earth, I Remember Babylon, and Expedition to Earth, among others.

And there are also quite a few personal favourites that I thought should’ve definitely been in there – Rescue Party, All the Time in the World, The Forgotten Enemy, The Fires Within, Time’s Arrow, Out of the Sun, and a few others.

But that’s the problem with all Best of… collections, isn’t it? There’s never enough room for every story that the readers (or editors) think should definitely be in there. And, in the end, it’s totally up to the personal choice of the editor. Still, even with the omissions, this is still a nice collection of Clarke’s short fiction.

This was the very first collection of Arthur C. Clarke short stories that I ever read, way back when I was a kid (we’re talking forty years ago here), so it holds significant sentimental value for me, even though it isn’t by any means the most comprehensive collection of Clarke’s best short fiction. For that, read instead the later collection MORE THAN ONE UNIVERSE: THE COLLECTED STORIES OF ARTHUR C. CLARKE (US, 1991), which would be much more deserving of the title THE BEST OF ARTHUR C. CLARKE.

* The Sentinel is erroneously dated in the contents listing as being published in 1954. The correct publication date is 1951.

** The collection is dated 1937-1971, but one story in the collection, A Meeting with Medusa, was published in 1972.

Countdown to “Day of the Doctor” – Two Hours and Counting Down

I’m sitting here eagerly awaiting the start of the 50th Anniversary Doctor Who Special, The Day of the Doctor, which airs on BBC1 in about one and a half hours, at 7.50pm. I’m really looking forward to seeing the Zygons again, after almost forty years. I’m also really looking forward to seeing the David Tennant Doctor and Rose again. And John Hurt. Oh yes, more John Hurt, please!

We’re all aware that Matt Smith is bowing out with the upcoming Christmas Special, The Time of the Doctor, after three really good years on the show. That’ll be sad, as I really liked him. But I’m sure the series will be in safe hands, as Matt gives over the reins to Peter Capaldi, who is a darned good actor. Steven Moffat, and Russell T. Davies before him, haven’t let us down yet with their choices of actors for the modern series. I trust their judgment. Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith have ALL been excellent in the role, and I’m certain that Peter Capaldi will be, too. I’m particularly interested in how the relationship between the new Doctor and companion Clara Oswald will pan out.

So here’s looking forward to The Day of the Doctor. I’m sure it will be a cracker, although it will have to be something really “special” to be better than the truly excellent An Adventure in Space and Time, which aired on BBC2 on Thursday night. If it’s even half as good as that one, I’ll be happy! 🙂

Doctor Who – Fifty Years in Time and Space

This month marks the 50th Anniversary of my all-time favourite sci-fi television series, Doctor Who. The very first episode of An Unearthly Child aired on BBC1 at 5.15pm on Saturday 23rd November, 1963, and the world of sci-fi television, and our lives, would never be the same again.

There has obviously been a lot of recent activity to celebrate the anniversary. The November issue of Doctor Who Magazine is of course a bumper 50th Anniversary special, with some truly excellent and detailed behind the scenes articles and a few other nice bits ‘n’ bobs. There have also been various television programs celebrating the lead-up to the anniversary. Last Thursday (14th November) gave us the excellent The Science of Doctor Who on BBC2, featuring the ever-brilliant and entertaining Professor Brian Cox, the Doctor himself (Matt Smith), and various other celebrities from the worlds of science and entertainment. Monday 18th also gave us the bumper two-hour The Ultimate Guide to Doctor Who on BBC3.

But the best is yet to come. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the 50th Anniversary Special, The Day of the Doctor, which is being aired on the evening of Saturday 23rd on BBC1. This one gives us not one, not two, but THREE Doctors (plus Clara, of course), and Rose, AND the return of one of the best-ever Doctor Who monsters, the Zygons. I mean, what’s not to look forward to? Add to this the fact that the anniversary is actually falling on Saturday 23rd November, rather than, say, on a Wednesday, or one of the other days of the week. That alone is giving me a huge thrill. Hey, it doesn’t take much to get me excited, eh? Roll on Saturday evening! I’ll be like a young kid again. 🙂

However, as much as I might be looking forward to The Day of the Doctor, there’s something else that I’m looking forward to even more. Tonight, at 9pm, BBC2 is screening An Adventure in Space and Time, which promises to be an absolute gem. Sure, the 50th Anniversary Special is wildly anticipated by all Doctor Who fans, myself included. But Doctor Who specials come and go, and there have been quite a few of them over the years, some good, some not so good. There has never been a Doctor Who programme like An Adventure in Space and Time on television before. It is a “first”, and, as such, is, in my opinion, even more important than the 50th Anniversary Special itself. I consider it to be the most important Doctor Who production of recent years.

An Adventure in Space and Time is a prestigious television drama portraying the origins and earliest behind-the-scenes developments of Doctor Who and the Hartnell-era cast. It’s written by the irrepressible Mark Gatiss, and stars excellent character actor David Bradley as William Hartnell, major Hollywood star Brian Cox as Sydney Newman, and a cast of excellent young British actors including Sacha Dhawan as Waris Hussein, Jessica Raine as Verity Lambert, Jamie Glover as William Russell, Jemma Powell as Jacqueline Hill and Claudia Grant as Carole Ann Ford.

An Adventure in Space and Time promises to be something truly special, and is absolutely NOT to be missed by any Doctor Who fan. I’ll make sure that I have the phone off the hook, and all my friends and relatives will be informed that they will suffer the most horrible death imaginable if they come anywhere near my house between 9.00pm and 10.30pm tonight. They have been warned! 🙂

Nostalgia Collecting – Old UK Comics and Annuals

They say that nostalgia is the narcotic of the over-forties. I’m almost fifty-three, and I can definitely admit that it’s particularly true of me. I’ve always been a very nostalgic person, always fascinated by the past, even back when I was a kid. So pretty much my entire life, I’ve been on a quest to collect old stuff, particularly stuff that has some meaning for me, or which connects me to the “Golden Age” of my youth.

In recent years, I’ve spent a lot of time and money on Ebay, picking up many of the rare relics of my childhood and early-to-mid teenage years. One of the things that I like most is to grab the occasional old (and by old, I mean 1950s-1970s) British comic, as opposed to the US Marvel comics (which I also enjoy collecting) that I became a fan of from my mid-teens onwards. Way back in the day, before I ever encountered my first superhero comics, I was an obsessive collector of several of the traditional British weeklies. But that was before Marvel UK exploded onto the UK comics scene with The Mighty World of Marvel and its offspring from late 1972 onwards, and changed everything.

Over the years I’ve bought a lot of old issues of my favourite pre-Marvel UK British comics from the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, mainly Lion, Valiant, Eagle and Thunder. I would also dearly love to be able to buy a whole bunch of Countdown and TV21 (otherwise known as TV Century 21), but these seem to be harder to find on Ebay and when you can find them, they are invariably a heckuva lot more expensive than the likes of the Lion, Valiant and Thunder. Maybe someday, when I’m rich. 🙂

Another particular focus of my collecting has been those old UK annuals, the hardback, once-yearly collections of strips and other goodies from our favourite comics. I remember these annuals very fondly from when I was a kid. They were the “Holy Grail” for me back then, something that I eyed up enviously in the shops, and which I really, really wanted to get my hands on, but which were way, way out of my price bracket. We were from a poor family, and I didn’t have a lot of pocket money back in those days (the late 60s and early 70s). And annuals unfortunately did cost on average ten times the price of those weekly comics which were already stretching my meagre resources to the limit. Back then, annuals were simply far too expensive for me to buy on a regular basis, and so were usually only acquired when I got them as occasional Christmas presents from my Dad or other relatives.

So, in adult life, I’ve been trying to rectify things a bit by picking up a lot of these old annuals, and I’ve developed a real knack for snapping them up dirt cheap, or, at least, relatively cheaply. I’ve managed to get my hands on most of the Valiant, Lion, and Thunder annuals, and a whole bunch of assorted other UK comics-based annuals including Hotspur, Battle, 2000AD, Starlord, Eagle, Dan Dare, Countdown, The Trigan Empire and a few others. Add to those the various 1970s annuals put out by Marvel UK, and that’s a lot of annuals.

And just to add quite a few more to the already huge pile, I’ve also built up quite a collection of annuals based on various television sci-fi series, including pretty much all of the Doctor Who Annuals right from the very first one in 1964 up until the late-1970s, plus a bunch of Star Trek, Space: 1999, Blake’s 7, UFO and other assorted television-based annuals.

I often look at these ever-growing stacks of old annuals and comics in my spare room, and wonder “Am I going mental? Why am I collecting all of this old stuff? What the hell am I going to do with them?” Then I open one of them and feel the tidal wave of nostagia wash over me, all the old memories boring up from the depths of my moth-eaten excuse for a brain. And I feel good. Really good. Maybe nostalgia is the narcotic of the over-forties after all, and if it is, I hold up my hands and proudly proclaim that I’m a complete addict.

At least nostalgia is a much safer and more productive addiction than cigarettes, booze and drugs. And we all need our little hobbies to spend our money on, or life would be unbearable, all bills and shopping and crappy Real Life nonsense. The thought of that being all there is to life makes me shudder…

“Divine Madness” by Roger Zelazny (1966)

TITLE: “Divine Madness” (1966)
AUTHOR: Roger Zelazny
CATEGORY: Short Story
SUB-CATEGORY: Time Travel, Temporal Paradox
SOURCE: TRIPS IN TIME edited by Robert Silverberg (Wildside Press, 1977)
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: Magazine of Horror (Summer 1966), published again in New Worlds (October 1966)

Okay, here’s my second random pick from TRIPS IN TIME, “Divine Madness” by Roger Zelazny.

A tortured man is having seizures, during which he is seemingly being forced to relive a sequence of recent events in reverse. The doctors claim that this is all unreal, and that he is enduring a strange hallucination caused by a combination of epilepsy and grief from some unspecified recent trauma or loss. But we are led to believe otherwise, that he is actually trapped in some kind of temporal paradox, during which he really is reliving these recent events in reverse.

The seizures/time reversals are getting longer, starting off at a few minutes long, then hours, then seemingly days in length. And they are rushing inexorably backwards towards the point of origin, the mysterious unnamed trauma which seems to be the cause of everything. He can watch these events, but it seems he is helpless to change any of them. The laws of cause and effect have been turned upside down, and the actions which started the chain of events would not be revealed until the end of the story.

Things begin to become clear as actions continue to unfold backwards, through the funeral, the tragic phone call in which he is informed of his girlfriend’s death in an 80mph car crash, and finally onto the initial event which caused everything, that fateful final argument between them that led to her storming off in anger. Will he be able to say those all-important words to her once he actually reaches the crucial moment, or will he once again be unable to change anything, and be forced to watch helplessly as events unfold tragically, yet again?

“Divine Madness” is at heart a tragic love story with an ingenious SF twist at it’s core. There never is any explanation given for the strange time reversal paradox, why it was happening to this guy or what was causing it. Nor is there any need for an explanation. It just IS. I know that many SF authors and readers like to have the clever stuff revealed in every detail (I can be one of those people, at times), but sometimes I do think it’s nice to leave the occasional thing unexplained and mysterious.

Zelazny’s beautiful use of language always was a cut above many of his contemporaries, and I really liked the lucid descriptions of the reversal scenes – birds flying backwards, the cigarette growing longer and unlighting back into the lighter, the Martini being undrunk back into the glass, the fountain sucking the water back into itself, the birds replacing the bits of the candy bar that they were uneating, and various other everyday minutae unfolding in the opposite direction from the one they are supposed to occur. Some of these scenes are both beautiful and ingenious.

Over the years, the “time reversal” story has become a fairly familiar gimmick in SF literature, sci-fi movies and television series. I certainly remember an entire episode of the UK comedy sci-fi television series Red Dwarf built on the idea – I wonder if the creators, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, ever read “Divine Madness”, as I know they’re huge SF literature fans. But when Zelazny’s story was published in 1966, (twice, first in the Summer edition of Magazine of Horror, and again in the October edition of New Worlds magazine), “time reversal” was a much fresher and less clichéd SF device than it is today.

Whilst this may not be the only “time reversal” story in SF, I can only think of one other off the top of my head that tackled the subject in such an elaborate manner, the much more light-hearted and comedic “Round Trip to Esidarap”, written by Lloyd Biggle, Jr., which was published six years earlier than “Divine Madness”, as “Esidarap ot Pirt Dnuor” in the November 1960 edition of If magazine. Maybe there are other “time reversal” stories of this type out there, but I can’t think of any right now.

However one thing’s for sure. Few, if any, SF authors could write as fine an example of the form as Roger Zelazny has given us with “Divine Madness”.

Rated: 3.5 out of 5.0