One of my favourite short story collections, this well-thumbed Corgi edition from 1963 has the lyrical sense of wonder that characterises the best classic science fiction. Every story is worth reading multiple times. Some of them are humorous, some of them sad, but all have a twist in the tale. What’s also fantastic about these stories is how prescient and realistic they are, considering that they were written between 1947-57, well before the first human was launched into space. There aren’t many scientific explanations in them either, unlike his later novels. The focus is on the narration and the ideas.
‘The Nine Billion Names of God’ is one of Clarke’s most famous stories, in which monks use a computer to calculate all possible combinations of letters, after which God’s purpose will be revealed.
‘Refugee’ discusses monarchy and the differences between Americans and the British. HRH Prince Henry really wants to go into space and live a little but everyone thinks he’s too precious.
‘The Other Side of the Sky’ is a series of connected short stories about the ups and downs of life in orbit above the Earth, particularly looking at how communications have been transformed by satellites (published in the year that Sputnik 1 launched, the first artificial satellite).
‘The Wall of Darkness’ is set on another planet, or perhaps our planet in the far future. There is a huge black wall across the world, made of some alien substance. Someone decides to find out what’s behind it.
‘Security Check’ is an amusing story about craft and originality, in which a set designer for a science fiction TV programme seems to get too close to the truth.
‘No Morning After’ sees a very advanced alien race try to contact people on Earth to warn them that the Sun is about to explode. However, they only reach one human, who unfortunately is drunk and doesn’t believe them.
‘Venture to the Moon’ is a series of connected short stories about the space race (which is won jointly by the USA, Russia and Britain) and what it’s like to live on a lunar base.
‘Publicity Campaign’ is a funny story in which we get a very ill-timed visit from peaceful aliens while everyone’s jumpy about a horror film about evil monsters from space.
‘All the Time in the World’ has professional burglars being tasked with taking all the treasures from museums and galleries with the use of an invention to radically slow down time.
‘Cosmic Casanova’ is narrated by a man who makes up for his lonely months in space by having love affairs on every planet he lands on. However, he gets his just desserts on one particular mission.
‘The Star’ is a sad tale from a Jesuit who has lost his faith after seeing beautiful advanced civilisations obliterated by supernovae. The ending is very chilling.
‘Out of the Sun’ speculates that there may be life inside the Sun, as witnessed by an expedition over Mercury. The narrator is an awe of the power at the centre of our solar system, which both gives and destroys life.
‘Transience’ covers a broad sweep of time on Earth, from the early humans until disasters finally cause everyone to leave in their spaceships.
‘The Songs of Distant Earth’ is a longer story, which takes place on a planet colonised by Earth hundreds of years ago. A spaceship on a generations-long journey stops over for a little while, resulting in a tragic romance between one of the crew and a native woman.
I expect to re-read this book many more times, if it doesn’t fall apart. Arthur C Clarke’s short stories have been collected in various editions over the decades but if you want to try them then I highly recommend The Other Side of the Sky, which has been reprinted since and should hopefully still be available.