Finished: Reach for Tomorrow by Arthur C. Clarke

I finished reading this collection of the SF great's short stories a while back and I thought I'd give a rundown of the stories within.

Rescue Party: A survey ship from a multi-species federation is dispatched to our solar system after it's discovered that the Sun is about to go nova. Their mission is to explore as much of the third planet as they can and if possible, rescue as many humans as they're able.

This is a neat story because it's told from the perspective of alien explorers. They've never encountered humans before, so they naturally don't understand most of what they find as they explore the Earth. This leads to a tense moment where a group of them find themselves trapped on a subway car. They're rescued, but the whole expedition is forced to leave before the Earth is destroyed, so they assume that their mission is a failure. It isn't. They discover humanity's fate and it leads to an upbeat ending.

This is one of my favorite stories of the collection because of the alien perspective and the ending.

A Walk in the Dark: The back cover of the book describes this as an "old-fashioned ghost story set on an alien world", but I would describe it as boring. I love Arthur C. Clarke's stories, but this one was just not good. The plot is a simple one where the narrator is walking to a spaceport on the aforementioned alien world at night when his flashlight fails, forcing him to make the journey in pitch blackness. He becomes unnerved along the way because the darkness forces him to dwell on a stories he has heard about near encounters with something that may or may not exist on what is believed to be an uninhabited (prior to humans showing up, that is) planet.

I didn't like this one because there was no tension or anything. Maybe this would have been a chilling story back in 1950 when this short was originally published, but not today. The ending felt tacked on too. A Walk in the Dark is probably my least favorite.

The Forgotten Enemy: So the plot to this one is that there's an ice age and the main character is a professor who opted to stay behind in London after the rest of the UK was forced to evacuate do to the encroaching ice. One day he starts hearing what sounds like explosions off in the distance and he assumes that people have decided to return and reclaim Britain and are using explosives (including atomic bombs) to bust through the ice. The story ends with him realizing that he was wrong and something else has returned to the land - glaciers - and that London and himself are doomed.

This was one of those middle of the road stories. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't memorable either. I did like the ending because I didn't expect those noises to be from glaciers.

Technical Error: This was a weird but interesting story. What happens is that a freak accident at a power planet results in a man named Richard Nelson being zapped with a tremendous amount of energy and being inverted. I don't mean his insides are turned into his outsides, but his right and left sides are literally inverted like a mirror image. This creates problems ranging from minor things like not being able to read to more serious ones such as starvation because his inverted digestive system can't process food that isn't inverted. The main character is a physicist working for the power company who figures this all out and proposes recreating the accident on the premise that it might return Nelson to normal. It doesn't end well.

Like I said, this was a weird story, but an interesting one.

The Parasite: So basically, a guy reveals to his friend that the reason he ran off to the Italian island of Syrene is because he's been "infected" by a being he calls Omega who has reached back from the far, far future to attach himself to the main character as a sort of parasite in order to live through his emotions and experiences. The friend thinks he's gone insane, but at the end realizes that he isn't.

Another weird story.

The Fires Within: The Weird Train chugs right along with this one. It opens with a person reading a government report about a scientist who has developed a powerful ground sonar device that can look deeper and deeper into the Earth. This culminates in the discovery of a strange species and civilization at the Earth's core.

And of course, the twist at the end of the story is that the people at the beginning are from that strange underground species and that humanity was accidentally wiped out when the latter tried to make contact with them. An okay story.

The Awakening: Marlan is a man stricken with a boredom that only utopia can bring. But rather than commit suicide like so many others have done, Marlan opts instead to blast off in a spaceship and Buck Rogers himself for a set period of time before returning to the Earth and seeing how things have changed. Eons pass and the ship's systems attempt to revive Marlan, but can't due to some malfunction. His ship returns to Earth, but it isn't the same planet as before. The inhabitants who discover his ship once it lands manage to revive Marlan and he lays his eyes on insectoid masters of the planet before passing away.

Another okay story. Not bad, but not all that swell.

Trouble with the Natives: My other favorite of the collection. Aliens in a flying saucer arrive on Earth to establish contact. Not wanting to cause a panic by landing in a major city, the ship's captain opts for a more low key approach and dispatches two of the most human looking crew members in disguise to make contact with a world leader, in this case, the British PM. Hilarity ensues and that's why I like this story so much. It honestly looks like something Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett would have written. My only complaint is that Clarke never expanded this story into a novel!

The Curse: Focuses on the slow destruction of a small English town from a rising river after a nuclear war. The twist at the end is that it's Stratford-upon-Avon, the home of William Shakespeare, and title being the epitaph on The Bard's gravestone.

Time's Arrow: As the title suggests, it's a time travel story. In this case, two paleontologists working on a dig site are suspicious of the purpose of a nearby scientific installation. The leader of the dig makes repeated visits to the facility, but is mum about the goings on there. The two main characters eventually manage to guess correctly that the installation is working on something involving time travel. While all this is going on, the two and the dig leader are working to uncover the tracks of a dinosaur as it veered off to chase something down.

And of course, the twist at the end is the discovery of what that something was and it's relation to the science station.

Jupiter Five: This was another one of my favorites. It's about an expedition to a "moon" of a Jupiter that is in fact a spacecraft from an alien civilization. A rival expedition shows up soon after and a standoff occurs when the leader of the latter group tries to steal a statue.

This is a fun story and I love the idea of a derelict ship filled with the artwork of an alien civilization.

The Possessed: An alien hivemind arrives on a pre-historic Earth during it's endless journey to find fellow intelligent life in the universe. It finds the potential for such life eventually developing on the planet and decides to leave behind part of itself while the rest continues its journey with the idea that the latter would eventually return to Earth. The left behind portion possesses what it believes will become the dominate intelligence life, but finds that as time passes and that species evolves, it never quite makes it. Worse, this hivemind begins to lose coherence and slow fades until only the instinct to travel to the appointed meeting place between the two minds remains

As with the other stories in this collection, there's a twist at the end. In this case, it's revealed that the life the hivemind possessed were lemmings and that instinct is what drives them to run off a cliff to their deaths.

Not a bad story.

Overall, this is an okay collection. Some of the stories were enjoyable, while others less so. In the case of the latter, it was due more to them not holding up to time rather than quality. I would recommend this if you want to read Sir Arthur C. Clarke's short stories, but I would honestly just check it out at your local library if possible.

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