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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
With the possible exception of George Orwell -- who will always be best known as the author of 1984 -- no writer has been as exclusively associated with a single calendar year as Arthur C. Clarke, the secular patron saint of 2001. In the years following the first appearance of 2001: A Space Odyssey, both the Clarke/Kubrick film and the Clarke novel that accompanied it, have become both cultural icons and defining works in the development of modern science fiction. Inevitably, then, 2001 -- also the 50th anniversary of the publication of Clarke's first novel, Prelude to Space -- could be called, in a very real sense, the year of Arthur C. Clarke.
Of the many honors that have come Clarke's way -- a knighthood, the inevitable designation as Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers Association -- none is more impressive than the present volume, a massive retrospective entitled The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke. Weighing in at more than 900 pages and 400,000 words, this is one of the seminal publishing events of 2001 and a fitting companion to Clarke's recent volume of collected nonfiction, Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!
The Collected Stories contains literally dozens of tales, the earliest of which, "Travel by Wire," first appeared in Amateur Science Fiction Stories in 1937. The most recent story, "Improving the Neighborhood," was first published in Nature magazine in 1999. In the years between, Clarke created more memorable stories than any single review or article could possibly address. Highlights include the Nebula Award-winning novella "A Meeting with Medusa"; "Songs of Distant Earth," which would eventually inspire a full-length novel of the same name; and, of course, "The Sentinel." A classic account of the discovery of an alien artifact in the mountains of the moon, "The Sentinel" was first published in 1951 and provided the initial inspiration for 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Two of my own personal favorites are included here and are well worth revisiting. In "The Nine Billion Names of God," a supercomputer finally succeeds in cataloging the names of God, with apocalyptic results reflected in the famous closing sentence: "Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out." In the Hugo Award-winning "The Star," scientists explore the remains of a complex civilization destroyed by a supernova thousands of years earlier. The nova, we discover, was the very same star that lit up the night sky over Bethlehem, heralding the birth of Christ. A poignant, beautifully composed story, "The Star" remains one of Clarke's most memorable achievements.
And, of course, the list goes on. The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke is a monument to a major career. At $29.95, it is an absolute bargain, and it deserves a place on every serious science fiction fan's permanent shelf.(Bill Sheehan)
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).