I stumbled into a lovely second-hand bookshop the other day and found Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘The Other Side of the Sky’, a collection of short stories that was first published in 1958.
Clarke was one of the first science fiction writers I read, and he quickly became one of my favourites, even when, as a young girl, I sometimes didn’t fully understand what he was writing. To my eyes, he was a brilliant thinker, someone who knew the concepts of physics well and could imagine the future in a semi-plausible way – even if he was a bit too optimistic about the advances in space travel, and putting dates to events that turned out to be way too early.
The short story ‘Venture to the Moon’ is a great little piece – fictional, of course – written about the first landing expedition to the Moon. Reading it in 2015, knowing that the story was written in 1957 and well before the actual American expedition to the Moon in 1969, was very interesting: a view into what Clarke imagined the first landing expedition to the Moon could be like, and a comparison to what actually happened.
My favourite part was the fact that he pictured it as a joint effort: Britain, the USA and Russia in a joint venture to land on the Moon. Of course, we know that this didn’t turn out to be the case, and the USA won that particular race. Being British, it’s no surprise that Clarke includes his country as one of the illustrious countries partaking in the mission.
He doesn’t portray it all as a peaceful walk in the park, either (and which would have been unrealistic, I feel) – the countries have agreed to work together, but the leaders still want the bigger portion of the glory, as some of the events in the story show. Nevertheless, I thought it still painted a beautiful picture, of countries being able to work together. The Captains of the three ships did not bear grudges, and saw each other for the humans they are instead of what nationality they bear.
‘Venture to the Moon’ is told from the viewpoint of the British Captain as he looks back upon his time at the Moon, many years after event. Another short story, ‘The Other Side of the Sky’, is about someone working on a satellite relay station. Both stories are a collection of short vignettes of events that happened while they were working. While fictional, to me they feel as if they could have been real anecdotes of the characters’ time in space.
Then there are the other stories: some a bit wacky, some very interesting. There is the exploration of the concept of a one-sided planet; an imagining of how a telepathic alien species managed to communicate with Man; and a snippet of the time after Man conquered travelling amongst the stars.
If you love science fiction, I highly recommend this book. Never mind that it was published in 1958 and some of the events have been bypassed by history: this is a book written in that hopeful era just at the cusp of the Space Age, when space travel could almost be grasped; it is a book full of imagination and wonder.