The Wind From the Sun – Arthur C. Clarke

This book contains all eighteen short stories Arthur C. Clarke wrote in the 1960’s, including one set in his beloved Sri Lanka where he had moved to from England in 1956 and resided there until his death at the grand old age of ninety in 2008. Although all the stories were written in the 1960’s the last two didn’t actually get published until the early 1970’s including probably the strongest of the works in the book ‘A Meeting With Medusa’. The title story ‘The Wind From the Sun’ is also one of my favourites from this, the sixth collection of short stories by Clarke, it’s original title was ‘Sunjammer’ and it is still occasionally published under that name but Clarke explains in the preface that he changed its title as fellow SciFi author Poul Anderson used the same title, and indeed the same concept of sailing the solar wind, almost simultaneously in early 1963. To add to the confusion, and this time not mentioned by Clarke, another SciFi writer, Jack Vance, also had the same idea and published a similar story ‘Gateway to Strangeness’ also known as ‘Sail 25’ although that came out in late 1962. All three men had come up with the same idea independently and had no idea of each others work and the time taken to get things into print more than allows for the disparate publishing dates.

Perhaps inspired by the co-incidences around ‘Sunjammer’ there is another short essay included in this book entitled ‘Herbert George Morley Roberts Wells Esq.’ which describes Clarke’s absolute conviction that a story called ‘The Anticipator’ was written by H.G. Wells and he had written as such in his single page short story ‘The Longest Science-Fiction Story Ever Told’ which precedes the Roberts/Wells essay in the collection. In fact ‘The Anticipator’ was written by Well’s contemporary Morley Roberts and in the essay he explains that the story is about a high quality writer who keeps having the plots of his stories hijacked by a hack writer and published just before his version comes out so that the general public assume that he is constantly plagiarising the less good author so it is somewhat appropriate that Clarke didn’t get the true authors name right. It happened again to Clarke in 1979 when his book ‘The Fountains of Paradise’ was published at the same time as Charles Sheffield’s ‘The Web Between The Worlds’ both of which are about the construction of a giant tower all the way up to geostationary orbit which would operate as a space elevator therefore removing the need for rockets to reach space. Both novels have a similar construction method using a robot called Spider, both towers are built by a engineer who had previously constructed the longest bridge in the world and there are several other identical, or near identical features including the engineers name beginning with M. Again neither author knew about the others work it was simply an idea whose time had come.

All but two of the stories in this collection take place within the Solar System, the exceptions being ‘Crusade’ and ‘Neutron Tide’ and most occur on the Earth or Moon. This is another feature of Clarke’s science fiction writing, not for him universe wide adventures or galaxies at war which a lot of his contemporaries wrote about. Clarke, for the most part, is a more grounded writer. That doesn’t mean they are less fantastical just less space opera and more extensions of the readers understanding. ‘Maelstrom II’ for example has a man on his way home from the Moon when the, normally freight carrying, railgun that he is using as a cheaper way to get back malfunctions so he doesn’t have enough speed to achieve escape velocity. Yes it’s science fiction but everything in the story is valid science.

Arthur C. Clarke had a first class degree in mathematics and physics from King’s College London and used his scientific training in his writing, always making sure, as much as possible, that any concepts he came up with had a valid scientific basis. This makes him one of the strongest writers of science fiction as opposed to fantasy, when Clarke describes the fall into the atmosphere of Jupiter in ‘A Meeting With Medusa’ or the astronomical observations in ‘Transit of Earth’, which has an astronaut on Mars watching Earth cross The Sun you can be sure that the figures used are as accurate as 1960’s science allowed. Clarke didn’t come up with the idea of geostationary orbit but he did write the first scientific paper describing how satellites placed there would be perfect for telecommunications.

It’s a fun set of short stories and I was surprised how well I remembered several of them from when I first read the book in the mid to late 1970’s.


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