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Expedition to Earth [Paperback]

Arthur C. Clarke
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Book Description

20 July 1999

Arthur C. Clarke has been the presiding genius of science fiction for almost fifty years. His novels include the ground-breaking and profound CHILDHOOD'S END and RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA, and his collaboration with Stanley Kubrick produced one of the most enduring and important of all science fiction films, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. It was the last story in this collection, 'The Sentinel', that provided the starting point for that film.

His first ever collection of short stories, EXPEDITION TO EARTH displays all the versatility and range of imagination which has made Arthur C. Clarke one of the world's most popular and acclaimed science fiction authors. Thought-provoking and memorable, this volume, with a new preface by the author, shows Clarke writing at his extraordinary best.

Look out for more information on this book and others on the Orbit website at www.orbitbooks.co.uk

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Orbit (20 July 1999)
  • ISBN-10: 185723930X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857239300
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,539,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Born in Somerset in 1917, Arthur C. Clarke has written over sixty books, among which are the science fiction classics 2001: A Space Odyssey, Childhood's End, The City and the Stars and Rendezvous With Rama. He has won all the most prestigious science fiction trophies, and shared an Oscar nomination with Stanley Kubrick for the screenplay of the film of 2001. He was knighted in 1998. He died in 2008 at his home in Sri Lanka.

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Amazon Review

There are many ways of recapturing the sheer fun that science fiction could be back when it was not even a bit respectable, and the idea that Arthur C. Clarke would one day be Sir Arthur was more or less inconceivable. One of the best ways is to go back to a classic short story collection like this, with its bitterly ironic title story of archaeology and its misunderstandings, the classic "Breaking Strain" with its two spacemen struggling over supplies that will do for one, and "The Sentinel", the story that acted as the seed for the late Stanley Kubrick's collaboration with Clarke, 2001. Clarke always had a more delicate and poetic side, and this collection includes one of his finest stories in this vein "Second Dawn" in which telepathically gifted aliens without hands deal with the moral dilemmas of science. Many of the stories deal with a Space Age that never was--Clarke was assuming that things would happen later than they did, but that more would follow quicker; this in itself gives the book charm as an add on to its considerable conceptual wit. Few short story collections are SF classics, but this is a major exception. --Roz Kaveney --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Arthur C. Clarke is awesomely informed about physics and astronomy, and blessed with one of the most astounding imaginations ever encountered in print (NEW YORK TIMES )

For many readers Arthur C. Clarke is the very personification of science fiction (THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION )

Arthur C. Clarke is one of the truly prophetic figures of the space age ... The colossus of science fiction (NEW YORKER )

There are many ways of recapturing the sheer fun that science fiction could be back when it was not even a bit respectable and the idea that Arthur C. Clarke would one day be Sir Arthur was more or less inconceivable. One of the best ways is to go back t (Roz Kaveney, AMAZON.CO.UK REVIEW ) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent! A must buy 30 Jun 2000
By A Customer
Being a fan of many of Clarke's novels - The Rama Series, Cradle, Childhood's End, etc. - my dislike of short stories has put me off buying this book for a long time. Eventually I decided to buy it, as my collection doesn't leave much room for anything else. How could I have left it so long? This book is the excellence which is Clarke, such vivid detail in such short stories. All the stories in this book are great, my particular favourite is 'Second Dawn'. Buy it!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short stories of the finest quality 13 Dec 2008
I have read a lot of science fiction, short stories as well as full-length novels. There are about a dozen stories in this volume, which amazingly was released as long ago as 1954.
The stories are varied, entertaining and enjoyable. It's a bit like a music album where every track is great. I particularly like the story "If I forget thee, oh Earth" which must rank as the most inexpressably sad story I have ever read, for science fiction does not always tell of triumph and glory for humankind. This volume also contains the short story "The Sentinel", written for a Christmas competition in 1948, which was the embryonic storyline for the classic 2001:A Space Odyssey. The other stories are just as good. There is not one duff story in this book.
These stories were written when Clarke was at the height of his sf powers, with the grandeur which is his hallmark. I cannot give this less than top marks.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  26 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Collection of Short Stories 6 July 2000
By William M. Rand - Published on Amazon.com
There are 11 short stories in this collection and all of them are truly exceptional but 3 really stand out. The first of course is "Sentinel" which is the basis for the movie and eventually the book, "2001" "Breaking Strain" is a great book discussing the moral implications of two men trapped alone in a space ship when it is quite obvious that if there was only one of them they could survive. With interesting commentary on how people live under pressure and what actions they take, this is an exceptional piece of work. But my favorite is probably "Second Dawn" this story discusses what happens to a group of aliens without hands but with enormous mental powers when they encounter a group of aliens with hands. The interaction of the civilizations and cultures is well described, and though I think Clarke may be taking too friendly an approach to such a meeting it would be nice if all civilizational clashes resolved this way. Overall this book shows that once again Clarke has proven himself a master of the science fiction genre. Though it should be warned that Clarke's writing style is very "hard" in other words he definitely emphasizes technological capability over character development. That being said I think this collections contains some of his best character sketches yet.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good Clarke book! 6 Sep 2001
By randy - Published on Amazon.com
This collection of 11 short stories gather Clarke's best talents in story telling and originality, accompanied by a unrivaled poetry.
Most of the stories are very character oriented (which I particularly like) while science plays a very secondary role.
They are definitely dated though and you have to keep that in mind while reading them. It's obvious that many of these stories were sparked by the dropping of the atomic bomb and its ensuing consequences. Clarke explores the problems and consequences of a discovery that could mean the end of civilization, also showing sapient life's arrogance against nature.
A very enjoyable book, which includes The Sentinel (that's the basis of 2001 Space Odyssey).
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clarke's debut short story collection, and a good one too 31 Aug 2011
By Alexander Arsov - Published on Amazon.com
Arthur C. Clarke

Expedition to Earth

Ballantine, Paperback, 1961.
12mo. 167 pp.

First published, 1953.
Second printing, 1961.


Second Dawn [1951]
"If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth..." [1951]
Breaking Strain [1949]
History Lesson [1949]**
Superiority [1951]
Exile of the Eons [1950]***
Hide and Seek [1949]
Expedition to Earth [1953]****
Loophole [1946]
Inheritance [1947]
The Sentinel [1951]

* In square brackets: year of first publication in magazine.

** Also published, both in magazines and in book form, as "Expedition to the Earth". Not to be confused with the short story of the same name first published in 1953.

*** Also known under the title "Nemesis".

**** Also known under the title "Encounter in the Dawn".


This is Arthur Clarke's first short story collection ever published. It contains 11 pieces that first appeared in magazines between 1946 and 1953. In December of the latter year Expedition to Earth was published. It must have been quite a year for Sir Arthur - who, incidentally, was knighted 45 years later. Earlier during the same year Childhood's End was published too, Clarke's fourth novel but the first to have conspicuous success; today is regarded as a classic and more than half a century after it was written it still hasn't lost its freshness. I surmise it was the very success of the novel that prompted Clarke to publish his first short story collection. He certainly had enough material, and was working on a good deal more. Until 1958 three collections more appeared, altogether containing another 51 stories. But let's get back to this book and the stories it contains.

The collection is somewhat more uneven than stylistic variety may allow. I think we would do Arthur full justice only if we acknowledge some of the more obvious weaknesses right away. For instance, stories like "Superiority" and "Expedition to Earth" make an entertaining but somewhat forgettable reading. The former is a kind of military science fiction, something I don't think ever was Clarke's forte, and it is somewhat crudely told. Still, it has a charmingly shocking twist in the end and it raises the profound question that technological progress is not necessarily coupled with ultimate benefits. "Expedition to Earth" would have been a very fine story if Clarke had written it completely. As it is now, though the basic plot of alien landing in the times of our ape predecessors is fascinating, it is fragmented, rushed, particularly towards the end, and a bit disappointing. Interestingly, there is a very similar story - both even share one character: Clindar - included in The Lost Worlds of 2001 (1972), for it was initially supposed to become part of the movie. It never did, and as far as I know it has never been published in any other of Clarke's books, but it still makes a fascinating read and a most compelling comparison with "Expedition to Earth".

There are few other stories that leave something to be desired in terms of plot development, characterization or, most often, subtlety and pace of the narrative. In one and only one case, though, does boredom due to excessive technical detail appear on the pages. This is the story "Inheritance" which is entirely concerned with rocket experiments in the old days when Earth's gravitational field was the ultimate challenge. This story also has one of the very few unconvincingly abrupt surprised endings. Yet, Arthur Clarke being nobody else but himself, even his unsuccessful stories are brimming with exciting ideas and stunning futuristic visions. "History Lesson" is more like a sketch for a full-fledged story, but the idea about reptilian civilization on Venus that comes to study the Earth several thousands of years after the mankind has enigmatically vanished (destroyed itself?) is certainly compelling. "Hide and Seek" is an entirely different affair, a kind of spy thriller in space, which takes us to Phobos, one of Jupiter's smallest satellites, where a dangerous game between unlikely opponents - a single man on the ground and a whole ship in orbit - takes place. Here the twist in the end is perfectly delicious indeed. But my favourite among this group of not-quite-what-they-might-have-been stories is "Exile to the Eons". This is an awesome demonstration of Clarke's imagination: a phenomenon at least as infinite as the universe. The story is set in the very, very distant future when man has conquered the heart of the universe and couldn't care less about his cradle-planet, on which no life has remained anyway. A somewhat stubborn philosopher is exiled to this cheerless place only to discover an eminent (yet nameless) 20th century military dictator who has been kept, accidentally, in hibernation since. The collision of completely different mentalities is pretty terrifying and not a little thought-provoking.

The rest five stories in the volume are among Clarke's finest creations in the genre. About "Breaking Strain" and "The Sentinel" I have said what I have to say in the review of the collection that bears the name of the latter. Suffice it to say here that "Breaking Strain" is a story about a highly charged psychological collision between two ordinary men put under the quite extraordinary strain of the circumstances. And "The Sentinel" is an absorbing, and thoroughly realistic, treatment of what may well be the most decisive moment in human history: the first contact with extraterrestrial intelligence, disappointingly indirect though it may be. The rest three stories do deserve short paragraphs of their own.

The not particularly well titled "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth..." is the shortest piece in the book, mere five pages or so. But it is also the most harrowing. Clarke was fond of quoting Bradbury's famous remark that he didn't try to predict the future but to prevent it. That's certainly what Clarke tried to do here, and he did it in a frightfully realistic way. May nobody ever see the Earth as described in this story. Let me not spoil it for those who haven't read it yet. There are only two things more I should like to say about it: (1) the surprise in the end is rather easy to predict, yet it comes with devastating swiftness; (2) the fact that the whole story is told through the eyes of a small boy makes it infinitely more affecting.

"Second Dawn" is the longest piece in the book, extending to some 35 pages or so, and it is pure fantasy, depicting as it does several different races none of them even remotely human. But the idea about a race that has developed only their minds, but has completely neglected the material word, is quite interesting. Considering that the notion is entirely fantastic, and the space even in such a long story is very limited, Clarke has done a great job. As usual with him, the title itself carries a lot of meaning, not all of which is immediately apparent. In fact, the "second dawn" has nothing to do with the two suns that grace the sky of the mythical planet where the story is set. It actually refers to the second most important development of the race that - quite paradoxically! - have the knowledge to solve the most complicated mathematical and philosophical problems, yet such commonplace concepts as a house or a bridge are entirely beyond their fabulously metaphysical minds. The story follows the beginning of a highly accelerated social evolution when this race combines its awesome mental power with the great manual dexterity of another race, altogether different and with rather backward mentality. In short, this is a speculative fiction at its very best: it makes you question ideas and theories you might have thought eternal.

"Loophole" (not "Rescue Party" as usually claimed) has the honour to be Clarke's first published story ever. This is one of the most hilarious pieces of fiction I have ever read. It is rather short and constructed as an exchange of messages between several entities that happen to represent a Martian civilization which threatens the future of the Earth. Discussing the story "Rescue Party" in the collection titled The Sentinel (1983), I have quoted (through Clarke himself) a remark by Gregory Benford that in the end of the story there is a "human-chauvinist twist". There is something very much the same in "Loophole" as well, but it is subtler and more complex. Seldom, indeed, has an ending of a short story made me feel both proud and ashamed of being human. I guess some people who are rather too fond of themselves might find some Martian remarks hard to swallow:

''As might be expected, our demands at first infuriated this stubborn and high-spirited race. The shock to their pride must have been considerable, for they believed themselves to be the only intelligent beings in the Universe.''

Apart from delicious tongue-in-cheek tone coupled with some rather serious reflections, the story also boasts something that Clarke has made a specialty of: surprised ending. In fact, it is doubled here. The first one you can see it coming easily, yet it comes so swiftly that one may be left stunned. And in the very last line of the story - another of Clarke's trademarks - there is another surprise, and this one I at least didn't expect at all. Such devices are effective and exciting, but as a kind of side effect they may often seem contrived and unnatural. One of Clarke multiple talents is that his endings often pack quite a punch without seem exaggerated at all.

All in all, uneven collection but still an impressive achievement for a writer who had just turned 36 by the time it was first published. Even the dullest piece here ("Inheritance") is readable and enjoyable. The finest stories - "The Sentinel", "Breaking Strain", "Second Dawn", "Loophole", "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth..." - are among Clarke's most perfectly crafted attempts in the genre. They also demonstrate his remarkable versatility in terms of moods, settings, characterisation and narrative techniques.

P. S. A musical digression. There is some evidence here that Jean Sibelius is among Clarke's favourite composers. There is a fascinating reference to his Seventh Symphony in ''History Lesson'', namely an orchestral score of it published in Peking somewhere in the 23rd century. (Pity the Venusians did not pick up that for their research on our perished culture!) Compare this with the even more remarkable reference to Sibelius in one of the notes to the collection The Sentinel, where Clarke mentions the obsessive theme from the finale of the great Second Symphony. I wonder if they ever met. Sibelius certainly did meet Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989), one of the foremost champions of his music during the last century. When the great Finnish composer died in 1957, aged almost 92, Clarke himself was no younger than 39. But I guess, considering their vastly different professions, a meeting is rather unlikely to have occurred. Pity. They might have found each other's company stimulating. Why the music of the one apparently appeals strongly to the other remains anybody's guess. One possible hypothesis is the unique character of both of these great men, yet the high degree in which their arts may complement each other. I don't know about ''cold fusion'', but if there is such thing as ''cold passion'', this is the music of Jean Sibelius. It suits the desolate Finnish landscape just as well as it does the Space with capital ''S''.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Several Great Stories 2 Jan 2001
By Bill R. Moore - Published on Amazon.com
This book shows why Arthur C. Clarke is a great writer. As the quotation on the front of the book so aptly puts it "In his fiction he thinks at once like a poet and like an engineer-and writes, at his best, like an angel". Indeed. Of the stories in this collection, several stand out. Superiority was issued as required reading at MIT's Engineering courses after publication. "If I Forget Thee On Earth..." is a nice short piece that is in Freshman Literature books. The Sentinel, was, of course, the "inspiration" for 2001. Second Dawn and Exile of the Eons are two other good stories in here. But my personal favorite from this collection is History Lesson, a seemingly very serious story with a last sentence that will have you howling with laughter. Typical Clarke wit. This is a nice book for the ACC fan.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great stories 16 Feb 2013
By Ralph L. Berry - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
If you like Clarke here are a number of pieces you may have missed. Quite enjoyable to round out the experience of his work.
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