Arthur C. Clarke
Expedition to Earth
Ballantine, Paperback, 1961.
12mo. 167 pp.
First published, 1953.
Second printing, 1961.
Second Dawn 
"If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth..." 
Breaking Strain 
History Lesson **
Exile of the Eons ***
Hide and Seek 
Expedition to Earth ****
The Sentinel 
* 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''.