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The Wind from the Sun by Arthur C. Clarke

The Wind from the Sun (1973)

by Arthur C. Clarke

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A collection of 18 short stories written in the 1960s and early 1970s - these stories, in my mind at least, really stand the test of time. For the most part, I found them fresh and compelling. For stories that are almost 60 years old, that's an impressive feat.

There are really too many stories to give a review for each one, but I think I really liked Maelstrom II, The Wind From the Sun, The Light of Darkness, Neutron Tide, and Transit of Earth. All pretty stellar in my book. ( )
  helver | Oct 19, 2017 |
Not among Clarke's best work, still, a very fine collection of short stories.
It's always such a treat to read intelligent sf written by an actual scientist,
especially one as good and imaginative as Clarke. Mainly because there are many things that would easily be overlooked by someone who is not so familiar with actual physical laws, also because someone who does scientific research would be more inclined to observe and question negative consequences of scientific revolutions and discoveries on society which often does not follow hand in hand with its mentality, and to explore new possibilities imposed by them.
Most of the stories are rather blah and unimaginative, but few of them stand out.
The wind from the Sun, Transit of Earth, Crusade and A meeting with Medusa are among my favorite from this collection. ( )
  UnChatNoir | Apr 27, 2013 |
Not among Clarke's best work, still, a very fine collection of short stories.
It's always such a treat to read intelligent sf written by an actual scientist,
especially one as good and imaginative as Clarke. Mainly because there are many things that would easily be overlooked by someone who is not so familiar with actual physical laws, also because someone who does scientific research would be more inclined to observe and question negative consequences of scientific revolutions and discoveries on society which often does not follow hand in hand with its mentality, and to explore new possibilities imposed by them.
Most of the stories are rather blah and unimaginative, but few of them stand out.
The wind from the Sun, Transit of Earth, Crusade and A meeting with Medusa are among my favorite from this collection. ( )
  Erythrina | Apr 25, 2013 |
Arthur C. Clarke

The Wind from the Sun

Signet / New American Library, Paperback, [1973].

12mo. [viii]+168 pp. Preface by Arthur Clarke, February 1972 [v-vi].

First published, 1972.
Some later editions (Signet, 1987) contain also ''Quarantine'' (1977), ''siseneG'' (1984) and ''When the Twerms Came'' (1972).



The Food of the Gods [1964]
Maelstrom II [1965]
The Shining Ones [1962]
The Wind from the Sun [1964]
The Secret [1963]
The Last Command [1965]
Dial F for Frankenstein [1965]
Reunion [1971]
Playback [1966]
The Light of Darkness [1966]
The Longest Science-fiction Story Ever Told [1966]
Herbert George Morley Roberts Wells, Esq. [1967]
Love That Universe [1961]
Crusade [1968]
The Cruel Sky [1967]
Neutron Tide [1970]
Transit of Earth [1971]
A Meeting with Medusa [1971]

*In square brackets, the year of first publication, usually in a magazine.


This is Arthur Clarke's sixth and last short story collection. It collects for the first time all pieces of short fiction he wrote between 1962 and 1971 and thought worth preserving in book form. After the publication of Rendezvous with Rama (1973), Arthur concentrated almost exclusively on writing novels. Although he produced quite a few essays as well, he wrote but a handful of short sketches, rather than stories, until the end of his life; some of these are included in later editions (Signet, 1987) of The Wind from the Sun, some in the magnificent collection Tales from Planet Earth (1989), and some were scattered through other books and magazines until they were collected in the appropriately titled The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke (2000). At any rate, Arthur's first six collections, containing 95 stories written in the course of 25 years (1946-71), is a very significant body of work that doubtless places him among the finest masters of the short story (sci-fi or not):

Expedition to Earth (1953)
Reach for Tomorrow (1956)
Tales from the White Hart (1957)
The Other Side of the Sky (1958)
Tales of Ten Worlds (1962)
The Wind from the Sun (1972)

[Of course the list above omits collections such as The Nine Billion Names of God (1967) and Of Time and Stars (1972) for the simple reason that they reprinted only stories that had previously appeared in other of Clarke's collections.]

As last short story collections go (cf Maugham's Creatures of Circumstance, 1947), The Wind from the Sun is quite a disparate selection. On the one hand, there are long, novella-like masterpieces like "A Meeting with Medusa", exploring the staggering wonders of the Jovian atmosphere with utmost vividness, and stories of middle length dealing with the ever-fascinating worlds of celestial mechanics ("Maelstrom II", the title's an homage to Poe) or sun sailing ("The Wind from the Sun"). All these may be described as "gimmick stories", or "hard science fiction", or any other of these perfectly useless terms. In simple words, these are pieces firmly based on real scientific foundations, but they are fiction: beautifully written, intellectually challenging, emotionally appealing and vastly entertaining. It's fun to try to spot the "gimmick" – e. g. the lunar catapult in "Maelstrom II", the aligning of the Sun, Earth and Mars in "Transit of Earth", antigravity in "The Cruel Sky", the solar wind in the eponymous story, or the monstrous gravity of neutron stars in "Neutron Tide" – but it cannot be repeated too often that with Arthur Clarke the "gimmick" is never an end in itself; these quotation marks are not here for aesthetic purposes.

On the other hand, there are silly jokes like "The Longest Science-fiction Story Ever Told" (a full half-page long, yet infinite) and rather "genreless" (if I am allow to invent a word) pieces such as "Herbert George Morley Roberts Wells, Esq." which investigates the mysterious fellow who wrote "The Anticipator" but was not the great H. G. Wells as Clarke thought. Even this strange piece of (mostly) non-fiction manages to pack quite a punch in the end. This above-mentioned story, written as it turned out by one Morley Roberts, dealt with the compelling notion of mental plagiarism. In simpler words, this means stealing the ideas of an author before he can put them down on paper himself. Arthur's suggestion in the very end of his story/essay is so tantalising, that one is quite disappointed to discover that H. G. Wells died, aged 79, only four years after Morley Roberts. Why the latter, apparently a fine writer if "The Anticipator" is anything to judge by, left so little a mark on the history of science fiction remains something of a mystery.

It must be admitted that there are several stories in the volume which are not exactly to Arthur's credit. These are actually sketches that never made it into stories. "Playback" is the most baffling example: a few pages of incoherent rambling I don't know what to make of. Apparently some guy has lost his body and only his consciousness remains, in contact with some obscure higher intelligence, something like that. It reminds me of Dave Bowman's last and ultimate travel in the end of 2001 which, incidentally, was written at around the same time. Unlike this masterpiece, however, "Playback" is very poorly executed and really not worth reading. "Reunion" and "The Last Command" fare a great deal better, but are nonetheless very insubstantial pieces. The ideas are compelling – mankind's predecessors coming back from space in the former and the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust between the USA and the USSR in the latter – but the execution is rather lame, the twists in the end included. "Dial F for Frankenstein" explores the utterly fantastic idea of a global electronic network acquiring a mind of its own which, again, might have spawned something worthy but in this case it didn't.

Such disappointing might-have-beens, however, are the exception in this volume, by no means are they the rule. In fact, sometimes Arthur does manage to stretch the imagination to its limits even with such sketches. A particular favourite in this respect is "Love That Universe", mere three pages or so that finish with a quotation from Auden – "We must love ourselves or die" – whose implications in this case are critical for our survival. The story is one of Arthur's last experiments with psychic phenomena, as usual on a scale that I at least find hard to imagine, and it is also one of his many tributes to those putative alien civilizations who, contrary to what our astrologers think, decide the destinies of the stars. It may be more fantasy than science fiction, but it is hardly less moving for that. "Crusade" explores the idea of a super intelligence that encompasses a whole world, one so deeply frozen in the interstellar night that oceans of liquid helium exist*. After eons of existence and exploration, this bizarre mind has discovered a monstrously hot world where some form of feeble organic intelligence appears to exist. Preposterous as it seems, the Great Mind sends a crusade against it anyway. The moral is clear and quite mind-bending: to expect that other intelligence in the universe, should it exist, would resemble us in any way is a parochial prejudice; and there can hardly be a better example of spiritual immaturity than crusade. Last but not least, "Neutron Tide" is a tongue-in-cheek tour de force in the best traditions of earlier masterpieces like "Loophole" and "Trouble with the Natives". It is merely a page or so long, yet it gives an overwhelmingly vivid impression of the unimaginable gravity field that a neutron star must possess – as the fate of the aptly named spaceship "Flatbush" eloquently demonstrated. The story finishes with a lovely pun at the expense of the United States. After the slightly unequal fight with the neutron star, the only thing that was left from the great ship, once the pride of its country, was one "star-mangled spanner".

There are several pieces of middle-length which are less provocative than their shorter relatives but still raise some important issues. "The Secret" – let me spoil the story for you! – is concerned with the very plausible elongation of human life on the Moon due to its six times smaller gravity. Unfortunately the story ends where it might have begun: with the profound social consequences when the secret is finally discovered. "The Light of Darkness" is told in the first person by an eminent African scientist who's planning a most unusual, and scientifically very sophisticated, type of assassination. The target is an evil dictator with the rather conventional name Chaka, but the most compelling part of the story are the descriptions of a giant radio telescope, rather than the unexpected results of his assassination. "The Food of the Gods" is a flippant affair of considerable value as light-hearted entertainment. It is set in the distant future where synthetic foods have abolished anything as primitive as agriculture, not to mention slaughterhouses. One such new food – Ambrosia Plus – has made quite a stir but now its mysterious formula is finally revealed. As it turns out it is far more horrible than even most of our carnivore predecessors, let alone our fastidious descendants, could have imagined. Like "The Secret", the story cunningly ends exactly where the philosophical implications of this secret begin. This is not as terrible as it might seem, though. It gives a greater scope to the imagination of the reader.

Most of the fairly long stories in the volume are among Arthur Clarke's finest creations. "The Wind from the Sun" and "A Meeting with Medusa" I have discussed in my remarks about the collection The Sentinel (1983). Here I would like to say a few words about "Maelstrom II" and "Transit of Earth". Both are among Arthur's most affecting pieces of fiction. He often said in his non-fiction writings that space will certainly lead to entirely new and very different, yet no less heart-rending, types of adventures, dramas, epics, and sagas. Here are two superb examples how the inexorable laws of celestial mechanics may lead to tragedies, and let me semi-spoil the two stories for you: only one of them has a happy end. Apart from the strong scientific element, both stories also contain stunning descriptive passages, of flying around the Moon and of the passing of the Earth over the Sun respectively, and absolutely masterful characterisation. I should like also to note some intriguing musical references as in one of the stories the protagonist is listening to the "New World" Symphony, Grieg's Piano Concerto and Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini", collectively and somewhat disparagingly called "lighter orchestral classics". (The fact that they are extremely popular does not necessarily mean that they are lighter stuff, Arthur.) And here is one of the most shattering endings I have ever read, and with the most appropriate music:

And when my oxygen alarm gives its final "ping," somewhere down there in that haunted wilderness, I'm going to finish in style.
For sheer, triumphant power and glory there's nothing in the whole of music to match the Toccata and Fugue in D. I won't have time to hear all of it; that doesn't matter.
Johann Sebastian, here I come.

(This is scientifically inaccurate, Arthur. It implies that the work is in D major, but it really is in D minor, of course. Never mind.)

"The Shining Ones" must be mentioned because it is one of Arthur's tributes to a creature he had a life-long fascination with: the giant squid. Quite apart from ravishing descriptions of normal squids, flashing in many changing colours in the dark depths, and the fathoms/furlongs problem in Melville's Moby Dick**, the story has a most interesting scientific premise – harnessing the thermal energy of the ocean – and a simply terrific sting in the tail. "The Cruel Sky" moves you from the depths of the Indian Ocean (near Sri Lanka, of course) all the way up to Everest. It's a highly dramatic story about a couple of scientists who are going to revolutionalise mountaineering, and pretty much everything else, by the invention of antigravity devises. Since the professor in this story is confined to a wheelchair, later in his life, when his illness did him the same "favour", Arthur came to regard this story with a special kind of feeling. It is yet another example how under his pen even the driest scientific matter is brought to life and put into purely human perspective.

All in all, trying to evaluate my experience of the book as a whole, which is difficult enough for any book but is especially hard in the case of short story collections, I find myself rather overwhelmed – yet again – by Arthur's limitless imagination and masterful pen. It is curious, and regrettable, that the former should be so widely recognised while the latter should be dismissed as all but non-existent. From 18 stories here, there are only two ("The Longest Science-fiction Story Ever Told" and "Playback") which are not worth-reading. Another three – "The Last Command", "Dial F for Frankenstein" and "Reunion" – are sketches too insubstantial to be engaging. But the rest 13 pieces consistently range between good ("The Light of Darkness", "The Food of the Gods") and excellent (the rest 11, regardless of the length). A very fine way to end quarter of a century of short story writing indeed!


* A favourite theme of Arthur. See the essay "Seas of Tomorrow" from the collection Voices from the Sky (1965).

** See Astounding Days ("Out of the Dreadful Depths") for further discussion of the Melville-problem as well as of these astonishing creatures, the squids. ( )
2 vote Waldstein | Feb 23, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0575600527, Mass Market Paperback)

A volume containing all 18 short stories written by Arthur C. Clarke in the 1960s. They depict a future in which technologies are beginning to dictate man's lifestyle - even to demand life for themselves.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:07 -0400)

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