"The Other Side of the Sky" is a collection of short stories by Arthur C Clarke, an author whom many consider as an icon of both classic and contemporary science fiction. Frankly, I never agreed. I always felt that his work was pretentious - "literary" in the most pejorative sense of the word, mystifying, muddy and purposely deep, yet without clarity, for the sole purpose of achieving the lofty height of being arty.
No doubt others may disagree with me, but when I read the opening story in this collection, "The Nine Billion Names of God", my first reaction was disappointment - "oh, oh, more of the same"! Why would anyone, even those with an abiding faith in their god, believe that there was some sort of deep religious or philosophical ramification to the act of physically preparing a complete list of the permutations of an arbitrarily selected set of letters? What meaningless drivel!
I almost closed the book at that point and I suspect it was because the next story was only a few pages long that I decided to try it anyway. And what a lucky choice for me! From that point on, the collection was a thoroughgoing winner with everything a reader could wish for - charm, characterization, fun, pathos, warmth, wit, depth, twists, humour, human interest, solid science and thought-provoking questions - all of this without ever stooping to being either mundane or, worse yet, snobbish and superior.
A few examples will perhaps to serve to whet the appetite. "Refugee" manages to humanize the British royal family in a most appealing way. "Special Delivery" explains some of the difficulties of living in a satellite and the physical implications of a jammed autopilot that accelerates a rocket delivering supplies for just a few seconds too long - a very, very small incident that illustrates the enormous implications of such a tiny event. "Cosmic Casanova" is pure space humour with an unexpected ending reserved for the final sentence in the manner of Jeffrey Archer's "A Twist in the Tale". "Publicity Campaign" is tongue in cheek and humorous but it is also a clear and scathing condemnation of bigotry and man's xenophobia. "The Star" could not be perceived as anti-religious in its tone but this tale of a very special and unique supernova should provoke more than a little head-scratching and puzzlement in those that would interpret the Bible literally. (This was probably my favourite story in the entire collection)
If you're already an Arthur C Clarke fan, I'm sure you'll enjoy "The Other Side of the Sky". If like me, you were unconvinced of his right to icon status, try this one on for size. Plenty enjoyable enough that I'd be happy to pick up more of Clarke's work and give it a try again. Maybe I'll even go back and try some of his other stuff again to see if perhaps I missed something. It's happened before!
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