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"SIR ARTHUR C. CLARKE (1917-2008) wrote the novel and co-authored the screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey. He has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, and he is the only science-fiction writer to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. His fiction and nonfiction have sold more than one hundred million copies in print worldwide.
Islands In The Sky is certainly not on par with such later Clarke masterpieces as 2001 or Rendezvous With Rama, nor is it intended to be. This very, very early Clarke novel is just about the only work in his entire canon that seems to have been written with the teen audience in mind. The protagonist is of the "coming of age" age that is commonly featured in such stories, and Clarke uses this to narrarate the story in a slightly condescending, naive tone that is appropriate for such a character. It's quite different for Clarke, who usually writes in such a philosophical, poetic style. It reminds a lot of Robert A. Heinlein's many excellent juvenile novels. As such, this book, while far from being Clarke's best work, this book serves as an excellent introduction to Arthur C. Clarke's incomparable canon, or to the wonderful world of science fiction.
Islands in the Sky (1952) is a science fiction story about the travel adventures of a teenager. Roy Malcolm is a typical boy who really wants to go into space. He becomes a contestant in a Aviation Quiz Program on television and wins first place. When asked where on earth he wants to go, Roy answers "the Inner Station". Despite quite a few objections, the sponsors finally agree to send him into space.
Roy must first pass the medical tests required of space workers. Then he rides on the Sirius into orbit. Finally the spaceship docks at the station and he is towed aboard.
After meeting Commander Doyle, Roy is introduced to the ten apprentices who are currently in training. Tim Benton, the senior apprentice, gives him a tour of the working station and a view of the Residential Station, a hotel for passengers in transit. Then Tim allows Roy to accompany him outside.
Wearing a spacesuit for the first time, Roy is initially terrified by the great fall beneath him. Then he is fascinated by Earth in the sunlight. Then he is overcome by the splendor of space as darkness momentarily surrounds him. He realizes that these few experiences have profoundly changed his life.
Roy spends much of his time with the apprentices, both during their training and in their free periods. He is the butt of Norman Powell's practical jokes, the wrestling partner of Ronnie Jordan, and a witness to the "space pirates" encounter by Peter von Holberg and Karl Hasse. The latter adventure turned out to be the beginning of a space movie.
Roy went on to even more adventures. He helps medevac a sick man to the Space Hospital, meets an "alien monster", and passes out from oxygen deprivation. He also gets to travel in a runaway rocket past the Moon.Read more ›
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Let us start with an oft-voiced criticism of Arthur C. Clarke's _Islands in the Sky_ (1952): It is not up to Clarke's usual standards. I am sure that a knowledgeable science fiction fan could readily rattle off half a dozen novels by Clarke that are much better pieces of writing. I won't bother to try.
But that being said, is the novel really all that bad? If we look at Isaac Asimov's Lucky Starr series (1952-58) or James Blish's _The Star Dwellers_ (1961) and _Welcome to Mars!_ (1967), we see some juvenile fiction that is fairly weak tea. It's not really _bad_, mind you. But it is just... routine. Clarke's novel is much better written, and it may be fairly counted as one of the best of the Winston line of books for young readers.
The novel invites comparison with another excellent Winston juvenile-- Jack Vance's _Vandals of the Void_ (1953). Vance's book is unabashed, colorful, melodramatic space opera. Clarke's book is the opposite-- a low-key, quiet, realistic treatment of day-to-day life on a space station. Clarke was faced with a problem in writing such a book. If you are going to be low-key and realistic, how are you going to make your story interesting to young readers? There is in fact nothing more boring than a thinly disguised science lecture.
Clarke's solution was to set up a series of events that _seem_ to be mysterious and melodramatic and then to playfully deflate them. Thus, there are moments when it seems as if you are reading about space pirates, aliens, and deadly atomic missles. But in fact, something else is going on instead. Yet the seemingly mundane explanation manages to be just as interesting as the melodramatic scenario; and step by step, it reveals a bit more about the nuts and bolts of life in a space habitat.
Clarke was faced with a problem. He worked out a solution to that problem. He wrote smart and he wrote well. Do you want to gripe because he didn't turn out a classic?
While the scientific "facts" are dated, this is still a good story. For the main message is not about what kind of life, if any, there is on Mercury or Mars, it is about the mindset of the humans that will venture into and colonize areas beyond the Earth. Roy is a young man participating in a quiz show where the subject is about airplanes, space ships and space travel. The prize is supposed to be an all-expenses paid flight to anywhere on Earth. However, Roy has set his sights much higher, when he wins; his request is to go to Inner Station, an artificial satellite orbiting the Earth. After some vacillation, World Airways agrees to allow him to go. Roy arrives on Inner Station and begins his tour as a space traveler. He learns quickly and also discovers the mindset of the men who fly in space. It is one of adventure, constant danger and good times. When his tour is over, Roy knows that he will be coming back, as he is determined to make space his career. The book is written in typical Clarke style, with scientific details used to explain whenever possible. He describes the computational problems of space flight, how you must chart a course to where the target will be when you get there, not where it is now. Clarke also describes some of the difficulties and the level of skills needed to bolt things together in space. Although much has changed since 1952 in the realm of scientific fact, the human personality has not and other than including females in the crews, the people described in this book will be models for people traveling in space a century from now.
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