This book is an omnibus of two stories, one novella and one novel from Arthur C. Clarke's early days as an science fiction writer. In this book's Introduction Clarke states that he was influenced in writing these by John W. Campbell and his story 'Twilight', and Olaf Stapleton and his novel "Last And First Men". And while I can see these influences, especially in Clarke's millennia reaching concepts here, these stories also clearly have the influences of writers like his contemporary Leigh Brackett, and his predecessor Clark Ashton Smith stamped all over these two stories.
The first story here is the novella "The Lion Of Comarre". In it, and in the year 3100, Richard Peyton III is an utter disgrace to his family. His father and his great and influential grandfather want him to go into something respectable, like the arts, but Richard is stubborn, he wants to specialize in the lost skills of being a technologist/engineer. Unable to change his parents minds, Richard runs away to his friend's, Alan Henson II, residence where Alan's research into Richard's ancestry has found that he is a direct descendent, twenty-two times removed, to the great Rolf Thordarsen, the legendary creator and builder of the fabled Comarre. Comarre was built by the ancients, which lasted but a brief time in human history before falling to human apathy. However, those human ruler that came later have chosen to destroy and/or hide all information and knowledge about it, so that now, like Atlantis, Comarre is has become a legend among mankind.
Richard, with the help of the scientific underground finds his way to Comarre, and it is here that he that he will find out if the legends told about Comarre are correct, or whether the legend is just that, a legend.
This is a charming, and innocent questing, and coming-of-age story as a young man finds his purpose in life. Personally, I found the novella a little too short, it could have gone on for more pages, and I still would have enjoyed this story just as much. It's too bad that Clarke never continued Richard's story in further stories. But, maybe it was for the best as the imaginative reader can now create Richard's life from this point onward, as we were probably meant to do.
The second story in this omnibus is "Against The Fall Of Night" which is an early version of the novel "The City And The Stars", and oddly enough, both novels have remained simultaneously in print ever since their creation.
Like "The Lion Of Comarre", the novel "Against The Fall Of Night" is another coming-of-age story, a story of the far, far future, and of mankind that has grown complacent in their near immortality. Only in this novel, things have become much, much worse. Alvin is the only child that has been born in seven thousand years, and he has become lonely as he has no real contemporaries, and intellectually restless.
Alvin starts to dig around in Diaspar's past, and to ask uncomfortable questions, such as, what is the world actually like beyond the walls of Diaspar. His curiosity, his questions, and his exploring of the, now abandoned, buildings that make up Diaspar's outskirts', is frowned upon. It's these building which are the only place in the city where a person can see the stars in the sky
Being the headstrong boy that he is, Alvin finds ways to find information about his inquiries, even if such information gathering is frowned on, and he is aided in his quest by his friend, the current Keeper of the Records, Rorden, who is also curious about Diaspar's past.
Alvin's journey only really takes off when he finds out that despite common knowledge and apathy, there is still another city on Earth that has been forgotten by the residents of Diaspar. It is the city Lys, and all passages to it have either been blocked, or hidden, so that those that wish to travel to it have to earn the right to travel there.
Even so, as Rorden points out to Alvin, even if they were to find one of the ways to get there, Alvin is simply not prepared to go. Alvin agrees, and so another journey is embarked on; the first, to find a passage to Lys and the second, to prepare himself for the journey, and as he prepares, Clarke shows Alvin becoming more and more aware of his surroundings, and as such, himself.
Essentially, both of these stories are thematically linked, as both Alvin and Richard are cut from the same cloth. Both are young men who are intellectually restless, curious, stubborn, and willing to endure hardships in the pursuit of information, and adventure, Never has rebellion seemed so respectful in the way that both will rebel against society, societal mores, and societal assumptions, and who will still find their place in the universe through their trials, adventure(s), and their revolutionary shake-ups of their home societies. Both have that wistful far-looking innocence, and romanticism, that pre-digest pulp science fiction, and science fiction prose often had. Here's an example of the prose that can be found in these books: "They watched in silence, and with them all the thousands in the streets and towers of Diaspar, until the last cloud slowly faded from sight, sucked dry by the hot, parched air of the unending deserts." It was for stuff like this that I first started reading science fiction.
Both stories also manage to find romance and wonder in mankind's decadence. Both of these stories were written and meant for John W. Campbell's "Astounding Stories", but were rejected, and would appear in one of science fiction's last great pulps, "Thrilling Wonder Stories" in 1949 and 1948, respectively, and this is probably for the best. While little known today by current science fiction readers, these two stories are time capsules of an earlier age, and a younger, and still learning, future science fiction master, and are full of wonder, and well worth rediscovering from time when sf wasn't all endless series, war and/or horror fiction.
A special notice should be taken of the cover, which, quite frankly, by all definitions, sucks. A chimpanzee throwing it's feces against a canvas could have done a better job.
For this site I have also reviewed these other science fiction books:
Beachheads in Space (selections) edited by August Derleth.
Fantasy Reader #1: Alien Carnival by Walt Liebscher.
Gravity (Wheeler Compass) by Tess Gerritsen.
Jemma7729 by Phoebe Wray.
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol. 1: 1929-1964 edited by Robert Silverberg.
Extraodinary Tales of Victorian Futurism: Steampunk edited by Mike Ashley.
Transit of Earth (Playboy Science Fiction) edited by Ray Russell.
Trouble With Tycho by Clifford D. Simak.
I have also reviewed these facsimile pulp magazine reprints:
Marvel Tales: December 1939.
Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories - 06-07/31 edited by Elliot Dold.
Out Of This World Adventures #2 (December 1950) edited by Donald A. Wollheim.
Planet Stories: Summer 1947 edited by Paul L. Payne.
Planet Stories: Winter 1949 edited by Paul L. Payne.
Startling Stories: January 1942 edited by Oscar J. Friend.