"Prelude to Mars" is an interesting collection from Arthur C. Clarke. It includes his first novel, "Prelude to Space", eight humorous short fiction stories, eight serious short fiction stories, and his second novel, "The Sands of Mars". This collection was published in 1965, and it provides readers with an easy way to get a hold of Clarke's first two novels.
The first section of the book is "Prelude to Mars", Clarke's first novel, which he wrote in 1947 in just 20 days. It wasn't published until 1951. It is strong on technical details and makes some fairly good predictions about the first mission to the moon, but the character development isn't there and the political situation surrounding the effort is pretty far off the mark. The book was tied for 25th on the 1956 Astounding/Analog poll for science fiction books.
The next section is "On the Light Side" which consists of eight stories all of which are from Clarke's "White Hart" series. This is a fun collection of stories and if you don't have them somewhere else this is as good as any place to find them, though you will only get part of the collection here. Clarke includes some other science fiction writers in these stories under pseudonyms, including his own role as narrator. One of the stories, "Trouble with the Natives" is not typically included as a "White Hart" story because it is written from the perspective of aliens, but it does mention the pub by name so I tend to include it.
The next section is "On the Serious Side" and includes eight works of short fiction which, not surprisingly are series instead of humorous. This includes a variety of stories which don't appear to have any particular connection, so it isn't clear why they were chosen. There are some similarities between a few of them, but on the whole it appears to be a fairly random selection of stories from 1946 - 1953.
The last section is "The Sands of Mars", Clarke's second novel which was also published in 1951. The differences between this novel and his first become very clear quickly. Clarke spends a lot more time on the characters in the second novel, and while the science is certainly still there, it doesn't feel as forced as in his first novel. That being said, the story does include some rather hard to believe coincidences, so I would rank it overall slightly below the first novel, especially when one looks at believability. Of interest is the use of the same idea as Clarke would use in one of his later works, 2010.
Overall a decent collection, and one which I rank above each of the individual parts. It certainly gives the reader a good look at Clarke's early work, and in particular his first two novels. Even if these are not Clarke's masterpieces, they are still worth reading.