Reach for Tomorrow Hardcover – Dec 1962
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About the Author
Arthur C. Clarke was born in Minehead in 1917. During the Second World War he served as a radar instructor for the RAF, rising to the rank of flight-lieutenant. After the war, he entered King's college, London taking, in 1948, his Bsc in physics and mathematics with first class honours.One of the most respected of all science-fiction writers, he has won Kalinga Prize, the Aviation Space-Writers' Prize and the Westinghouse Science Writing Prize. He also shared an Oscar nomination with Stanley Kubrick for the screenplay of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was based on his story, 'The Sentinel'. He has lived in Sri Lanka since 1956. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Who was to blame? For three days Alveron's thoughts had come back to that question, and still he had found no answer. A creature of a less civilized or a less sensitive race would never have let it torture his mind, and would have satisfied himself with the assurance that no one could be responsible for the working of fate. But Alveron and his kind had been lords of the Universe since the dawn of history, since that far distant age when the Time Barrier had been folded round the cosmos by the unknown powers that lay beyond the Beginning. To them had been given all knowledge--and with infinite knowledge went infinite responsibility. If there were mistakes and errors in the administration of the galaxy, the fault lay on the heads of Alveron and his people. And this was no mere mistake: it was one of the greatest tragedies in history.
The crew still knew nothing. Even Rugon, his closest friend and the ship's deputy captain, had been told only part of the truth. But now the doomed worlds lay less than a billion miles ahead. In a few hours, they would be landing on the third planet.
Once again Alveron read the message from Base; then, with a flick of a tentacle that no human eye could have followed, he pressed the "General Attention" button. Throughout the mile-long cylinder that was the Galactic Survey Ship S9000, creatures of many races laid down their work to listen to the words of their captain.
"I know you have all been wondering," began Alveron, "why we were ordered to abandon our survey and to proceed at such an acceleration to this region of space. Some of you may realize what this acceleration means. Our ship is on its last voyage: the generators have already been running for sixty hours at Ultimate Overload. We will be very lucky if we return to Base under our own power.
"We are approaching a sun which is about to become a Nova. Detonation will occur in seven hours, with an uncertainty of one hour, leaving us a maximum of only four hours for exploration. There are ten planets in the system about to be destroyed--and there is a civilization on the third. That fact was discovered only a few days ago. It is our tragic mission to contact that doomed race and if possible to save some of its members. I know that there is little we can do in so short a time with this single ship. No other machine can possibly reach the system before detonation occurs."
There was a long pause during which there could have been no sound or movement in the whole of the mighty ship as it sped silently toward the worlds ahead. Alveron knew what his companions were thinking and he tried to answer their unspoken question.
"You will wonder how such a disaster, the greatest of which we have any record, has been allowed to occur. On one point I can reassure you. The fault does not lie with the Survey.
"As you know, with our present fleet of under twelve thousand ships, it is possible to re-examine each of the eight thousand million solar systems in the Galaxy at intervals of about a million years. Most worlds change very little in so short a time as that.
"Less than four hundred thousand years ago, the survey ship S5060 examined the planets of the system we are approaching. It found intelligence on none of them, though the third planet was teeming with animal life and two other worlds had once been inhabited. The usual report was submitted and the system is due for its next examination in six hundred thousand years.
"It now appears that in the incredibly short period since the last survey, intelligent life has appeared in the system. The first intimation of this occurred when unknown radio signals were detected on the planet Kulath in the system X29.35, Y34.76, Z27.93. Bearings were taken on them; they were coming from the system ahead.
"Kulath is two hundred light-years from here, so those radio waves had been on their way for two centuries. Thus for at least that period of time a civilization has existed on one of these worlds--a civilization that can generate electromagnetic waves and all that that implies.
"An immediate telescopic examination of the system was made and it was then found that the sun was in the unstable pre-nova stage. Detonation might occur at any moment, and indeed might have done so while the light waves were on their way to Kulath.
"There was a slight delay while the supervelocity scanners on Kulath II were focused on to the system. They showed that the explosion had not yet occurred but was only a few hours away. If Kulath had been a fraction of a light-year further from this sun, we should never have known of its civilization until it had ceased to exist.
"The Administrator of Kulath contacted Sector Base immediately, and I was ordered to proceed to the system at once. Our object is to save what members we can of the doomed race, if indeed there are any left. But we have assumed that a civilization possessing radio could have protected itself against any rise of temperature that may have already occurred.
"This ship and the two tenders will each explore a section of the planet. Commander Torkalee will take Number One, Commander Orostron Number Two. They will have just under four hours in which to explore this world. At the end of that time, they must be back in the ship. It will be leaving then, with or without them. I will give the two commanders detailed instructions in the control room immediately.
"That is all. We enter atmosphere in two hours."
On the world once known as Earth the fires were dying out: there was nothing left to burn. The great forests that had swept across the planet like a tidal wave with the passing of the cities were now no more than glowing charcoal and the smoke of their funeral pyres still stained the sky. But the last hours were still to come, for the surface rocks had not yet begun to flow. The continents were dimly visible through the haze, but their outlines meant nothing to the watchers in the approaching ship. The charts they possessed were out of date by a dozen Ice Ages and more deluges than one.
The S9000 had driven past Jupiter and seen at once that no life could exist in those half-gaseous oceans of compressed hydrocarbons, now erupting furiously under the sun's abnormal heat. Mars and the outer planets they had missed, and Alveron realized that the worlds nearer the sun than Earth would be already melting. It was more than likely, he thought sadly, that the tragedy of this unknown race was already finished. Deep in his heart, he thought it might be better so. The ship could only have carried a few hundred survivors, and the problem of selection had been haunting his mind.
Rugon, Chief of Communications and Deputy Captain, came into the control room. For the last hour he had been striving to detect radiation from Earth, but in vain.
"We're too late," he announced gloomily. "I've monitored the whole spectrum and the ether's dead except for our own stations and some two-hundred-year-old programs from Kulath. Nothing in this system is radiating any more."
He moved toward the giant vision screen with a graceful flowing motion that no mere biped could ever hope to imitate. Alveron said nothing; he had been expecting this news.
One entire wall of the control room was taken up by the screen, a great black rectangle that gave an impression of almost infinite depth. Three of Rugon's slender control tentacles, useless for heavy work but incredibly swift at all manipulation, flickered over the selector dials and the screen lit up with a thousand points of light. The star field flowed swiftly past as Rugon adjusted the controls, bringing the projector to bear upon the sun itself.
No man of Earth would have recognized the monstrous shape that filled the screen. The sun's light was white no longer: great violet-blue clouds covered half its surface and from them long streamers of flame were erupting into space. At one point an enormous prominence had reared itself out of the photosphere, far out even into the flickering veils of the corona. It was as though a tree of fire had taken root in the surface of the sun--a tree that stood half a million miles high and whose branches were rivers of flame sweeping through space at hundreds of miles a second.
"I suppose," said Rugon presently, "that you are quite satisfied about the astronomers' calculations. After all--"
"Oh, we're perfectly safe," said Alveron confidently. "I've spoken to Kulath Observatory and they have been making some additional checks through our own instruments. That uncertainty of an hour includes a private safety margin which they won't tell me in case I feel tempted to stay any longer."
He glanced at the instrument board.
"The pilot should have brought us to the atmosphere now. Switch the screen back to the planet, please. Ah, there they go!"
There was a sudden tremor underfoot and a raucous clanging of alarms, instantly stilled. Across the vision screen two slim projectiles dived toward the looming mass of Earth. For a few miles they traveled together, then they separated, one vanishing abruptly as it entered the shadow of the planet.
Slowly the huge mother ship, with its thousand times greater mass, descended after them into the raging storms that already were tearing down the deserted cities of Man.
It was night in the hemisphere over which Orostron drove his tiny command. Like Torkalee, his mission was to photograph and record, and to report progress to the mother ship. The little scout had no room for specimens or passengers. If contact was made with the inhabitants of this world, the S9000 would come at once. There would be no time for parleying. If there was any trouble the rescue would be by force and the explanations could come later.
The ruined land beneath was bathed with an eerie, flickering light, for a great auroral display was raging over half the world. Bu... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
There are other good stories here too, of course. "Technical Error", "The Fires Within" and "The Possessed" are standouts, among others. In fact, there are a wide variety of SF styles in this collection. But it's the two stories I mentioned that are the centerpieces of this book. If you haven't read any of the short stories in this book then rack my rating up a star.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Reach for Tomorrow
Ballantine, Paperback, 1963.
12mo. viii, 166 pp. Preface by Arthur Clarke [v-vi].
First published thus, 1956.
Third printing, 1963.
Rescue Party 
A Walk in the Dark 
The Forgotten Enemy 
Technical Error 
The Parasite 
The Fires Within 
The Awakening 
Trouble with the Natives 
The Curse 
Time's Arrow 
Jupiter Five 
The Possessed 
* In square brackets: the year of first publication, usually in magazine.
This is Arthur Clarke's second short story collection, first published in 1956 when the author was in his 39th year and consisting of pieces that had appeared in various magazines between 1946 and 1953 (with the exception of ''Awakening'', which appeared as early as 1942, but it was thoroughly revised in 1952). Like its predecessor, Expedition to Earth (1953), Reach for Tomorrow consists mostly of very short pieces, certainly uneven in merit, but delivering a glorious entertainment - and often much more besides. Unlike his first collection, Clarke wrote a wonderful preface to this one. Since I have always preferred, and no doubt always will, few sentences about his work from the writer himself to hefty volumes with the ''wisdom'' of the critics, I intend to make full use of this little-over-a-page long preface which says so much. Clarke's clear and concise style - very much akin to that of Somerset Maugham - allowed him to say a great deal with few words; even his shortest pieces, such as prefaces, are well worth reading. To begin with, the preface to Reach for Tomorrow has a most charming opening paragraph:
''Preface writing is an occupational disease of authors, but it must be granted that they have a legitimate excuse. It is the only opportunity they ever get of pining their readers into a corner and telling them exactly what they are trying to do. In my case, this can be stated very briefly. I wrote these stories to entertain one person - myself. It still seems a remarkable piece of good luck to me that other people have been entertained as well.''
Indeed, I am one of them. But I am certainly not the only one, even 65 years after the First edition. Now let's have a closer look at the stories, using Arthur's pithy remarks as a kind of guiding light.
''It seems only right to warn the reader that ''Jupiter Five'', ''Technical Error'' and ''The Fires Within'' are all pure science fiction. In each case some unfamiliar (but I hope both plausible and comprehensible) scientific fact is the basis of the story action, and human interest is secondary. Some critics maintain that this is always a Bad Thing; I believe this is too sweeping a generalization. [...] If it is done properly, without the information being too obtrusive or redolent of the textbook, it can still have at least the entertainment value of a good puzzle. It may not be art, but it can be enjoyable and entertaining.''
For once, I believe Arthur Clarke was wrong - and underestimating himself. Such kind of stories may be a lot more than ''puzzles'' or mere ''entertainment''; and his are. ''Jupiter Five'' is the longest piece in the book and, except for the anticlimactic ending, it is certainly one of Clarke's masterpieces. The technical part plays overall a very minor role towards the end of the story, but what I want to say about it I already have in the review of the collection The Sentinel (1983) where the story is reprinted as ''Jupiter V''. The other two stories are more technical, but never excessively so. In fact, both are superbly crafted pieces of short fiction.
Do not be discouraged by the very technical beginning of ''Technical Error''. It doesn't last long. The scientific premise of the story is concerned with one of humanity's oldest dreams which, alas, will probably remain science fiction forever: teleportation. It may sound ludicrous, but even here there are some scientific foundations; see Chapter 13, aptly titled ''Aladdin's Lamp'', from Clarke's non-fiction magnum opus Profiles of the Future (1962, 1999) for more details. The plot of the story is actually concerned with something like a side effect of the process, involving as it does another semi-chimera from the world of physics: the Fourth dimension (see Chapter 11, ''About Time'', in the aforementioned book). Indeed, ''Technical Error'' is a candidate masterpiece. It has everything: well-crafted plot, excellent dialogue, unexpected twists, keen insight into the characters (simple as they are in a short story by definition), suspense, drama, poignancy, subtlety and wisdom. Indeed, almost all of the stories in this volume do have most, if not all, of these qualities.
Despite equally firm scientific background, ''The Fires Within'' is rather more fanciful a story. Clarke rightly described it later in his life as a ''fable'' which might, metaphorically, prepare us for the surprises we are bound to find, not in the Space, but quite in the opposite (and even more unexplored!) direction. The story is a compelling fantasy about the discovery of a civilization deep into the Earth's crust, an area of temperatures and pressures that fills me with awe as few other things do. It is brilliantly conceived and even more brilliantly told, with the right dose of science and a great deal of suspense. And what a twist in the tail!
Apart from ''Jupiter Five'', the only other rather longish (about 30 pages or so) story in the volume is ''Rescue Party'', one of Clarke's most famous stories. Well, it's amusing and thought-provoking, but not quite up to the fame it has earned. (Or am I prejudiced because of the fame?) For one thing, the fabulously advanced aliens, virtually all characters, are a trifle too gullible, and the ''second twist'' in the end does look contrived. But these things should be expected, the former at least. It is difficult enough to draw a plausible character of a human being, and in a short story at that, so imagine how much tougher a job would be to make aliens on paper believable, no matter how similar they may be to us. ''Rescue Party'' is certainly a fine story, but I do share Arthur's opinion that ''a depressing number of people still consider it my best''; it seems that by 1956 today's tendency had already started. The most fascinating thing about this story in this collection is the parallel Clarke draws with another story from his first collection:
''Readers of my earlier collection, Expedition to Earth, may just conceivably be interested in knowing that ''History Lesson'' and ''Rescue Party'' both stemmed from the same forgotten original, though now it would be difficult to find two more contrasting endings.''
Indeed we, the readers, are very interested in this fact! Here is a rare insight into a great writer's workshop. It is difficult to imagine how so utterly different stories could possibly have stemmed from a common original. Yet, with the benefit of hindsight, there are certain ''obvious'' similarities - alien expedition to Earth, annihilation (real or not) of mankind, reconnaissance of ruins - though the differences are much more overwhelming. Danger of spoiling the stories precludes their discussion, however. But if you are familiar with both works, or if you become in the future, spend some time reflecting on this issue. You will be rewarded with a vivid glance inside the mind of a great creative writer.
From the rest eight stories, only ''The Curse'' and ''The Forgotten Enemy'' did I find unsatisfactorily overall. The former (aka ''Nightfall'' in The Collected Stories) is not a story at all. It's rather a sketch that might have been expanded into a fine story about something as relevant today, nay even more so, as it was in the mid-1940s: nuclear holocaust. The piece does have certain poignancy but it is rather insubstantial to make any lasting impression. Clarke apparently viewed the story with affection since he wrote it during his war-time RAF-years when he was stationed near Stratford-upon-Avon; yes, it is Shakespeare's grave that is alluded to. ''The Forgotten Enemy'' suffers from the same drawback but on a smaller scale. Although the fight of mankind with the next Ice Age must be pretty common in science fiction, that hardly makes it less attractive. The story contains some truly eerie descriptions of London buried under snow, but the exile of the protagonist is not particularly credible, either in space or in time. The most interesting thing is the ending which is a sort of anticlimax, yet in a way it is pretty chilling. Clarke is most amusing in his preface about the stretching of the scientific facts: ''I apologize in advance to any experts who may be offended by the slight liberties I have taken with time-scales. But what is a factor of 10^3 among friends?'' Well, the ''liberties'' are certainly made a fine dramatic use of.
''Trouble with the Natives'' is just as far from serious as is Earth from Vega - but just as you need nothing more than your naked eyes to glimpse at Vega, so you need just a little imagination to capture the serious overtones. But this is perhaps missing the point. The story is pure, intentional and stupendous fun. It does make fools of ourselves, but it is reassuring to know that unimaginably advanced alien civilization may have retained this rare and elusive quality vaguely described as ''sense of humour''. It is a shame that some people don't even seem to know that when he wants to, Clarke can be extremely funny. I don't think the fabled ''first contact'' has ever been subjected to more flippant and hilarious treatment. Within its limitations, the story is perfect - including Clarke's trademark knock-out ending.
''Awakening'' explores the same fantastic idea as ''Exile to Eons'' (aka ''Nemesis'') from Expedition to Earth: freezing a human being for eternal period of time and awakening him in a totally different world. The similarities, of course, cease here. Apart from its very naïve ending, reminding me of a cheap horror movie rather than of Arthur Clarke, the story has more substance than its mere five pages may suggest. Considering the very limited space, Clarke creates a most vivid and disturbing future of stultifying Utopia. Mankind has conquered completely the Solar System - but the Stars have defeated us. The few who have not yet sunk into the oblivion of drugs are bored to extinction - almost literally - for there is nothing left to do that hasn't been done thousands of times before. Confine this picture to Earth alone, and you may be looking into the very near future - which makes the story rather terrifying. Marlan refuses to succumb to the zeitgeist and tries a daring experiment. What happens then you will see if you read the story. The arresting opening sentence may serve as an additional stimulus:
Marlan was bored, with the ultimate boredom that only Utopia can supply.
''A Walk in the Dark'' is a similar affair: distinctly disappointing ending, predictable and puerile, but truly outstanding story otherwise. In fact, the story itself is highly unremarkable - just a guy lost in the dark on an unknown planet. But as a psychological study of fear and obsession, both so common for our minds, the piece makes a spectacularly scary reading. The narrative often has subtlety and insight which strongly bring to mind Maugham's chilling ''The Taipan''.
Speaking of psychological insight, I have to mention ''The Parasite'', perhaps my greatest favourite in the collection. This story is one of the few in which Arthur plays with paranormal forces; and he does so as imaginatively as ever. The story is beautifully written, ushering you in the mystery with the very first lines, and ending with a bold yet logical climax. It's not even 15 pages long, yet after reading it I feel as if I have known Roy and Jack for years. And I have glimpsed into some of the most horrifying psychic phenomena imaginable, providing terrifyingly plausible explanation for human madness. But the thing I want to stress here is the one that Clarke is so seldom given any credit for: characterization. Keeping in mind that the genre of the short story - and science fiction in general - is no place for complex and elaborately drawn characters, Clarke often does amazing job in this department. Consider the following short excerpts from ''The Parasite'':
Pearson was not attempting to criticize his unhappy friend. He never passed judgments; he merely observed with a bright-eyed, sympathetic interest that was hardly tolerance, since tolerance implied the relaxation of standards he had never possessed....
[This might well have been written by Somerset Maugham himself!]
She was suffering not only the bitterness of being scorned, but the agony of not knowing why.
On the hilltop he had been, if not his normal self, at least friendly and prepared to talk. But now the sight of the happy, carefree crowds ahead seemed to make him withdraw into himself.
I don't know about most people, but this is what I call ''great characterization'': austere and powerful. Certainly the story of Roy's plight is as affecting as anything in fiction can be.
''Time's Arrow'' is an ingeniously told story - through the eyes of two observers and their discussions on positive and negative entropy - which deals with yet another everlasting dream of humanity that is probably destined to remain a dream forever: time travel. Perhaps the ending might have been improved a bit, description-wise, but it is only slightly less shattering because of that. Like all popular science in Clarke's stories - cf ''Technical Error'' and ''The Fires Within'' where there is a lot - the one here is marvellously integrated into the plot and lucidly explained for the layman.
''The Possessed'' is pure fantasy, but a very well-crafted and singularly mind-stretching one. It is one of those Clarkian exercises in compressing time periods beyond human comprehension into a few pages, while infusing them with a good deal of food for thought. The basic idea is one of the most compelling notions about nature there are: purposeful evolution guided by some intelligent entities. Perhaps it is rather sad that there is not a single piece of scientific evidence yet that any such entities have ever existed. But this doesn't make the notion less compelling. In the preface Clarke charmingly tells us that this is one of the few stories he has written on ideas suggested by others, in this case his friend Mike Wilson ''who can take his share in any blame'', but the treatment is typically Clarkian: the story has at least two cunningly conceived and subtly written twists. I didn't see either coming.
In conclusion, though Reach for Tomorrow does not have such superstars in its contents such as ''The Sentinel'' or ''Breaking Strain'', it does demonstrate Clarke's versatile genius for writing short stories. From the hilarious ''Trouble with the Natives'' to the heart-rending ''The Parasite'' - throwing in for a good measure near-masterpieces such as ''Technical Error'', ''The Fires Within'', ''The Awakening'', ''The Possessed'', ''Rescue Party'', ''A Walk in the Dark'' and ''Jupiter Five'' - this is a beautifully rich collection that supplies enormous amounts of intelligent entertainment. Neither your heart nor your mind is likely to suffer any shortage of material to work on.
A Walk in the Dark (1950) - 4/5: A man confronts his imagination during a 4-mile walk in the pitch dark on a galaxy-edged planet, when he remembers a haunting tale of chitinous sounds beyond the arc of a flashlight... too bad he doesn't have a flashlight. 10 pages
The Forgotten Enemy (1953) - 4/5: London has the population of one as glaciers approach England from the north. Regent's Park helicopters evacuated everyone ten years ago. Now Professor Millward struggles to hear news of catch sight of what has happened in the north and whether the nuclear charges have brought the cold to a halt. 7 pages
Technical Error (1950) - 4/5: An advanced power plant engineer gets caught in an accident which results in him being transported through the fourth dimension, having his left-and-right-handed sides switched. Will the company keep him alive for £5,000/day or put him through the `accident' again? 19 pages
The Parasite (1953) - 2/5: An Englishman escapes to an Italian island after being invaded by a second mind, named Omega. His friend converses with him to learn the truth... which is rather predicable. 13 pages
The Fires Within (1949) - 3/5: A scientist secures a letter from another scientist describing a way to look deep into the earth, hoping to see the core but finds traces of something entirely different. 10 pages
The Awakening (1951) - 2/5: A man bored with utopia takes off to round Pluto while being put on ice, planning to return to earth in the far Earth future. Has a utopian or dystopian society emerged? 5 pages
Trouble with the Natives (1951) - 4/5: Two bipedal aliens, part of an even more alien crew, descend to bucolic England to find a suitable ambassador. However, the two aliens have only learnt of English culture from prim-and-proper BBC radio and television broadcasts. Can they convey their message and maintain disguise? 14 pages
The Curse (1953) - 3/5: Narrator in post-nuclear Europe describes the scene in a quaint town where a tombstone lays facing an approaching river. Who is buried there? 3 pages
Time's Arrow (1952) - 3/5: A group of paleontologists uncovering dinosaur tracks are working nearby a mysterious research facility working with Helium II, which has just as much mystery itself. Why is the facility out there near the dinosaur fossils? 16 pages
Jupiter Five (1953) - 3/5: A professor and his small team head to Jupiter Five- a satellite of Jupiter where the professor believes there is an alien relic. Another ship joins their exploration of the object only to result in a betrayal of friendship. The professor's quick thinking comes up with a celestial mechanics solution... a bit beyond me. 33 pages
The Possessed (1952) - 3/5: A Swarm of alien energy-like intelligences falls to Earth after escaping their stars destruction. One part of the Swarm begins to evolve a lizard while the rest sweep across the sea of stars to find a suitable intelligent host. What will become to the lizard's evolution and the rest of the Swarm's quest? 6 pages
Some of the shorter stories only reveal their true meaning in the last sentence which is interesting.
All of these stories are in the paperback version of "The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke". That volume is almost 1000 pages and contains over a00 stories. Unfortunately, to get it in e-book form you have to buy several volumes such as this. Taken together, they cost more than the original printed version. Unless you absolutely NEED the electronic version, save yourself some money and buy it on paper.