The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke
Volume IV: A Meeting With Medusa
Arthur C. Clarke
The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke
Volume IV: A Meeting With Medusa
Copyright © 2000 by Arthur C. Clarke
Cover art to the electronic edition copyright © 2012 by RosettaBooks, LLC.
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Electronic edition published 2012 by RosettaBooks, LLC, New York.
ISBN ePub edition: 9780795329104
Clarke, in the pattern of most successful novelists, had been in slow retreat from the short story for many years. This final volume has by far the widest chronological span of the four; it has a sprawl of more than four and a half decades. The average length of the stories is reduced from the earlier volumes; many of these are little more than jokes or stunts as magazine editors like
Frederik Pohl solicited Clarke for material which would exploit his name, yet impose little effort. The very clever “The Longest Science Fiction Story Ever Told,” which appeared in
in the mid-sixties, is exemplary.
Clarke, even before the release of Kubrick’s 2001 in 1968, had reached the cash-in territory familiar to successful writers and particularly occupied by science fiction writers who had old series, backgrounds or characters available for recycling to a presold audience. Heinlein brought back Lazarus Long (another of his self-idealizations) several times and his final novel,
To Sail Beyond The Sunset
, was a curtain call for the cast. Asimov wrote more
novels and more
novels (and short stories) and then at his editors’behest produced
Foundation and Robot
novels which, he explained, were a project to “unite the two universes". And Clarke inevitably—and under very little pressure—produced sequels to 2001 for Ballantine books, taking enormous advances (most of them due on delivery) and working serenely on continuing versions of HAL or the Space Child.
Those extensions of the 2001 screenplay-and-novel were commercially rather than creatively driven of course, but seemed to cause no one any pain and worked to convert creative visions to commercial property, a familiar post-technological course which to be sure had been well in progress with Tarzan or Conan (and the Estates of their authors) long before. Clarke might have felt a little more self-conscious about this than most.
In between the press conferences and news releases announcing the next sequelization, Clarke would make pronouncements from Sri Lanka (to which he had moved in the 70’s, partly but not wholly for tax reasons) on his retirement or forthcoming retirement. This never happened, obviously, but the gaps between the novels were ever greater and with every fresh insistence that he was truly retired Clarke seemed bleaker and (behind his surface boisterousness) more desperate. Like his great influence H.G. Wells, Clarke was a futurist and an ad astra guy, an inventor of Telstar twenty years before the engineers had the material to enact his plan. What Clarke sensed—and his eulogy for Isaac Asimov, noted in an earlier Introduction clearly reflected this—were the waves of anti-scientism and destruction lapping at, eroding the ad astra per aspera creed of his scientific generation. His famous aphorism, come to be known as Clarke’s Law—"any increasingly complex technology will look like magic"—signified the undertow which in the Age of Limbaugh had those influenced by Clarke’s vision described as “environmental wackos”.
Most of the stories in this final volume are minor (as were the White Hart stories, saloon hyperbole and exaggeration which dominate the previous selection), but included is Clarke’s last major story, perhaps his last major work, the Nebula Award winning “A Meeting With Medusa” from 1972 which is truly impressive and imaginative in his old style. Clarke was a major figure, a divided, even tormented soul (scientism and mysticism) who embodied both creatively and personally the great conflict of his century, a conflict which his great predecessor Wells had no more been able to resolve than Clarke himself. That conflict: Technology as it develops is a prayer… but prayer is by definition a subversion of reason.
There is no Loophole there.
New Jersey 2012
First published in
, June 1961
Tales of Ten Worlds
‘I guess,’ said Jerry Garfield, cutting the engines, ‘that this is the end of the line.’ With a gentle sigh, the underjets faded out; deprived of its air cushion, the scout car
settled down upon the twisted rocks of the Hesperian Plateau.
There was no way forward; neither on its jets nor its tractors could S.5—to give the
its official name—scale the escarpment that lay ahead. The South Pole of Venus was only thirty miles away, but it might have been on another planet. They would have to turn back, and retrace their four-hundred-mile journey through this nightmare landscape.
The weather was fantastically clear, with visibility of almost a thousand yards. There was no need of radar to show the cliffs ahead; for once, the naked eye was good enough. The green auroral light, filtering down through clouds that had rolled unbroken for a million years, gave the scene an underwater appearance, and the way in which all distant objects blurred into the haze added to the impression. Sometimes it was easy to believe that they were driving across a shallow sea bed, and more than once Jerry had imagined that he had seen fish floating overhead.
‘Shall I call the ship, and say we’re turning back?’ he asked.
‘Not yet,’ said Dr Hutchins. ‘I want to think.’
Jerry shot an appealing glance at the third member of the crew, but found no moral support there. Coleman was just as bad; although the two men argued furiously half the time, they were both scientists and therefore, in the opinion of a hardheaded engineer-navigator, not wholly responsible citizens. If Cole and Hutch had bright ideas about going forward, there was nothing he could do except register a protest.
Hutchins was pacing back and forth in the tiny cabin, studying charts and instruments. Presently he swung the car’s searchlight toward the cliffs, and began to examine them carefully with binoculars. Surely, thought Jerry, he doesn’t expect me to drive up there! S.5 was a hover-track, not a mountain goat…
Abruptly, Hutchins found something. He released his breath in a sudden explosive gasp, then turned to Coleman.
‘Look!’ he said, his voice full of excitement. ‘Just to the left of that black mark! Tell me what you see.’
He handed over the glasses, and it was Coleman’s turn to stare.
‘Well, I’m damned,’ he said at length. ‘You were right. There
rivers on Venus. That’s a dried-up waterfall.’
‘So you owe me one dinner at the Bel Gourmet when we get back to Cambridge. With champagne.’
‘No need to remind me. Anyway, it’s cheap at the price. But this still leaves your other theories strictly on the crackpot level.’
‘Just a minute,’ interjected Jerry. ‘What’s all this about rivers and waterfalls? Everyone knows they can’t exist on Venus. It never gets cold enough on this steam bath of a planet for the clouds to condense.’
‘Have you looked at the thermometer lately?’ asked Hutchins with deceptive mildness.
‘I’ve been slightly too busy driving.’
‘Then I’ve news for you. It’s down to two hundred and thirty, and still falling. Don’t forget—we’re almost at the Pole, it’s wintertime, and we’re sixty thousand feet above the lowlands. All this adds up to a distinct nip in the air. If the temperature drops a few more degrees, we’ll have rain. The water will be boiling, of course—but it will be water. And though George won’t admit it yet, this puts Venus in a completely different light.’
‘Why?’ asked Jerry, though he had already guessed.
‘Where there’s water, there may be life. We’ve been in too much of a hurry to assume that Venus is sterile, merely because the average temperature’s over five hundred degrees. It’s a lot colder here, and that’s why I’ve been so anxious to get to the Pole. There are lakes up here in the highlands, and I want to look at them.’
water!’ protested Coleman. ‘Nothing could live in that!’
‘There are algae that manage it on Earth. And if we’ve learned one thing since we started exploring the planets, it’s this: wherever life has the slightest chance of surviving, you’ll find it. This is the only chance it’s ever had on Venus.’
‘I wish we could test your theory. But you can see for yourself—we can’t go up that cliff.’
‘Perhaps not in the car. But it won’t be too difficult to climb those rocks, even wearing thermosuits. All we need do is walk a few miles toward the Pole; according to the radar maps, it’s fairly level once you’re over the rim. We could manage in—oh, twelve hours at the most. Each of us has been out for longer than that, in much worse conditions.’
That was perfectly true. Protective clothing that had been designed to keep men alive in the Venusian lowlands would have an easy job here, where it was only a hundred degrees hotter than Death Valley in midsummer.
‘Well,’ said Coleman, ‘you know the regulations. You can’t go by yourself, and someone has to stay here to keep contact with the ship. How do we settle it this time—chess or cards?’
‘Chess takes too long,’ said Hutchins, ‘especially when you two play it. He reached into the chart table and produced a well-worn pack. ‘Cut them, Jerry.’
‘Ten of spades. Hope you can beat it, George.’
‘So do I. Damn—only five of clubs. Well, give my regards to the Venusians.’
Despite Hutchins’ assurance, it was hard work climbing the escarpment. The slope was not too steep, but the weight of oxygen gear, refrigerated thermosuit, and scientific equipment came to more than a hundred pounds per man. The lower gravity—thirteen per cent weaker than Earth’s—gave a little help, but not much, as they toiled up screes, rested on ledges to regain breath, and then clambered on again through the submarine twilight. The emerald glow that washed around them was brighter than that of the full moon on Earth. A moon would have been wasted on Venus, Jerry told himself; it could never have been seen from the surface, there were no oceans for it to rule—and the incessant aurora was a far more constant source of light.
They had climbed more than two thousand feet before the ground levelled out into a gentle slope, scarred here and there by channels that had clearly been cut by running water. After a little searching, they came across a gulley wide and deep enough to merit the name of river bed, and started to walk along it.
‘I’ve just thought of something,’ said Jerry after they had travelled a few hundred yards. ‘Suppose there’s a storm up ahead of us? I don’t feel like facing a tidal wave of boiling water.’
‘If there’s a storm,’ replied Hutchins a little impatiently, ‘we’ll hear it. There’ll be plenty of time to reach high ground.’
He was undoubtedly right, but Jerry felt no happier as they continued to climb the gently shelving watercourse. His uneasiness had been growing ever since they had passed over the brow of the cliff and had lost radio contact with the scout car. In this day and age, to be out of touch with one’s fellow men was a unique and unsettling experience. It had never happened to Jerry before in all his life; even aboard the
, when they were a hundred million miles from Earth, he could always send a message to his family and get a reply back within minutes. But now, a few yards of rock had cut him off from the rest of mankind; if anything happened to them here, no one would ever know, unless some later expedition found their bodies. George would wait for the agreed number of hours; then he would head back to the ship—alone. I guess I’m not really the pioneering type, Jerry told himself. I like running complicated machines, and that’s how I got involved in space flight. But I never stopped to think where it would lead, and now it’s too late to change my mind…