Book Review: Earthlight, Arthur C. Clarke (1955)

4.5/5 (Very Good)

This is one of my all time favorite Arthur C. Clarke books. Published in 1955, Earthlight still remains a practically unknown work in Clarke’s massive canon. The minimalistic plot flourishes in the ultra-realistic society of the Moon. There are three elements that make this work stand out.

1. The Plot.
An accountant is sent from Earth to the moon as a spy to root out a spy who is leaking information about Earth’s goals to leach the moon of minerals Earth greatly needs. The novel’s background is the tension between the outer colonies and earth (something explored in length in MANY well known classics to come, Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is the first to come to mind). Clarke manages to maintain the tension throughout. I really like the distant quality of the plot – the main characters have little influence on the central events but rather have their own mostly hidden tensions among each other. This forms a ultra-realistic feeling and immerses you in Clarke’s world.

2. The Descriptions.
Since the accountant has never been to the moon the scientists at the observatory make a point to describe and explain the workings of the colony on the moon in great length. Again, adding to the ultra-realistic tone of the work. Likewise, since Sadler is sent to investigate the inner workings of everyone at the observatory, Clarke describes the more minute activities associated with Moon life which can be very interesting.

3. The external Events/backdrop.
The battle at the end is immensely detailed (although the main characters are not directly involved). The tension results in a immense climax but like in many wars the end is not clear as both sides sense some sort futility in the endeavor. Again, the results of the battle do not deal directly with the main characters but rather their own struggles play out at as a microcosm of the greater interplanetary events.

Arther C. Clarke manages to develop, in a dense 155 pages, an ultra-realistic future with believable characters (perhaps slightly one-dimensional – but then again Clarke is not known for his characterizations), a compelling backdrop, and ultra-realistic day to day events. A top notch effort, sadly, unknown to most sci-fi readers.

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9 thoughts on “Book Review: Earthlight, Arthur C. Clarke (1955)

  1. I know it is only a short story, but my favorite of Clarke’s works has got to be “The Other Side of the Sky,” if for no other reason than it predicted satellite telecommunications. But, in a sense it is much more than that. It puts forward an exciting optimistic future…

  2. that sounds really familiar — i have multiple collections of his short stories but i haven’t read them in a while….

    actually, it’s in the one volume of his that I haven’t read (i just went to check)

    i’ll let you know! now i really want to read it…

  3. I’ve read a lot of Clarke’s short stories (though unfortunately I gulped a lot in one go, and as a result they tend to merge in my head), but the one that really stuck in my head is The Ninety Billion Names of God. I like his stories, though he does like the last paragraph twist in the tale device rather too much.

  4. Ela, yeah that happens to me as well — I remember the short novel (novella) The Islands in the Sky being my favorite when I was the kid but I’ve since forgotten completely what it’s about… I just love his gritty realism — science fiction really needed a technology heavy (albeit, occasionally poor writer) to instill some change in the space opera/adventure planetary romance “sci-fi” of the 30s, 40s, and 50s….

    • I read them as a collection… but the one that comes to mind the most is what I believe was the third to be published. The one in which the narrator was trapped in a drift away portion of the ship and needed to be rescued through an explosive decompression. I’m sure this was the precursor to the famous scene in 2001 where Dave has to go from the pod to the ship without a helmet.

  5. There is some book equivalent to the musical earworm
    and mine at the moment is ‘Security Check” from Other
    Side of the Sky. Argh.

  6. Joachim, An intriguing review, I will have to read this. One of my favorite sf novels is Clarke`s THE SONGS OF DISTANT EARTH [which inspired a really lovely Mike Oldfield album of the same name]. It has this wonderful, quiet yet not dull tone as it observes how space voyagers awakened from cryosleep interact with the human colonists on a mostly-water world. No guns-blazing, no violence, and the conflict is between civil but DIFFERENT peoples. I love a variety of sf but at least in print action-adventure is the least-interesting; perhaps because that sort is so second-hand, while the kind that makes me think along with the problems the characters are facing is more involving. There needs to be a `quiet-but-inspiring` or `adult but sense of wonder-ful` sub-genre. this one looks good.

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