A SCIENCE FICTIONAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY (A BANTAM SPECTRA BOOK)
Clarke rambles nostalgically through the odd early days of the influential pulp science-fiction magazine, Astounding Tales of Super-Science, in a warmly appreciative yet far from uncritical tribute to sf's beginnings-cum-personal memoir. Astounding (now Analog, still alive and kicking) first appeared in 1930, and mutated several times before passing in 1937 into the hands of legendary editor John W. Campbell. Clarke compares the styles of the various editors by scrutinizing the stories they published and, sometimes, wrote. Occasionally, fiction outpaced fact, as in Clive Cartmill's pre-WW II description of an atomic bomb, Ray Cummings' early proposal for gravity-slingshot maneuvers (recently employed by NASA to boost Voyager to Neptune), and Clarke's own foretelling of the nuclear Mutual Assured Destruction doctrine--in 1946. Other stories were less successful, and these Clarke uses to explore ideas and scientific concepts, essay-style, adding intriguing autobiographical details: Clarke as a young English schoolboy fascinated with rockets and space, as an RAF researcher inventing landing systems (Ascent to Orbit is his "scientific autobiography"), or as an increasingly assured contributor (of both fiction and nonfiction) to the selfsame magazine. Charming--Clarke loves his subject, and it shows--and effortlessly informative while maintaining a perfect balance between affection and skepticism.