Thursday, March 7, 2013

Islands in the Sky by Arthur C. Clarke

Islands in the SkyIslands in the Sky by Arthur C. Clarke
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is an early work by the legendary Arthur C. Clark, written in 1952, and targeted to what we call today the YA audience. It follows the adventures of a 16-year-old boy, who wins a trip to a space station. Unlike many other early "space operas", this book is blessedly free of space battles, unbelievable aliens on every planet in the solar system and damsels in distress. What it DOES have is lots and lots of descriptions of how satellites work, orbital science, and what it's like to live and work in zero gravity. The author is quite good at describing what a 'sunrise' looks like from orbit, and other space-related phenomena. Quite prescient, given that this was written before the first satellite was launched!

However, I do have some nits to pick. First, and most surprising, is that Clark has the space station commander using "an old-fashioned fountain pen" - in ZERO GRAVITY! Fountain pens require gravity to work! I found this mistake shocking, given all his other (mostly accurate) description of zero gravity effects. The other thing that really bothered me was the complete lack of women (other than a movie star). All the 'apprentices' were boys. All the space station crew were men. There weren't even any female nurses in the space hospital! However, given the time the book was written, this is understandable. Regrettable, but understandable. At least he didn't have everyone smoking, as in so many other science fiction works of the same era. (Asimov's Foundation, I'm looking at you!!)

If you are a fan of early Sci-Fi (as I am) this is worth reading. It's not the typical "space opera" of the time, but has lots of good science-based fact and conjecture. But modern young people would probably not be too enthralled by the story.