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Authors: Arthur C Clarke

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BOOK: The Space Trilogy
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Islands in the Sky
(1952) was written for what is sometimes disparagingly referred to as the 'juvenile' market, but I hope this is indicated only by the age of the main character. It may well have been one of the first novels which described the use of satellites for communication, as well as many other concepts which are now taken for granted—but which were totally unfamiliar to most readers half a century ago, and so had to be carefully explained.

Earthlight
(1955) was one of my earliest attempts to describe conditions on the Moon, and today I am slightly ashamed of the space battle sequences; there have now been far too many
Star Wars
on screens of all sizes. (Why, alas, do explosions have such a universal and elemental appeal?)

I cannot claim that this was the first story in which unprotected humans were able to survive in a vacuum; I stole the idea, as well as much else, from the brilliant and sadly short-lived Stanley Weinbaum (1902-35). To the millions who have seen David Bowman's confrontation with HAL, I am happy to say that the space medics now confirm that a minute (or even two) in space need not be particularly injurious to one's health.

In my wildest dreams, I would never have imagined that, less than two decades after this book was written, I would receive a beautiful three-dimensional map of the
Mare Imbrium
, showing the track of the Lunar Rover skirting a crater labelled 'Earthlight'—and bearing the inscription '
To Arthur Clarke with best personal regards from the crew of Apollo 15 and many thanks for your visions in space.
'

(Signed) Dave Scott, Al Worden and Jim Irwin.

The Sands of Mars
—though it goes much further afield than the other two novels—was published earlier, in 1951. At that time almost everything we 'knew' about Mars was completely wrong, yet even in the 50s, we were beginning to suspect that it was a much more barren and inhospitable place than had been imagined by legions of writers, notably Edgar Rice Burroughs and, my good friend Ray Bradbury. Now, thanks to a series of brilliantly successful space probes, we have a much clearer idea of conditions there, and even know exactly what small portions of Mars look like. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory kindly sent me a beautiful twenty foot-wide panorama, created from the images beamed back by Sojourner. When I wear 3D glasses, I feel that I can reach out and pick up individual pebbles…

But Mars demands a Foreword of its own.

Please turn to page 135…

Arthur C. Clarke
Colombo, 21 January 2001

ISLANDS IN THE SKY

One
JACKPOT TO SPACE

It was Uncle Jim who'd said, 'Whatever happens, Roy, don't
worry
about it. Just relax and enjoy yourself.' I remembered those words as I followed the other competitors into the big studio, and I don't think I felt particularly nervous. After all, it was only a game… however badly I wanted the prize.

The audience was already in its place, talking and fidgeting and waiting for the program to begin. It gave a little cheer as we walked up on to the stage and took our seats. I had a quick look at the five other competitors, and was a bit disappointed. Every one of them looked quite sure that
he
was going to win.

There was another cheer from the audience as Elmer Schmitz, the Quiz-master, came into the studio. I'd met him before, of course, in the semi-finals and I expect you've seen him often enough on TV. He gave us some last minute instructions, moved to his place under the spot-lights, and signalled to the cameras. There was a sudden hush as the red light came on: from where I was sitting, I could see Elmer adjusting his smile.

'Good evening, folks! This is Elmer Schmitz, presenting you the finalists in our Aviation Quiz Programme, brought to you by arrangement with World Airways, Incorporated. The six young men we have here tonight…'

But I guess it wouldn't be very modest to repeat the things he said about us. It all added up to the fact that we knew a lot about everything that flew—in the air and outside it—and had beaten about five thousand other members of the Junior Rocket Club in a series of nationwide contests. Tonight would be the final elimination test to find the winner.

It started easily enough, on the lines of earlier rounds. Elmer fired off a question at each of us in turn, and we had twenty seconds in which to answer. Mine was pretty easy—he wanted to know the altitude record for a pure jet. Everyone else got their answer right, too. I think those first questions were just to give us confidence.

Then it got tougher. We couldn't see our scores, which were being flashed up on a screen facing the audience, but you could tell when you'd given the right answer by the noise they made. I forgot to say that you
lost
a point when you gave the wrong reply. That was to stop guessing: if you didn't know, it was best to say nothing at all.

As far as I could tell, I'd only made one mistake, but there was a kid from New Washington who hadn't made any—though I couldn't be sure of this, because it was difficult to keep track of the others while you were wondering what Elmer had coming up for you. I was feeling rather gloomy when suddenly the lights dimmed and a hidden movie projector went into action.

'Now,' said Elmer, 'the last round! You'll each see some kind of aircraft or rocket for
one second,
and in that time you've got to identify it. Ready?'

A second sounds awfully short, but it isn't really. You can see a lot in that time—enough to recognize anything you know really well. But some of the machines they showed us went back over a hundred years. One or two even had propellers! This was lucky for me: I'd always been interested in the history of flying, and knew some of these antiques. That's where the boy from New Washington fell down badly. They gave him a picture of the original Wright biplane, which you can see in the Smithsonian any day, and he didn't know it. He was only interested in rockets, he said afterwards, and it wasn't a fair test. But I thought it served him right.

They gave me the Dornier DO-X and a B.52, and I knew them both. So I wasn't really surprised when Elmer called out my name as soon as the lights went up. Still, it was a proud moment as I walked over to him, with the cameras following me and the audience clapping in the background.

'Congratulations, Roy!' said Elmer heartily, shaking my hand. 'Almost a perfect score—you only missed on one question. I have great pleasure in announcing you the winner of this World Airways contest. As you know, the prize is a trip, all expenses paid, to any place in the world. We're all interested to hear your choice. What's it going to be? You've anywhere you like between the North and South Poles!'

My lips went kind of dry. Though I'd made all my plans weeks ago, it was different now that the time had actually come. I felt awfully lonely in that huge studio, with everyone so quiet all round me, waiting for what I was going to say. My voice sounded a long way off when I answered.

'I want to go to the Inner Station.'

Elmer looked puzzled, surprised and annoyed all at once. There was a sort of rustle from the audience and I heard someone give a little laugh. Perhaps that made Elmer decide to be funny too.

'Ha, ha! very amusing, Roy! But the prize is anywhere on
Earth.
You must stick to the rules, you know!'

I could tell he was laughing at me, and that made me mad. So I came back with: 'I've read the rules very carefully. And they
don't
say "on Earth". They say "to any part
of
the Earth". There's a big difference.'

Elmer was smart. He knew there was trouble brewing, for his grin faded out at once and he looked anxiously at the TV cameras.

'Go on,' he said. I cleared my throat.

'In 2054,' I continued, 'the United States, like all the other members of the Atlantic Federation, signed the Tycho Convention. That decided how far into space any planet's legal rights extended. Under that Convention, the Inner Station is part of Earth, because it's inside the thousand-kilometre limit.'

Elmer gave me a most peculiar look. Then he relaxed a little and said: Tell me, Roy is your dad an attorney?'

I shook my head.

'No, he isn't'

Of course, I might have added: 'But my Uncle Jim is.' I decided not to: there was going to be enough trouble anyway.

Elmer made a few attempts to make me change my mind, but there was nothing doing. Time was running out, and the audience was on my side. Finally he gave up and said with a laugh:

'Well, you're a very determined young man. You've won the prize, anyway—it looks as if the legal eagles take over from here. I hope there's something left for you when they've finished wrangling!'

I rather hoped so, too…

Of course, Elmer was right in thinking I'd not worked all this out by myself. Uncle Jim—who's counsellor for a big atomic energy combine—had spotted the opportunity, soon after I'd entered for the contest. He'd told me what to say and had promised that World Airways couldn't wriggle out of it. Even if they could, so many people had seen me on the air that it would be very bad publicity for them if they tried. 'Just stick to your guns, Roy,' he'd said, 'and don't agree to anything until you've talked it over with me.'

Mom and Pop were pretty mad about the whole business. They'd been watching, and as soon as I started bargaining they knew what had happened. Pop rang up Uncle Jim at once and gave him a piece of his mind (I heard about it afterwards). But it was too late for them to stop me.

You see, I'd been mad to get out into space for as long as I can remember. I was sixteen when all this happened, and rather big for my age. I'd read everything I could get hold of about aviation and astronautics, seen all the movies and telecasts from space, and made up my mind that some day
I
was going to look back and watch Earth shrinking behind me. I'd made models of famous spaceships, and put rocket units in some of them until the neighbours raised a fuss. In my room I'd got hundreds of photographs—not only most of the ships you care to name but all the important places on the planets as well.

Mom and Pop didn't mind, but they thought it was something I'd grow out of. 'Look at Joe Donovan,' they'd say (Joe's the chap who runs the 'copter repair depot in our district). '
He,
was going to be a Martian colonist when he was your age. Earth wasn't good enough for him! Well, he's never been as far as the Moon, and I don't suppose he ever will. He's quite happy here …' But I wasn't so sure. I've seen Joe looking up at the sky as the outgoing rockets draw then-white vapour trails though the stratosphere, and sometimes I think he'd give everything he owns to go with them.

Uncle Jim (that's Pop's brother) was the one who really understood how I felt about things. He'd been to Mars two or three times, to Venus once, and to the Moon so often he couldn't remember. He had the kind of job where people actually
paid
him to do these things. I'm afraid he was regarded round our house as a very disturbing influence.

It was about a week after winning the contest that I heard from World Airways. They were very polite, in an icy sort of way, and said that they'd agreed that the terms of the competition allowed me to go to the Inner Station. (They couldn't help adding their disappointment that I hadn't chosen to go on one of their luxury flights
inside
the atmosphere. Uncle Jim said what really upset them was the fact that my choice would cost them at least ten times as much as they'd bargained for.) There were, however, two conditions. First, I had to get my parents' consent. Second, I would have to pass the standard medical tests for space-crew.

I'll say this about Mom and Pop—though they were still pretty mad, they wouldn't stand in my way. After all, space-travel was safe enough, and I was only going a few hundred miles up—scarcely any distance! So after a little argument they signed the forms and sent them off. I'm pretty sure that World Airways had hoped they'd refuse to let me go.

That left the second obstacle—the medical exam. I didn't think it was fair having to take that: from all accounts it was pretty tough, and if I failed no one would be more pleased than World Airways.

The nearest place where I could take the tests was the Department of Space Medicine at Johns Hopkins, which meant an hour's flying in the Kansas-Washington jet and a couple of short 'copter trips at either end. Though I'd made dozens of longer journeys I was so excited that it almost seemed a new experience. In a way, of course, it was, because if everything went properly it would open up a new chapter in my life.

I'd got everything ready the night before, even though I was only going to be away from home for a few hours. It was a fine evening, so I carried my little telescope out of doors to have a look at the stars. It's not much of an instrument—just a couple of lenses in a wooden tube—but I'd made it myself and was quite proud of it. When the Moon was half-full it would show all the bigger lunar mountains, as well as Saturn's rings and the moons of Jupiter.

BOOK: The Space Trilogy
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