Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Retro review: 1951 novel The Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke

The Sands of Mars, by Arthur C. Clarke (Sidgwick and Jackson, 10/6)

Some cameos remain in the memory without benefit of engrams, and one of mine is that of seeing Arthur C. Clarke at the White Horse one summer evening leafing rather unhappily through a GALAXY containing part of "Mars Child" by ‘Cyril Judd' (Merrill and Kornbluth). The unhappiness, I hasten to add, was only due to the fact that Sands of Mars, then at the printers, had the same basic theme…..not unnatural, in view of certain prominent present-day problems.

SofM has now been published, and we can compare the stories in some ways. But the likeness only emphasises the difference, not only in the general technique but in s-f designed for the home and for the U.S. markets, for "Mars Child" was nothing if not melodramatic, a whirling clash of personalities and problems, assorted motives for good and evil, and a slick finish over all. Sands of Mars keeps melodrama to the minimum, has no 'villain', and is written in ACC’s usual lucid and impeccable style.

It tells of the visit to Mars of Martin Gibson, s-f author on his first interplanetary voyage.

During the journey he is strangely attracted by the youngest member of the small crew, Jimmy Spencer, and finds that the latter is the son of the girl he loved many years before.

The space-ship is mysteriously re-routed to Deimos….the first of several occurrences that make it evident that the Martian colonists are working on a secret project. There is much that appeals to Martin in this colonising of another world, and increasing personal interest when his aircraft crashes in a storm and he finds some native Martians. He also discovers that Jimmy, who has fallen in love with a girl colonist, is actually his own son, and these facts combined with the culmination of the project ("In the ages to come, whole civilisations on worlds of which we've never heard will owe their existence to what we've done tonight"), influence him into deciding to stay on Mars as some sort of inter-world public-relations officer.

After a joyous first chapter, the story slows considerably while a general description of the space-ship and the background of the crew is given, but after the landing things run smoothly enough. Though somewhat restricted by the fatherly viewpoint of his hero, A.C.C. has managed to inject some much needed adult emotion to balance his enthusiastic technical accuracy, and has here produced the perfect antidote for those people who consider s-f consists of semi-nude heroines being chased by semi-humanoid monsters on semi-impossible planets.

The binding and paper used are far too poor for the price of the book….one would think that the publishers of Conquest of Space could do better than this.

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