For some reason I did not read many books by Clarke. In later years I listened to some of the Rama books on tape and thought them insipid. I did not like his novel Childhood’s End, perhaps because it was required reading in High School. There was a time when I decided to concentrate on just a few authors and I left Clarke off the List.
The other short story collection by Clarke that I did like was Tales from the White Hart. I should have pursued other Clarke short story collections, but to my regret, I did not.
The Other Side of the Sky consists of 26 short stories, most of which are not much more than 1500 words. This is amazing in a time when authors were paid by the word and editors actually preferred novella length works over short stories. Each story is a perfectly cut crystal. The idea, characters and plot are precisely crafted and perfectly presented. A story, to Clarke, is a nugget of scientific information, wrapped with a character in conflict topped off with an interesting conclusion, almost always ending with an O Henry style punch line. The punch line is like a small prize at the end of each story that gives it just a little extra kick. Clarke’s resemblance to O Henry is more than just passing. He has that ability express the human condition in the midst of the clutter of life that O Henry did so well.
The single longer piece is The Songs of Distant Earth, which is about twice as long as any other story in the collection. It is my favorite and involves a hopeless love affair between a far future space explorer and a woman on a lost human colony deep in space. Clarke later fleshed it out to book length with other plots about the race to save earth, and even wrote a screenplay based on it, but the story is perfect as it stands. I think making it longer would have ruined it. The story has a deep emotional impact and I have added it to my list of top 10 SF short stories of all time.