Islands in the Sky
|Author||Arthur C. Clarke|
|Cover artist||Gerard Quinn|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Publisher||Sidgwick & Jackson|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
Islands in the Sky is a science fiction novel written by Arthur C. Clarke, and published in 1952. It is one of his earliest and lesser known works. The plot is thin because Clarke wrote the story more as a travelogue of human settlement of cislunar space in the last half of the Twenty-First Century.
This is one of the thirty-five juvenile novels that comprise the Winston Science Fiction set, which novels were published in the 1950s for a readership of teen-aged boys. The typical protagonist in these books was a boy in his late teens who was proficient in the art of electronics, a hobby that was easily available to the readers. In this case, though, Roy Malcolm is in expert in aviation, its history and technology.
Clarke's Foreword – Cities in Space
Not only science-fiction writers, but many scientists as well, believe that manned bases will be established in permanent, stable orbits and will grow into small cities. These, Clarke tells his readers, are what we mean by the term space station. Initially established for scientific research and for the refueling and servicing of spacecraft, they may evolve into frontier towns serving colonists headed for other planets. The space stations may then evolve further into complete artificial worlds. As Clarke put it, “perhaps the artificial worlds we have created will become as important as the original, natural planets. These worlds may develop their own climate, food-producing areas, and specialized activities. Possibly, a thousand years from now, only a small proportion of the human race will live upon the earth, and the sun’s family may be much larger than it is today.”
At age sixteen Roy Malcolm has made himself an expert in the history of aviation, so much so that he wins the Aviation Quiz Program, presented on television by World Airways, Inc. Because the prize was described as an all expenses paid trip to “any part of the earth” (rather than on earth), Roy is able to request a trip to the Inner Station, which is considered part of Earth because its orbit lies under the one-thousand-kilometer limit of earth’s legal territory.
Riding the rocketship Sirius out of Port Goddard in the high mountains of New Guinea, Roy goes to the Inner Station, five hundred miles above Earth, for a two-week stay. He is first taken to meet Commander Doyle, who introduces him to a team of apprentices. Their leader, Tim Benton, shows Roy around the station. For the rest of his time on the station Roy stays with the apprentices, studying with them and sharing their activities. After a few days they take him to the Morning Star, the now derelict, though refurbished, rocketship that had taken five men to Venus in 1985. The old rocketship serves as a clubhouse for the young men.
Because of the popularity of a TV series called “Dan Drummond, Space Detective” and one young man’s pastime of trying to figure out how crime, especially piracy, could be profitable in space, Roy and his friends immediately become suspicious when the rocketship Cygnus and her secretive crew come to the Inner Station. Two of the apprentices go to investigate when the ship is left unattended and find that she’s carrying what appear to be ray guns. It turns out that the ship belongs to a movie studio that intends to shoot the first movie filmed in space.
As his stay in space is coming to an end Roy gets to ride the Morning Star as she makes an emergency run to the Space Hospital with a seriously ill man. As Roy and his friends return to the Inner Station on a different ship they become so engrossed in Commander Doyle’s story of his participation in the first expedition to Mercury that they fail to notice that their ship is off course: it’s heading away from Earth rather than toward it. As they swing around the moon they refuel their ship from a container catapulted to them from the crater Hipparchus, then they return to the Inner Station after making a short stop at one of the Relay Stations in geostationary orbit to get extra oxygen.
Roy has to spend several extra days at the Residential Station before he returns to Earth. There he meets the Moore family, Martian colonists coming to Earth so that the children can attend college. After listening to their talk about their home and seeing the pictures that they show him, Roy changes his future plans: he intends now that he will go beyond the space stations when he graduates from college and head out to the planets.
Throughout the book, there are small hints given suggesting life on other planets within the solar system, but seemingly these forms of life are unintelligent. For instance, Commander Doyle of the Inner Space Station recounted a story of Mercurians living in the sunless and twilight regions of the planet. Also, at the end of the book, Roy sees a photograph of small, gentle native inhabitants of Mars, supposedly friendly to human beings after their colonization there.
One other notable aspect of this novel is that the setting provides a fictional example of Clarke's concept for the geostationary communications satellite. In the novel, there are three large manned orbital stations set up in a triangular formation around the Earth that provide telecommunications for the entire surface. This closely mirrors Clarke's original model of satellite arrangement, which Clarke laid out in the article "Extra-Terrestrial Relays in the October 1945 issue of Wireless World (vol. 51, no. 10, pp 305–308).
- 1952, England, Sidgwick & Jackson, Hardback (190 pp)
- 1952, USA, John C. Winston Co., Pub date Jul 1952 (also May 1954, Feb 1956, Feb 1957, May 1958, and Jul 1960), Hardback (209 pp)
- 1954, France (Iles de l’espace: Islands of Space), Fleuve Noir, Paperback (189 pp)
- 1954, Finland (Ilmojen Saaret: Islands of the Air), Tammi, Hardback (164 pp)
- 1954, Italy (Isole cosmiche: Cosmic Islands), Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Pub date Aug 1954, Magazine (128 pp)
- 1955, Netherlands (Eilanden in het Heelal: Islands in the Universe), West-Friesland, Hardback (190 pp)
- 1957, Sweden (Äventyr på Rymdstationerna: Adventure on the Space Stations), Eklund, Hardback (154 pp)
- 1958, Germany (Inseln im All: Islands in the Universe), AWA, Hardback (202 pp)
- 1960, USA, Signet/New American Library, Pub date Mar 1960 (also Aug 1965, Sep 1965, Jun 1981, and Jul 1987), Paperback (157 pp)
- 1962, Germany (Inseln im All: Islands in the Universe), Goldmann, Paperback (179 pp)
- 1962, USA, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Pub date Feb 1962 (also Aug 1964, 1966, 1967, and 1971), Hardback (209 pp)
- 1962, Italy (L’isola nel cielo: The Island in the Sky), Editrice Romana Periodici, Pub date Jun 1962, Paperback (160 pp)
- 1963, England, Digit, Paperback (158 pp)
- 1972, England, Puffin Books, also published in 1973, 1975, 1976, and Apr 1989, Paperback (208 pp)
- 1975, Netherlands (Vakantie Tussen de Sterren: Holiday Between the Stars), De Fontein, Paperback (126 pp)
- 1979, USA, Gregg Press, Pub date May 1979, Hardback (209 pp)
- 1981, England, Penguin Books, Pub date Jun 1981 (also 1982), Paperback (208 pp)
- 1996, Brazil (Ilhas no Céu: Islands in the Sky), Livros do Brasil
- 2010, Hungary (Szigetek az égben: In Heaven, the Islands), Metropolis Media Group, Pub date Nov 2010, Paperback (216 pp)
The book was reviewed by
- George O. Smith in Space Science Fiction (Jul 1953)
- The Editors in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Jan 1953)
- Groff Conklin in Galaxy Science Fiction (Mar 1953)
- An uncredited reviewer in Space Stories (Apr 1953)
- P. Schuyler Miller in Astounding Science Fiction (Aug 1953)
- Sam Moskowitz in Science-Fiction Plus (Aug 1953)
- Igor B. Maslowski in Fiction #6 (French, 1954)
- P. Schuyler Miller in Astounding/Analog Science Fact & Fiction (Aug 1960)
- Frederik Pohl in If (Sep 1960)
- Wain Saeger in Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Review (Nov 1979)
- Joseph Nicholas in Paperback Inferno, Vol 5, No 1 (1981)
In the Kirkus Reviews for 1952 Jun 15 the reviewer wrote, “A quiz program prize gives young Roy Malcolm a rocket trip to a space station en route to another planet. There he is introduced to the mysteries of gravity, acclimatizing, a misplaced atomic waste pile ship, monsters on Mars, space pirates. And he comes back, accompanied by a family of Martian colonists, bringing the children back to Earth for college.... Bad as it sounds, it is superior to the others.”
The space station that Roy visited was not en route to another planet, there are no Martian monsters or space pirates in the story, and Roy didn’t explore the mysteries of gravity, but rather he got acquainted with zero gravity, more properly called free fall.
- "Recommended Reading," F&SF, January 1953, p.89
- Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. p. 102. ISBN 0-911682-20-1.