Genre: Hard SF
Publication Date: 07/02/19 (originally 1955)
In the twenty-second century, Man has colonised the Moon.
Tensions between Earth and the colonies are rising, with many believing that all-out war is inevitable. Earth claims that the colonies are dependent on it for population growth. The colonies argue that Earth needs their resources to live. Both are right.
With fleets assembling, Bertram Sandler is sent to the Moon to investigate a deepening conspiracy that could tilt the balance of power, or even leave Earth in ruins . . .
When I read The Sands of Mars, I commented that the pacing was too slow for my liking, the characters not interesting enough. But I also promised to persevere with Clarke’s work. Happily, this has proven to be a most wise decision.
Earthlight is an improvement in every regard, which makes sense given its later release date. I’m glad that Gollancz and the SF Gateway have brought these lost classics to life once more, because – quite frankly – this is a cracking story.
Starting on a technical level, the pacing is much better in this novel. Though at under two hundred pages, it straddles the line between novel and novella as so many pulp classics do. perhaps it’s that brevity that give Earthlight its quick pace, or maybe it’s the tight espionage thriller at the story’s core. Either way, this is a book i tore through in a single sitting, staying up late to finish the final chapter. It’s also an improvement on Sand of Mars in that it has an actual ending, one that doesn’t leave the reader with too many questions.
In terms of characters, it’s very much of its period. Slight on the female side, filled with manly men who solve all their problems with wits and endurance. A tad simplistic at times, especially given the subject matter, but it’s a refreshing change from the overly convoluted characterisations seen in many modern works. I would hardly say i was invested in any of the characters, but then I’m not that sort of a reader. What I can say is that I was interested in them, and I’d argue that’s even better.
With its divided solar system of fledgling colonies and a monopolistic Earth, it’s easy to see Earthlight as a precursor to the political shenanigans of The Expanse. And that can only be a good thing. Frankly it’s impressive that Clarke was able to contain such an intricate world within such a short work of literature.
Again I come back to that brevity. I would argue that this a fine taster of the pulp era, the Golden Age of SF. Warts and all, this is a stellar (pun intended) depiction of how the future looked over half a century ago. Even the science, though I admit to being no expert, has held up remarkably well, all things considered. If you or someone you know is considering taking a dive into the Golden Age, then you’d be hard-pushed to find a better primer.
And that’s the best way to sum up this book. Not perfect by any means, but a fine example of a lost era of science fiction.