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Prelude to Space

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Here is the compelling story of the launching of Prometheus -- Earth's first true spaceship -- and of the men who made it happen.
Dirk Alexson:
Chronicler of the greatest space adventure of all time, he was chosen to immortalize the incredible story of the men and their heroic mission.
Sir Robert Derwent:
Direct-General of Interplanetary -- London Headquarters for the international space-flight project -- he was the man who got the mission off the ground and into the pages of history.
Professor Maxton:
The world's leading atomic engineer, he designed the huge ship's drive units and he waited with the rest of the world to see if the project would be a success.

179 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1950

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About the author

Arthur C. Clarke

1,359 books10.1k followers
Sir Arthur Charles Clarke was one of the most important and influential figures in 20th century science fiction. He spent the first half of his life in England, where he served in World War Two as a radar operator, before emigrating to Ceylon in 1956. He is best known for the novel and movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, which he co-created with the assistance of Stanley Kubrick.

Clarke was a graduate of King's College, London where he obtained First Class Honours in Physics and Mathematics. He is past Chairman of the British Interplanetary Society, a member of the Academy of Astronautics, the Royal Astronomical Society, and many other scientific organizations.

Author of over fifty books, his numerous awards include the 1961 Kalinga Prize, the AAAS-Westinghouse science writing prize, the Bradford Washburn Award, and the John W. Campbell Award for his novel Rendezvous With Rama. Clarke also won the Nebula Award of the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1972, 1974 and 1979, the Hugo Award of the World Science Fiction Convention in 1974 and 1980, and in 1986 became Grand Master of the Science Fiction Writers of America. He was awarded the CBE in 1989.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 69 reviews
Profile Image for Ming.
1,308 reviews12 followers
July 10, 2014
There's really not much plot at all, and it's mostly interesting as a historical artefact, being a speculation of space travel before actual space travel ever happened. Still, the enthusiasm and optimism (though sadly misplaced, as history has shown) is infectious.
Profile Image for Denis.
Author 1 book21 followers
October 14, 2022
There isn’t much say about this one. Clarke by this time (1948) has proven himself as outstanding short story writer. This is more a straight forward speculation on how the first flight to the moon might occur, and he did a fine job of this, however, Heinlein’s “Rocket Ship Galileo” or better yet his “Destination Moon” published around the same period, was far more entertaining.
Profile Image for Matthew Kresal.
Author 44 books35 followers
March 6, 2020
As hard as it may be to believe that the Moon landings occurred fifty years ago, it seems equally hard to believe there was a time when people were still imagining it happening for the first time. One of those who did so was science fiction titan Arthur C Clarke whose first published novel Prelude to Space conceived such an endeavor. Though first published in 1951 and imagining events in the 1970s, it makes for enjoyable reading.

In part, that's because of what Clarke got right. There's a crew of three who end up going to the Moon, each with specific tasks and skills, not unlike the real-life Apollo missions. The portrayal of media coverage of the mission, as well as the public debate about whether space exploration is worth the cost, have echoes of their own in the Space Race and our current era. The way that Interplanetary, the organization behind the effort, is portrayed isn't a million miles off from the likes of SpaceX and private companies heading into space in the 21st-century. Clarke is even close about when the first lunar probe and human spaceflights would be taking place. All of which is rather neat to think about, given Apollo 11's historic mission was nearly twenty years away when the novel was published though he proved right, in the words of his astronaut Hassel, that “The first voyage will be the one that History will remember. After that, they’ll all merge together.”

There's plenty Clarke didn't predict, though. His nuclear powered Prometheus with its stages Alpha and Beta don't bear much resemblance to the Saturn V or the Apollo capsules that made the real journey. There's no space race to spurn things on, so it's the British based Interplanetary that sends the expedition off from Australia. The vision on display of the 1970s can be chuckle-worthy at times, such as a moment about a third way through the novel when at a party, "there was much dancing to the gentle, nostalgic rhythms so popular in the late ’70s." Of course, Clarke is quick to point out in a 1976 preface included with later editions that "contrary to a general belief—prediction is not the main purpose of science-fiction writers," and that he wasn't aiming to do so here either.

Of course, we're talking about a novel written in the 1940s, published in the 1950s, and there are times when it very much feels like it. The dialogue and characterizations are very much of the time, and it was easy at times to think of this as the SF equivalent of one of those old black and white British war films popular in this era. There's a lot of stiff upper lips, even from American characters like our historian protagonist, for example. The plot, too, in what would become a running theme with Clarke's work, is rather thin at places but, one can forgive that with the earnestness in which he gets his ideas across.

As first novels go, there have been far worse ones that Prelude to Space. Like much of Clarke's later works, including masterworks such as Childhood's End and 2001, this is a novel of ideas first and foremost. While we may have gotten to the Moon even before Clarke's fictional astronauts, what remains is an intriguing vision of those days of future past. Not so much how we got to the Moon, but how we might have done in a different world.
Profile Image for Patrick DiJusto.
Author 5 books60 followers
December 14, 2018
This 70 year old book is the ur-example of something sadly missing in the world today: optimistic science fiction.

Written in 1947, Prelude to Space is the story of the launch of the first crewed rocket to the moon in 1978. Because Clarke was a proud Englishman, (and because in 1947 the British Empire was more or less intact) the moon mission is a UK affair, with some help from their American junior partners.

In this, his first novel, Clarke's style is didactic, almost to the point of being Gernsbackian:
"As you know, the atomic pile heats the reaction mass to a temperature hotter than the surface of the Sun!"
"I say, as hot as that?"

But you know, that's all right. This book was deliberately written to get people excited about space travel. Specifically, to show in meticulous detail that space travel was no longer the realm of science fiction, but of practical engineering.

My speculation: when Clarke was a boy, like all boys of his time, he was exposed to penny periodicals of the "Boy's Own Thrilling Ripping Yarns" type. These magazines, according to George Orwell's insightful essay, were written to prepare young British boys for their rightfully deserved task of running an empire. It's my considered opinion that Clarke wrote this book to convince the next generation that they rightfully deserved the planets.
Profile Image for Mark.
564 reviews157 followers
December 25, 2017
It is perhaps fitting that, on the centenary birthday of Sir Arthur, I re-read and review Sir Arthur’s first published novel, Prelude to Space.*

This was one of the first of Sir Arthur’s novels that I read, though not the first. I had actually come to his work through his short stories, such as The Star (1955) and The Nine Billion Names of God (1953), before finding a copy of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) in my school library.

Prelude is not a book of the same calibre of 2001. And yet its quiet manner, a tale of men and women working together to reach out into the unknown, is one that has stayed with me for over forty years.

“It was written in July, 1947, during my summer vacation as a student at King’s College, London. The actual composition took exactly twenty days, a record I have never since approached. This speed was largely owing to the fact that I had been making notes on the book for more than a year; it was already well organized in my head before I set pen to paper.”

As the novel was written in 1947, the plot is perhaps understandably rather cliched these days. Set in the 1970’s and told from the point of view of historian Dr. Dirk Alexson, it is the story of how Mankind first reaches the Moon. We view it as a non-specialist would see it, as it would be given to the general public by an objective observer. It also allows us to see science non-technically – a role in a few years that, as a populariser of science, Sir Arthur would happily fill. It is clearly a creative summation of Clarke’s ideas of how it could be, although it is different to what really happened.

“You Americans have always been a bit conservative about space flight, and didn’t take it seriously until several years after us.”

In Clarke’s book the research and development is not achieved by government funding but by private enterprise, and mainly European and Commonwealth participation at that. Think of a British Space-X – perhaps Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, rather than NASA.

Clarke’s explanation of this is charmingly straightforward:

“In 1947, it seemed quite reasonable to base an Interplanetary Project in London; as one of my English characters remarks… That statement was still true a decade after I had finished the book—when Sputnik I was launched in October, 1957. It is now very hard to realize that right into the late 1950’s many American engineers in the rocket field itself pooh-poohed the idea of space flight.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, the perspective of the novel is a Brit-centric view, with much of the research and development occurring in London and the final flight setting off from that ex-British colony and member of the UK Commonwealth, Australia.

However, it is not as jingoistic as that outline might suggest. Alexson is from the University of Chicago, for example, and the group of scientists and pilots that Alexson observes is deliberately multinational. Even German scientists, who a few years earlier were bombing London, are accepted as part of this group. There are no national or political barriers on this brave new frontier, clearly something that Clarke believes in passionately and ardently.

It is also partly biographical, with many of the characters and events allegedly based on Clarke and his compatriots’ work in the 1940’s and 50’s, but then extrapolated further. I think that it is this that I found attractive on first reading. There is this feeling that, in the 1970’s, this is what it would be like to be part of that exciting, and dangerous, experiment, on the cutting edge of technology and the edge of the unknown.

Nevertheless, from the perspective of the 2010’s, Prelude is also easy to criticise. For all of its buoyancy and confidence, it is also naïve and unrealistically optimistic. It was out of date by the time Mankind reached the Moon, something Clarke admits in his honest and endearing Post-Apollo Preface, written in August 1969.

Being a product of the 1940’s and 50’s, the writing style is charmingly old-school. There’s a lot of explaining going on through the characters, of Dirk being told things to help his understanding and his writing of the historical record. It is linear in style and occasionally stilted in prose, but even so something I found engaging and endearing.

Clarke also addresses the belief held by many general readers that science fiction is ‘the fiction that predicts the future’. Clarke, in his Post-Apollo Preface refutes that: “… few (science fiction writers), if any, have ever claimed “this is how it will be.” Most of them are concerned with the play of ideas, and the exploration of novel concepts in science and discovery.”

Despite the author’s protestations, Prelude did, admittedly, get some ideas right. This is the first time that Clarke’s ideas of geosynchronous satellites are shown in his novels, something taken for granted today. There are other ideas here that were shown in the real Apollo missions – crews of three, each with their specific roles, the use of booster spaceships to launch the final spaceship into space, rather like the Space Shuttle riding on a Jumbo jet and so on.

There are also some aspects that, even with the passage of seventy-odd years, modern readers will recognise. The media coverage of the mission is as it would be now – when the secret mission is announced, there is a media frenzy as newspaper reporters try to gain exclusive admission to the training centre and the astronauts, wheedling details out from those involved and making facts up if they don’t have access. There are attempts at terrorism and disagreements from religious groups over whether Mankind should travel into space. None of this, of course, would happen today.

Other elements are less pertinent in 2017. The use of nuclear booster rockets is not generally seen as workable these days, although Stephen Baxter did use them in his alternative history, Voyage. Similarly, the importance of governments in sponsoring research and development was underestimated by Clarke, although he justifies his choice in his new Introduction.

…The modest amounts of money with which I assumed space research could be conducted will now cause some rueful amusement. No one could have imagined, in 1947, that within twenty years not merely millions, but billions, of dollars would be budgeted annually for space flight, and that a lunar landing would be a primary objective of the two most powerful nations on Earth. Back in the 1940’s it seemed most unlikely that governments would put any money into space before private enterprise had shown the way.”

Prelude is very much a debut novel of an author growing in style and structure. There are themes here that Sir Arthur will revisit in his other more famous novels – the benefits of space travel, the unifying nature of international cooperation towards common goals, for example. It is obviously a story close to Sir Arthur’s heart. There are parts that border on the biographical, or perhaps what Clarke hopes to be in the future. The CEO of Interstellar, Sir Robert Derwent, is perhaps the mouthpiece of Sir Arthur’s hopes and dreams for the future, his distillation of the discussion why humans should, and will, travel to the Moon and beyond.

Whilst very much a product of its time, Prelude to Space is a novel that holds up better than many other debuts from other equally famous authors. Compare this with Heinlein’s Rocketship Galileo, for example, and the differences are clear. Whilst it could be argued that Galileo is aimed at what would now be referred to as the ‘Young Adult’ market, and Prelude is much more of a grown-up affair, Clarke’s novel is a much more refined and subtler work, although Clarke could also write for a younger audience. Clarke’s novel The Sands of Mars, also published in 1952, is perhaps more like Galileo.

As much as I enjoyed it, Prelude is a lesser work when regarded in the context of Clarke’s full bibliography, and yet it is a reflection of the time it was written – an optimistic, forward-looking treatise of the Space Age and how the future could be.  For all of its literary limitations, it is an endearingly appropriate celebration of Sir Arthur’s life and work.



*The original version of novella Against the Fall of Night was published in Startling Stories in 1948, but was expanded and rewritten in 1951, after the publication of Prelude. Eventually, in 1956, it became perhaps my favourite Clarke novel, The City and the Stars. Prelude is therefore usually regarded as Sir Arthur’s first novel, envisioned as a novel.
Profile Image for Dave.
232 reviews18 followers
July 10, 2009
“Prelude to Space” is the first novel by Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1917 – 2008) and was published in 1951 in the series of Galaxy Science Fiction novels. Originally this short novel was written in 1947. According to the introduction which he wrote, Clarke wrote the entire novel in just 20 days, but it took a while to get it published even though he was a successful writer of short fiction. The story is about the first manned mission to the moon. Some of the correct predictions that Clarke made include the first Lunar impact in 1959 and he had the number of astronauts on the lunar mission correct, but much more impressive was his discussion of telecommunications satellites. He didn’t do too bad with his prediction of when the landing would be, as he was within a decade by setting it in 1978.

The story is told in three parts, the first of which takes place in England where we meet Dirk Alexson, a historian who has been hired by Interplanetary to record the project of sending men to the moon for posterity. This section provides the background of how man came from the end of World War II to the verge of space travel. Clarke believed that the rocket would be nuclear powered, and that the mission would be one supported by many nations, and in particular England, with Australia being the launch site due to the vast unpopulated areas in the interior. In part two the preparations are made for moving the operation to Australia in preparation for the launch. Part three details the final preparations and finishes with the launch itself. There is an epilogue which looks back from further in the future as man continues to reach out to other planets in the solar system.

The strength of this story is the science. Clarke has done an excellent job of putting together a realistic scenario of a trip to the moon, which holds up today. The weakness of the story would be in the characters. There are a couple who are well done, such as Dirk Alexson and Professor Maxton, but many of the others are rather shallow as there is a parade of people who Dirk interacts with in order to get their stories, and the science.

While this is far from Clarke’s best work, when one considers that it was written in just 20 days it is rather amazing, and those who like hard science fiction will appreciate the effort which Clarke made here. He obviously had been preparing such a story for a while before starting to write it. It tied for 25th on the Astounding/Analog All-Time Poll in 1956 for science fiction books.
Profile Image for Phil Giunta.
Author 22 books26 followers
November 20, 2017
In 1976, historian Dirk Alexson is sent to England by the University of Chicago to document for posterity the first manned mission to the moon sponsored by a private company called Interplanetary. While in the UK, he interviews and befriends some of the scientists and administrators involved in the project and receives a number of lessons in astrophysics and engineering.

However, Alexson is given very little face time with the crew of the Prometheus until they fly to the deserts of Australia for the actual launch. In fact, of the five possible crew members, only three will be chosen for the mission and that choice is not even made until the entire team reaches Australia.

Prelude to Space reads more like a documentary than a novel. The only character development occurs when our skeptical historian slowly becomes convinced during his assignment that landing a man on the moon is, in fact, feasible and exciting.

There is almost no tension in the story save for one of the astronauts worrying about his pregnant wife. Any risk to the astronauts' lives is treated lightly. Instead, the narrative merely follows Alexson as he chronicles the events around him.

Much of the book is comprised of info dumps ranging from the backgrounds of some of the characters (as if Clarke just wanted to get that out of the way in order to focus on the technology) to engineering specifications about the Prometheus and space flight in general. Arthur C. Clarke's scientific prowess is evident in this book, to point where it eclipses what little story exists. For example, as if an afterthought or an attempt to manufacture tension near the end of the story, a religious zealot fatally fails in an attempt to sabotage the Prometheus a few days before its launch. The character was introduced and killed off within a few pages, all of which added nothing to the story.

If you're looking for an exhilarating fictional tale of man's first foray to the moon, Prelude to Space will likely be a verbose and tedious disappointment.
Profile Image for Jon.
677 reviews7 followers
October 14, 2019
Now—contrary to a general belief—prediction is not the main purpose of science-fiction writers; few, if any, have ever claimed “this is how it will be.” Most of them are concerned with the play of ideas, and the exploration of novel concepts in science and discovery. “What if…?” is the thought underlying all writing in this field. - Arthur C. Clarke

This is Arthur C. Clarke's first published novel, and it's interesting as a historical piece. The author was clearly off in his prediction of a 1970s moon landing and subsequent colonization before the year 2000, but it's a thought-provoking story for the time and compelling in its enthusiasm for space exploration. On the downside, characters are flat and unmemorable, the plot is lackluster, and overall the book lacks any meaningful suspense or tension. It just sort of ends after the slow build-up. While clearly not Clarke's finest effort, I still find it fascinating based on the timeframe of its publication.
Profile Image for Jon.
26 reviews
March 11, 2018
70 years after Clarke wrote Prelude to Space, I finally have read it. Of course, the story seems dated, after all, it was written more than 20 years before the first real moon landing, 3 years before I was born. But all in all a good story, and as Clarke admits in the preface to the 1970 edition I have, a prediction of the future and propaganda for space travel. I enjoyed the book tremendously.
Profile Image for Aaditya.
63 reviews
July 2, 2021
An account of man's first trip to the Moon from the viewpoint of historian present to catalogue history in the making. The book doesn't foretell the future of space travel but it tells us about it with such infectious enthusiasm that it is hard to not get caught up in it. It makes one wonder whether our exploration of space peaked too briefly and too soon.
Profile Image for Leonardo.
40 reviews
June 16, 2023
It will never not be funny how unflappably optimistic we were about space travel in the ‘50s. I understand this is the prelude to space, but I do think a chapter or two could have been spared at the end to describe the space voyage the whole book prepares the reader for. Ah well.
Profile Image for Brian.
114 reviews27 followers
February 10, 2014
I've always liked this book, since I first read it in the 70s. Written in 1947 and first published in 1951, it plays on the wonder of space travel that died with the men and women aboard the Challenger. But it isn't the typical science fiction novel, set in the far future, when space travel is taken for granted. As the title suggests, it's about the first step on that journey, a manned mission to the moon, and the men who make that happen.

You caught that, right? Reading the book today, it's impossible not to be struck by Clarke's warm embrace of all the nations on Earth and the cold shoulder he turns to half of the world's population. No women scientists, no women astronauts, not even any female PR people, except for secretaries. With the exception of the occasional "pretty girl" -- a wife in a photograph, a partygoer -- it's almost as if women don't exist.

I noticed something else I'm sure never crossed my mind when I read this as a kid: the absolute superiority of scientists and their hangers-on. The "hero," Dirk, a historian sent to record the momentous project, is initially taken in by a couple of men from the PR department, both of whom treat him very well. Then he meets the scientists. And they're oh so much more interesting. He becomes, in essence, a scientist groupie, preferring their company to anyone else's. And why not? They are above the petty strife of the rest of the world's inhabitants.

Now, all of this is understandable and none of it ruins the book (believe it or not). It's just that I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who didn't long to return to that sense of wonder and excitement that early science fiction provides. In fact, if that isn't your sole motivation going in, you'll be sorely disappointed. The book is about getting into space and why that's a good thing. Clarke didn't choose a historian to carry the action for nothing. Not that there is any action, really. It's all talk and gentle propaganda. Clarke admits he was proselytizing. But if you agree with the message, you might enjoy this.

On a practical note, Clarke provides a "Post-Apollo" preface, written in 1975, that discusses the book's "predictions." It's a funny one, too, in that, though he got so much wrong the first time around, he then proceeds to get it all wrong again, when he predicts that serious space-flight is only a decade or two away. If only.

In an amusing aside, he refers to a quotation against space flight by C.S. Lewis which he included in the book. (Whether the quotation was real or fabricated, I honestly don't know.) In any case, Lewis took it good-naturedly and Clarke tells of how he sat down with him and a colleague in an English pub to discuss the matter. The colleague, as it happens, was J.R.R. Tolkien. By the end of the conversation, Clarke says, "Lewis cheerfully compromised with the observation that though we were probably very wicked people, the world would be an awfully dull place if everyone was good."
Profile Image for Adam Turoff.
30 reviews5 followers
April 17, 2014
If I were reviewing Prelude to Space based on what I remembered reading decades ago, it wouldn't be flattering. I remember a dull story about that ends abruptly with a Plutonium powered rocket launched from Australia. The story misses roughly all of the romance and drama of a manned flight to the moon. A bunch of speculation was way off, like a Plutonium powered rocket that can't be inspected and is so toxic no one can go near it for decades after launch. (Heh. Decades.)

But it was a quick read, and worth a re-read. And a lot of stuff was wrong, but it was speculation about 25 years before Apollo, so it's not really fair to criticize what it got wrong.

In the interim, I've visited London, so the scenes set there have more resonance. Having the UK lead a multi-national effort was a reasonable bit of speculation in 1947, especially now that most missions are international collaborations. And that era was all about the golden possibilities free nuclear energy would bring, so a Plutonium powered rocket isn't the craziest of ideas, even if it seems laughably naive in retrospect.

But what really struck me was how much of the political drama and intrigue Clark was able to capture over a decade before Sputnik -- esp. the "Department of Negative Publicity", the crazies that try to get in the way, and the arguments used by politicians to question space exploration, and the arguments used to sway them.

Some details, like leaving the choice of crew to a lottery right before the mission, are perfectly reasonable speculations. But as I turned the pages, I wondered how much of NASA's programs, policies and actions were both inspired and influenced by Clarke's early books, and simulated before settling on the approaches they actually used.

Nearly 70 years later, this is a refreshing reminder of the post-war exuberance about manned spaceflight, that clearly influenced that manned spaceflight program.
Profile Image for John.
357 reviews4 followers
May 1, 2012
Although first published in magazine form, this was Arthur C. Clarke's first novel, and traces its origins as far back as 1947. Clarke was, thus, among the first proponents of space exploration in the wake of WWII, and this novel is equal parts entertainment, education, and propaganda. (This last is admitted, as such, by Clarke in his introduction to this 1976 edition.) As a result, this is an odd sort of sci-fi novel from a current-day perspective.

This is a story without much of a plot, and with virtually no action. The central character, Dirk Alexson, is an historian assigned to record an official account of the events surrounding the first launch of a spacecraft to the Moon. Accordingly, much of the book is given over to Alexson's assimilation of technical knowledge presented for non-technicians. Another portion of the narrative parallels this, as Alexson's passion for the project grows in proportion to his understanding of the science and the personalities behind it.

Aside from a brief section dealing with an attempted sabotage of the launch, and the tension between the five astronauts in training (as only three will be chosen, in the end, to make the journey), there is not much by way of conflict. "Prelude to Space" may, as a result, come across as static. To a post-1969 reader (and even more so in the post-shuttle age), even the book's fascination with the technology can seem a little trite. It may be helpful to read this work within its historical context and remember that when Clarke wrote it, there still existed a healthy skepticism with regard to whether any form of space travel would ever be possible. And Sputnik was still six years away. In his attempt to educate and, thus, ignite the passions of the public at large, Clarke did a great service to a pursuit which had not yet even reached its infancy.
Profile Image for MissJessie.
166 reviews35 followers
April 12, 2010
Space travel as imagined by ACC in the 50's was a far different thing than what actually occurred. For myself, I think I would prefer Clarke's "reality" to that of today.

Great Britain was a serious world power, particularly in space travel; there was no "space race" per se--countries actually cooperated. Five astronauts were considered for the first flight and the two who didn't make it took it well enough.

The Prometheus (space ship) seemed to me to be along the lines (very generally) of the soon to be late, lamented space shuttle program. There was genuine enthusiasm, interest, fascination with the future--all things that to me are now lacking in life, as well as the space program.

As to the book itself, it is of course dated. One of the most touted advantages to having a presence in space was the ability to manufacture vacuum tubes for computers and communications--and when was the last time that was an issue? But the other ideas--medical products, and so on--it's a pity I think that none of this has come to be even remotely to pass.

The book itself is written with Clarke's usual style and care--sometimes a little wordy, but always thoughtful.

As always, looking backward to what might have been is affected by a rose-colored filter, but the what-might-have-beens always make me wistful.

Then, I think of gynecology and dentistry and get over it, at least to a point.
Profile Image for Raj.
1,428 reviews30 followers
May 22, 2010
Written in the early 1950s, this book tells the story of Mankind's first spaceship, the Prometheus, a nuclear-powered vessel that will take its crew of three to the Moon. In this (now) alternative history, Britain is still a major player in the space industry while there is no 'space race' between the superpowers, but all nations worth together in an organisation called 'Interplanetary' for their common goal. Our perspective into this world is Dirk Alexson, an historian sent from the University of Chicago to write the first draft of history for this pivotal moment in Human affairs.

Looking back it seems impossibly naive, but as Clarke points out in his post-Apollo preface, until America was frightened out of complacency by the "beep, beep beep" signal from Sputnik 1, it didn't have any real ambitions for space and Britain's Interplanetary Society was at the forefront of space exploration.

Clarke gets a lot wrong but somehow I'd still like to live in his world, where a reusable nuclear-powered craft is launched on a high-speed acceleration track in the Australian desert to the chimes of Big Ben and the superpowers work with the other nations of the world towards a new frontier purely for the joys of exploration and science rather than national interest.
Profile Image for Chuck Kollars.
133 reviews6 followers
July 14, 2016
This is Arthur C. Clarke _pre_ '2001: A Space Odyssey' (don't be fooled by the date, this material was originally published as "Prelude to Space" in the early 50s, and written even earlier). Very well written; I see why Arthur C. Clarke was such a big deal in the field of sci-fi writing in those days. All the technical details are fleshed out in great detail (except it was already obvious as soon as this was republished that a few of the technical predictions were way off). The advantage of this book over '2001' is more or less the same philosophical valuation of space exploration is presented much more explicitly and at much greater length and much less mystically or symbolically. One thing I particularly noted was the completely different attitude toward "atomic" power back in those days. Back then, the common wisdom was apparently that in some cases (excavating huge canals, interplanetary manned space flights, etc.) the difficulties of dealing with radiation were well worth it. But nowadays, few think that way - the common wisdom nowadays seems to be that dealing with the radiation is too much trouble no matter what, and except for a few special cases (war, unmanned long-lived interplanetary exploration satellites, electricity generation fallback) atomic power is of no use.
Profile Image for Mel.
3,252 reviews188 followers
November 27, 2012
This book was written in 1947 when Clarke was on his summer holiday from King's College. It's an interesting piece of propaganda, set 30 years in the future when man is planning his first trip to the moon (using atomic rockets). The book itself is partly fascinating and partly dull. It's an interesting glimpse to see what people thought the future would be like, and what was thought to inspire the rocket engineers of the future. The problem as it's more propaganda than novel there is no real characterisation, the main character is there for people to explain things too. The other HUGE problem with this book is that there is not one woman in the whole thing! I would have thought that Clarke, hoping to inspire people, would have thought to encourage women too! It's not like women scientists were unheard of in his day, particularly at King's where many women scientists had made quite interesting and important discoveries! Still it was interesting to see what was important, focusing on the take off of the rocket, not the actual mission, the moon landing is left unwritten. Overall it was ok, but not something I have any desire to re-read.
Profile Image for Andrea Bampi.
107 reviews8 followers
May 11, 2014
Un juvenlie che più juvenile non si può. Bisogna riconoscere che questo romanzo d'esordio di Arthur Clarke (più o meno contemporaneo a The Sands of Mars) non ha retto benissimo al peso degli anni. Per varie ragioni, in primis percè già allora era nato più come opera "divulgativa" che come vero e proprio romanzo. Fin dalle prime pagine quello che emerge potente è l'amore per le stelle, per l'esplorazione dello spazio ed il desiderio di trasmetterlo ai lettori in ogni modo possibile. Non è facile riconoscervi il genio di Clarke perchè qui è davvero ancora troppo acerbo, dal punto di vista letterario. Ci sono però molti dei suoi temi preferiti, almeno allo stadio germinale. Ma rimane un romanzo che nel 2014 vale la pena di leggere solo per curiosità accademica, e per apprezzare ancora di più quanto poi Clarke si sia evoluto come romanziere. Non aiuta sicuramente nemmeno la traduzione quasi "vittoriana" che si ritrova in quest'edizione Urania "vintage".
Profile Image for Stephen.
335 reviews
December 8, 2019
This is the second time I've read this book (which has a lot of my notes, highlights, and underlining from when I first read it, and I remembered very little about it). For the first few pages, I was wondering, "why am I reading this book from the 1950 that speculates about the future of manned space flight, considering what was accomplished by the Apollo moon landings, especially 30 years after I first read this?" However, afterward Clarke's wry wit takes off and you are treated to a very realistic "what could have been" science fiction novel about mankind's first endeavor to take three astronauts to the moon and back, along with all the supporting characters. Perhaps not for everyone, but especially for one of his "lesser known" and truly under-appreciated novels, it's evident from this one alone why he was master of science fiction.
Profile Image for Peter Panacci.
138 reviews1 follower
September 19, 2017
I had no idea what to expect from this short novella, but I was blown away by its ability to probe into the motivations and dreams of mankind, from our earliest explorations to our dreams of populating the stars. The fictional path to mankinds first journey to the moon is brilliantly chronicled with a focus on the humanitarian and existential reasons. The grandeur, depth and scope of this global project feels so much more real and admirable than what I've learned about the actual moon landing. Reading it now, with hindsight and history on our side, I can't help but long for a time when these persona's and epic designs will once again galvanize our attention and unite us in the pursuit of a nobler purpose. I loved it.
Profile Image for Richard.
Author 42 books7 followers
July 23, 2017
Could be titled "Prelude to Arthur C. Clarke Learning How to Write a Novel." As many reviewers have stated, there isn't much of a plot here, and characterization was never a Clarke strength. For a novel written in 1947 (Clarke's first), this look at a first manned mission to the moon is scientifically well ahead of its time, especially if one looks at the fanciful SF works written in the 40's, and I like its theme of humanity's need to keep exploring or we'll vanish. But I also liked that it was only 179 pages.
38 reviews
August 14, 2020
Short on plot but very interesting, this is a well-written late 1940s prediction of the scenario of a first lunar landing. A fair amount is predicted more or less correctly. Clarke was a little optimistic, as it turns out, but after a pause of several decades hopefully more of his vision will come to pass. It's a quick read that doesn't have time to get boring and manages to avoid getting lost in scientific asides. Definitely a recommendation.
Profile Image for Erik Tolvstad.
125 reviews5 followers
August 8, 2020
I needed to frequently remind my 2020 self that this tale was written in 1947 - before un-manned rockets achieved orbit. The premise is the first manned flight to the moon (set for the 1970's!). There's a healthy dose of rocket-science-for-the-layman, and some political commentary about not allowing nationalism to pollute space exploration.
Profile Image for Anna.
584 reviews2 followers
May 31, 2016
Published in the early 1950s, this short novel imagines what it would be like to fly to the moon. However, it sees the lunar landing as simply a prelude, instead of the dead end it has become. Very interesting.
Profile Image for Cristiano Frigo.
90 reviews1 follower
September 17, 2016
Un romanzo datato ed ingenuo. Ben lontano dalla potenza immaginifica di 2001.
In ogni caso una gradevole lettura che ancora una volta stuzzica la nostra fascinazione per le stelle e il cosmo.
Profile Image for Lukerik.
503 reviews5 followers
April 8, 2023
Interesting, but not for the reasons intended by the author. It’s not up to much as a novel. It purports to document the run-up to the launch of the first flight to the moon. Its intention is to encourage people to undertake the task. What’s interesting is the 31 year view ahead from 1947, particularly what Clarke gets wrong. There are some pretty hair-raising ideas.

Seriously touted as the solution to radioactive waste from power stations is to launch it into space on rockets. And the moon rocket itself is nuclear. They’ve built a massive launching site in the Australian Outback which is already fatally radioactive because of the exhaust from the test flights. Just imagine the destruction if there was meltdown on the ground, or if the ship blew up in the atmosphere. Three years later in his book Interplanetary Flight, Clarke appears to have abandoned the idea and recommends a craft very much like Apollo 11.

The flight is envisaged very much as an international undertaking. Clarke definitely has one eye on America, but it’s seen as British led. The private organisation doing it is directed by Sir Sinclair Sugar and in this vision of the future the British Empire has not fallen. Perhaps it wasn’t clear in 1947 that Britain had not won the war but just been on the winning side. The astronaut training centre is in a suburban house in SW5. That’s about as ridiculous a proposition as the first electronic computer being built in the grounds of a county house. London has a world-class transport system and the tree day week is nowhere to be seen. Empire aside, there’s a fair bit about space being won for all mankind, leaving tribal divisions back on earth.

As the Outback has been irradiated you’re probably worried about the poor Aborigines who live there. Don’t be. They’ve been cleansed from the land and concentrated in a camp some miles away. I cannot swear that this is meant ironically.
Profile Image for Ryan.
1,155 reviews150 followers
March 8, 2023
This is a pretty bad fictional story (with no real plot other than "rocket go up", forgettable characters, etc.) but amazing predictions about spaceflight given it was written in the 1947.

What's interesting is as much what he got wrong as what he got right -- by using the technology of the 1940s, and what seemed like a plausible budget to a writer from England who had seen post-empire austerity, the size of the project was totally out of proportion -- single-digit millions of dollars spent (instead of the nearly-$250B in today's money spent on gemini+apollo), a massive nuclear powered spaceship, but still very limited crew (3?), doing roughly the same thing as Apollo (brief visit to the moon). The "rendezvous in orbit" aspect of the vehicle was included (just as with Apollo), but at a much larger scale. Extensive use of nuclear rocketry.

Basically, overestimates of engineering scale in terms of size/forces/etc., dramatic underestimates of technology development, staffing, and budgets, but largely correct in that it was possible. I think he also put the actual "man on the moon" a decade or so after it happened in reality.
Profile Image for Israel Laureano.
395 reviews7 followers
April 2, 2020
Novela de ciencia ficción dura que solamente interesa a los cienciaficcioñeros de corazón o a los que admiran mucho la obra de Clarke.
Fue escrita en 1951 y relata el lanzamiento de la primera nave a la Luna. Arthur C. Clarke fue un ingeniero muy apegado a la ciencia y al avance científico, así que todo lo que relata es con la informació de cómo sería el primealmente se pensaba que iba a ser un coheteer cohete a la Luna. Para empezar describe que va a ser un esfuerzo básicamente inglés, y que la plataforma de lanzamiento va a estar situada en el desierto australiano.
Para los aficionados a la astronáutica, se van a dar cuenta que muchos de los conceptos que relata describen las ideas de CÓMO realmente se pensaba que iba a ser una nave lunar. Interesante, pero nada más. El estilo narrativo de Clarke es clásico de él: personajes planos, humor chatito, callejones sin salida..., para los más interesados, es muy gratificante ver el atropellado estilo de narrativa inglesa del Clarke primigenio.
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