by Arthur C. Clarke, published in 1953 (Sidgwick and Jackson)
“The reporters, stamping their feet and trying to restore their circulation, began to file out into the open. Dirk wondered how many had realised, for the first time, that the Moon was not a goal but a beginning – the first step upon an infinite road. It was a road, he now believed, along which all races must travel in the end, lest they wither and die upon their little, lonely worlds.”
This book tells the story behind the launching of the first rocket-ship to the Moon, and is early and dramatic evidence of Clarke’s unfailing ability to predict the future.
The New York Tribune described the book as: ”Quiet, intelligent, evocative projection of the preparations for the first moon flight – a small highly-polished gem.”
The Saturday Review commented: “The problem is the relatively “simple” one of getting the first Moon-rocket off the ground with some chance of reaching its objective, but is it handled with so accurate an appreciation of the real difficulties and so keen a sense of the human reactions that the story outshines its far more gaudy companions. Scientists are a necessity to science fiction; but this is one of the first books in which they really talk like scientists and solve their problems in a scientific way.”
Clarke’s intriguing inscription reads: “To Val and Wernher, who are doing the things I merely write about.”
“Wernher” is, of course, Wernher von Braun. “Val” is Val Cleaver, a pivotal figure in the early years of the BIS. Described by Arthur Clarke as the man who should have been the British von Braun, it was Cleaver who ramped up the engines on the Blue Steak, the rocket that might have given rise to the British equivalent of the Apollo programme, if only our politicians had possessed the vision and ambition of President Kennedy. But the Blue Streak proving grounds at Woomera – our Cape Kennedy – lie abandoned, a silent question mark in the Australian desert, posing one of the great “what ifs” in the history of rocketry.
It was Cleaver who accompanied Arthur Clarke to his famous meeting – the duel of minds – with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien at the Eastgate pub in Oxford in 1954. The verbal contest – fought over the moral and ethical consequences of space exploration – ended in an amicable draw, and culminated in Lewis’s memorable parting shot at Clarke and Cleaver: “I’m sure you’re very wicked people – but how dull it would be if everyone was good.”
The remarkable cover design is by Gerard Quinn.
For more on Val Cleaver see: http://www.bis-space.com/what-we-do/the-british-interplanetary-society/history/arthur-valentine-val-cleaver-obe
Mark Stewart, FBIS