Earthlight by Arthur C. Clarke
(Ballantine, 1955)
Reviewed by Robert W. Bly, founder,

In the 22nd century, man has colonized the moon and had spread out to other planets in the solar system including Mars, Venus, and their satellites. Colonies on these other planets have declared their independent from Earth.

The technology that allows man to survive on other planets is dependent on heavy metals. Yet of all the planets in the solar system, only Earth has abundant supplies of heavy metals.

Reason: when the early Earth was molten, the mood orbited it at a much closer distance than it does today. The moon's gravity pulled the metals from the core toward the crust, where they could be removed through mining.

Dependence on metals mined on Earth limits the distance of other worlds that man can colonize. Colonies must be close enough to Earth to make practical shipment of metals that the colonies depend on.

Now heavy metals have been discovered on the moon. For the first time in 200 years, humanity faces the threat of war, as the independent colonies on distant planets are poised to fight for the rights to the lunar metals.

Bertram Sadler is an undercover agent sent by Earth's Central Intelligence agency to the moon. His assignment is to prevent a war between the planetary colonies over the moons metals.

The colonies on Mars, Venus, and their satellites have allied themselves in a Federation. The Federation resents the Earth's control over the moon and its natural resources.

The Federation has developed a new "accelerationless" space drive. It enables their ships to travel 10X faster than Earth's ships, giving them a tactical advantage.

In secret, Earth is developing a special weapon of its own to combat the super-fast Federation ships. Will it come to war? Which technology will prevail?

Arthur C. Clarke is a prolific writer of both science fiction and science nonfiction, and is best known for such novels as 2001: a Space Odyssey, Rendezvous with Rama, and Childhood's End. Earthlight is one of his minor paperback originals.

Not as mind-blowing as 2001 or Childhood, Earthlight is basically a straightforward spy novel set in a future which Clarke extrapolates into the future basic on the known science of the day.

The jacket copy calls Clarke "science fiction's most famous prognosticator of future technologies." In this novel, he makes an erroneous prediction that plant life will be found on the moon. And like most SF writers, he fails to anticipate the personal computer (his characters are still using typewriters).

Earthlight is one of Clarke's minor works. Sharing a flaw with many SF novels, Earthlight features characters that are two-dimensional and not well-developed: you don't really care what happens to them.

Good SF makes up for the lack of interesting people by putting its characters in fascinating situations and seeing them react. The situation in Earthlight isn't really fascinating.

Basically, Earthlight is the Revolutionary War in outer space: colonies rebelling against the home country. It made pleasant light reading on a Labor Day weekend, but if I wasn't set on reviewing it for this site, I could have easily set it aside.

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