This one was a lot of fun! A few weeks later I read it again, in fact. Clarke hides the central invention of the plot and reveals it progressively, managing to make each reveal raise and answer questions in an engaging way. Plus, at the very end, it goes all Twilight-Zone cerebral horror on you. Always a great way to go.
A Walk In The Dark, 1950
Seems the inspiring concept for this short tale was the idea that one could get horribly lost on even a small piece of land, if that land is isolated in the unfamiliar environment of interplanetary space. Strange gravity, strange horizon lines, uncertain day-night cycle, or no day cycle at all, et cetera. Not bad, but a little clumsily escalated.
I remember walking home from friends’ houses, on an unlit road with forest canopy obscuring even the meager light from the stars, and getting freaked out the way the protagonist does in this tale, but I could at least rely on the fact that if I blundered into the woods like an idiot and got totally lost, I could sit on my butt and wait for the sun to rise.
Time’s Arrow, 1950
Among other things here, Clarke manages to sketch a bunch of amusing variations on his beloved archetype of the working-class scientist. I can almost hear the jazzy 50's-era lounge theme underscoring the dialogue. I can't say much about the plot without spoiling it, but it's worth a read as an early example of a concept that would later be mined well and truly to death in television and cinema.
The Parasite, 1953
Clarke claims that this story was the genesis for his later book "The Light Of Other Days", co-written with Stephen Baxter. I don’t see much of a connection, personally. It’s a bit of creepy psychological horror in the Lovecraftian tradition, but it's also a bit thin for even the short-form. Might as well skip it and read the later novel.
It's not too much of a spoiler to know that the titular nemesis enters a deep hibernation and accidentally wakes up alone beyond the end of human history. It's the second time that the cruel fate of being isolated for eternity has come up in this little collection of stories. Perhaps Clarke was going through a period of introspection, contemplating the dark side of a personality that is iconoclastic and generally happier working alone. It might explain why he revisited this story and repurposed it several times under different titles.
The Possessed, 1953
In the author's notes that accompany this story, Clarke confesses to having bad information about the behavior of the animal kingdom. However, since there's no way to correct the misconception without destroying the whole story, he leaves it unaltered.
As an aside, I'm noticing another pattern in stories from this era. Scientists and explorers were collectively enchanted by the phenomenon of radio at the time, and just like today, the yet unseen fronteirs of science - the truly fantastic ideas - tended to arrange themselves along the edge of the up-and-coming phenomenon, and filter through it. In other words, if a scientist of the 50's wanted to find a plausible way to explain something totally magical, like an invisible spacefaring consciousness, he or she would probably describe it by invoking an "advanced form of radio waves", or at least using radio-related words to give the impression of accessibility without actually explaining anything.
Before the era of radio, the big science phenomena were electricity and internal combustion. Automatons. Steampunk. Then later on, it was nuclear power and radiation. Monsters weren't just monsters, they were radioactive monsters. They weren't just deformed, they were mutated.
What's the zeitgeist now? Processing power and memory capacity, I suspect. We interpret the fantastic through our cellphone apps. If a spaceship travels the stars in our imagination, it does so at the capable hands of a solid-state, omnipresent computing device made of steel and glass, loaded with every piece of information ever generated, unobtrusively anticipating our every whim.