A bit of chatter about the state of SciFi in 1939, responding to the lament that "All good ideas have been used up." A lament that has not died down in the seventy years following.
Rescue Party, 1946
I really liked this one, and feel it is Clarke's first great writing. The plot sets up several questions to answer early on, and explores those questions all at once, resolving them in due time. If you don't want the story spoiled for you, you may wish to skip the next few paragraphs.
The first big question we ask is, "Why is a cabal of aliens so intent on rescuing humans at all?" On the heels of that we ask, "Where did the humans go?" And then we ask other questions more specific to the framework of science fiction stories, like, "How much are the aliens like us?" "What level of technology did humans in this story achieve, and was it enough to avert disaster?" "Did they achieve something that current readers would consider magical, or that current readers would scoff at as clearly impossible, or something else?"
I found it an interesting reflection of the 1940's, and perhaps of the author himself, that the humans in the story had phased out all roads in favor of helicopter travel and used nuclear propulsion to cross space, yet still maintained vast archives of paper-bound books to store their information. It was almost comical, like some steampunk-themed alternate universe where the printed circuit was outlawed in favor of clockwork and punchcards.
But don't let that stop you from reading it. It really was good.
The Fires Within, 1949
A framing device used to drop in a twist ending, and explore the uses of high-powered radar, which must have been hot stuff at the time. Drags a bit in the middle.
Also, Clarke seeks to have a fascination with tentacles as alien limbs. How does something without a skeleton build anything more substantial than a sand castle?
Technical Error, 1946
An amusing diversion made plausible with a little hand-waving over Einstein's theory of relativity. I enjoyed the unnecessarily grim ending.