Two scientists bear witness to an exciting battle between a handful of starships and a secret government base. On the moon, of course. Amusingly dated in some ways, but still entertaining. I enjoyed the chatty interaction between the scientists.
The Road To The Sea, 1951
Clarke must have been on some kind of anti-urban-living crusade when he wrote this. Or perhaps he was just experimenting with an idea that didn't quite work. According to the history laid out in this story, Earth almost completely depopulated when space travel became commonplace, and the few collections of people left behind live in small villages and are forced to move from place to place every couple of generations in order to avoid some kind of "stagnation" that sets in whenever a society remains in one place for too long, or grows too large and centralized. So the whole population is broken into tribes and driven from one place to the next by "administrators" piloting huge floating spacecraft. Very odd.
Amusing that a human race so advanced it could synthesize food from a metal box, accurate down to the atom, would provide a nine-key grid of buttons as an interface, requiring that the user memorize codes, rather than an image-based or voice-based interface. Oh well. Clarke can't predict everything.
At first it looked like a trite love-triangle story, with at least two of the three participants being bratty, unlikable children. Then it took several left-turns and abandoned its earlier plot threads, to focus on a painting and a re-invasion of Earth. At first the main character is focused on his romantic competition for a fickle girlfriend, but then his mind is expanded by adventure and the girl drops straight out of the story. I know it's acceptable to leave a lot of things hanging in the short-story form, and a case could be made that Clarke was trying to make some kind of point about the transition from childhood to adulthood by dropping a big dramatic thread without resolution: The character just doesn't care any more - at least not like he used to. But even though I accept this, I still find it annoying. Clarke could have tacked a few sentences onto the end mentioning how the conflict resolves, but instead he takes the time to wedge in a metaphor about migrating spiders. It doesn't really tie the story together as much as defocus it.
A cute little story about how "great is the enemy of good", told as a chatty flashback. The inventions were neat, and the ways they failed were amusing, but the story passed by without leaving much of an impression.
The Sentinel, 1951
A brief exploration of a concept without much plot to drive it. Could have been compelling as a piece of a much larger work, but it didn't have enough of its own gravity standing alone. On the other hand, it was neat to listen to a description of astronauts climbing a mountain on the moon while I was trekking around the rock towers of Bryce Canyon.