Patent Pending, 1954
I was startled to discover that the premise of this story is a strong precursor to a film I saw called Strange Days, which was scripted by James Cameron and directed by none other than Kathryn Bigelow way back in 1995. The film is graphic, and bizarre, and flawed, and totally fascinating, and it takes a premise almost identical to the one in this story to a very dark and disturbing place.
Clarke's exploration is as lighthearted as the movie's is grave, mainly due to the framing device of his chatty storyteller Harry Purvis. I can happily recommend both the movie and this story.
Also I find it interesting that the central technology in both these stories - a device that can record and then play back the experiences of another person - eventually slips past the grasp of both Clarke and Cameron. With this technology loosed into the world they then have no idea where it will ultimately take mankind, or how it will ultimately settle into the cultural landscape, ... so they just leave it hanging.
For a possible exploration of this, in another flawed but totally fascinating story, check out "The Light Of Other Days".
Sometimes listening to these short stories in sequence makes for some bizarre contrast. Refugee comes right after Patent Pending, but while Patent Pending is old-school speculative science fiction, Refugee barely qualifies as science-fiction at all. Instead it's concerned with the plight of British royalty, and the attempt by one fictional prince to escape the fishbowl of public scrutiny by stowing away on a spaceship and having a little carefree adventure.
Maybe it's a cultural thing, and I'll never understand the appeal of a royal family, or living vicariously through one, but I found this story as boring as heck.
Moving Spirit, 1957
A Trifling little Harry Purvis tale that's mostly a courtroom farce, and would barely fill out the corners of your average Law And Order episode. I'm surprised it was published.
The Reluctant Orchid, 1956
This story is basically a revenge fantasy gone wrong. Although the descriptions of the titular plant are interesting, the rest of the characters are cardboard.
Not one of Clarke's best. And boy, he really doesn't seem to think much of women. Yeah, the male protagonist in this story is equally repugnant, but with women, Clark's got a pattern going across all these stories. It's hard to miss.
What Goes Up, 1956
This tale was told amusingly enough, but the kinks in the treatment of physics were just too bizarre and inconsistent for me. With every paragraph I caught myself saying, "That doesn't make sense!" or "Hey that completely contradicts what just happened!"
I don't mind "soft" sci-fi; I really don't. But this story didn't even have internal consistency, and without a few interesting characters or some witty dialogue, I was adrift. I find it telling that Clarke decided to frame the whole thing in the context of an unreliable narrator. The fellow telling the story-within-a-story was charged with making the whole thing up to impress people ... and if he did, where does that leave us?