Islands in the Sky by Arthur C. Clarke, 1952, Signet Books edition (this book) March 1960 Signet S1769, 127 page paperback, science fiction
Roy Malcolm is a contestant in a television quiz show on aviation, sponsored by World Airways, Inc. He is one of the dozen national finalists, the first prize being a free trip to any part of Earth to which Earth World Airways flies. Roy wins the contest and then, in front of the national audience, drops a bombshell. When asked where he wants to go, he answers “I want to go to the Inner Station.”
The Inner Station is a space station circling Earth in a fairly tight orbit, the stopping place for travelers and goods going to and from Earth and Venus and Mars, both of which have been colonized. Note: the book follows the timeline for colonization which puts it directly after The Sands of Mars (my review of that book is here). After a small battle of words and definitions, during which Roy clarifies that “In 2054, the United States, like all other members of the Atlantic Federation, signed the Tycho Convention, which decided how far into space any planet’s legal rights extended. Under that convention, the Inner Station is part of Earth because it is inside the thousand kilometer limit.” Smart kid, eh?
So he gets to go, mostly because World is afraid of a lot of really bad publicity if they change the rules on him (the TV show was very popular). The rest of the book is about his departure, trip to and arrival at the station, described, as we saw in the previous book, in enough detail to make it believable. What’s amazing to me is how accurately Clarke predicts much of what came about a decade or two later, and since then.
Roy gets to stay for about three weeks, and even has a chance to take a trip to the Outer Station , which is the arrival terminus for passengers from Mars, who must wait to adjust to the heavier gravity of Earth. On the return trip, a malfunction causes the small shuttle to rocket off into space, beyond Earth’s gravity pull. They will need to be rescued or run out of air in a week.
Eventually all turns out okay (I’ll let you read how) and finally Roy returns to Earth after his extended stay in space, most of it in zero gee. Gravity is difficult to handle at first, but he manages. The book ends with his determination to one day become not just a space station worker, but an emigrant to Mars Colony.
I liked this one more than Sands of Mars, though both are good, and are now considered classics of the early genre. Both would be considered YA level today, a distinction that wasn’t of much importance when this was written. Both Clarke and Heinlein wrote books that would be enjoyed by younger readers and adults, and they remain very popular, though Clarke less so, which is too bad.