Arthur C Clarke has left. Coincidentally, after making the 2001: A Space Odyssey reference in my last post, I flipped through some of my favourite Clarke stories, including "The Sentinel", which was the seed of the 2001 script. I haven't read any of his longer works but I'm a big fan of his short stories - when I first encountered them many years ago, they opened my eyes to the ways in which good science fiction can engage with our world more closely than laboured, fact-obsessed non-fiction (this sounds paradoxical, but anyone who's opened themselves to the genre will understand). Also, its incomparable ability to put our lives in perspective and to hold up a large cosmic mirror in which we can see the pettiness of some of the concepts we've created (patriotism, for instance). None of this means that Clarke is insensitive to the minutiae of human lives, or to our deepest feelings: his beautiful, sentimental "Dog Star", about an astronaut having to part with his beloved dog when he goes to live on a lunar observatory, is about the closest any short story has come to moistening my ever-dry eyes. (It's also one of a few examples in Clarke's work of a rational mind struggling with an experience that borders on the supernatural, and never coming completely to terms with the scientific explanation.)
Here are some of my other favourite Clarke stories, all of which are good starting points for a reader new to SF. Among the more serious ones: "The Wall of Darkness", "Out of the Sun", "The Forgotten Enemy", "The Star" (one of his most acclaimed pieces, with a genuinely frisson-creating twist), "The Shining Ones" (a nice riff on the "Squid" chapter in Moby Dick) and "Dial F for Frankenstein". Among the humorous stories, "History Lesson" (minor spoiler: you'll never look at Donald Duck the same way again), "A Slight Case of Sunstroke", "Let there be Light", and "Reunion". There are dozens of others - you'll find them all in this book.