Clarke’s international reputation as a master of modern science fiction began in the 1950’s, with his nonfiction popular science best-sellers The Exploration of Space (1951) and Interplanetary Flight (1952). His many impressive works of popular science on themes of space travel, astronomy, the oceans, and the planets won for him an early award from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). He often unites technologically and scientifically accurate observations with metaphysical speculation, for example, in “The Nine Billion Names of God” (1953), “The Star” (1955), and Childhood’s End. Many of his stories of the 1950’s through the 1980’s deal with bodies from outside the solar system colliding with Earth.
Connections among writers exist to a greater extent in science fiction than in other genres, and such collaborations have produced classic works. The 1980’s saw a boom in the area of science fiction collaborations. For example, Marion Zimmer Bradley edited several volumes of stories, written by various authors, set in her world of Darkover. Isaac Asimov has defended such collaborations, observing that a similar sharing of literary universes was practiced by Homer and Sir Thomas Malory.
Clarke’s work is related both to traditions of American science fiction and to European traditions drawn from H. G. Wells and Olaf Stapledon. Like the Americans, Clarke believed that humanity’s future lay in the exploration of space and the frontier spirit, something few other British writers of scientific romance believed. As the years passed, however, he seems to have come to see Earth’s oceans as the more likely new frontier.
Critics consider Rendezvous with Rama a wonderful classic study of the “Big Dumb Object” in science fiction. They observe that the exploration team whose adventures make up the body of the work knows little more about Rama by the end of the novel than at its beginning. In fact, the success of the Rama series in general lies in the way it imagines the mystery and the difficulty humans encounter in attempting to understand an alien culture.