Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Arthur C. Clarke's "Reunion": Racist & illogical ending to an otherwise readable first contact story

Story summary.
One fine day, earthmen receive a message from space. A ship is approaching at nearly the speed of light, & will be on earth in "a few hours". Story is really this message.

It says earth was originally colonized by Men 10 million years ago, "in the reign of the great reptiles". For a while, there was contact with parent worlds.

Then, about 2 million years ago, an ice age began. Colonizers here began to change - "a natural adaptation to the end of the long summer". But many colonizers thought they had been afflicted with a "strange & repulsive disease". Infighting began; many colonizers went back home; ones that remained fell to savagery; contact with home worlds was lost.

Some years ago, our cousins in space detected radio messages from earth, & found we had rediscovered civilization from savagery. So they are coming for reunion.

They also reveal the nature of disease that afflicted the locals 2 million years ago - the tail piece I didn't like.

Fact sheet.
Reunion, short story, review
First published: Infinity #2, 1971
Rating: B

This story is included in the following collections.

  1. "The Collected Stories of Arthur C Clarke"
  2. "The Wind from the Sun"
  3. "More Than One Universe"

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is one of Clarke's best social commentaries! Note that it was written/published in November of 1963, a time in which the United States was in a great deal of racial turmoil. The ending (too good to spoil here!) clearly was intended to make people stop and think about the assumptions made about race.

Tinkoo said...

I was not aware of racial turmoil in US during the period.

I got a feeling he was trying to be funny - the way many old stories do in the last sentence or two; only I didn't find it in good taste. Apart from this, I actually liked the story.

Anonymous said...

Funny!?!?! Are you kidding? How could you not be aware of racial turmoil in the 60s? Are you 8 years old?

That being said, this was, and still is (since I live in the deep south) an incredible story that never ceases to spark a discussion. The fundamental question that always arises is "What does it mean about your inner beliefs if the ending offends you?"

Tinkoo said...

"Funny!?!?! Are you kidding? How could you not be aware of racial turmoil in the 60s? Are you 8 years old?": Ha ha - internal turmoils of US are not automatically international issues, dear! I don't live in US, nor grew up there. We have problems of our own.

Incidentally, I'm not a white. Or black, for that matter. The two colors involved in the story.

ILoveBooks said...

"Arthur C. Clarke's "Reunion": Racist & illogical ending to an otherwise readable first contact story"
----------------------
I completely disagree and felt annoyed enough to leave a comment.
Racist??? How so?
And is the writer of that comment aware that Arthur C. Clarke was white?
Illogical?
The first humans were dark-skinned.
White skin came about via a genetic mutation so Clarke's take on things (in this story) is interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking. It certainly ISN'T illogical.
When almost EVERYTHING in the world today is biased towards, caters to or celebrates white people (while simultaneously ignoring other races and their achievements), only overly-sensitive or deeply insecure people could be offended by such a harmless story!

lejistar said...

Tinkoo, Bless you, I am sure you mean well and are good-hearted. I am 53 and white and live in U.S.. I don't know how old you are or how much world history especially modern, post-15th century) you know. I assume you must know some of your own country's struggles with racism, and the racist side of its past under British Imperialism. First, I can assure you that you are not to take the ending literally, having studied and read Clarke at great length for over 40 years, and watched him speak on tape and live (as we all did who were around during the moon landings.) What we have here is a piece of satire exposing, as satire always does, the ills and wrong-headedness of authority or a group in power. In this case, that means using this premise (one Clarke totally DIS-believes in), to poke fun at our (white people's, regardless of nationality) long, long centuries of belief in their own superiority. This is the sort of hard-to-eradicate belief that left my late father nervous about poeple of other races gaining power: he once said to me, "You'll see! It won't be so pleasant! You'll live to see white poeple in the minority." This despite Dad having tolerated my friends of other races. The same feeling is common among the many white people (a large number, but not a majority) who do not accept our BArack Obama as legitimate President of the United States. White people have held onto so much power, so disproportionately, and for so long, and some will not give it up easlily. I hope the above has served to enlighten you somewhat, Tinkoo. Respectfully, Lawrence Jahn, fellow Clarke fan.

Anonymous said...

Greetings!
I had to post a comment after reading all that were previously posted.
I hope that Tinkoo has learned more about the world, world history and a bit of anthropology, too. Franz Fanon's "Wretched of the Earth," should be on your reading list, as well.
I am an African-American female, who lived in the Northern half of the US, and racism is racism.
I used "Reunion," as part of my African-American History class. I read it out loud, so my students could take in all that it said. It makes readers & listeners think about what has been taught, is taught and really how stereotypes are learned and maintained.
I recently shared a brief synopsis of the story, including the surprise ending, to a number of professors in social work. They asked for more information on this short story, so they could use it their classes. This story still has a strong message.
BTW: The late Ray Bradbury wrote some stories (written in the 1950s/60s) about all the 'Negroes' being sent to Mars. Again, an unusual ending.
Ursula LaGuin had a novella which had followers of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., sent, on a one-way ticket, to a planet which was also a penal colony. These featured a diverse group of people.
Thus, Clarke is not unusual in what he wrote. There are writers, regardless of genre, who have observed and commented on the human condition, how we treat one another, and the possibilities of the future. Our world is as big as we make it.

Peace--
Alive & well in Michigan-