Book Talk: Tales from the 'White Hart' by Arthur C. Clarke - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Book Talk: Tales from the 'White Hart' by Arthur C. Clarke

Alexander Wallace visits his local.
We all have our haunts, our clubhouses, our hangouts, our places at which we are regulars. They are the locations where, when we step foot in them, we expect to see familiar faces whose rapport with us can be restarted in seconds, even if it has been a while since we have visited. For me, in normal times before the coming of the plague it was a dance hall, but they can be bars or restaurants or other more commonplace establishments. Of course, in this day in age much of this is done on the internet; I am a regular on several internet fora, for instance, which can fill that niche if they are small enough.

Here, though, we will be discussing the most venerable establishments of this type in the United Kingdom: the pub (American bars, to my understanding, aren’t just the same). And not just any pub: the White Hart, in a part of London that the narrator of this little collection of stories does not want to disclose, lest it be overrun by overbearing fans who would unintentionally disrupt the carefully maintained equilibrium that only a group of close friends can have.

Tales from the ‘White Hart’ (a title curious nowadays due to its conspicuous quotation marks) is of a rare breed: the single-author collection of linked stories. Yes, we still have collections, but we have few published within the past decade that are all explicitly set in the same universe (one that immediately comes to mind is Larry Niven’s The Draco Tavern). The White Hart is not merely a place; it is a community of eccentric sorts who commune in their eccentricities. From personal experience I can vouch for the value of such a place.
Leading the group, in an unelected, unappointed sense, is Harry Purvis, the one character that appears in every story. He is the sort of fellow who can light up every conversation and can charm anyone within a matter of minutes. He’s a fast-talking, straight-talking, wisecracking adventurer who always has the strangest story on the mind, and is yet very relevant to whatever it is that is being discussed. Everyone, I would reckon, has a friend like Harry Purvis - except, of course, those of us who are Harry Purvis.

Harry Purvis has known those who have:
  • Stopped World War III
  • Prepared for World War III using genetically modified insects (perhaps my favorite in the collection)
  • Been killed by a plant
  • Invented a heat ray
  • Created a physical anomaly in the Australian outback (a story that pays homage to H. G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon)
That is only a fraction of what Arthur C. Clarke has come up with, in these myriad stories published in myriad outlets written in myriad places (in his introduction, Clarke discusses some of those places). These are not the relatively hard science fiction that we often associate him with, such as Rendezvous with Rama or Childhood’s End (the latter, incidentally, being one of the books that made me such a lover of science fiction). These are tall tales, a very old form of storytelling adapted for the age of space flight and the atomic bomb. They aren’t particularly plausible, but they are quite funny.

Tales from the ‘White Hart’ is an older sort of book, one whose presence we may do well to resurrect. Those of us who are willing to venture back in time a few decades (it’s older than my parents!) will find much to enjoy.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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