by Arthur C. Clarke, 238 pages
Pretty modest in ambitions compared to the Mieville? Yes. Modest ambitions overall, as a SF narrative? Also yes, but overall I still found it enjoyable. Common wisdom on Clarke seems to be that he made transcendental short stories, a handful of great novels, and a wider body of novels that are well worth skipping. I don't quite agree with this last part, and have found most of his volumes engaging, and at least productive of something. The key word here seems to be pleasant--it's a fairly cozy, comforting narrative, framed with no villains, and the lives of individuals that try to be decent and on the whole succeed. That doesn't lend itself for much in the way of conventional drama, and the supporting SF-device isn't that extensive. The larger ocean atmosphere produced is pretty good, however, and the picture of a man flawed but competent, and ultimately willing to admit he's on the wrong side is compelling. The overall conventionality and non-ambition of the book is something I'd probably rip into if presented now, but for a '50s novel by an author that showed himself capable of edgier work it's not a disappointment.
Authorial quality is more than anything a matter of being able to write well, and being able to write such in a variety of forms. Clarke has that to a fine point, and while he's not in the top five speculative fiction authors he's definitely in the top twenty.
Worse than: The Scar by China Mieville
Better than: Holy Fire by Bruce Sterling