Short Reviews – Hide and Seek, by Arthur C. Clarke

Friday , 13, April 2018 8 Comments

Hide and Seek by Arthur C. Clarke appeared in the September 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. It can be read here at


Arthur C. Clarke’s Hide and Seek is the first really good thing in this issue of Astounding. Clocking in at 9 pages, if it ends up being the only good story in a 160 page issue, it will fail to hold the ravenous ghost of Theodore Sturgeon at bay.

More like something you’d see in Planet Stories than anything I’ve read in Campbell-era Astounding thus far, Hide and Seek tells the story of a spy hiding from a space cruiser on Phobos, framed by a story of an old veteran out hunting squirrels with some acquaintances.

While Hide and Seek does delve into Hard SF territory, it does so in a way that explains the whys behind the action rather than losing itself in scientific egg-headery and wank.

The spy, known only as K.15, is being pursued by Commander Smith in the Z-Class cruiser Doradus. He ditches his ship and bails onto Phobos, where he hopes he can hide out until help can arrive. (He’s just like a treed squirrel, right?!)

Phobos is a big lumpy potato in space, with plenty of places K.15 can hide. The Cruiser’s issue is it takes a lot of time and precision to maneuver around the tiny moon. In open space, the minute changes and corrections to course are inconsequential and can be performed over great distances and periods of time. But trying to execute a tight circuit around a 20 kilometer body using only gyros and directional thrusters is a laborious and time-consuming endeavor.

K.15’s strategy is to try to remain on the opposite side of Phobos from the Doradus as best he can, all while dodging scanning missiles that are looking for him, until the cruiser is forced to give up.

The listener/reader proxy mistakenly assumes that the teller of tale is the spy (he had a 50/50 guess); after the narrator leaves in a huff to shoot more squirrels, the other guest corrects him and provides a suitable (if late) explanation for why, despite the framing narrative, the story is 3rd person omniscient.

“As a matter of fact, I believe he met K.15 after the war: they must have had an interesting conversation together. But I thought you knew that Rupert was retired from the service with only the rank of lieutenant commander. The Court of Inquiry could never see his point of view. After all, it just wasn’t reasonable that the commander of the fasted ship in the Fleet couldn’t catch a man in a spacesuit.”

  • Terry Sanders says:

    Clarke was always at his best in the short-story format. And that one was a beaut.

    • Jon Mollison says:

      And like Heinlein, his earlier lighter works make for much better reads than his later, IMPORTANT THINKY works.

      • Alex says:

        My dad, who’s a fan, has always said that while Clarke was a master of short fiction, his long-format stuff would always fall apart at some point. I haven’t read any of it, but I get the impression that the 2001 ending and Rama’s “the alien mystery flies away before it’s solved” are kind of par for the course.

        • Jon Mollison says:

          In his later years he often complained about fans who loved his 1946 story, “Rescue Party”. He grumped that he hoped his writing improved over the years. I can see his point, but mastering the written word counts for nothing if the ideas you convey using that talent get worse over time.

          • Anthony says:

            Mastering prose is by far the least important part of writing. First and foremost is conveying ideas, plot, and character (among the other good stuff).

            If you can make that clear and all of that stuff is interesting, well-constructed, and fun, then you’ll do fine. Making the telling itself entertaining is a very good thing to learn but by far the part that matters least, which is the reason creative writing courses fail so badly.

            See Style is the Rocket by Tom Simon.

        • Terry Sanders says:

          Yeah, his endigs did to wander off into “‘profound’ but unsatisfying” territory. Wasting *at least* one chapter of every book describing the *technology ex machina* that put paid to that stupid evil Christianity stuff once and for all didn’t help the pacing much either.

          And the later short stories frequently had the same flaws, now that I think of it. He was much more interested in being profound than telling a good story. And once he was a Grand Old Man of SF, that’s pretty much all he cared about.

          But the early stuff was great.

  • M says:

    It’s been reprinted a number of times – I’ve seen it in several collections.

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