“Soon I shall be meeting an old friend for the first time.”
So ends Arthur C. Clarke’s introduction to The Odyssey File, a compilation of primitive "el...more“Soon I shall be meeting an old friend for the first time.”
So ends Arthur C. Clarke’s introduction to The Odyssey File, a compilation of primitive "electronic correspondence" that passed between Clarke and filmmaker Peter Hyams beginning in late-1983. Hyams was in preproduction for the film adaptation of Clarke’s novel 2010. I bought this literary pastry on eBay to celebrate the non-fiction decadal 2010 (the year we didn’t make contact, again, and it continues not to be Clarke’s fault).
Here’s the essential background. Mr. Hyams adapted Mr. Clarke’s novel without ever meeting him in person. The endeavor was nevertheless highly collaborative, and the resulting screenplay and film received much direct input from Clarke. This was possible thanks to their extensive e-mail correspondence using analogue modems and landlines.
I believe this book is only of value to two groups: 1) Hardcore fans of Arthur C. Clarke; 2) Internet historians. Frankly, and with no disrespect intended, any other persons attempting to read this book would find themselves lost and uninitiated. In a nutshell, The Odyssey File is tailor-made for serious fans of the movie. But I stress again that it also has real value as a piece of early Internet history.
I was delighted with The Odyssey File. It took a single Sunday afternoon to read. And it was a joy, sometimes to the point of laughing out loud, to read as Hyams and Clarke bantered back and forth about the film, about life, about parents and friends. There is a lot of good-natured ribbing that goes back and forth.
I also learned how some of the key elements of one of my favorite movies came together. Among these, it was a treat to read a few anecdotes involving one of my favorite actors, the late Roy Scheider, who came to play the lead role of Heywood Floyd. This book also provides valuable glimpses into how Clarke collaborates. He’s quite hands off, but you can feel the weight of his authority when he gives input to the younger writer.
Lastly, this book contains a well-worded summation of the key differences between the novel 2010 and the film adaptation. This is written by Steven Jongeward, who served as a joint-assistant to Clarke and Hyams as they communicated via their ancient Kaypro-II computers…and by ancient I mean now 27 years old). (less)
Not too long ago I was forced to hide in the basement of my local public library during a tornado warning. During the two hours the staff and several...moreNot too long ago I was forced to hide in the basement of my local public library during a tornado warning. During the two hours the staff and several of us patrons hid from the twister that never came, I snooped through the library’s stockpile of used books. This yard sale collection is rolled out every couple of months to provide much-needed funds for library operations. Anyhow, while snooping I discovered a copy of Arthur C. Clarke’s hard-to-find opus The View from Serendip.
I asked a library volunteer if, in the event we survived the non-existent tornado, I could take this out-of-print book upstairs and buy it right away…Y’know, instead of waiting for the next book sale when someone else might grab it first. The library volunteer uttered a rather curt reply: “No. And don’t take books off these shelves. I’m trying to keep them organized.” Smarting from her rebuke, I put the book back and resolved to hide in a friendlier part of the library’s basement while no tornados touched down anywhere in the county.
A couple of months later there was a properly sanctioned library book sale. Brushing past several suspicious elderly women, I nabbed the book first. (I’m sure those grandmothers were headed towards it. I saw that “Sir Arthur C. Clarke is dreamy!” look in their eyes.) And that’s the story of how I scored a good-condition hardcover of The View of Serendip for a single dollar. Hooray for used book sales at public libraries!
I’ve shared the above story in lieu of a review that would inevitably wind up being a love fest for one of my favorite authors. But I’ll add this: The View From Serendip is one of those great books that reminds me of the worthy writings of the late Carl Sagan. In contrast to the stereotype of godless scientists performing insidious research, this book reveals the scientific mind I more commonly encounter: one which is ethical, hope-driven, and which has a passionate desire to see humanity grow, mature, and prosper. (less)
If Project Solar Sail had been conceived today, it would be a website complete with hip-styled bloggers from NASA and also the science fiction communi...moreIf Project Solar Sail had been conceived today, it would be a website complete with hip-styled bloggers from NASA and also the science fiction community. There would be Twitter updates whenever the slightest new development occurred. And all of this content would be religiously linked to Facebook for the benefit of people who think that high-end media should come to them for free. However, in 1990 it still made sense to generate grassroots support by printing and selling a pocket book collection of fiction, poetry and essays by leading scientific writers.
Nevertheless, though Project Solar Sail is literarily a blast from the past, its content is even more relevant today. In the last year both NASA and JAXA (Japan’s space agency) have successfully deployed solar sail technology in space. And the Planetary Society, of which yours truly is a member, is in the build phase for a solar sail that could launch within the next year. Solar sailing as a means to traverse outer space is becoming a reality. So I would love to see this book catch on again.
In literary terms, this is not a classic from cover to cover. Some of the contributions are ordinary. Others are outstanding reads. In particular, I loved these two richly detailed and heartfelt entries: “To Sail Beyond the Sun”, a meditative poem by Ray Bradbury and Jonathan V. Post; also “Goodnight, Children”, a delightful and heartwarming yuletide tale with a galactic twist by Joe Clifford Faust. If you love Christmas, you’ll love this story even if you aren’t into science fiction.
Included essays about the political and economic ramifications for solar sailing are informative and worthy of review. But with fresh material available at NASA’s NanoSail-D webpage and the above mentioned Planetary Society, this book is no longer the best starting point for educating yourself about solar sails. I still think it’s worthy of a reprint or e-book edition. Somebody with publishing clout and venture capital get on this.
For space enthusiasts, there is a lot in this book to get excited about. I highly recommend seeking it out through used book dealers. However, if you are just considering getting into the sci-fi genre, I wouldn’t start here. Try an established classic like Carl Sagan’s Contact or Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. But then quickly get back to this book.
DISCLAIMER: This is not a full-length work by Arthur C. Clarke. He functioned as Editor and also as a headliner by contributing three pieces of his own. (less)
The Prologue to Arthur C. Clarke's Against the Fall of Night is so mesmerizing I thought I might have another Childhood's End on my hands. The first...moreThe Prologue to Arthur C. Clarke's Against the Fall of Night is so mesmerizing I thought I might have another Childhood's End on my hands. The first page or two encapsulates all that is most poignant in the book: a child looks to the heavens and wonders if all that is best about his world has already past, lost forever in a desert of myth and apostasy.
However thought-provoking this novel may be, as an early outing by Clarke it seems underdeveloped. The grand technology-driven themes, the operatic flavor with which Clarke embues time and space, the profound puniness of humankind--all these are present and vibrant. Yet the novel as a whole feels shy of richness.
The premise is engrossing, if a bit conventional. A promising young man living in a stagnant society of the distant future finds evidence that Earth was once much greater...and may yet be again. The protagonist becomes something of a chosen one--a John the Baptist type, driven by a considerable ego to search for lost knowledge and a scientifically plausible messiah. It's quite intriguing.
As Clarke's hero delves deeper into Earth's mysterious past--read our present and near future--he develops a deepening conviction that a new age is about to begin--fueled by his discovery of highly convenient and hastily explained advanced technologies. The themes and notions which Clarke explores with such elegance in Childhood's End and 2001: A Space Odyssey resonate well here too. However, the plot languishes in a literal desert. Too much time is spent on diplomatic conversation, and also on summary explanation rather than action. It's pretty good storytelling, but not masterful.
So much of this novel works. There is an intriguing subplot about rival societies with profoundly different value systems. That may be the most relevant part of the book for contemporary American readers. The sometimes helpful, sometimes destructive, nature of ego plays out intriguingly through the protagonist. Will he do himself in like humanity once did? There are also wonderfully bittersweet explorations of knowledge being lost and/or suppressed--usually as a means to consolidate power and control the young.
My ultimate gripe gets back to that notion of richness. Against the Fall of Night is a thin volume filled with lots of summary. It depicts a young man's quest for the truth. Along the way, the author drops increasingly big hints about a dramatic history and the promise of a grand future. The end result for me was disappointment. As I realized in the final pages, I had read about the search for a great story, rather than reading the great story itself.(less)
Unexpectedly romantic are the words that describe Imperial Earth. For many years I have known this novel only by its title. Based on that title, I had...moreUnexpectedly romantic are the words that describe Imperial Earth. For many years I have known this novel only by its title. Based on that title, I had assumed the novel would feel bold and grandiose in every respect. So I was not prepared for how unexpectedly intimate and introspective it is.
If novels like 2001 and Rendezvous with Rama are operas, Imperial Earth is more of a play. And I love a good play. Get me musing about deep aspects of humanity and science, and I will pardon the absence of a climactic spectacle. That is not to say that Imperial Earth lacks adventure. The first third of the novel, depicting life on Titan and a voyage to Earth in 2276 (think Quincentennial) is enthralling.
The ideas and themes of Imperial Earth are similar to 2001 and Rendezvous with Rama. But those novels portray actual ‘first contact’ scenarios. Imperial Earth explores why we haven’t had first contact and might never. Hence, the novel delivers a generally bittersweet portrait of humanity as a species who is as likely to fizzle out as blow itself to smithereens. However, I am not saying the novel is a universal downer.
As a serious Arthur C. Clarke fan, I relished how he explores the potential of radio technology along with the continued relevance of the oceans to humanity’s potential. Clarke masterfully weaves them together to develop the plot and leave readers pondering. The result is a surprisingly poetic lesson about how the frontiers of the past can become the decadent cesspools of the present.
This is also one of the more prophetic of Clarke’s novels. Written in the 70s, Clarke is already able to anticipate the long-term decline in pioneering that will--and did--follow the Apollo space program. And though he lacks the vernacular of “smart phones”, Clarke tellingly depicts an Earth culture that has developed a fetish-level dependence on communications technology.
I can’t say that I felt this novel was a masterpiece, but neither would I dare regard it as one of Clarke’s lesser works. Imperial Earth is high-quality science fiction. Clarke grapples with humankind’s potential by depicting the external and internal stumbling blocks we must overcome to succeed as a species…or rather, to continue succeeding.
Bottom line: If you are a Clarke fan, don’t miss this one. It might not wind up your favorite, but Imperial Earth is Arthur C. Clarke in his prime—both as a novelist and a thinker. (less)
It pains me to give this novel two stars. I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece, but I was hoping for more than I got. I had greater difficulty getting int...moreIt pains me to give this novel two stars. I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece, but I was hoping for more than I got. I had greater difficulty getting into The Ghost from the Grand Banks than any other stand-alone Arthur C. Clarke novel I’ve read. There is a certain dryness to all of Clarke’s books. However, as I scribbled in the margin, this is “a chronically dry novel steeped in anticlimax.”
This book has several good moments, a couple of great ones; however, I can’t think of any character, subplot, or theme that is fully developed or satisfying. Whenever a twist or revelation occurs, it is hastily tied off so the next underdeveloped subplot can take center stage. The slightness of this novel is most apparent in how little direct attention or exploration is given to the R.M.S. Titanic. Too much of the story is spent at the surface dreaming, scheming and bantering about hypothetical technologies. Only in the last few pages does the story begin to feel meaty.
I do recommend this novel to diehard Arthur C. Clarke fans, if only because even average novels bring you closer to your favorite author. I especially enjoyed the Sources and Acknowledgments section at the back of the book. Clarke’s wry wit and galactic sense of irony come out crisp and clear when he doesn’t have to filter his ideas through characters. Below is one of several great lines where Clarke the storyteller reckons with reality.
“I would prefer not to know too much about the events of that distant summer, so that I am not handicapped by mere facts.” (less)
Like some other readers, I had a harder time getting into this book than Time’s Eye and Sunstorm. I'll admit that one reason was my inability to f...moreLike some other readers, I had a harder time getting into this book than Time’s Eye and Sunstorm. I'll admit that one reason was my inability to fully grasp the scientific concepts involved. However, I also think that Stephen Baxter uses so much ink developing the technological and theoretical concepts that character development gets neglected.
Nevertheless, I loved the last 70 pages or so. Once Mr. Baxter gets past the predictable fate of the Q-bomb, the story opens up into a fascinating exploration of the farthest reaches of time, space and mind. Only the general pessimism of the final chapters lessened my enjoyment a bit.
I very much liked the ending. No, it's not a firm Shakespearean resolution where everyone winds up married or dead. Yes it's an ending that begs for a fourth installment to be written. So much the better. Clarke's themes are worthy of future treatments. Another 30 years down the road, I hope some strong sci-fi talent with real scientific expertise takes up the odyssey again. In the meantime, the openness of Firstborn's ending encourages my imagination to resume running free--something I've always loved about Sir Arthur C. Clarke's “endings.”
Firstborn isn't a classic in our time, though it may yet be if it proves sufficiently prophetic. Still, if you love Clarke's space odysseys, and you want to seriously explore what it might mean for humanity to grow up and truly become advanced, I recommend the entire Time Odyssey trilogy. (less)
I worried this novel might fail to set itself apart from so many similar disaster movies. Happily, this fear proved unfounded. Sunstorm is the thinkin...moreI worried this novel might fail to set itself apart from so many similar disaster movies. Happily, this fear proved unfounded. Sunstorm is the thinking audience’s answer to popcorn disaster flicks. It trades fast-paced action and thin plot for a more compelling and engrossing science-based drama. This is not to say the book lacks entertainment value. It has plenty.
After a mellow start, Sunstorm steadily builds in pace and scope until a grand climax. As with part one of the trilogy, Time’s Eye, I was struck by a certain richness in Stephen Baxter’s narrative style. (I’m assuming Baxter did the majority of the writing). The richness comes from his ability to blend ample doses of technical material with a well-constructed plot. His writing is more technical than Arthur C. Clarke’s. Still, for my literary taste, Baxter’s narration oscillates at a pleasing rate between the technological and the emotional.
Sunstorm exhibits a great deal of humanity as the characters deal with the very real challenges of extended space flight. Yes, they are a fairly generic ensemble, but genuine nonetheless. I found several moments of the book haunting as an army of astronauts braced for the coming sun storm.
Alas, I can’t say this novel was especially fresh or innovating relative to its native genre: sci-fi. Still, as a big fan of Clarke’s space odysseys, I enjoyed this reimagining. Reimaging allows Baxter to update the science while staying true to the core themes and philosophy Clarke established in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Here are a couple of my favorite lines from the book as teasers:
“…this was a deep-rooted place, where the bones of the dead lay crowded a hundred generations deep in the ground.” (pg 336)
“The crazies are the ones who think they understand it all.” (pg 104) (less)
It is not an accident that I am only now getting to this trilogy. Though I enjoyed The Light of Other Days, that collaboration felt primarily like a...moreIt is not an accident that I am only now getting to this trilogy. Though I enjoyed The Light of Other Days, that collaboration felt primarily like a sexed up re-exploration of themes Arthur C. Clarke explored more poignantly in his masterpiece Childhood’s End. Then I recently enjoyed a short story Baxter authored using Clarke's ideas. Realizing I liked Baxter’s writing style on its own merits, I decided to give the Time Odyssey trilogy a go.
The mixing of different historical periods is fascinating. Mystery builds as the ensemble hypothesizes about the possible reasons why space and time have been rearranged in Rubik’s Cube fashion. Also, there is a richness to this book’s narrative that I grant is often lacking in Clarke’s writing. However, Baxter’s copious insertion of historical research periodically bogs down the story. And here I think this novel could have benefited from some of the leanness of Clarke’s style.
Easily making up for the above criticism is the authors’ clever exploration of how ancient cultures might view modern people and technology. I’ll simply say that when Russian cosmonauts come in contact with Genghis Kahn’s Mongol warriors, the latter are not universally wowed by space-age technology. In general, I enjoy Mr. Baxter’s ability to take Arthur C. Clarke’s decades-old scientific notions and revamp them via the best and most tantalizing research of the early 21st century. This is not a parasitic spin-off (as I feared it might be).
Lastly, I enjoyed many instances of homage to 2001 A Space Odyssey, especially late in the book. For me, there is a sense of home in Clarke’s far-reaching themes regarding time, space and mind. These themes are at once both sobering and inspiring. While Time's Eye seems unquestionably Baxter’s work, and it is very good, his greatest accomplishment is adeptly weaving his style with the core ideas and values of Clarke’s Space Odyssey series. I am looking forward to continuing on to part two of this trilogy. (less)
The fourth, and arguably least necessary of Arthur C. Clarke's odyssey novels, is happily shorter and more to the point than 2010 and 2061. But unli...moreThe fourth, and arguably least necessary of Arthur C. Clarke's odyssey novels, is happily shorter and more to the point than 2010 and 2061. But unlike 2001 it can't stand alone.
The premise is a bit hokey, but I willingly suspend disbelief as Frank Poole is brought back to life. I don’t find Poole as interesting a character as Heywood Floyd from the previous novels, but he’ll do for this story, which largely feels like an encore performance from the author.
3001 does what none of the previous novels do. It ties things off. A couple other major characters resurface to help Poole bring the saga full circle. That’s cool. But I only recommend reading this book if you have read all three previous odysseys…which is to say, I recommend reading it (but in the right order). (less)
Close on the heels of the 40th Anniversary of Apollo 11 seems like a good time to revisit this book. A very real fear scientists had in the 60s was th...moreClose on the heels of the 40th Anniversary of Apollo 11 seems like a good time to revisit this book. A very real fear scientists had in the 60s was that a vehicle landing on the Moon would sink into deep pools of dust. In fact, this fear was real enough to dictate how Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon: carefully with one foot testing the ground, and with his hands still holding firmly to the lunar lander.
Such lethal quicksand-like dust pools appear not to exist after all. However, this novel is still a fun sci-fi read, imagining a moon with a strong human presence. If you are a fan of other Clarke novels, give this one a try. (less)
In addition to the stories are brief notes from Clarke himself framing the work. Here you can see the...moreAn absolute must-have for Arthur C. Clarke fans.
In addition to the stories are brief notes from Clarke himself framing the work. Here you can see the author experimenting with themes he would later fully realize in novel form. They aren't all masterpieces, and Clarke would be the first to tell you.
Make a few inches of space on your shelf for this one. This large collection is a real treasure, perhaps the best way to really get to know Arthur C. Clarke as a writer and a thinker. (less)
The Light of Other Days, with its voyeuristic gaze back into history via worm-hole cameras was a pretty good read. It was fun imagining what historica...moreThe Light of Other Days, with its voyeuristic gaze back into history via worm-hole cameras was a pretty good read. It was fun imagining what historical events I would look back and witness: the Battle of Gettysburg; the dinosaurs; the Tunguska blast, etc. It’s a tantalizing technology to ruminate on, for a little while anyway.
Perhaps that’s why I didn’t fall in love with this book. There is too much too obvious about its suppositions. And most of it reflects poorly on our species. Of course the pervs will get a hold of any technology and be abusive with it. The greedy corporate titans will do the same. Duh. The faithful will use it to prove/disprove as desired. With the ability to peep into every corner of our existence, we’ll just keep being so darn human. A novel based on such self-evidence doesn’t bore the hell out of me, but it doesn’t rivet me either.
Oh well. The Light of Other Days had an interesting premise, and I’m glad I read it. It was strong enough across the board that I might try some Stephen Baxter in the future without Arthur C. Clarke’s preeminence attached. (less)
Various concepts show up as supporting material in multiple Arthur C. Clarke novels. Two prominent ones are asteroid impact and the space elevator. Fo...moreVarious concepts show up as supporting material in multiple Arthur C. Clarke novels. Two prominent ones are asteroid impact and the space elevator. For instance, the space elevator shows up in 3001. But The Fountains of Paradise is where the space elevator gets the full-length treatment. Yet, that isn’t the main reason to read this book.
I’ll admit this is a lesser Clarke novel. I finally got around to it by way of covering my bases. It’s not one of his most memorable works. However, this novel allows Clarke to take us to his dear real-life home: Sri Lanka. That’s the main reason to read this one. The physical backdrop to the construction of the elevator is the real treat. Additionally, I enjoy the main characters in this book. They strike me as a hair more shrewd than the average Clarke creation. So often his characters are of the stock variety. Here the cast seems quite savvy about their business.
As I’ve said in other reviews, if you considering trying out Arthur C. Clarke, start with 2001: A Space Odyssey and Childhood’s End. This yarn is fun by comparison, but not as strong an independent work from a Sci-fi master. (less)
A central theme in the Rama novels is that human sexuality drives all facets of our lives--our predilection to imperialism, excess, paranoia, and self...moreA central theme in the Rama novels is that human sexuality drives all facets of our lives--our predilection to imperialism, excess, paranoia, and self-destruction being prime examples. The grand morality play that ensues strikes me as valid, but also tiresome and less fun than the original Rendezvous With Rama.
The above being said, I love a great deal about this final installment in the series. Some of the revelatory material is similar to that found in 3001. It’s thought-provoking but far from Earth-shattering. I agree with those who would say the real payoff is not the quick thrill of learning new details, but achieving understanding because of them.
The Eagle, a Raman ambassador of sorts, plays a very interesting role. He is so highly developed that his existence tests the distinction between animate life and complex machine. As often happens in life-spanning series, the final installment contains a lot of death and sadness, but also meaning and realization. I love how Nicole in particular comes to value her memories. She helps me understand why old people are constantly telling anecdotes to young people.
The lingering gripe I have about this series is that with each new installment, it becomes more of a melodramatic expose on humankind’s shortcomings a...moreThe lingering gripe I have about this series is that with each new installment, it becomes more of a melodramatic expose on humankind’s shortcomings and less of an innovative sci-fi mystery/thriller. In short, to the extent that this series focuses on humans, it taxes my interests. The curious alien species depicted help keep a sense of mystery going.
My two favorite characters step forward in this installment: Nicole des Jardins and Max Puckett. Max is a bit overdone as a loose-tongued farmer, but that makes him a delightful contrast to all the other humans in the novel.
A central theme in this saga is that human sexuality drives all facets of our lives--our predilections to imperialism, excess, paranoia, and self-destruction being prime examples. The grand morality play that ensues strikes me as valid, but also tiresome and less fun than the original Rendezvous With Rama. In short, I’d love these novels more if they were a little more Star Wars and a little less Star Trek. (less)
The Ramans do everything in threes, including sequels. The trilogy preceded by Rendezvous with Rama is disappointing to many Arthur C. Clarke fans. I...moreThe Ramans do everything in threes, including sequels. The trilogy preceded by Rendezvous with Rama is disappointing to many Arthur C. Clarke fans. I happen to really like it. Beginning with Rama II, this saga introduces a cavalcade of alien life, a broad spectrum of exotic situations, and a scientist or two who hasn’t forsaken religion.
This book also introduces one of my favorite characters: Nicole Desjardins—doctor, mother, explorer, fulfiller of prophecy. Her mystical upbringing makes for some fantastic flashbacks and epiphanies over the course of the trilogy.
The inner workings of the Raman spacecraft are rather plain and boring, but the aliens housed aboard provide some great subplots and mystery. In contrast to typical Arthur C. Clarke fare, the content of these coauthored books is raw, even crude at times. So be prepared for language and sex presented without apology.
I’m quite fond of this trilogy, though it has its weaknesses. I’ve read it through three times and plan to read it again. It’s an epic journey into space and alien cultures. (less)
Rendezvous With Rama is a book I enjoyed even more the second time around. I first read it as a kid, and mainly just enjoyed being in Arthur C. Clarke...moreRendezvous With Rama is a book I enjoyed even more the second time around. I first read it as a kid, and mainly just enjoyed being in Arthur C. Clarke’s universe of ideas. Then came the problematic but enjoyable Rama trilogy coauthored with Gentry Lee. I love those too, but their focus and delivery are different by virtue of the collaborative process.
Almost two decades later, I picked up the original again. It was more riveting the second time. What makes the book riveting is not simply the plot, but the implications of such an event ever taking place. I’ve always felt Clarke’s greatest gift as an author was asking the right questions. The novel is fun to muse on.
Still, I really think my primary love for this book is just the mysterious spacecraft itself: Rama. I love to picture its vastness, its cylindrical sea and geometry-driven islands. And the plot unfolds as a mystery, an archaeological search. This is a good, focused story by a master of the form. It is one my top four Clarke novels, along with 2001, Childhood’s End, and The Hammer of God. (less)
I am a big Arthur C. Clarke fan. Still, this would count as one of his lesser works for me. The characters and plot aren't especially memorable.
The p...moreI am a big Arthur C. Clarke fan. Still, this would count as one of his lesser works for me. The characters and plot aren't especially memorable.
The premise is a faraway planet populated by humans who were shipped there as frozen embryos. So it is certainly a relevant topic. Passages of the novel have a lyrical quality. I like that. Still, on a deeper philosophical level it doesn't resonate with me the way 2001: A Space Odyssey and Childhood's End do.
Regardless, it's a good yarn in fine Clarke fashion. (less)
I love the C.S. Lewis quote printed on the backcover of my edition of Childhood's End: "...here meet a modern author who understands that there may be...moreI love the C.S. Lewis quote printed on the backcover of my edition of Childhood's End: "...here meet a modern author who understands that there may be things that have a higher claim on humanity than its own 'survival.'"
To Mr. Lewis's eloquent appraisal I would add: This novel is like Old Yeller, but y'know, instead of being about one dog, it's about the human race.
Of all the Arthur C. Clarke works I've read, this one feels the most literary. I mean that in the most positive sense of the term. This is Clarke grappling with human dynamics more traditionally explored in works by the likes of Leo Tolstoy and Victor Hugo. The primary thematic ambitions of Childhood's End are personal and emotional, not technological. Granted, it is a far simpler tale than War and Peace or Les Miserables. Yet Childhood's End affects me as deeply as those works do. More than any other Clarke story, it feels like something other than science fiction.
Heliocentric universe granted, I feel like humans still see themselves as the center of it all, at least existentially. Especially when claiming belief in an omnipotent deity, we wrap ourselves tight and cozy in the notion that this universe was set in motion for our benefit. Childhood's End reverently suggests another possibility. It asks us to consider a miraculous and wonderful universe where humanity is a supporting character.
For that and other reasons, I love this novel. It is the only science fiction story that has ever brought me close to tears (which brings me back to the Old Yeller comparison). I speak as someone who still maintains a tenuous grasp on the beliefs of my spiritual youth. Yet for all the sadness in Childhood's End, it also provides a sense of tranquility--a calm conviction that however tendrilly my status in the universe may be, I exist for the betterment of life's woven whole.(less)
This is an especially important Clarke novel because its central plot is mitigating the threat of an asteroid impact. The prospect of such an event, w...moreThis is an especially important Clarke novel because its central plot is mitigating the threat of an asteroid impact. The prospect of such an event, which many scientists regard as inevitable, plays out as a subplot in other Clarke novels, including Rendezvous with Rama. But here it is what the novel is all about.
While I felt this novel lacked the philosophical depth of 2001: A Space Odyssey or Childhood's End, I enjoyed the science in it and Clarke's concise approach to plot development. The man never drifted into 1,000 page novels that say, "Hey, look at all my research n' stuff." He kept to the key issues he wanted to explore.
My favorite part of this novel is a speech describing the groupings of asteroids that exist in gravitational pockets on either side of Jupiter's orbital path. Invoking a sense of Greek mythology, this speech masterfully depicts the shooting gallery effect the gas giant has on inner planets. Don't miss this one. (less)
This is my least favorite of Arthur C. Clarke’s odysseys. But you’ll notice I still gave it four stars. In the weeks leading up to Clarke’s passing, h...moreThis is my least favorite of Arthur C. Clarke’s odysseys. But you’ll notice I still gave it four stars. In the weeks leading up to Clarke’s passing, he said he was sleeping most of every day. And his sleep was filled with dreams of visiting all the real-life worlds he’d written about. Who knows how many odysseys those dreams could have provided readers? Regardless, I’m grateful for the four he gave me.
This novel lets the reader go up close with Halley’s Comet. But I got impatient for the storyline to head back to the mystery of the Monoliths. Sometimes the parts of the story a reader is most interested in are not the parts of the story the author was most interested in. That’s okay. Like I say, I’ll take a trip out into the Universe with Arthur C. Clarke any day. (less)
This is actually the first Arthur C. Clarke novel I read. After seeing and loving the film 2010, I plowed into this novel. In hindsight, Clarke was n...moreThis is actually the first Arthur C. Clarke novel I read. After seeing and loving the film 2010, I plowed into this novel. In hindsight, Clarke was never going to outdo his masterful work on 2001. Still this is a great odyssey in its own right.
The human heart of this novel is Heywood Floyd, a supporting character in 2001. In this novel he becomes the protagonist, haunted by the failures of the past, and obsessed with solving the mysteries of the doomed Discovery mission. Though not known for deep characters, Clarke creates a real human being in Dr. Floyd. Through him, we see the challenge of trying to balance professional and personal lives.
However, like the other characters, Floyd finds himself mostly along for the ride as the intelligence behind the monolith takes an increasingly invasive role in our solar system. Like the first odyssey, this book is at its best musing upon what encounters with superior beings might be like. Let us hope we meet a benevolent species.
This book instilled in me a fascination for Jupiter and its moons. And I was taken in by the tragic encounter with Europa, a moon crying out to be explored in real life. As is common with sequels, this novel feels bigger, grander, and less special than its parent work. That's okay. I love the tour of Jupiter Arthur C. Clarke provided me.(less)
This is one of my favorite all-time novels, and a tie for my favorite Arthur C. Clarke novel with Childhood’s End. The movie has a polarizing effect...moreThis is one of my favorite all-time novels, and a tie for my favorite Arthur C. Clarke novel with Childhood’s End. The movie has a polarizing effect on many viewers because of Stanley Kubrick’s signature approach to storytelling. Both the movie and book are masterworks. To me, the novel shows Clarke the novelist at his most thoughtful, profound, and efficient.
From the primal tale of Moonwatcher learning to hunt and invoke deity, to the birth of the Star Child in some far off galactic oasis, Clarke takes the story a layer deeper than the movie does. It’s all there in the movie, but if you read the book, Clarke discusses points the movie fails (or chooses) not to make clear. I highly recommend 2001. (less)
Cradle is a first and unsatisfying collaboration by Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee. It is an uninspiring treatment of a well-worn Sci-fi topic: first...moreCradle is a first and unsatisfying collaboration by Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee. It is an uninspiring treatment of a well-worn Sci-fi topic: first contact via an underwater oceanic alien hideout. Cradle also introduces readers to the rougher, more promiscuous writing style of Gentry Lee. Clarke has plenty of sexuality in his novels, but he usually spares readers the juicy details.
I would have enjoyed this novel more if Clarke and Lee had taken the story completely to the ocean. The too-brief passages describing alien oceans on far off worlds are wonderful. Instead, a great deal of time is spent on land, with the authors attempting character-driven plot. Inasmuch as Lee was a fledging novelist, this was a weak choice. Whole chapters feel like a bad made-for-TV movie about treasure-hunting.
Still, I have a positive spin to offer. I'm a big fan of Clarke and Lee’s Rama trilogy, which all sources agree is mostly Lee’s writing. My guess is he learned a thing or two on this mediocre outing, paving the way for a better-constructed saga based on Clarke’s masterwork Rendezvous With Rama. Many Clarke fans will disagree with my sentiments; however, I think Lee (who shows a love of great literature in his writing) is worth the time of day. (less)