I'm not sure how to rate this one. If I remember correctly, the American edition has deceptive cover blurbs implying that it's a novel-length collaborI'm not sure how to rate this one. If I remember correctly, the American edition has deceptive cover blurbs implying that it's a novel-length collaboration between Gregory Benford and Arthur C. Clarke; in reality, it's an omnibus pairing Clarke's sublime first novel, Against the Fall of Night, with Benford's not-nearly-as-good sequel written 37 years later. (The UK editions referred to the same book as Against the Fall of Night / Beyond the Fall of Night.)
Though I haven't read it in decades, I loved Against the Fall of Night, and it's one of the two books (along with Bradbury's The Halloween Tree) that made me a lifelong reader in general, and a lifelong reader of SF in particular. In terms of the goodreads rating scale, "It was amazing."
Beyond the Fall of Night was rather less to my tastes. It didn't feel like it really fit as a sequel to Against the Fall of Night in style, scope, content, or characters. Clarke's novel is about a naive young boy, told in a way that appeals almost perfectly to naive young boys (as I was when I first read it). The setting and prose are austere, and dominated by elegant machine-based technology that largely gets out of the way. Benford's sequel is about a slightly shell-shocked young woman in a lush, riotous setting where biology dominates. In any case, that's my recollection; which may be wrong--frankly, I didn't find the book all that memorable, and I'm in no hurry to reread it. From what I'd recall, I'd give it a rating of "It was ok" on the goodreads scale--or maybe even less than that.
One thing I do recall clearly--and really disliked--in Benford's sequel was a huge contradiction between one of the features of his setting and Clarke's. The contradiction clearly showed that the two stories could not be set in the same universe--it knocked me out of the story, and made me wonder if anyone had bothered to read the stories back to back before publishing them. My wife was bothered by the same contradiction when she read the book years later....more
Why I read this book: I don't have "favorite authors", but if I did, Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl would certainly be on my shortlist. Both haveWhy I read this book: I don't have "favorite authors", but if I did, Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl would certainly be on my shortlist. Both have books in my Top 6, and Clarke's Against the Fall of Night is pretty much the book that made me a lifetime reader of Science Fiction. Both have also done incredible short stories that I would rank among the very best in SF.
I also really like both of their writing styles, though in very different ways. I was concerned about the prospect of combining them; oil and water strike me as better candidates for mixing. I'll admit that I was a little relieved to read (in Locus, if I recall correctly) that Pohl would be doing most (all?) of the writing, based on an outline by Clarke. Not only that, but apparently Clarke couldn't remember what he planned for several parts of the outline, which would (I assumed) give Pohl free hand.
* * *
Much of the time, I have trouble getting "traction" with a new book. Even if it's by one of my favorite authors, even if I'm sure I'll like the subject matter, it can take me a while. I really like books that hook me immediately (though I don't need a solid diet of them). (My favorite example is Joe Haldeman's Worlds, which is another of my Top 10 books: When I finished reading the first two sentences, I was hooked enough to read the rest of the page; when I finished the page, I was hooked enough to read the rest of the chapter; when I finished the chapter, I was hooked enough to read the rest of the book.) The Last Theorem was almost like that for me, though there was a touch of cutesiness (especially in the preambles), I was hooked very quickly. A fair part of that was Pohl's style. I hadn't realized how much I missed it.
I don't have as much free time these days as I did as a kid, so I can rarely read a book in one setting. (The fact that modern books tend to be padded, poorly edited messes is also a major factor.) Also, if this was to be my last Pohl, I wanted to savor it. Thus, I would dip into this book whenever I got a chance and look forward to returning to it. Alas, the farther I got, the less I was looking forward.
I guess I have three major complaints about the book: characterization, place descriptions, and dropped complications.
Some people might say that I was foolish to expect good characterization, since Clarke tends to be known for its absence (e.g., Rendezvous with Rama), and several of Pohl's classic works (from the 1950s, say) are no better. I disagree. Clarke has created some excellent characters when it served the purpose of the book. (I would cite Duncan Makenzie, Vannevar Morgan, and 2010's Heywood Floyd; spending time with characterization would have detracted from Rama, as its sequels demonstrate.) Pohl has also created some of SFs greatest characters, and his works after the New Wave tend to lean strongly on character. But none of the characters in The Last Theorem, seem particularly memorable to me, and the main character seems to not have been affected by being in durance vile for years. (Another major character who is nominally an AI researcher claimed to be unfamiliar with the P-NP problem, which seemed completely unbelievable to me.)
Place descriptions: The story is set mostly in Sri Lanka, but the location never came alive for me. Indeed, there's a shorter section set in New York City that seemed a lot more vivid; perhaps this is because Pohl has lived there.
Dropped plot complications: I don't want to detail these, for fear of giving spoilers, but several issues were raised as being very serious (with dire implications not only for the characters but for the planet) ... and then not mentioned again.
Overall: I enjoyed reading the book, I enjoyed having more of Pohl's style, but I was ultimately disappointed. It's the first Pohl book that disappointed me.
In my opinion, there are two SF authors working today who stand above everyone else in terms of taking ideas and dealing with their implications exhauIn my opinion, there are two SF authors working today who stand above everyone else in terms of taking ideas and dealing with their implications exhaustively: Greg Egan and Ted Chiang. Chiang is far less prolific than Egan, but he's also a lot better with characterization, and taking what might seem like distant, abstract ideas and turning them into heartbreaking stories.
I tend to prefer short stories to long ones, and I consider Stories of Your Life and Others to be the best SF collection published so far this decade. (And century, and millennium, if you want to nitpick ;-)...more
I've read this book at least three times. The first time was when it first came out; it blew me away then and still blows me away now.
In my opinion, AI've read this book at least three times. The first time was when it first came out; it blew me away then and still blows me away now.
In my opinion, Arthur C. Clarke wrote five books that rank with the very best works of SF; offhand, it's hard to think of anyone else who wrote that many. The first, and greatest, of Clarke's best works was Childhood's End. In the 1970s, he wrote three astonishing books: Rendezvous with Rama, which sacrifices characterization for science fictional effects; Imperial Earth, which sacrifices science fictional effects for characterization; and The Fountains of Paradise, which balances the two. And so does 2010.
2010 is a bit odd in that it's not a straightforward sequel to the novel 2001 A Space Odyssey. Nor is it a sequel to the Clarke and Kubrick movie; it's actually a bit of both. (That is, Clarke takes elements from movie and novel as it suits him.)
(Finished rereading 2010-03-24 about 20:52 EDT.)...more