Wayne's Reviews > The Last Theorem

The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke
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Mar 16, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: sci-fi
Read in March, 2009

** spoiler alert ** I thought this was a good book. It was Clarke's last book (mainly authored by another sci-fi great, Fred Pohl, from 50 pages of Clarke's notes) and kind of stands as an homage to his work and ideas - it has a "skyhook" space elevator based on Sri Lanka (Fountains of Paradise), the Grand Galactics (aliens who resemble the Monolith aliens from 2001), his hope that mankind will outgrow religion (an unreasonable expectation given that mankind has always expressed religious thoughts and it answers questions for people that science cannot), and his love for his adopted country of Sri Lanka, etc.

It basically has two seperate stories - one of the Grand Galactic aliens who detect humans' use of nuclear weapons and determine to exterminate them in the name of peace and one of the protagonist, Ranjit, a Sri Lankan man. The storylines intersect near the end of the book.

I found the Ranjit story to be the most compelling...it is just basically the life story of a young man - nothing special (except that he finds a short proof of Fermat's Last Theorem using the mathematics available to Fermat at the time). This story chronicles his life in Sri Lanka, intersecting some current political elements over time (piracy of cruise ships by Somalis, imprisonment and torture, the Iraq War, etc.), his dissatisfaction with his work, his subsequent marriage, and family life...pretty mundane stuff, but it was extremely well written and I could identify with it. The parallel Grand Galactic story was more of an added bonus. The Ranjit story could have stood on its own (with some obvious tweaking of the end).

I didn't care for the portrayl of America as the bad guy at the end of the story...I'm afraid that Clarke's opinion of recent past American foreign policy has become his vision of America in the (near) future.

The ending was also a little too pat for me...everything tied up nicely. Aliens befriended the Terrans instead of obliterating them, a non-religious version of the Golden Rule was applied by humanity, humans discovered eternal life by downloading their counciousness into computers, and humans took over after 13,000 years the role of the Grand Galactics in manipulating time, space, and the evolution of the universe. Interestingly, Clarke (and Pohl) deal with a lot of spritual and religious issues for professed atheists.

It also has a lot of history, Sri Lankan culture, math, and hard science fiction (technological) elements, which I thought was wonderful. I learned a new way to calculate the number of combinations of a binomial system using binary numbers and how to multiply large numbers together by halfing and doubling the multiplicants and adding them (Egyptian or Russian multiplication). Some of the hard sci-fi elements include using boron to produce hydrogen powered cars (glossing over some of the problematic chemistry involved) and electromagnetic pulse weapons. Pretty interesting stuff.
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