The Deep Range – Arthur C. Clarke

In the future (as seen from 1957), submersible game wardens herd whales around underwater ranges. The whales are food animals which, along with equally farmed seaweed, have solved the world’s food supply problems. The story is about an ex-engineer on a spaceliner who suffered an accident and gets a new start as a warden.

This book has aged quite badly. While much of Clarke’s space based science fiction can be read with enjoyment today, this one is just plain tedious. So tedious, in fact, that I only got about half way through before giving up. The technology is not really fascinating anymore, but that’s not the problem. There just doesn’t seem to be a story here, and the characters are completely uninteresting.

Time’s Eye – Arthur C. Clarke & Stephen Baxter

Like 2001 and it’s sequels, “Time’s Eye” is driven by the intervention in human affairs by unknowable and very powerful alien beings. In a flash, the Earth is divided up in chunks from different times. A UN helicopter crew from 2037, a British Colonial detachment in Afghanistan, the armies of Alexander the great and Genghis Khan are all shoved together onto the same Earth, in the same general area. Overlooking these humans and their reactions to the discontinuity are reflecting spheres hovering above the ground, inscrutable and silent.

While there is some focus on attempting to solve the mystery of the events which have brought the protagonists to this, the main thrust of the story is rather typical alternate history fare, much like 1632 or Island in the Sea of Time. Frankly this aspect has been done better. I did find, however, that Clarke and Baxter manage to infuse the characters with a sense of their place in time and space. Unlike many other alternate history stories, this one does not revel in, or lose itself in, the practicalities of the events. Sure, the “modern” humans introduce the stirrup and steam engines, but unlike with Stirling (who, to be fair, I much enjoy reading) the alternate history angle does not seem to be the actual point.

Time’s eye shows hints of what the superhuman beings behind the “Eyes” are actually doing. It is cruel indeed, but seen as necessary. So do the means really justify the ends?

 

The Trigger – Arthur C. Clarke & Michael Kube-McDowell

This is the story of a device that disables guns and bombs. It all starts out low key. An accidental discovery in a lab. But as with many such discoveries, it soon takes on a life of it’s own, and leads the inventors (and the reader) to many unexpected places.

Interestingly, this book manages not to preach from either end of the gun-control argument. Without becoming less exciting or interesting, it manages to sum up and discuss the entire issue from the aspect of new technological advances. A great book.

Richter 10 – Arthur C. Clarke & Mike McQuay

This book is about earthquakes, but not in the way you think. It’s more about one man, Lewis Crane, and his obsession. This obsession will cost him everything. On the way, we see fascinating glimpses of an evolving society and, oh yes, some earthquakes. Very good stuff.

The Rama Series – Arthur C. Clarke & Gentry Lee

A mysterious giant cylinder is found in space, falling inwards on a trajectory which will take it through the solar system. It is dubbed “Rama”. An expedition is sent to probe it’s contents.

Along with 2001, Rendezvous with Rama is the defining work of Arthur C. Clarke. The book is full of his trademark sense of wonder, and Clarke manages to convey awe at alien things like few others can. The first book is a solo effort. Clarke then teamed up with Gentry Lee to write a sequel trilogy. The whole series consists of:

  • Rendezvous with Rama
  • Rama II
  • The Garden of Rama
  • Rama Revealed

The follow-up trilogy explores and expands on the Rama concept, and puts forward some very interesting ideas on life in the universe, and how ready we as humans really are to inherit the stars (or Eden). It is an epic tale of destiny, focused around the character of Nicole, a hero if there ever was one. Not an action hero, however. Simply an inspiring figure around which the story swirls and flows. Wonderful stuff, and quite awe-inspiring.

The Songs of Distant Earth – Arthur C. Clarke

As usual, Clarke has an interesting premise. Faced with the Sun going nova in the year 3600, humanity launches seed ships with the necessities for creating earth life, including humans. Some of these colonies succeed, including one on the island paradise of Thalassa. After seven hundred years, a manned colony ship with a million frozen humans appears in orbit. The (not frozen) crew of the ship needs water ice in order to rebuild the ablation shield on the ship and continue their journey. The novel describes how the very different groups of crew and inhabitants of Thalassa meet and interact over the course of the colony ship’s stay.

I found the whole thing naive in it’s view of humanity (everybody is unnaturaly wise and kind) and more than a bit a bit dull. While Clarke has many interesting ideas, and I certainly had no problem finishing the book, I found that there was a peculiar lack of tension. Clarke compensates with his mastery of the “sense of wonder” style, but this still isn’t enough to elevate this novel even close to the level of his masterpieces, like the Rama Series or The Fountains of Paradise.

As an interesting footnote, Mike Oldfield recorded an eponymous concept album based on themes from the book. It is one of my all-time favorites.

The Fountains of Paradise – Arthur C. Clarke

A classic from one of the great masters. The book tells the story of the construction of a space elevator on an island closely based on Sri Lanka. The author also took a bit of license and moved it to the equator in order to make things actually work.

While one might think that the story is only about the technical aspects, it delves much deeper into the spiritual past and future of bridge building. For what is a space elevator if not a bridge to the stars? Clarke skillfully blends the past and the future into a marvelous tale. His famous skill sense of wonder is shown off to great effect, and the book leaves you feeling in awe with humanity and the universe.

2001 Series – Arthur C. Clarke

This series started as a one-off book released in conjunction with the Stanley Kubrick movie of the same name. The series consists of:

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • 2010: Odyssey Two. (Also made into a film)
  • 2061 Odyssey Three
  • 3001: The Final Odyssey

The first and second books are enthralling. 2061 is more of the same, and thus decent but somewhat pointless as part of the arc. 3001 is an attempt at closing up all the loose threads, and does so in a satisfying way.

For a long time, these books frustrated me because I just didn’t get them. On the surface, they are hard SciFi, but there is quite a bit of existential pondering about the nature of life. When I finally just relaxed and accepted the fact that there are mystical things going on, I realized that this is the whole point. The reader is supposed to be in awe, and there are some things that mankind is not meant to know (yet). Just remember to accept the mystery and embrace the sense of wonder.

 

The City and the Stars – Arthur C. Clarke

One of the great classics of science fiction, this novel is set in a city that holds the last remnant of humanity. The inhabitants of the city while away the millennia in eternal bliss. But there is trouble in paradise (of course). A young boy finds that he wants more out of existence than merely existing. I found this a bit slow paced, but it is an interesting investigation of utopia and eternity.

The Light of Other Days – Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter

This novel explores a really fascinating concept. What if technology could be developed that let us see any place in space and time, including past, present and future? Society would be transformed. Lying would be impossible.

But Clarke and Baxter take it much much further than that, and the ending is just plain incredible as, without spoiling it too much, humans can finally seek redeption for the crimes of ages past. Read this book.