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.