Clarke, Arthur C.

About the Author:

 

Sir Arthur C. Clarke CBE was born in Somerset, England in 1917 and became a graduate of King's College, London.  He served in the RAF during the Second World War, working with experimental radar equipment.  He shared a nomination for an Oscar with Stanley Kubrick for the screenplay of '2001: A Space Odyssey'.  Clarke died in Sri Lanka in 2008.

 

AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:

4.3 out of 5

(9 books)

2001: A Space Odyssey

The novel created in conjunction with Stanley Kubrick's film of the same name.  I'm going to put many sci-fi fans into an uproar now and say that I really don't like Kubrick's film, which frankly amazed me, having read this book first.  The novel of '2001' is technically intricate but, as is Clarke's skill, manages to keep a firm core of human emotion, meaning that the story is never drowned by science. 

Characters are realistic and likeable and the mysteries surrounding the Monoliths are created with both tension and wonder.  The ending is quite remarkable and has to be one of the finest that I have read in any book.  If anyone was wondering 'What the fu...?' at the end of the movie, then here in beautiful detail we learn that Dave's contact with the alien creators of the Monoliths makes him both progress and regress through the stages of his life until he becomes the celestial Star Child. 

Truly one of the best science fiction novels ever written and I'd not be surprised if it's power makes you shed a tear for that homicidal computer with the red eye, HAL 9000.

Followed by '2010: Odyssey Two'.

5 out of 5

 

2010: Odyssey Two

A brilliant follow-up to '2001' which sees Heywood Floyd leading a mission to recover the space ship Discovery and to find out what happened to Dave Bowman. 

First, this novel is given pace by the competition between the three missions that are in preparation, the Americans find themselves (accurately) behind their Cold War enemies in Russia in their plans to travel out to Jupiter.  However a surprising third factor enters the equation when the Chinese launch a mission that is clearly planned far differently than the other two.  To counter their separate short-comings, the Americans and Russians enter into a distrustful agreement to send a mixed crew aboard a Soviet ship.  This Cold War tension, whilst now outdated, is perfectly balanced by the simple human relationships sparked up between the political rivals. 

The real magic of this novel is in the undeniable feeling of wonder that each new discovery reveals, you will find yourself completely lost in the exploration of Jupiter's moons and the investigation of Dave Bowman's disappearance.  As a final and stunning twist, millions of giant Monoliths begin to appear on the surface of Jupiter as they prepare for the coming of Lucifer.  Don't understand?  You'd better read this awesome book then. 

Oh, and 'Lord of the Rings' fans will be pleased by Heywood Floyd's comparisons between Tolkien's Mordor and the surface of the volcanic moon Io.

Followed by '2061: Odyssey Three'.

5 out of 5

 

2061: Odyssey Three

A slightly different style of book to the previous two, '2061' is about a hastily assembled rescue mission to save the crew of a space ship that has crash landed on Europa, the moon forbidden to mankind by the mysterious intelligence behind the Monoliths. 

Whilst I enjoyed this book, I felt that it lacked the spirit of the other two and that was a shame.  However, there is plenty of Clarke's customary scientific vision as well as his clever human relationships and issues.  A thing that I really like about this book was the idea that Jupiter's massive gravity had compacted it's core into a diamond the size of a mountain, a diamond that was ejected with the creation of Lucifer. 

I also felt myself becoming distanced from Heywood Floyd, a character who was remarkably easy to understand and bond with in '2001' and '2010'.  All in all, '2061' is worth a read, but is not the sort of masterwork that its predecessors were.  I should mention also that the inclusion of a mission to Halley's comet (2061 being the year it'll next make its presence known in the solar system)  was a very clever idea and I can think of nowhere else where such a scene has been written.

Followed by '3001: The Final Odyssey'.

4 out of 5

 

3001: The Final Odyssey

A slightly disappointing end to the series.  Due to the time gap between this and the previous books, all of the characters we've become accustomed to are dead.  Bizarrely though, Frank Poole (the guy that HAL rammed with a space pod) is resurrected as the main character.  Although this does stretch the imagination, the fact that Frank knows nothing of either the events surrounding the Monoliths or the events of the previous millennium means that there is a strong core story which has him discovering the wonders of the future. 

The story this time is that the Monolith on Europa has malfunctioned and has decided that the human race is to be destroyed.  I thought that this clever twist to the Monoliths, which had previously been intent only on the advancment of intelligent life, is '3001's strongest point.  It also leads up to the clever ending, in which the Monolith must be destroyed, that leaves you wondering if it had, in fact, malfunctioned or whether its purpose was to push the human race to strive to defeat its superior technology, therefore advancing our culture further. 

On the whole, this book, like '2061', lacks the magic of the first two books of the Space Odyssey series but manages to bring the issue of the Monoliths to a neat resolution, although by no means an end.

4 out of 5

 

Earthlight

Two hundred years into the future political tensions begin to rise between Earth and the Federation of other colonised worlds.  At the centre of the tension is the Moon, controlled by Earth but harbouring resources desperately needed by the Federation.  Seeking an intelligence leak, reluctant spy Bertram Sadler is sent undercover within a scientific installation on the Moon in the hopes of averting all-out war.

Science fiction almost always says as much about the times it was written in as it does about its subject matter and here Clarke is clearly tapping into the recent memories of World War II (only a decade prior to this being published) as well as the new tensions of the Cold War.  In fact, the front half of this book reads a great deal like a version of 'Ice Station Zebra' but on the Moon.  Honestly, although written with Clarke's usual skill and intelligence, I found this all a bit disappointing.  It's not that it's bad in any way, but from Clarke I expected exceptional.

However, the latter half of the book takes things up a considerable notch.  Not only in the fascinating way that Clarke describes (largely) scientifically accurate combat in a vacuum but also in how he looks at a war which no-one wins being the best hope for peace.  On top of this sentiment is the idea that science and scientific collaboration outranks politics and patriotism.  It's all something of a refreshing change from the vast amounts of bleak and cynical science fiction inspired by the nuclear age and the Cold War (admittedly the Cold War hadn't reached its zenith when this was written).

4 out of 5

 

Imperial Earth

Duncan Makenzie is sent from his homeworld, Saturn's moon Titan, to represent his people at the five hundredth anniversary of the foundation of the United States of America on the distant mother planet; Earth.  A mystery soon begins to reveal itself when quantities of rare titanite appear on Earth, followed by encounters with people from Duncan's past.

Clarke wrote this book for the U.S.'s bicentennary and at times it feels altogether too smug and back-patting in regard to America's role in the history of the world as a result.  This is made all the more noticable by the fact that Clarke wasn't an American himself, so all this patriotic pride must have been an affectation.  Also, I suppose he didn't have a 21st Century view of the U.S. in world politics like we do, so would perhaps be less critical.

Setting aside the smug patriotic subtext, this book's biggest flaw is its lack of conflict.  There's nothing that Duncan runs into that imparts an sense of tension or danger to his situation for the first two thirds of the book.  Then, in the final third, it starts to look like his investigations into an apparent conspiracy and a confrontation with a former-lover-turned-antagonist will deliver some actual drama, but it ultimately fizzles out completely.

The author writes with his characteristic attention to detail, both human and scientific, but the lack of anything which could be called a plot made this book feel pretty unengaging; the first time I've ever had that with one of Clarke's novels.

3 out of 5

 

Rendezvous With Rama

When an interstellar object, christened Rama by scientists, enters the solar system and is discovered to be the first non-human artificial construct ever encountered, the crew of the spaceship Endeavour are sent to investigate.

Much as he did in the Space Odyssey series, here Clarke does a fantastic job of capturing the spirit of discovery which was so energised during the space race of the 60s and 70s.  His science is so informed that you get a distinct feel of realism amid the obvious unrealities of the story and his grasp of his human characters lets you truly understand their reactions to what is an unprecedented event in human history.

One of the things I really liked about this book but nevertheless managed to find frustrating was the way in which, for all the intricate detail he has given Rama and its environment, the author never actually gives us any full and complete explanations.  In terms of the story, this is brilliant because it shows that there's no way humans could totally and instantly grasp the artifacts of an intelligence far beyond our own, but you do find yourself wishing you'd got some solid answers by the end of the book.  But then, so does Endeavour's Commander Norton.

On top of the scientific exploration story, we also get a few glimpses of the interplanetary politics of this future solar system.  Perhaps most interesting of all is the role played by the hardy and uncompromising people of Mercury and their reaction to the slightest possibility that Rama could be a threat to mankind.

Overall a solid and enjoyable classic which, as is Clarke's M.O., focuses strongly on the 'science' part of 'science fiction'.

4 out of 5

 

The Collected Stories

Here in one massive volume is almost all of the short stories that Clarke has written in his long career as one of the greatest science fiction writers ever.  Throughout is Clarke's inexhaustible attention to scientific detail, as well as his firm grasp of philosophy, religion and personal relationships.  Also, as with all great science fiction, most of the stories here have a message or a warning to give and many, written in the height of both World War II and the Cold War, are just as relevant today. 

That is the problem with much science fiction, as time goes on it loses relevance and accuracy, but Clarke's visionary skill means that, although some of his ideas have been proved mistaken, the stories are still largely believable even today.  Another of Clarke's great talents comes to the fore in these short stories and that is his unerring ability to see human weaknesses and pick them apart, often using the tool of an alien culture. 

Perhaps the most fun to be had with this book is when you read his characters' accounts of some miraculous new invention or discovery that we take for granted, only to realise that the story was written many years before the actual discovery was made! 

Some of the best stories here are ones that he would later develop into full-length novels, including 'The Songs of Distant Earth', 'The Hammer of God' and, my favourite, 'The Sentinel' (which would later be developed into '2001: A Space Odyssey').  Also to be found here is one of the most charming, enigmatic and intelligent characters ever created in science fiction or any other genre; Harry Purvis.  Purvis, appearing in several tales as the teller of the actual story, is so perfect a liar and fantasist that none of Clarke's other, equally intelligent, characters can prove him false despite the obviousness of the fact.  It's a true joy to read as Purvis deftly fends off any criticisms in order to make an often oblique point. 

I can't recommend this book enough, its content is impeccable and its sheer length means that you won't be bored for a long time to come.

5 out of 5

 

The Hammer Of God

The name 'The Hammer of God' referring to an asteroid set to destroy life on Earth clearly reveals this book's core issue, which is the juxtaposition (good word eh?) of religion and science.  Taken from a short story of the same name, I think that 'The Hammer of God' is science fiction of the highest quality.  In fact, as shown by a series of 'Encounters', which relate genuine asteroid impacts or near-misses, this may not be science fiction so much as science possibility. 

The story revolves around the work of the Space Guard programme, which is a real programme named by NASA for a similar creation in one of Clarke's earlier books, and their efforts to save mankind from a terror from outer space.  But this is no alien invasion fleet, no, this is but one of many pieces of space debris that could destroy life as we know it and the fact that it is a natural element means that religious fanatics believe it is God's will. 

This novel is an excellent read and maintains the Clarke hallmarks of genuine science mixed with a deep and realistic human element.  And, as much of Clarke's best work is, this is a cautionary tale that covers more that the dangers of outer space.

5 out of 5

Collaborations & Anthologies:

The Wizards Of Odd (here)

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Science Fiction (here)