Arthur C. Clarke

Book cover for The City and the Stars by Arthu...

Book cover for The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke. This was published by Harcourt in June 1956 and was the first release of this novel. The image is used to illustrate the article The City and the Stars. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Up until relatively recently, the only way I knew of Arthur C. Clarke was as the host of some interesting documentaries about cool stuff that no-one could explain.

He was a bald guy who lived in Sri Lanka who posed questions about crystal skulls and markings in ancient Peru that only made sense when viewed from altitude. I knew he wrote 2001, A Space Odyssey and the follow-up 2010, but it never occurred to me just how prolific he was as a science fiction author.

It was only when I came across his books in the science fiction masterworks series that I realised just how many books he penned. Unlike many great science fiction authors, Arthur C. Clarke has the distinction of having two books released under the banner; Rendezvous With Rama and The City and the Stars. From reading the back covers, Rendezvous sounded more interesting, so that’s the one I read first.

Arthur C. Clarke has a great way of describing technical and physical things in a way that they make sense to the reader. He can bring them to life in the space of a few short sentences. In Rendezvous with Rama, the story revolves around a gigantic spaceship that visits our future Solar System so he has plenty of opportunity to exercise his craft.

Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book, I couldn’t help feeling cheated when I reached the end. If I were unkind, I might summarise the plot as: a huge alien spaceship turns up; humans explore it; it buggers off taking all its secrets with it. At the end of the book, he explained little or nothing about the culture that built the spacecraft. Were they alive or dead? Were they benevolent or malicious? All we know is that they build cool spaceships populated with robots.

In all my disappointment about the first book, I felt reluctant to read the second. It was only when a friend recommended The City and the Stars that I picked up the book. I have to say – what a difference. If not much happens in the first book, the whole universe changes in the second book.

The action starts off in the sterile city of Diaspar. Everything is safe within the city’s dome. People are reproduced as necessary from within  the central computer’s memory banks and have to live according to preset conditioning. The central character, Alvin, is born with something no-one else seems to have; curiosity. He wants to know what’s out there and boy does he find out and changes the city, the world and the universe in the process. It’s a great novel and I was staggered to find out that he wrote it in the 50s. I was doubly staggered to find out that it was a rewrite of the first story he ever penned.

It’s hard to believe that Arthur C. Clarke wrote both books. The second is a masterpiece. The only criticism I have is that I don’t find his descriptions of people to be particularly evocative. But who am I to judge?

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5 comments on “Arthur C. Clarke

  1. ” I don’t find his descriptions of people to be particularly evocative” — no one does. It’s perhaps his biggest weakness. He’s an ideas man — hard SF concepts, cool ideas, etc but solely lacking in the character department. I find his prose rather rigid (as were many of the 40s/50s authors) as well…

      • DO NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT read the sequels. They are some of the worst piles of crap ever put to the page and ruins all the wonder evoked by the first installment. I suggest sticking to his novels pre-1980 — where he goes seriously downhill. The Fountains of Paradise is worthwhile, as are the rollicking adventures The Fall of Moondust and The Sands of Mars etc. I particularly enjoyed the ruminative/restrained Earthlight.

  2. Pingback: Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke | From couch to moon

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