Sunday, January 2, 2011

Arthur C. Clarke

Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke is known for writing seminal ‘hard’ science fiction books. Though considered by the majority to be one of the greats, he suffers from two consistent criticisms.
The first: Clarke tends to follow up each masterpiece (‘Rendezvous with Rama’, for example, or ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’) with one-star sequels. The first of the series is usually filled with awe-inspiring wonder and mystery, while the sequels offer explanations that are insipid and mindless. These are not at the level of the ‘Dukes of Hazard in Space with Zombies’ variety, but are bad enough to inspire doubt that Clarke had much to do, if anything, with writing them.

The second of the two recurring criticisms Clarke’s novels is his supposed inability to develop the characters in his stories. Though I agree completely with the first criticism, I don’t agree with this second one. In ‘Rendezvous with Rama,’ for example, the petty squabbles and mindless committee meetings seem particularly pathetic. Rama is a vast, cylindrical self-contained world that has been cruising through space for at least 200,000 years. Humankind’s insignificance is clear. Clarke masterfully offers realistic characters for perspective. All human achievements are dwarfed by Rama, so that even the occasional character that has ‘historical perspective’ (about being the first human in history to come into contact with an alien species, for example), comes across as clueless. The earth is, to quote Douglass Adams, ‘an invisible dot on an invisible dot.’

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