Arthur C Clarke and me

I never met Arthur C Clarke.  This is the second post in my planned blog series Author X and me, where I write about my overall experience with an author’s work, and whether I plan to read their books in the future.

Clarke may have been the first science fiction author I ever read.  I remember a collection of short stories, checked out from a school library, that contained “The Nine Billion Names of God“, which I still think is a fun story.  That collection was possibly the first thing I ever read having fiction describing a new world or reality with every story, and it sparked my imagination.

I saw the film “2001: a Space Odyssey“, not in the theater, but later when it came on television, so it’s possible I didn’t see the entire work.  I’ve heard people say the film was excessively long and boring, but I don’t remember that.  I enjoyed the ending (spoiler ahead) where the AI became dangerous due to imprecise programming or flawed instructions or something.  Now I’m wondering if that didn’t come out until the sequel film, though.

rama

I can’t remember whether I read Clarke’s other highly-famous work, “Rendezvous with Rama“, and I’m unlikely to pick it up in the future, given my more recent experiences reading Clarke:

In 2018, I reviewed The Deep Range, noting that Clarke was on-target with his marine science, but failed to develop an interesting political conflict he envisioned, and made his characters exhibit behavior which seems more unbelievable the more I think about it.

Since then, I’ve read “Childhood’s End“, which I detested despite it containing a number of potentially-interesting science-fiction ideas.  Earth is visited by aliens who hide their physical appearance.  When a couple of engineers manage to photograph them, they see that the aliens have the appearance of the Devil, as understood by medieval Europeans.  They agree to keep the aliens’ secret, to avoid prejudice.  Nobody, I guess including Clarke, makes the logical jump that perhaps the aliens visited medieval Europe and did something terrible.

The other major plot element is that all children on Earth are now born severely autistic, unable to communicate or function in human society.  The aliens say this is the next step in human evolution.  I don’t understand why being unable to feed yourself or communicate or cooperate is a step forward, but everyone in the book accepts this.  I suppose if there were some sort of AI that only autistic brains could communicate with this could work, but there’s no hint of this.  Humanity appears to do nothing to research or solve the problem, and accepts that all their children need to go into space with the devil-aliens.

This book left me with the impression that Clarke hated Western religion and civilization.  He seemed almost gleeful that the autistic children would never have children of their own, or build or achieve anything.  On the other hand, Clarke was in a phase where he was in love with hippie mumbo-jumbo mysticism.  The humans learn the location of the alien homeworld by consulting a Ouija board, and the autistic children somehow all travel to Australia and do a mystical trance-dance across the continent.

fountains

The last Clarke book I read was “The Fountains of Paradise“, about the construction of a space elevator.  The book may have value if it originated or brought awareness to the concept of a space elevator, but the characters and plot have none.  I guess one of the main characters is a smarmy government official who feels entitled to lie to the public because he thinks he is so much smarter than they are, so that character has some value if taken as a warning rather than a template.

Hatred of religion comes through in this book as well, extending even to non-Western religions, if I remember correctly.  An alien space probe flies through the solar system, making radio communication long enough to refute the logical arguments of some medieval monk, which causes everyone on Earth to abandon their religious beliefs.  A bunch of people still take up residence in monasteries, devoting their lives to … I have no idea what.

I think I’m done with Clarke’s novels, as I have not found the last two I read enjoyable at all.  I won’t rule out going back to some of his short stories, but I don’t have any plans to do so at the moment.

I know most of you have read something by Clarke at some point, so drop a comment below and let me know what you thought of it.

14 comments

  1. Never felt the need after witnessing 2001 the movie. I wasn’t a fan.

    1. I wonder if the special effects were really good for the time? For some reason, it’s considered an iconic movie.

      1. At the time, yes. As a comparison, I loved the original Planet of the Apes films. They were about the same time.

  2. My high school English class had a field trip to see “2001…” when it was released. Even though I was already a scifi fan, the movie bored the snot out of me. It was more fun watching the spaced-out (no apologies for the pun) hippies in the front rows grooving on the special effects.

    I tried reading the book later. One of the very few books on my DNF list.

    1. Maybe I wasn’t bored because I was watching at home and didn’t have to focus on the movie. Or, maybe I tuned in when the movie was half finished.

  3. My experience has been that Clarke wrote awesome short stories and his collections of those are first rate. But once you hit almost any novel of his, things get boring and things get decidedly anti-religious.

    If I’m feeling nostalgic, I’ll go read his “More than One Universe” short story collection, but that is about it…

    1. Well, I won’t cross his short stories off my list, then.

  4. If scientific disproof of every creation myth (and a ton of other religious beliefs as well) hasn’t gotten people to stop believing in gods, then contact with aliens won’t do so within a generation either.
    However, being overly optimistic that maybe it would is hardly “hatred” of religion, and the twice-used detail that people abandoning theism wouldn’t have much effect on non-theistic forms of Buddhism is probably correct (independently of how likely the end of theism would be).

    I’ve always thought that Clarke actually put more thought into “how would this affect various cultures and religions” than a lot of others have. (Heinlein, for example, wrote a book that was primarily about the founding of a Martian-influenced religion without mentioning any real-life religions other than Christianity and Islam.)

    1. I disagree that creation has been, or even could theoretically be, scientifically disproven. But, my use of the word hatred is not just from one instance in each story, and involves tone as well as plot/character elements.

      I can’t say anything about that particular Heinlein book, as I haven’t read it.

    2. I’ve read most of Heinlein’s stuff, but don’t remember that plot. What was the name of the book? 🙂

      1. Clarke! Not Heinlein, obviously. 🙄

        1. DT had referenced one of Heinlein’s books, which I assumed was Stranger in a Strange Land. I’ve never read it.

  5. It’s been some time since I actually read anything from Clarke, but I clearly remember what I can define a “glacial pace”: the concepts he expresses are fascinating, but the stories require more patience than I possess – which was very true with Randezvous With Rama, at least as far as my recollection goes. Curiously enough, just a few days ago I revisited 2001 on Netflix and found out that the loooong silences were more than I could bear, although I have to admit that HAL 9000 is indeed the prototype of any A.I. running amok we encountered after that. 🙂

    1. It’s funny I remember the AI stuff by not the long silences. Maybe I didn’t catch the movie from the start, or just wandered off in the middle of it.

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