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.
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.
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.