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Review: The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke

Review: The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke

I’m not dead you know. Just working minimum wage, full time. I’m one of those now, the 99% (of employed people doing a job they don’t particularly like) until I find another teaching job. Whilst my energies are drained for little reward I have shied away from putting pen to paper on any more short stories of my own, (though I intend to return to writing up the ideas I’ve collected after I move into a new flat in the next few weeks) I have been steadily feeding my hunger for classic science fiction. Not your ‘Sci-Fi/Fantasy’ genre fiction, but far out speculative science based fiction writing… your Arthur C Clarkes of the world. The first review of 2012 then is the second Arthur C Clarke novel that I have read in recent weeks (I’m flying through them they are so readable) and the seventh piece of extended fiction from his extensive catalogue – The City and the Stars.

Hats off first of all to the cover art on the SF Masterworks release of this work. The other worldly green glow and futuristic cityscape gives an exotic appeal and completely masks the surprising premise of the book: That this ‘otherworld’ is in fact Earth, an all but abandoned Earth millions of years in the future where the last remnants of humanity cling on with an eternal fear, no phobia, of the outside world, outside universe. In a sense, The City and the Stars is both a narrative of the end of human endeavour and its rebirth.

What an incredibly well read and intelligent man Arthur C Clarke must have been, and so much I regret not coming to his works earlier. This story does what the best scifi always does – it tackles epic themes of our place in the universe, human nature, faith, control, free will, and even such minutiae as how people may ‘furnish’ their homes in the future. He forsees, writing in 1956, virtual reality and the use of avatars being the principal means of socialising and exploring, something that feels quite remarkable in a modern world of Wii Mii’s, World of Warcrafts, Second Lifes etc. He even tackles one of the thorniest issues of any speculative writing about ‘immortality’ – he has the male race genetically altered by scientists to no longer reproduce the traditional way. Sex becomes purely recreational and the unexpected effects of this are thought provoking and gently explored in the social interactions between the principal characters. The family unit no longer serves any meaningful function when people come into the world physically as adults and ‘check out’ when they choose, not when their biological ticker gives out. It is a work of astonishing vision and still readily accessible unlike some contemporary science fiction which appears to me to be written in an ancient tongue long since forgotten.

Arthur C Clarke does what a lot of popular advise for writers today warns against – it tells the audience things at times, rather than ‘showing’, though it certainly does that also. However it does not feel a cheap way of world building and lends it a kind of academic quality. He writes so confidently and so clearly that you accept his vision. However the real strength of his writing I found was in the way certain passages would make me just stop, re-read the last few paragraphs and reflect, daydreaming at work on the possibilities of it all. One thing i have noticed from having read Rendezvous with Rama and The City and the Stars is that his writing, whilst complete in its telling of a particular story and satisfying in itself… feels like a mere slice in time. As if you were reading a brief moment in the lives of these characters and that they really continue after you reach the back page. He builds living worlds in his books and that persistence of characters, even after the completion of the story is a great compliment.

What happens next? What happened before?

On the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens birth, I ask of the sadly departed Arthur C Clarke…

Please Sir, Can I have some more?

Highly recommended for lovers of science fiction.

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Posted by on February 7, 2012 in Fiction, Reviews

 

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Book Review: Heaven’s Shadow by David S Goyer, Michael Cassutt

Book Review: Heaven’s Shadow by David S Goyer, Michael Cassutt

And so ends my summer of happy reading. What began with a Three for Two offer at a Doncaster Waterstones and took in books like The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman and Glen David Gold’s debut novel Carter Beats the Devil reaches its conclusion with a book that Guillermo Del Toro tells us on the sleeve to be a “Pulse-Pounding Tale” – Heavens Shadow by the writer of the Dark Knight (David S Goyer) and the Twilight Zone (Michael Cassutt). I’ll start with a disclaimer. As a teenager I read dozens and dozens of books from series like Sharpe and other historical fiction sagas. By my old age of 25, I’m pretty burnt out on on going books. I’ve discovered a passion for reading self contained novels that contain all the information I ever need to know between its two covers and leave no questions unanswered at its conclusion. If I had realised in the shop that Heavens Shadow was the first of a series of books from the Bat Zone team, I would not have bought it – regardless of how sumptuous the cover looked.

Lets be grateful for lazy book buying eh? Not doing my research meant I picked up a book that I read cover to cover in 7 days and was left panting for more. Before I go into the detail let me just give an overview of the book.

Set in the next decade, this science fiction tale feels immediately familiar in all its references to technology and procedures and tracks two competing international teams of astronauts (respectively called cosmonauts in Russian, and vyomanaut for India) as they race to be the first humans to touch down on a Near Earth Object. Not the moon, though that had been what everybody had trained for, but what appears to be a rogue meteorite approaching Earth from below the south pole. It’s going to miss, so no panic, but it does provide a unique opportunity for national pride and demonstration of technical feats. So off they go, only to find on their final approach massive volcanic activity on the meteorite causing it to tumble into orbit around the earth. Analysis by the brains in Houston and India confirm the unbelievable truth – those eruptions were not so much volcanic in nature as similar to thruster’s on a space ship. In other words, the NEO suddenly becomes a UFO with two unprepared crews landing on its surface unsure what to expect.

For what is clearly going to be an epic piece of science fiction writing by the authors, Heavens Shadow manages to accomplish the feat of building a near future world that seems very familiar. For anybody who keeps well read on science and space, almost everything referenced in this book has been talked about in journals and the media. It takes it from Science Fiction to Science Possible, which is the first step on the road to greatness for a Sci-Fi story in my opinion. It has been plotted to such an incredible detail that not one of its 400 beautifully laid out pages seems wasted. In fact the whole book feels like a prologue to the main event. ordinarily that would be a criticism, but the tension, wonder and sheer fantasy that is ratcheted up page by page leave you hoping the book doesn’t end. I am glad there will be a sequel! So many questions are open at the end of this book that thrill rather than frustrate, amongst which I wonder just how big are the writers thinking? Its a story that could span generations of characters.

Cassutt and Goyer do a sublime job of re-stoking the cold war space paranoia introducing the new players in the space race – Brazil, India, Europe, and preserving gratuitous displays of pig-headedness from American bureaucrats. The story lurches from petty politics, to the brink of galactic warfare between our old Super Powers, before throwing everybody in to the same mess together. From nuclear detonations, to the living dead, crash landings, extremely dangerous aliens, and the enforced conscription of thousands of humans into a conflict, a war, that we cannot begin to comprehend… its a story with all the big ideas and concepts. Its about how we treat each other, how we treat the memory of our loved ones and how we should face the wonders out in the universe which no matter how clever we think we are will always surprise us.

Heavens Shadow is published by an imprint of Macmillan in the UK but copyright is owned by Phantom Four Films and St. Croix Productions. This is no surprise. The clean way it is written and set out screams for a television adaptation. Cover to cover this could be an entire television season in one book. I look forward to seeing if anything develops and also waiting for its sequel Heavens War.

Shame I have to go back to reading textbooks for the courses I’m teaching. What a fun summers reading.

P.S. I’ve subsequently done some digging and the Heaven trilogy of books has been picked up by Warner Bros. to make into films. Bit of a disappointment as the number of cliff hangers and surprises in the book I thought would have made it great fodder for TV.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2011 in Fiction

 

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First Look: Cover image for The Lazarus Experiment

January serial ‘The Lazarus Experiment‘ was picked up by Bookstogonow.com for ebook publishing in February and has this week taken a significant step forward to reaching estores. Final edits are complete and the cover image has been finalized.

So… What do you think?

Available soon. 

Available soon.

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2011 in Publishing

 

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