27 December 2006

Yesterday's Tomorrows: Arthur C. Clarke and George R. Stewart

by Graham Sleight

from Locus Magazine, October 2006

Arthur C. Clarke, 1953
Arthur C. Clarke, 1953 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke (NAL, 221pp, hc) 1968; (Roc 0-451-45799-4, $7.99, 320pp) 2000; (Orbit 1-85723-664-5, £6.99, 266pp, pb) 1998.

Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 0-15-176835-8, 303pp, hc) 1973. Cover by Hal Siegel; (Gollancz 0-575-01587-X, 256pp, hc) 1973. Cover by Bruce Pennington; (Bantam Spectra 0-553-28789-3, $7.99, 288pp) 1990; (Gollancz 0-575-07733-6, £6.99, 235pp, pb) 2006.

The City and the Stars, Arthur C. Clarke (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 310pp, hc) 1956; (Muller, 256pp, hc) 1956. Cover by George Salter; (Gollancz 1-85723-763-2, £6.99, 256pp, pb) 2001.

Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke (Ballantine, 217pp, hc) 1953; (Del Rey 0-345-34795-1, $6.99, 224pp, pb) 1987; (Pan 0-330-31661-3, £4.99, 200pp, pb) 1990.

Earth Abides, George R. Stewart (Random House, 373pp, hc) 1949. Cover by H. Lawrence Hoffman; (Millennium 1-85798-821-3, £6.99, 312pp, pb) 1999; (Del Rey 0-345-48713-3, $13.95, 368pp, pb) 2006.

In a 1989 introductory piece for 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke talks about the context in which it was written, quoting his own words in The Lost Worlds of 2001 (1974):

In the Spring of '64... the lunar landing still seemed psychologically a dream of the far future. Intellectually, we knew it was inevitable; emotionally, we could not really believe it...The first two-man Gemini flight (Grissom and Young) would not take place for another year, and argument was still raging about the lunar surface...

For once, a cliché is precise: the rest is history. The film and novel that sprang from Clarke's collaboration with Stanley Kubrick came out in 1968, and their influence on SF and the wider culture can hardly be understated; and Apollo 11, "a dream" five years before, landed on the moon in July 1969. But, since all reviewing is first-person, I should also state my own perspective. I was born in 1972, a couple of months before the last landing of Apollo 17. I have no memory of our moon-landings: it's something that I've been told happened, like Gettysburg. The space programme provided me with two vivid images in childhood: Skylab's fall to earth in 1979, with bits of metal raining down on the Australian outback, and of course the Challenger disaster in 1986. I'm always wary of deducing too much from biography, especially my own, but it doesn't seem too outlandish to suggest that someone born in 1972 is going to read 2001 in a fundamentally different way from someone who was around when it was first published. (I should add, also, that I know SF readers too young to remember the Challenger disaster: the wheel never stops turning.)

2001 has a particular problem, almost too obvious to be stated: that it tied its vision of an outward-expanding humanity to a particular year that has now passed, and that is certainly not remembered for passenger flights to the Moon. Every time you run up against a date in the text, for instance a sign saying "WELCOME TO CLAVIUS BASE, US ASTRONAUTICAL ENGINEERING CORPS, 1994," you find yourself with a sense that you're being told the wrong story, a story that's failed to come true. Moreover, you find yourself passing judgment on the author's irrepressible optimism about the possibility of space travel and how much it's become mired in real-world constraints.

But advocacy of our destiny beyond Earth is by no means the only note that Clarke wants to strike. Very early on in the book, in the section set in prehistoric Africa, he describes the famous alien monolith:

Now there was only a uniform, featureless glow in the great slab, so that it stood like a block of light superimposed on the surrounding darkness. As if waking from a sleep, the man-apes shook their heads, and presently began to move along the trail to their place of shelter. They did not look back, or wonder at the strange light that was guiding them to their homes — and to a future unknown, as yet, even to the stars.

Calling the viewpoint there omniscient almost feels like an understatement. Clarke is signalling right from the start that his narrative and the people within it are cupped in the hands of something greater than them — something almost too great for language to describe. The series of jump-cuts that govern the novel and film gain their force from the knowledge that no matter how much time they span, the story is engineered by something greater. When you see, in the film, the thrown bone becoming the orbiting space-station, on one level you're present at a demonstration of authorial control. But on another level, you're being told that the story (in this case, the alien intelligences behind it) will knit these disparate events together in the end.

Clarke has two very different impulses as a writer: describing the props and tools of space exploration, and taking this longest of long views. Of course, as a thinker about the first he's made more contributions than most of us could imagine, most famously in the theoretical work behind the geostationary satellite. But it's the nuts-and-bolts sections of 2001 which have dated most badly, which is perhaps no reflection on Clarke — rather on how much we've failed to live up to his dreams.

The transcendent side of Clarke comes more into prominence as 2001 goes on, especially in the last sequence beyond the star-gate. But the novel is also more explained than the film, crucially in the section between David Bowman's deactivation of the rogue computer HAL and his final departure from the ship. A huge but elegant infodump from the puppetmaster Heywood Floyd not only makes clear what's happening but also clarifies why Bowman acts as he does in venturing out of the ship. His final act is not, as in the film, that of an affectless manikin irreparably scarred by HAL's betrayal, but a logical and rational conclusion to all the upward steps of exploration humanity has taken earlier in the book.

- - -

Rational exploration is also a hallmark of Rendezvous with Rama (1973), Clarke's next novel. It illustrates one of his great strengths, the ability to create the most striking visual imagery from the simplest elements. Here Norton, the commander of the expedition exploring the vast alien artefact Rama, makes his first sortie into its interior:

Even the millions of candlepower of the flare could not light up the whole of this enormous cavity, but now he could see enough to grasp its plan and appreciate its titanic scale. He was at one end of a hollow cylinder at least ten kilometres wide, and of indefinite length. From his viewpoint at the central axis he could see such a mass of detail on the curving walls surrounding him that his mind could not absorb more than a minute fraction of it; he was looking at the landscape of an entire world by a single flash of lightning, and he tried by a deliberate effort of will to freeze the image in his mind.

That image, of the tiny human figure standing illuminated in an alien blackness, can stand as emblematic for all of Clarke's work. The action of Rendezvous with Rama, the slow process of human explorers working out the origins and nature of the artefact, receives such detailed attention that one forgives Clarke for the things he seems not to be interested in: outlining the inner lives of characters to differentiate them, for instance. This may be a deliberate aesthetic choice rather than an inability on his part. All humans will look much the same when compared to the vastness of the universe, illuminated by flarelight for a second. Olaf Stapledon, one of Clarke's clearest influences, seemingly made the same choice in books like Last and First Men (1930) and Star Maker (1937). Yet the individual does matter in Stapledon, as witness the final scenes of Star Maker, when the narrator returns home after his cosmic voyage and sees the worth of "our little glowing atom of community."

Rendezvous with Rama is an easier book to believe in now than 2001, partly because it's set in the 22nd century, and putting faith in the prospect of a fully space-faring Earth civilisation then is easier than imagining manned flights to Saturn five years ago. And while it does hit the transcendent note more than once, such epiphanies are reached through gradual exploration. It's clear quite how influential it has been on subsequent novels of (to use Roz Kaveney's term) Big Dumb Objects. Even though a book like Greg Bear's Eon (1985) may be very much more complex in its ambitions, I'm not sure that this represents pure gain. Clarke is, in many ways, and without wanting to be pejorative, a writer who seeks simplicity, the epiphany that encompasses everything.

- - -

Twenty years earlier, Clarke had written a book which is almost all epiphany, and which, because of its far-future setting, requires his nuts-and-bolts side hardly at all. I first got to know The City and the Stars (1956) in a reissue from the first Gollancz classic SF series in about 1986: it has a beautiful Peter Goodfellow cover illustration showing the eponymous city trapped in a giant star-shaped crystal. The illustration, like the book, works but risks being too simple in making its point: that the city of Diaspar's stasis cannot last forever.

The story, of the hero Alvin's gradual breaking of that stasis, was scarcely a new one even in the 1950s. What Clarke did that was distinctive was to find a way to make the Stapledonian perspective of eons into something storyable. Alvin is able to have his revelations about the nature of the universe and then move on and do something with them, even if not to affect the large-scale outcome. In Stapledon's books, the narrator is pure viewpoint; Clarke's protagonists are something more, even though they don't end up "winning" as a result of their efforts — unlike, say, the protagonists of Doc Smith. Clarke affords a worth to simply being there and observing change. Moreover, he always depicts the observer as part of a community, with obligations to that community. The City and the Stars expresses this in remarkably pure form, but for me its far-future setting makes it a little too abstract, too removed from a world describable in detail.

- - -

Childhood's End (1953) is the novel where Clarke managed to reconcile his wish for transcendence and his delight in the specific; to my mind, it's his greatest. Its famous opening imagery, of invulnerable spaceships hovering over Earth's great cities, is only the start. The working out of the relationship between the alien "Overlords" and the humans below is a model of rationality. Many little tales are embedded into it, like the description of how the UN Secretary-General Stormgren almost manages to glimpse the hidden physical form of the Overlords. When the Overlords are finally revealed as resembling mythical images of the Devil, it's an explicit rebuke from rationalism to religion: a superstition has become explicable, and therefore null. (Just after this revelation, we're told that, "It was a completely secular age. Of the faiths that had existed before the coming of the Overlords, only a form of purified Buddhism — perhaps the most austere of all religions — still survived. The creeds that had been based upon miracles and revelations had collapsed utterly."

That does beg the question, though, of whether Clarke's secular world is replacing religion with a transcendence that is, as it were, religion-shaped. The evolution in Childhood's End of a subspecies of children with powers to become godlike certainly answers some of the same needs as religion. It provides a story of a life beyond the physical world, a larger narrative that makes sense of the sufferings preceding it. But it's very far from being a consolation. The Earth is destroyed in Childhood's End, and the Overlords can only look on; almost every human who has even lived is excluded from the transcendence; and the "Overmind" which is the human destiny is scarcely describable in language. Or rather, it's only describable from the outside, as when the viewpoint character Jan stows away on an Overlord ship, travels to their planet, and sees a mountain surrounded by a vortex of light: "it was then that he guessed, for the first time, that the Overlords had masters, too."

So transcendence itself isn't describable in stories, but the path to transcendence is, and that's the subject of many of Clarke's finest novels. Transcendence inevitably means throwing off some things, and so those books become elegies for what is passing — in the case of Childhood's End, for the entire world as we've known it. Clarke created or arrived at a tone for such events that seems to me uniquely science fictional. It's derived from Stapledon and Wells, of course, and much imitated by others later. But I wouldn't be surprised if that, rather than his technological speculations, isn't his most enduring legacy.

- - -

A somewhat different kind of elegy is embodied in George R. Stewart's only SF novel, recently reissued by Del Rey. Earth Abides is so unusual and graceful that one can imagine it being rediscovered every few years to find a place in readers' lives. The story itself is almost beside the point: a virus has suddenly devastated the human population, and we follow Isherwood Williams, one of its survivors, through the ruins of California. The core of the book is its calm, eloquent view of the environment shifting as the tide of humanity retreats. It's scarcely a Stapledonian long view — the book only covers the span of Isherwood's life — but it's enough to convey the relative smallness of a single human.

The cuts in the hills and the long embankments for the road — they will still show as narrow valleys and ridges even after ten thousand years have passed. The great masses of concrete that were the dams — they will remain like the dikes of the granite itself.

But the steel and the wood will pass quickly. The three fires will take them.

Slowest of all is the fire of rust that burns at the steel. Yet give it some short centuries, and the high trestle that spans the canyon will be only a line of red soil on the slopes below.

Faster by far is the fire of decay that feeds on the wood.

But fastest of all is the fire of the flames.

There's a Biblical cadence here: those almost-repetitions ("the fire of the flames") and the quick recourse to metaphor ("the fire of rust") conspire to give this an implacable rhetorical authority. Stewart's concern was, to use a contemporary word, ecology, and the sense that humans should see themselves only as leaseholders of a landscape that they are lucky enough to occupy for a brief span. Unlike Clarke, though, there's no sense of an authorial hand engineering a particular outcome. The processes Stewart describes are those we know about anyway, of wind and rain. He also, through the person of Isherwood, makes clear what there is in life that's sweet, that the individual might want to hold onto, however trivial it might be in the long view.

This is, in other words, a far more sensual book than one can imagine Clarke having written. It's not rose-tinted, either: despite Isherwood's best efforts, much that was worthwhile about civilisation is lost and will not easily be recovered. So, to use a Hollywood term, Earth Abides is a downer. Almost everyone dies, and then the folk who haven't yet died die anyway, with no certainty about whether their descendants will survive. But the point of the book is to put such narratives in perspective. There's a beautiful little vignette, a couple of decades on from the disaster, of Isherwood the would-be teacher wanting to give the children of his tribe some basics in arithmetic, reading and writing: "But it had always been difficult to get the children together, and there seemed to be so many things that they wanted to do, either in play or in earnest, and the schoolteaching had never accomplished very much, although most of the older children could read after a fashion." There, in a sentence, you can see the old order being given up — not with a struggle, but with a shrug. You feel the poignancy of it, and you assent to the larger story that Stewart's telling. Then you raise your eyes from the book and see your own landscape, imagining how it would be without humans. Like the very best SF, Stewart returns you to the world you're in, but shows you it transformed.

Graham Sleight was born in 1972 and lives in London, UK. written reviews and essays on science fiction and fantasy for The New York Review of Science Fiction, Foundation, Interzone, SF Studies, SF Weekly, Infinity Plus, Strange Horizons, Vector, and Locus Magazine. He's served as a judge for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for 2005 and 2006, and becomes editor of Foundation from the end of 2007.

Graham Sleight is one of the ten Locus reviewers. Every issue, we cover over 50 books and magazines, most before they appear in print. A subscription will get you all those as well as the rest of the magazine -- news, People & Publishing, commentary, reports on events, and a list of all books and magazines published that month.

Locus Magazine Publisher & Editor-in-Chief Charles N. Brown made these remarks about Clarke and Stewart in his editorial in the October 2006 issue where Graham Sleight's column above appeared.

Since the purpose of Graham Sleight's book column is to give you a look at "classics" through the eyes of someone younger, we don't try to edit him the way we would edit Gary K. Wolfe or Russell Letson or others. So I get my say here.

2001: A Space Odyssey was never a classic in its book form. The movie was, and is, the classic version. The book has explanations, but the power of the movie is that there are no explanations. It gave rise to months, if not years, of arguments. I was fortunate enough to see the preview before the final cut, and to get Clarke to talk about it that week for Lunacon. It was a pretty wild experience. But the book never did much for me.

Rendezvous with Rama shows Clarke at his best in the sheer awesomeness of the concept of Rama, and at his worst in the interchangeable characters. It's a great Stapledonian book and is one of my favorites. I hated the Gentry Lee sequels.

The City and the Stars is a very strange book. Clarke wrote novella Against the Fall of Night during WWII, lost the manuscript, and rewrote it for publication in 1948. He expanded it for book publication in 1953, was still dissatisfied and rewrote it — again! — as The City and the Stars. The original short version is still in print and is preferred by a good part of the audience (including me). The original is all dreaminess, and the final rewrite adds explanation, technology, and loses the original flavor. Stick with Against the Fall of Night.

Childhood's End is definitely Clarke's greatest novel. Even after more than half a century, I can remember the wonder (and shivers!) I felt reading it in 1953. Still the best book about the end of the human race ever written.

What can I say about Earth Abides? It won the first International Fantasy Award in 1950. I didn't read it until 1951 or 1952, but have never forgotten it. It's just the opposite of Clarke. Quiet catastrophe and great characters. The book also takes place within a mile of my house. I asked Stewart about it (he was still at UC Berkeley when I moved to California) and he agreed it's actually closer to the Oakland Hills than the Berkeley Hills. Much better than Dean Ing, who exploded an atom bomb over my house in one book — and that was after he stayed here!

What do you think about these works by Arthur C. Clarke and George Stewart? Submit your comments...


At Wednesday, December 27, 2006 6:19:24 PM, Spencer Pate said...

In my view, The City and the Stars works better as a far-future fantasy than a straight science fiction novel. More than any other SF work I can think of, it closely resembles Joseph Campbell's monomyth or hero quest.

At Wednesday, December 27, 2006 6:20:15 PM, Stephen Haffner said...

I read EARTH ABIDES for the first time around 1993, and it had a surprisingly powerful effect on me. Identifying with Ish, I cheered each of his (few) successful steps forward for humanity, and was visibly moved at every "two steps backward" for his failures and/or just plain bad luck. The book is so gracefully written that I never resented Stewart's manipulations.

The book is always the first one I recommend to non-sf readers, and have gifted many a copy over the years. Some years ago, a friend of mine woke me up in the middle of the night with tears in her eyes as she wept upon the death of one of the characters whom Ish hopes will lead the rebirth of a literate society. More recently, another friend told me that she came upon the same passage while sitting on the dock of a resort lake. Her husband, hearing her sobs, came rushing over asking what was wrong.

"Xxxx died!" she cried.

"You're crying over a book?" he asked.

She went back to the book and they divorced some time later.

At Wednesday, December 27, 2006 6:20:56 PM, kontakt@acclarke.pl said...

Check out sir Clarke's Polish website - www.acclarke.pl !

At Wednesday, December 27, 2006 6:21:18 PM, Clay Evans said...

I agree with Charles Brown that the book version of "2001" is relatively minor stuff. But I also understand Clarke's frustration that so many readers consider "Childhood's End" his best work.
"The City and the Stars/Against the Fall of Night" I can genuinely credit for one of my best, earliest "sense of wonder" experiences as a young reader.

But whenever "all-time best" polls roll around, I always list "Rendezvous with Rama" in my top five or ten. True, the "characters" are kind of wooden, but the sheer alienness, scale and beauty of Rama absolutely captivated me as a kid, and still do. I love this book. Although I see Jonathan Lethem's point re awarding "Gravity's Rainbow" the Nebula for 1974 (when "Rama" won), I also think that this is Clarke's overall best novel, and it would have been a serious omission not to recognize it as such:
Great SF, in the traditional mode.

"Earth Abides" is an amazing book. A little dated, a little sexist, sure, but told with a welcome realism that makes it seem so, well, real. Sometimes I think of Ursula Le Guin's "Always Coming Home" as a sort of "sequel" to the Stewart classic.

But hey: I understand, at age 45, how "stuck" I am on the classics from my youth, especially those I discovered in the 1970s. For me, the field has never risen past those early experiences. Sure, I like "Neuromancer" (though a lot less on a second reading a couple years back than when I first read it) and "Startide Rising," and Connie Willis can keep me turning pages like a true fanatic, but I (sadly) acknowledge that yes, for me, the "golden age" was in my teens, and I never expect to be so full of wonder again.

So thank goodness for rereading Clarke, Tolkien, Dick, Le Guin, Bester, et al, from time to time.

At Wednesday, December 27, 2006 6:21:43 PM, David M Gordon said...

Leaving off my idiosyncratic comments re the novels, I instead would like to state how much I enjoy Graham Sleight's monthly column.

Our shared field of vision, the literature of SF, is in danger of losing its foundational footing, its history. It seems we all seek the newest new thing, no matter its guise. In that quest, readers read ever fewer of the classics, and publishers keep those same books in print for less time than ever. Where lies the finish line to this recursive chase? I know that despite the breadth and depth of my reading, I too am drowning in a diluvian flood of books, most of very recent vintage.

So Graham's efforts are not only important, but crucial. It matters little, if at all, whether I (or any reader) agree with his assessments, only that he begins the conversation. That he does so as intelligently as he does is remarkable in itself; but that you, Locus (both print and online), provide the venue to initiate and continue the conversation...

What can I say but, "Thank you, Locus!" Even though your request is not a referendum on Graham's efforts, I use my 2¢ with a request... Please continue to publish Graham's musings on a monthly basis.

At Wednesday, December 27, 2006 6:22:05 PM, Carl Glover said...

The idea of having sf classics evaluated by someone "younger" (than the average reviewer?) is a good one, but Mr. Sleight at 34 is not young enough to fully apprehend the sense of awe and wonder many of these works engendered for those of us who first read them at our Golden Age (i.e., 12). He proves it by essentially doing an academic analysis, which is fine as far as it goes, but it inevitably misses the point. I know that, had I read "Childhood's End" and "Earth Abides" (or many of the other greats) for the first time at 34, I would not have reacted to them in the same unforgettable way that I did at 12. At age 60 now, I am convinced that great science fiction can only be fully appreciated when young, when life and the universe seem full of infinite possibility.

So, what is it that makes these classic works live in the memory, when others have faded away? I don't know, and I'm not sure I want to know. I haven't read many of them since to try to find out, because I know I'll be disappointed. It's enough to relive the marvelous memories of experiencing them for the first time. Mr. Sleight is perhaps making an effort to articulate the reasons, but I'm not convinced that anyone can effectively do so. I believe that the best science fiction has its most profound impact at an unconscious level, in a part of the mind that is open to sensation for only a few brief years before it closes for good in the face of harsh reality. The experience can never be recaptured, or convincingly explained. Only the memories linger, and that's enough for me.

At Thursday, December 28, 2006 4:29:13 PM, Jonathan Vos Post said...

People will be reading Sir Arthur C. Clarke as long as they are reading Shakespeare. And he knows -- as the Bard did not -- that many of the readers will live on planets not yet seen by human eyes.

Or, for the dark side of the vision, if George Stewart is the moire accurate predictor, nobody will be reading either author, a sufficiently large number of years from now.

These books were memorable to me, and helped make me a professional writer and professional scientist. Olaf Stapledon, it should be said, had characters far more cardboard in "Star Maker" and "First and Last Men" -- and yet a mighty vision indeed. Stapledon's "Sirius" has quite a good character, but it's a dog.

How clear is the Wells - Stapledon - Clarke - Benford, Bear, Brin line of descent? And where will it be in another generation?

At Friday, December 29, 2006 8:47:20 AM, Anonymous said...

Of course, "NASA's vision" is not the same as Science Fiction's visisons, nor alternative visions (Bob Zubrin's Mars Society), but this is still on-topic:

NASA's vision lost on Web generation
POSTED: 12:58 p.m. EST, December 28, 2006


"Young Americans have high levels of apathy about NASA's new vision of sending astronauts back to the moon by 2017 and eventually on to Mars, recent surveys show."

"Concerned about this lack of interest, NASA's image-makers are taking a hard look at how to win over the young generation -- media-saturated teens and 20-somethings growing up on YouTube and Google and largely indifferent to manned space flight."

"'If you're going to do a space exploration program that lasts 40 years, if you just do the math, those are the guys that are going to carry the tax burden,' said Mary Lynne Dittmar, president of a Houston company that surveyed young people about the space program...."

Okay, how about using Space fiction by Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, and Heinlein to inspire the generation? It worked for my generation, who built the real space program.

-- Prof. Jonathan Vos Post

At Friday, December 29, 2006 11:19:14 AM, Rick Novy said...

Better still, how about some space fiction by us. which comes first, interest in the space program, or firing of the imagination by SF? Real SF, not the TV kind.

On Clarke's Rama, I greatly enjoyed the book. It has that special something that pulls a reader through. On the other hand, it can be easily summarized thus: We came, we saw, we went home.

At Friday, December 29, 2006 11:21:09 AM, thomas conneely said...

I can but agree with Mr Glover's above comment about how useful it is to have Graham Sleight return to classic Sf titles,especially all of Arthur C Clarkes work, which I only discovered in the 1982 at the age of 10, and rapidly read everything i could find. I now find myself slowly buying 1st editions of Clarke at a much greater price than my cheap Pan paperbacks of yore....
These reviews are something i would love to see more of in Locus, not just every second month. As a sidenote, I would also find it intriguing to see how the opinions of reviewers have changed to titles published iin the last decade or so - say before 1995. The Locus review archive is a valuable resource, which coule easily be utilised in this regard. How many of the best of list of 1986 or 1996 have stood the test of time? how many, indeed, are still in print, or have remained in print since, - not always an indication of quality, i'll admit, but interesting nevertheless.

At Friday, December 29, 2006 11:19:35 PM, John Beam said...

I've always enjoyed "A Fall of Moondust", as well as the books mentioned above. I like Clarke's neat depiction of the lunar environment, as well as his characters and their varied reactions to the situation in which they find themselves. The book is to my mind an excellent "Cozy Catastrophe".

At Saturday, December 30, 2006 12:14:09 PM, Graham Sleight said...

Hello, all. Sorry it's taken me so long to reply here, but Christmas festivities have kept me away from the internet. Thanks to everyone for their comments and kind words; since I don't want to write a response that's longer than the column itself, let me restrict myself to a few points.

Spencer Pate, I'm sure you're right that The City and the Stars maps closely onto the Campbell monomyth. In fact, you could argue that its stripped-down purity is one of its weaknesses: you don't get the sense of transcendence emerging from everyday reality that you do in Childhood's End.

Clay Evans: you and Charles Brown think that the novel of 2001 is relatively minor Clarke. I don't entirely disagree, and as I said in the original essay, I think some of it has dated. But I think (whether because of the collaboration with Kubrick or not) it represents an interesting structural experiment, and the jump-cuts between the very different sections give it a cumulative effect very different from the other novels I discussed.

Carl Glover: beyond a certain point, of course, I can't speak to your feeling that at 34 I'm too old to properly apprehend the sense of wonder. But my sense is that one of the things that Charles Brown and Jonathan Strahan wanted when they asked me to take on this column was that I shouldn't be 12, and I shouldn't be 80. I shouldn't be 12, so that I can talk about whether the books that were my first contact with sf still work for me as an adult; and I shouldn't be 80 because I'm from a generation whose first contact with sf included not just Clarke and Asimov but William Gibson, Karen Joy Fowler, John Kessel, and Lucius Shepard. As I see it, my remit is to say whether these classic books still stand up against both the pressure of passing time and of their successors in the genre. And, as always as a critic (though not an "academic" one), it's my job to say why. I think that's a doable and important task, otherwise I wouldn't be here.


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