Arthur C. Clarke: Childhood's End

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John F
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Arthur C. Clarke: Childhood's End

Post by John F » Thu Jul 11, 2013 9:19 am

This is an old science fiction book, published in 1953. It seems to be regarded as something of a classic in sci fi circles. I read it back when I was in high school, or maybe a college freshman, and recall that it impressed me. So I picked it up to find out if it still does.

Clarke prefaced the book with a disclaimer: "The opinions expressed in this book are not those of the author." That's a naive thing for the author of a novel to say, and this novel now strikes me as naive in several ways. First, the writing style - banal and gauche, it's full of clunkers with at least one cringe on almost every page. Then, the view of human nature - this is a utopian novel, but the utopia isn't created by humans but imposed on them by extraterrestrials through force majeure. Even the science is gee whiz; at the time Clarke was a strong believer in the paranormal, Yuri Geller style, and this is central to the story. Clarke himself felt compelled to add a prologue in 1989 saying that he had changed his mind, and was halfway through rewriting the novel in 1989 when he gave it up and merely retouched the first chapter to mention that men had landed on the moon.

Still, I forced myself to keep on reading, and the novel's super-Geller denouement has a certain power, despite the persistent shortcomings of the writing. I suppose I can see why it was well received, though it surprises me that several of the reviewers mentioned in the Wikipedia article on the novel praise the writing. No doubt there was a double standard at work; sci fi readers and writers have different expectations from those of literary fiction, or even detective fiction.
Last edited by John F on Thu Jul 11, 2013 6:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
John Francis

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Re: Arthur C. Clarke: Childhood's End

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Jul 11, 2013 9:39 am

You see what Harvard did to you? :mrgreen:

In terms of literary style, I was not disappointed on re-reading Walter Miller's unique A Canticle for Leibowitz. It's a pity that was both the beginning and pretty much the end of his career as a writer. And I was already college-educated when I read Stanislav Lem, who also does not disappoint. However, I have little interest in the genre anymore. Even when it is relatively plausible, in terms of an imaginative extension of current reality it falls short. Science is constantly teaching us that truth is stranger than (science) fiction. As Lem himself said (paraphrasing): No SF writer would ever have come up with AIDS--it's too improbable.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

John F
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Re: Arthur C. Clarke: Childhood's End

Post by John F » Thu Jul 11, 2013 11:12 am

"A Canticle for Leibowitz" certainly passes the Francis test. Some other authors I read way back when might fare better than Clarke - Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert - and Douglas Adams is a hoot. Adams is probably the only one of these I might be tempted to reread. I also enjoy "Dr. Who," though only those episodes with Tom Baker as the doctor. Of course these aren't serious science fiction, but then, who takes science fiction seriously? (I have an idea someone is about to tell me. :mrgreen:)
John Francis

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Re: Arthur C. Clarke: Childhood's End

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Jul 11, 2013 11:27 am

John F wrote:"A Canticle for Leibowitz" certainly passes the Francis test. Some other authors I read way back when might fare better than Clarke - Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert - and Douglas Adams is a hoot. Adams is probably the only one of these I might be tempted to reread. I also enjoy "Dr. Who," though only those episodes with Tom Baker as the doctor. Of course these aren't serious science fiction, but then, who takes science fiction seriously? (I have an idea someone is about to tell me. :mrgreen:)
There's an SF thread further down the list that was active on and off for some time.

I think the sequence for Douglas Adams was radio play, books, tv serialization, movie, and I managed to catch them all. It's kind of in a descending order of quality, though I did enjoy everything except the movie I actually saw that in Germany, where a colleague dragged me to a distant big-screen theater that had it in English.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

John F
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Re: Arthur C. Clarke: Childhood's End

Post by John F » Thu Jul 11, 2013 12:07 pm

I only know the novels and the TV series - oh yes, and the computer game - and for me the novels are better because TV substitutes sets and acting for the pleasure of Adams's writing. Kind of the opposite of Clarke - "2001" may be his best work because so few of Clarke's actual words - just the dialogue, which is typically flat - are there to deflate the story.
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Re: Arthur C. Clarke: Childhood's End

Post by sans maitre » Mon Jul 15, 2013 4:37 pm

Along with Lem, Philip K Dick is another from that era who could actually write

John F
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Re: Arthur C. Clarke: Childhood's End

Post by John F » Mon Jul 15, 2013 6:05 pm

jbuck919 wrote:I have little interest in the genre anymore.
Science fiction and fantasy used to be linked fields, indeed an early magazine named both in its title. Fantasy is a great genre - after all, that's what "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "The Tempest" are - and I'd say science fiction is a lesser included sub-genre. I suppose the difference is that both fantasy and science fiction believe in magic, but sci fi calls it science. :mrgreen:
John Francis

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