I’ve been on somewhat of a Clarke binge lately, reading two novels and a few of his short stories. If you haven’t read any of his work, I highly encourage you to pick some of it up. The two novels I read were ‘Rendezvous with Rama’ and ‘Childhood’s End’. I want to talk a little bit about them and a few of the things that make them great, and a few things that I felt were lacking.
SPOILERS TO FOLLOW
First and foremost, I want to say that Arthur C. Clarke is a capital everything FANTASTIC story teller. I could not put either of these books down and finished them within a few days. He has a way of describing things without being too wordy. Circumlocution is not in his skill set. These novels are not lengthy events, and yet they are packed with great wordsmithing.
If you read things that describe who Arthur C. Clarke was, you will often find the words ‘author’ and ‘futurist’. His novels are set in fantastical worlds where computers run everything and space is ripe for exploration.
But Will, computers do run the world and we have two cars on Mars.
Yeah but Clarke was writing before we even had a space program.
In fact, many of the things Clarke dreamed up in his writings are part of our world today. Go research it.
He also has a way of bringing you into his universe, and keeping you there. This is most likely due to his wonderful storytelling, but it’s a wonderful side effect. you get cool futures and the desire to stay in them.
Here’s where I start being slightly negative. Let’s start with ‘Childhood’s End‘. It’s split up into three parts, with the first being by far the best. In fact, Clark wrote the first part as a short story, and it was liked so much he made it into a novel.
I’m gonna be honest, I hated the ending. You can think I’m an idiot for that, or whatever, but I thought it was lame. A super powerful, corporeal presence needs a race of space devils to cultivate races to add to its hive mind?
Star Trek V anyone? You remember, the TERRIBLE one?
And ‘Rendezvous with Rama’ kind of let me down. I was entranced by the story for the whole book, and then BAM! ‘Well actually Rama is just using our sun for inertia to fly off again.’
The last line was pretty good though. And I do understand that he went on to write three more books. But the second was written 17 years after the first. So for 17 years everyone was left wondering what happened with Rama. But I’m still blown away by his storytelling abilities. I spent two days enamored with finding out why Rama was here only to find out that Clarke didn’t even know!
Clarke is great at writing, but not great at writing characters. And this is by design. He doesn’t focus too much on his characters because they aren’t the center of the story. His ideas and visions of the future are. Don’t get me wrong, i still like some of his characters. They’re often just used to add some new idea to the story, not to be the focus of it or thicken the plot.
I hope that this post drives you to appreciate Clarke. He was a great writer, and a dreamer of dreams. If you haven’t read the books i talked about, go pick them up. Maybe you’ll like the plots more than I did. But one thing’s for sure: you will finish them. And you will probably finish them quickly.
And when you finish great Sci Fi quickly, you have more time to write great Sci Fi 🙂