Tag Archives: Arthur C Clarke

Galactic Empires: Volume One

Hermetic Library Anthology Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Galactic Empires: Volume One [Amazon, Local Library] ed Brian W Aldiss.

Aldiss Galactic Empires Volume One

This anthology volume is made up of science fiction stories mostly from the third quarter of the 20th century (1951-1975). It is constructed around themes within the general space opera subgenre. Its four subsections are titled “A Sense of Perspective,” “Wider Still and Wider …,” “Horses in the Starship Hold,” and “The Health Service in the Skies.” The themes were not as coherently demonstrated as I would have liked, and the book got off to a shaky start with two weaker stories from authors I like: R. A. Lafferty and Arthur C. Clarke.

It was interesting to me to read the original Asimov “Foundation” story in the text first published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1942. Although it has been decades since I read the Foundation novel, one difference was obvious: Hari Seldon was not the pioneer of psychohistory, but simply “the greatest psychologist of our time” (96). I suspect some actual psychologists set Asimov straight regarding the aims and limitations of their discipline. The cliffhanger ending made this piece an odd inclusion here, though.

It had been a long while since I had read anything by Clifford Simak, and I found his longish story “Immigrant” to be one of the more enjoyable ones in the book. I also appreciated the rather naïve romp of Coppel’s “The Rebel of Valkyr,” even though its plot twist was telegraphed quite obviously. It offered better star wars than Star Wars. With some exceptions, I found the longer stories more deserving of my attention, and the shorter ones tended toward negligibility.

Representations of gender in these selections are often painfully dated, if not downright reactionary by today’s standards. There is only one female author included, and her story “Brightness Falls from the Air” is a mournful one about interracial exploitation.

I have a copy of Volume Two of this collection. The first volume was good enough that I expect to read the second, but not so cohesive that I feel any special urgency to do so.

2010: Odyssey Two

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews 2010: Odyssey Two [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Arthur C Clarke, book 2 of the Space Odyssey series.

Clarke 2010 Odyssey Two

Arthur C. Clarke’s “Odyssey sequence” straddles strangely the media of cinema features and text novels. 2001: A Space Odyssey was plotted by the author in collaboration with filmmaker Stanley Kubrick and then written in dialogue with the production of the movie. The mutually-informing parallel products were not identical; a few significant differences separated their plots. Clarke’s book 2010: Odyssey Two is a sequel to the 2001 movie. In every case where narrative continuity forces him to choose, he follows the film. No doubt he was motivated by the hope (fulfilled in 1984) that 2010 would also be a movie, and he wanted to make the book digestible into a screenplay without extra retconning.

In fairness, it’s likely that many more people saw the 2001 movie than read the novel. So the choice made sense for their sake as potential 2010 readers also. Still, it creates some strangeness for a 21st-century reader now approaching the books as a series.

After reading 2001 and detecting an esoteric pattern in its structure, I wondered if there would be similar references and effects in the next book. I believe there are. The most conspicuous of these is the title shared by the final section and its last chapter: “Lucifer Rising.” While it seems unlikely that Clarke took this title from the 1972 avant-garde film by Kenneth Anger, they may have had some occult inspiration in common. Another echo of magick was in the title of the second section “Tsien” (the name of the Chinese spaceship in the story) after the onetime GALCIT rocketry colleague of Jack Parsons in Pasadena.

The central character of 2010 is Heywood Floyd, the protagonist of the early lunar “TMA-1” section of 2001. Understood via a Rosicrucian-Thelemite template, Floyd is an astronaut-initiate who becomes an adept by means of his 2010 adventure to Jupiter, in a mission to recover the lost Discovery and to advance human knowledge regarding the great black monolith at the Lagrange-1 point in the Jupiter-Io system. The Star Child who had been Dave Bowman serves as a magus of the ineffable gods, giving a Word to humanity, who struggle to comprehend it.

Floyd’s 2010 expedition is a joint USSR-USA undertaking, which had become historically impossible before the end of the 20th century. But Clarke could duck any plot adjustments for those political eventualities in the next book 2061: Odyssey Three, which he managed to write a few years prior to the end of the Soviet Union. Of greater concern to Clarke was accounting for scientific developments, especially the 1979 disclosures from the probe Voyager.

Although the pacing and voice of 2010 are very similar to those of 2001, I thought the effect of the second book was much different than the first. Bowman’s ascension had been awfully lonely. The crew of the Leontov, by contrast, produce two marriages, and they witness the appearance of a new “companion” on an astronomical scale, and even the solitary Star Child redeems an old friend in 2010.

Although I know that the set-up in the first two books differs enough from the reality of our 21st century that 2061 will tell an impossible tale, I am looking forward to the first book of the sequence that we haven’t already caught up with on the calendar.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews 2001: A Space Odyssey [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Arthur C Clarke, book 1 of the Space Odyssey series.

Clarke 2001 A Space Odyssey

This read of 2001: A Space Odyssey was my first, and I last watched the film over thirty years ago. The edition in hand is the 1999 “millennium” pocket paperback, with retrospective front matter by Arthur C. Clarke discussing the authorial process. In light of that introduction, I’m a little surprised that Stanley Kubrick didn’t get a byline on the novel as a co-author. The book was plotted as a stage of the development of the screenplay, drawing on earlier stories by Clarke and incorporating Kubrick’s ideas and ambitions for the film. Then the two parallel media products were completed in dialog with each other. In the end there are some significant differences between the novel and the movie, but the book certainly exposes and clarifies many of the ideas behind the film.

Clarke wrote “hard” sf, with an effort to maintain scientific and social plausibility. So, with the passage of time, his projected world of “2001” now set a generation in our past has come to represent an alternate history, and it’s one that makes me nostalgic for turns not taken in our cultural and technological paths. Clarke’s 2001 has a manned moon base, and in general space exploration has progressed in preference to the technologies of simulation and social control that have come to dominate our 21st century to this point. He imagined a better diversion of the military-industrial complex into the work of peaceful extraterrestrial inquiry than we have been able to achieve. His geopolitical scenario failed to foresee the collapse of the USSR, but credibly made the USA and USSR allies in tension with China, as the USA and Russia arguably were in our actual 2001.

It was interesting to reflect that one of the conceits of this novel has come to dominate a lot of 21st-century sf: a “first contact” with extra-solar intelligence that is mediated by some sort of archaeological remains. I see this trope in a lot of recent space opera, including MacLeod’s Newton’s Wake, Harrison’s Kefahuchi Tract books, the Expanse series, and even Wells’ Murderbot books. I wonder if my library catalog needs an “exo-archaeology” tag to tie these works together.

Another notable feature was the epistemological feint in Chapter 15, where . . SPOILER hover over to reveal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . This passage stands as a foil for the protagonist’s later alien-curated experiences in the final section of the book, and together they offer a sfnal interrogation of human subjectivity that is not quite phildickian but still savory.

2001 has very short chapters; I usually read three or more in a sitting. These in turn are grouped into six parts: Primeval Night, TMA-1, Between Planets, Abyss, The Moons of Saturn, and Through the Star Gate. The structure suggests an initiatory ascent according to the symbol systems of modern Hermetic Kabbala: Malkuth/Earth (Neophyte), path of tav to Yesod/Luna (Zelator), path of samekh to Tiphareth/Sol (Adeptus Minor), path of gimel and Da’ath (Babe of the Abyss), Binah/Saturn (Magister Templi), and Chokmah/Zodiac (Magus). The initiand in this case would be humanity as a whole, and the viewpoint characters differ from section to section in the first half of the book.

The relationship of Clarke and Kubrick’s 2001 to Homer’s original Odyssey is not fully obvious. It seems to have been widely understood merely in the sense of episodic adventure over a journey, but my reading of the novel reassured me that the more specific sense of a homeward journey was intended, and this gist is consistent with the mystical progression that I inferred from the divisions of the text. . . SPOILER hover over to reveal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . I plan to read further in Clarke’s “Odyssey Sequence,” and I am curious to see whether the esoteric themes are perpetuated in the later books.

The Sentinel

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Sentinel [Amazon, Bookshop] by Arthur C Clarke.

Clarke The Sentinel

The Sentinel collects nine pieces of Arthur C. Clarke’s short fiction, with an author’s introduction. These represent earlier work, since the 1972 story “A Meeting with Medusa” was Clarke’s last, after which his fiction consisted entirely of novels (237). Each individual story is also supplied with a brief introduction by Clarke circa 1983.

Several of these stories are notable as having eventually contributed to novels by Clarke. The eponymous “The Sentinel” was the germ of 2001: A Space Odyssey. “Guardian Angel” was the basis of the first part of Childhood’s End. “A Meeting with Medusa” contributed premises to 2010: Odyssey Two.

Despite some later incorporation into larger works, these stories do not generally presume a shared narrative continuity or “future history.” Clarke was distinctive for his emphasis on scientifically plausible “hard” science fiction, to the point where composing a story could require “twenty or thirty pages of orbital calculations” (153). As a result, his relatively near-future stories of space exploration written over four decades had to change in order to align with the real-world developments of astronautical knowledge.

Clarke tended to err on the optimistic side. It was a little sad to read him writing in 1951 about a manned lunar surface exploration in 1996 which most certainly did not come to pass (139). Generally he avoids specific dates in these stories, though.

The story that was most interesting to me was “Breaking Strain,” something of a psychological sketch regarding two men on a spaceship reduced to life support resources for one. It had a passing literary reference–somewhat anomalous among these pieces–to Cabell’s Jurgen. Another story where there was a curious real-world reference was “Refugee,” which painted a rather flattering picture of the British monarchy.

My copy of the book is a Barnes & Noble reprint of the Byron Preiss Visual Publications collection. It includes attractive and apt illustrations by Lebbeus Woods in black and white–roughly one full-page drawing per story (and in one case a two-page spread).

The City and the Stars

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke.

Clarke The City and the Stars

In his preface, Arthur C. Clarke identifies this 1950s work as a second pass at his first novel (i.e. Against the Fall of Night). I haven’t read the earlier book, but the two share about 25% of their content, and the author presents The City and the Stars as a very complete revision.

The City and the Stars is plot-intensive, and the ratio of major, world-tilting events to page count is quite high. The characters are fairly flat, but the high concepts tend to compensate for that. As is typical for him, Clarke’s futurological intuition is very solid, and in the long lifetime since this book was written there have been no technological developments to trammel up and obsolesce the details of the far future that he offers here. He has virtual reality, distributed computing, matter synthesis, artificial intelligence, non-viviparity, and gravity control as features of a post-imperial no-longer-star-voyaging technocracy.

Although this book has aged reasonably well, it didn’t really blow my mind–especially given how many of its concepts have been taken up and rehearsed in later science fiction works. It is tangent to, if not firmly within, the “dying earth” subgenre, as it features terrestrial posthumanity in a stagnant, insular society. It could have supplied some inspiration for Michael Moorcock’s excellent Dancers at the End of Time books. Another work that may exhibit traces of its influence is John Boorman’s Zardoz. Even Logan’s Run bears some similarities to it in general shape. Clarke’s protagonist Alvin, a “unique” who is in his person a calculated disruption of his engineered, sealed society, seems also to be echoed in the Neo of the Wachowskis’ Matrix movies.

The book as a whole isn’t terribly long, and the short chapters and intense plotting keep it moving at a fast clip.