Sunday, March 25, 2007

"The Songs of Distant Earth" (novel): Unputdownable!

Review of the novel titled The Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur ClarkeWhile this 20 year old book is not among my all time top five science fiction novels, it must come among those immediately after them. Fast paced, very readable, & one of the most optimistic treatments of doomsday in fiction. And some very interesting ideas for the technical minded.

Note that this story is essentially an expanded & better developed form of "Rescue Party" - mother of all Clarke fiction.

Story summary (spoiler).
Main story is about the visit (to pick up supplies) to a small isolated community by a group of visitors on their way to a far off place. In a very exotic background & locale, 1500 years in future.

Story has a cooked up doomsday background: there is laboratory evidence that Sun is about to die by exploding - means the end of solar system, including earth. And you don't have warp drive or space drive or similar contraptions of Star Trek ilk. Any action is to be based on nearly current level of human knowledge. You are given a few hundred years to prepare for it.

This background description actually occupies very few pages, & in flashback. Action occurs on a little watery world (remember Hollywood movie Waterworld?) 50 light years from earth.

There are a few sad & nostalgic pages, but mostly a very optimistic drama about the best that makes us human.

An energy source.
Among a variety of cool devices described, there is one I had never heard of before. After some checking in physics literature, I know I am not the only optimist (yeah - I know wishful thinking!) that some day our energy problems might be solved by an unconventional source with a rather exotic name - "zero-point energy".

It is a physical phenomenon first described in 1913 by Albert Einstein & Otto Stern: every volume of space, including interstellar vacuum, is bubbling with an "absurdly huge" amount of energy visible only at a microscopic level.

A bit of googling threw it up as one of the biggest hurdles in today's nanotechnology - small structures are exposed to so much energy they keep getting twisted & torn! There are hints on web of credible projects currently on based on the hope we can tap this energy.

Trivia.
This novel is an expansion of a 3 decade older short story of the same name, according to Clarke's introduction to shorter version in "The Collected Stories of Arthur C Clarke". Short was first published in "If", Jun 1958. I haven't read the shorter version yet.

Fact sheet.
The Songs of Distant Earth, novel, review
Author: Arthur C Clarke
Genre: Science fiction
First published: 1986
Rating: A

Series: "Rescue Party" (A), "The Songs of Distant Earth" (A)

See also.

  1. Songs carries unmistakable influence of Clarke's short story "The Star" published 3 decades earlier. Both share the same doomsday scenario.
  2. Plot of this novel, & also of "The Star", is very similar to that of "Rescue Party" - first story ever published by Clarke.
  3. "Improving the Neighborhood" also has zero-point energy, but it makes earth & moon explode in an accident!
  4. Alastair Reynolds' "Turquoise Days" appears to have borrowed a plot element from Songs.
The novel is also included in the following collections.
  1. "The Sentinel (collection)" (unless there is another short story version with the same title!)
  2. "More Than One Universe" (unless there is another short story version with the same title!)

3 comments:

Blue Tyson said...

There is a Songs Of Distant Earth short story, actually.

Tinkoo said...

Blue Tyson: There is both a short story (1958) (included in Collected Stories) & an expanded novel version (1986). This post is based on the novel. I haven't read the shorter version.

Blue Tyson said...

Yeah. I haven't read the long one. :)