Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Novels of Arthur C. Clarke: A reading guide by quality

The very best:

  1. First half of "Richter 10": A man has figured out a way to tame earthquakes.
  2. First of the four stories in "2001 A Space Odyssey". Explores the earliest human history - the process of beast becoming man. And very readable - no preaching.
Among the most down to earth: "The Deep Range". With population exploding, how about taking farming to seas - so we get more food supplies? Remember - 75% of earth's surface is sea.

Outstanding thriller: "A Fall of Moondust". A bunch of revelers have vanished from the radar of the rest of humanity. Will they live? Will they ever be able to talk to their kin?

A rare doomsday story that has become my favorite: "The Songs of Distant Earth". No need to get depressed with the worst that life can throw at you!

Outstanding fantasy: "The City & the Stars". If you like Harry Potter, you will enjoy it. Else, forget it.

All Clarke novels I have read; entries higher in the list are generally better reading choices:
  1. With (Late) Mike McQuay: "Richter 10": A man has figured out a way to predict earthquakes months in advance, & now has a plan to stop them from ever occurring again!
  2. "The Deep Range": Farming moves to seas, with whales as main meat cattle.
  3. "A Fall of Moondust": A group of revelers have vanished. How will they be located?
  4. "The Songs of Distant Earth": Optimists shall inherit the world.
  5. "2001 A Space Odyssey": Transformation of apes to men. Plus contact with helpful aliens that are indistinguishable from gods. Plus some Hindu mythology.
  6. "The City & the Stars": Harry Potter style fantasy. Very readable.
  7. "Islands in the Sky": A very readable space adventure that describes some futuristic space station designs. Has far more human interest elements than "Rendezvous with Rama", another story that is essentially a description of a machine.
  8. "The Fountains of Paradise": Bringing down the cost of space flight, & making it affordable for the masses. Plus a dozen diversions unrelated to main story.
  9. "Rendezvous with Rama": A beautiful & harmless alien spaceship is passing through our solar system.
  10. "The Sands of Mars": Terrafarm Mars so its air becomes breathable by humans.
  11. "Imperial Earth": In a background of politics, diplomacy, & business interests, this story describes life on earth about 3000 AD, a settlement on Titan (a moon of Saturn), & voyage in a passenger liner from Titan to earth. Effects of higher earth gravity on out-worlders are particularly detailed.
  12. "The Lion of Comarre" (B); Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1949: A man resists the temptation to get addicted by a bizarre device that gives much pleasure, & gets a boon that will hopefully help change the future of humanity.
  13. With Michael Kube-McDowell: "The Trigger": Invention of an anti-weapon that can disable gunpowder in a certain range revives US gun control debate.
  14. "The Ghost from the Grand Banks": Technology & business issues involved in deep sea salvage operations. Mostly related to recovery of the wreck of Titanic.
  15. "2061 Odyssey Three": A trip to Hally's Comet. Plus a shipwreck & rescue thriller.
  16. "3001 The Final Odyssey": How will the world look like in the year 3000 AD? Plus humans beat gods in a live-or-die fight.
  17. "2010 Odyssey Two": A voyage to Jupiter system. Plus transformation of Jupiter into a sun, Lucifer.
  18. "Arthur C Clarke's Venus Prime, Volume 1" (of 6) by Paul Preuss (not by Clarke). This is a novel-length expansion of "Breaking Strain", published with Clarke's blessings.
  19. With Gentry Lee: "Garden of Rama": Put together a bunch of humans in an enclosed environment with ample resources, & you will quickly have a leadership that makes everyone's life miserable. Note the official order of Rama series is different from mine: the three sequels of Rendezvous in order of publication & continuity are Rama II, Garden of Rama, & Rama Revealed. But Rama II is a pretty lousy book. And you won't really lose out a lot on continuity - each book stands pretty much independent.
  20. With Gentry Lee: "Rama Revealed": Fantasy where you meet competent aliens who have made fantastic progress in genetic engineering & who put humans in zoos. Plus some revelations about the purpose of God.
  21. "Childhood's End": A second rate story about the ultimate purpose of life! Mostly based on Hindu mythology.
  22. With Gentry Lee: "Rama II": A second rate & badly written story about many things & also nothing in particular.
  23. With Stephen Baxtor: "The Light of Other Days": A third rate book around the idea of a kind of video camera with remote lens - where lens can be placed anywhere in the universe, & at present time, or any time past. Local device is connected to remote lens via a "wormhole" through fifth space-time dimension!
Links above are to my reviews of specific books. Note that occasionally the order above might disagree with ratings I have given the books in review. Rating was given when reading a book alone. Order above is when I see the whole bunch together.

Novels I haven't yet read.
The information in this section is compiled by looking up various sources, & is not first hand. Only the entries in italics are on my to-do list.
  1. "Prelude to Space" (1951): First published novel of Clarke. If "Rescue Party", his first published short story is any indication, this should be a very worthy read.
  2. "Against the Fall of Night" (1953): Since "The City & the Stars" is its rewritten version, I don't think it makes sense for me to waste time on this.
  3. "Earthlight" (1955): An adventure story involving a space battle, & part of "The Space Trilogy" (between "Islands in the Sky" & "The Sands of Mars"). This novel is an expanded version of 1951 novella of the same name; I have only read this shorter version. The shorter version describes life on moon, & a war between earth & human colonies in outer Solar System over energy resources.
  4. "Dolphin Island" (1963): Adventures of a man in a colony of dolphins.
  5. "Glide Path" (1963): Fictionalized description of the development of radar-guided aircraft descent systems.
  6. "A Meeting with Medusa" (1988): A human voyage into Jovian atmosphere, & adventures with native creatures. These creatures will appear again later in various Space Odyssey sequels. Medusa is one of the native creature species.
  7. With Gentry Lee: "Cradle" (1988): After experience with Lee's Rama sequels, I don't think it makes sense wasting more time on him.
  8. With Gregory Benford: "Beyond the Fall of Night" (1990).
  9. "The Hammer of God" (1993): Humans need to deflect an asteroid on an impact course with earth. This novel is an expansion of the short story of the same name (which I have read). This theme also appears as a subplot in "The Light of Other Days".
  10. With Stephen Baxtor: "A Time Odyssey" series: "Time's Eye" (2003), "Sunstorm" (2005), & "Firstborn" (2007). Given experience with Baxtor's "The Light of Other Days", I doubt I will ever touch either of these books. Few reviews I have seen of these books confirm the suspicion of a muddled & impossible to grasp plot.
  11. Paul Preuss's "Arthur C Clarke's Venus Prime" series, Volume 2-6. After experience with Vol 1, I don't think it makes sense to waste time with the rest.
Hmmm 23 done, only 5 more to go - as of December 10, 2007. Ignoring the ones not to be touched because they are likely to be disappointing.


Doodaddy said...

Aw, man, you have to read Dolphin Island! It's the best!

John said...

Childhood's End second rate?

I think you must be retarded.

Anonymous said...

I guess we are all entitled to our opinion, but I agree with John, "Childhoods End" is certainly not second rate. You have to remember this book was written in 1953, many of Arthur C Clarke's idea's at the time were quite visionary, and this is certainly the case with this novel. As far as the Rama series goes, I found all of these novels very enjoyable. Also can't agree with you about "The Deep Range", did not enjoy this, but have to agree with you about all the 2001 sequels, was very disappointed with them, especially when 2001 was so good.

Tinkoo said...

"Childhood's End": Actually, I liked its original shorter version "Guardian Angel" much better - that's till the time humanity gets used to overlords (but less text).

The fundamental idea of later parts is so similar to a fundamental belief of Hinduism - it felt like religion rather than sf. And I haven't much taste for religion. I wonder how other Indians have reacted to this story.

I didn't know it when I read the story & wrote my notes, but now know, that it's a highly regarded story in the West. That doesn't change my reaction though. Sorry.

Also, I found Rama sequels far worse than 2001 sequels. Originals, of course, are in a different class.