Friday, June 1, 2007

"The Ghost from the Grand Banks" (novel): Deep sea treasure hunt

Review of the novel titled The Ghost from the Grand Banks by Arthur ClarkeOn the face of it, this story is about an unsuccessful attempt to salvage the wreck of Titanic, the well-documented passenger ship that sank on its maiden cross-Atlantic voyage early in twentieth century. But that is just the facade.

Real story is about technology & business issues involved in deep sea salvage operations. With some human interest elements. And many unrelated tangent tracks.

Grand Banks in title refers to Grand Banks of Newfoundland - some place in North Atlantic where Titanic sank. Ghost, of course, refers to ghost of Titanic.

This is not among the best of Clarke. But, depending on your technical background & patience, it may be readable.

Story summary (spoiler).
Most of the story is set in early twenty first century. A little bit, involving aliens, is set eons later, & generally represents a tangent track similar to one found at the end of "The Fountains of Paradise".

There are actually a whole lot of tangent tracks - reviving the long dead in certain circumstances; Mandelbrot Sets (certain mathematical abstractions); a giant octopus chase; mapping the sea bed; glass making; mostly COBOL code date related software bugs popularly known as Y2K, & a rather fancy AI-based solution to it; ...

Main story involves three entities: Some British entreprenures funded partly with US money will salvage one of the two parts of the Titanic wreck; a Japanese company will salvage the other half; Internation Seabed Authority (ISA) is a watchdog & is part of UN.

Two separate entities for raising either half allow examination of more than one technology for raising the wreck.

Britishers will make some kind of harness around their half, & raise it by floating billions of tiny air bubbles covered in glass under it.

Japanese will make a huge iceberg under sea that entirely covers their half of the wreck, & use rockets for additional lift! On objections from environmentalists, they use an alternate technology: generate billions of amps of electric current at sea bottom for electrolysis; resulting oxygen & hydrogen will fill baloons that will lift the giant ice cube to surface!

Entire operation is wrecked at the eleventh hour by a big undersea earthquake. Quake has set an undersea avalanch of mud that has buried Titanic so deep no humans will ever get at it. There is also a rather filmy sequence around this time where an ace sea veteran is killed.

Move ahead eons. Current continents are now under sea; current sea bed is part of the new continents; new mountains have risen. In the intervening period, Mercury, Venus & Mars were colonized & terraformed.

But there has been a disaster: a black hole no one can locate has eaten up Pluto. This apparantly triggered the migration of humans off this solar system eons back - in search for safer home elsewhere. Solar system, including Earth. is now abandoned. Saturn has lost much of its ring system.

An alien civilization apparantly picked up human signals in times long past, & one of their spaceships has come to investigate. After spending some years examining earth & finding no signs of intelligence now or in past, they pick up a magnatic anomaly deep inside a mountain! You guessed it - it's the long buried Titanic!

Fact sheet.
The Ghost from the Grand Banks, novel, review
Author: Arthur C Clarke
First published: 1990
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: B

See also.

  1. "The Fountains of Paradise": Idea of introducing aliens in the last few pages in a story that is otherwise down to earth is very similar.
  2. "The Deep Range": Another Clarkian story that is primarily concerned with the earth's seas.
  3. "Richter 10": Certain earthquake scenes are very similar. A volcano named Mount Pelee at some island called Martinique is also common.
  4. "Imperial Earth": There is a museum in New York involving salvaged Titanic. One of the tracks in Ghost is about making a museum out of a part of Titanic somewhere in Florida in the US.
  5. "Cold War": Short story where an artificial iceberg will be made at sea, & towed to Miami beach is very similar in idea to covering part of the wreck in a giant man made iceberg.
  6. "History Lesson": Aliens investigating earth eons after it has been dead, & locating a kind of beacon that tells intelligent beings once lived here.

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