There’s a feeling I get when I look to the east

The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke reads at times like the space travel scenes in 2001: A Space Odyssey: calm and majestic. This is hard SF in the purer sense, science fiction with an emphasis on the wonders of almost-possible technology, and not much on anything else. Crises are resolved in a rational manner, and with correspondingly calm language. On one hand it reassures the reader to know that the author isn’t just randomly pulling our hearstrings, that things happen for reasons that go beyond “ooh, time for another race against the clock, now who can I place in jeopardy next?” Doesn’t make for a very interesting novel though. The Fountains of Paradise is a wonderful concept sketch of the space elevator, one of the more awe-inspiring solutions to launching people into space. And it’s not a bad novel, Clarke is a great writer, and some might find this minimalism refreshing, (it did get the Hugo and Nebula awards), but to me it’s all just too .. respectable. The opening, with its parallels between an ancient king of a Sri Lankaesque island who builds a mountain palace to bring Heaven to Earth, and a 22nd century engineer’s dream of a space elevator in the same area, made me expect something bold along the lines of “The 9 billion names of God”, but the religious themes are quickly resolved and set aside, to give way for scientific awe with some drama attached. That said, this could make an awesome movie.

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