Which are the best must-read novels of Arthur C Clarke?

Brian G Turner

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As the title says: Which are the best must-read novels of Arthur C Clarke?

I read and enjoyed 2001: A Space Odyssey, though it was more of a cerebral experience than an emotional one.

I tried to read Imperial Earth but struggled to get into the flat narrative and dropped it.

Anyway, I figure it's time to explore other novels by Arthur C Clarke - so which are the undisputed classics by him, and what makes each book important to read?
 

chrispenycate

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You'll probably find most of them are a bit old fashioned - I wouldn't try Chilhood's End or The City and the Stars, though I loved both in the sixties. Rendez-vous with Rama (but not the sequels, Fountains of Paradise, and maybe The Light of Other Days? But even then, it's infodump - because he was explaining ideas, not doing action thrillers. Or read some of his excellent short stories - that way the dissatisfaction is sooner ended :D
 

The Judge

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I agree with Chris re the infodump and ideas -- the science always takes precedence over characterisation. If it's of help, here are some comments I've made when reading Clarke's stuff over the last few years:

Rendezvous with Rama I have rather mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I can appreciate the world-building – or, rather, the Rama-building – though I couldn't understand any of the science stuff, and I liked the clean, spare prose. However, the two-dimensional characters, the lack of character/internal conflict and the crappy dialogue were all less than enthralling. Overall, I was irresistibly reminded of Verne's A Journey to the Centre of the Earth I read a while back. There's the same detailed travelling, the same investigation of a strange land, even the same sea-journey, and the same rather "Is that it?" feeling at the end. There's no real resolution and little character development – it's all about the journey, not the destination.

Childhood's End This was a re-read from my teenage years. I recalled three of the big set-piece scenes, which shows how much it impacted on me, but I can't now remember my emotions on reading it. I hope I was horrified by the 1950s mindset that had no women in any position of authority, or, indeed, anything other than a girlfriend/wife/mother. The removal of autonomy from the human race by the Overlords also troubled me greatly this time around if it didn't originally, and despite Clarke's relentless pushing that the future for the children of Earth was a great one, I found the message terribly depressing.

A Fall of Moondust This was the literary equivalent of a disaster movie – a "boat" falls several metres into the superfine dust of the moon and we switch back and forth between the captive passengers and the attempts to rescue them before Clarke's many fiendish plot twists can kill everyone. Science takes priority over characterisation, women – as is depressingly familiar – are most definitely sidelined, and although it's a slim book, it would be a hell of a lot slimmer if it weren't for some wilful padding (and info-dumping) when it comes to the passengers and their wholly irrelevant personal histories. Nonetheless, an interesting book, well thought out, and some exciting moments.

3001 The Final Odyssey This has the usual problems I associate with the old SFers, namely character is always subordinate to plot, and plot itself takes second place to the unnecessary and terribly jarring info-dumps of scientific tidbits and asides about whatever social issues the writer feels the need to get off his chest, including here FGM, circumcision, meat-eating and religion. It's by no means a lengthy novel, barely 250 pages if we exclude the lengthy addendum where Clarke discusses the science of his world-building, but the actual relevant bits of plot and character-building would probably only amount to a third of that. Enjoyable enough, and Clarke's intelligence and love of science and technology burns through it, but I'm astounded it was published as late as 1997, when it's such a 1960s book – I can't help thinking that if it had been submitted by Arthur C Nobody it would only have been accepted once heavily pruned and presented as a short story.

The Ghost from the Grand Banks concerns various individuals/companies/organisations involved in trying to raise the two halves of the Titanic in time for the centenary of its death. I have no doubt the science and technology details are accurate, but those details are just dumped on the page alongside a hopeless mess of poor characterisation, wholly irrelevant scenes, and soul-crushing dialogue. I was thoroughly unhappy by the end of the present-day story – not least due to the sheer shocking irrelevance of most of the material to the actual plot, what there was of it, coupled with a rather distasteful sexual mores digression – and utterly underwhelmed by the tagged-on epilogue set thousands of years in the future. Really not one to recommend.

The Fountains of Paradise After getting stuck for a while on page one, this grew on me the further I got into it, with the technology of the space elevator smuggled into the story in easy dollops which I could skim-read without effort (and without understanding, it has to be admitted) and there was a serious attempt at characterisation and well-rounded characters, though – as ever with old time SF writers – this far-future world will apparently have a chronic shortage of women judging by the number which appeared.

The City and the Stars I thoroughly enjoyed even though the omniscient voice grated and the denouement was weak and rushed. Full of ideas, not least about man and his place in the universe, with characters who, for the most part anyway, were intelligent and well-drawn.
I feel a bit guilty that I can't enjoy his books more, but they are very much of their time. But with your science background you might well understand the technology stuff that I can't, and therefore you may well appreciate the novels more.
 
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Parson

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Ah, Your Honor, I object. .... Rendezvous with Rama is a must read. (Now I read this in the 60's and as a teenager so .... well Brian take this with a grain of salt.) But I still remember being dazzled by the science and the mystery of this book and I've often thought about in the intervening 50?! years. Childhood's End is a good solid read in my book, but it will read dated. I re-read it a few years back and even I (old curmudgeon that I am) was appalled by the dated assumption of the place of women. The Fountains of Paradise was my first exposure to the idea of a space elevator and although I remember nothing of the plot I remember how gobsmacked I was on the elevator idea. His moving of Sri Lanka was a bit of a difficult pill to swallow. (deep semi-pun here for anyone who might remember.) I don't much remember The City and the Stars and never read any of the "Space Odyssey books. I saw 2001 when it was first out and remember being completely confused about what the meaning of the baby and the obelisk might be. And being frustrated about an insane computer. I went to a S.F. movie and a horror movie broke out. I had no desire to read any of them after that.
 

The Judge

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Ah, but I'm never dazzled by science, Parson, so my eyes remain resolutely unblinded to a story's other strengths and weaknesses! ;)

But while Rendezvous isn't one I'd recommend to a non-SFer as an introduction to SF, I'd agree it's a classic, and one Brian should try for size, and I'm sure he'll get far more out of it than I did. And certainly Childhood's End is one I'd recommend, even with the caveat that it's dated -- as I mentioned, it's stuck with me all these years in the same way Rendezvous has done for you.
 

Parson

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Ah, but I'm never dazzled by science, Parson, so my eyes remain resolutely unblinded to a story's other strengths and weaknesses! ;)
Grins.... Well, I have to admit my time here has made me much more of a "What's happening in the plot? Does that really make sense? Who in the world talks like that?" kind of questioner than I was in my halcyon days.
 

J-Sun

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As the title says: Which are the best must-read novels of Arthur C Clarke?

I read and enjoyed 2001: A Space Odyssey, though it was more of a cerebral experience than an emotional one.

I tried to read Imperial Earth but struggled to get into the flat narrative and dropped it.

Anyway, I figure it's time to explore other novels by Arthur C Clarke - so which are the undisputed classics by him, and what makes each book important to read?
Yeah, like Dick's Androids, Clarke's 2001 is famous more for being his movie book than for its greatness (though it's still good). And Imperial Earth is bad; the worst novel of his prime period.

My suggestions:
  • Childhood's End - novels prior to this were a little too much like travelogues; this is his first great novel and should appeal to all sorts.
  • The City and the Stars - this was initially written prior to Childhood's End under another title but was revised and is an example of his transcendental streak. It'd actually be last in this list for me but many people like it a lot.
  • The Deep Range - underwater adventures in a sort of utopia; very good, if a little awkward in a couple of ways. Clarke's love of the sea figures in this.
  • A Fall of Moondust - a high-tension problem-solving tale - almost a closet drama - on a hard SF (if now inaccurate) Moon.
  • Rendezvous with Rama - the sort of archetype of the Big Dumb Object story.
  • The Fountains of Paradise - perhaps his best blend of hard SF and literary qualities, involving the concept of the space elevator. While I like 2010, (avoid 2061 at all costs; 3001 is adequate but unnecessary) I don't think anything after this is important, though some people seem to like Songs of Distant Earth a lot. (I think I've read everything but Ghost from the Grand Banks and Hammer of God, if I've got those titles right.)
Definitely a collection, such as The Collected Stories or The Nine Billion Names of God (I think that's the name of his "best of").

Edit: Okay, Nine Billion was the right book, but it came out before The Wind from the Sun which means you need it, too, or at least an anthology with "A Meeting with Medusa" in it, though it has other good things, too. And yeah, Ghost/Hammer are the only two solo SF novels of Clarke's I haven't read so I can't speak to their quality but they at least aren't as "important" as the others.
 
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Alex The G and T

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Yegads! It's been thirty or forty years since Ive read these.

Parson, reading 2001 actually helps explain a lot about the movie. It was written after the movie; so the author probably had a list of viewer complaints about things that needed explaining. :sneaky: I read 2010, then was done with that series, though.

I remember Rendevous with Rama as being thrillingly full of Sensawonder and mystery and waiting for aliens to burst out at any moment.

I read it before we knew that there were sequels in the works; so that final sentence really blew me away.

I wasn't as disappointed in the sequels as most people seem to be; but they definitely hadn't the impact of the first.

Kinda like Card's sequels to Ender's Game. Interesting concepts; but completely much less exciting..
 

Luiglin

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Love Rendezvous with Rama because it doesn't have the answers and doesn't bamboozle my noggin with science. Pity the sequels did.
 

Vince W

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For me Rendezvous with Rama is one of Clarke's best. While I agree on an intellectual level that Childhood's End is probably a must read, emotionally I would never read it again. Most people will probably disagree with me, but The Hammer of God was one of my favourites, but it's been a long while since I read it.
 

SilentRoamer

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Rendezvous with Rama gets a vote from me as well. I think this is one of the best "hard" sci fi books out there, and really showed Clarke at his best - so easy to forget Clarkes non literary achievements.

I read and really enjoyed Against the Fall of Night in my younger years.

The Last Theorem got pretty bad reviews when it was released but I quite enjoyed it, the tale definitely felt very Clarke in terms of the message and the underlying ideals.

Just to add my thoughts :)
 

Andy Mender

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I was personally impressed by The Light of Other Days, though it was also the first novel from Arthur C. Clarke I ever read. The entire Space Odyssey series is an absolute must-read. The scope, the ideas, everything. Although our technology is somewhat up to speed with Clarke's expectations from the time of writing, I feel the books remain highly inspiring. Unfortunately, I am not very fond of Rendezvous with Rama, therefore I will not recommend it. To me it's a strange book with hardly any plot development and this rather dissatisfying Is this it? at the very end, as @The Judge mentioned.
 

Rodders

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Another vote for Rama from me.

2010 was one of my earliest experiences as a emerging Science Fiction fan, so i always have fond memories of that book.
 

dwsowash

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As the title says: Which are the best must-read novels of Arthur C Clarke?

I read and enjoyed 2001: A Space Odyssey, though it was more of a cerebral experience than an emotional one.

I tried to read Imperial Earth but struggled to get into the flat narrative and dropped it.

Anyway, I figure it's time to explore other novels by Arthur C Clarke - so which are the undisputed classics by him, and what makes each book important to read?
Some of his good shorts are 'A Walk In the Dark', 'The Haunted Space Suit', 'Summertime On Icarus', and 'The Sentinel'.
I would recommend these because they haven't really become dated and still seem relevant towards today's technology.
 

Bick

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My suggestions:
  • Childhood's End - novels prior to this were a little too much like travelogues; this is his first great novel and should appeal to all sorts.
  • The City and the Stars - this was initially written prior to Childhood's End under another title but was revised and is an example of his transcendental streak. It'd actually be last in this list for me but many people like it a lot.
  • The Deep Range - underwater adventures in a sort of utopia; very good, if a little awkward in a couple of ways. Clarke's love of the sea figures in this.
  • A Fall of Moondust - a high-tension problem-solving tale - almost a closet drama - on a hard SF (if now inaccurate) Moon.
  • Rendezvous with Rama - the sort of archetype of the Big Dumb Object story.
  • The Fountains of Paradise - perhaps his best blend of hard SF and literary qualities, involving the concept of the space elevator. While I like 2010, (avoid 2061 at all costs; 3001 is adequate but unnecessary) I don't think anything after this is important, though some people seem to like Songs of Distant Earth a lot. (I think I've read everything but Ghost from the Grand Banks and Hammer of God, if I've got those titles right.)
What J-Sun said, more or less. These are all great, though I'd maybe put Deep Range a little below the others personally, and I would add The Songs of Distant Earth to the list.
 

psikeyhackr

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Do you like hard SF or not? I don't comprehend people that don't like science in their SF. I read A Fall of Moondust in 7th or 8th grade. Clarke used Plato's allegory of the cave to explain observing reality via infrared. When do reviewers mention things like that? But make a big deal of SF that you can't learn squat from?

The City and the Stars is cool. Rendezvous with Rama is interesting but not as exciting as a lot of readers make it out to be in my opinion.

For short stories be sure to see Rescue Party and The Star.
 

Edward M. Grant

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I have a feeling I've read the Rama sequels, but, like 2061 and 3001, I honestly remember nothing about them.

I really liked that the first book didn't solve the mystery of who the Ramans were or where they were going. So often in SF stories, when humans do solve the great mystery, the explanation feels much more mundane than the setup.

It's probably the Clarke novel I'm most likely to re-read (and did a few months ago when the Kindle ebook was cheap).
 

picklematrix

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His work is more cerebral than emotional, buy i found thst rendesvous and childhoods end had enough to keep me interested. I like that his books tend to be sub 100k words.
 
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