My favorite Arthur C. Clarke novel

The City and The Stars cover

©Arthur C. Clarke.

I learned this morning that science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke has died. He was the last survivor of the Big Three names in science fiction from the 1940s, along with Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. Others from the time had notable careers, but these three transcended the genre and came to the attention of a wider audience, a rarity then. I read lots of books by all three, and Heinlein was always my favorite, I devoured everything of his I could find, and it spoke to me on many levels. I enjoyed the works of Asimov and Clarke, and probably felt more affinity for Asimov, not only because I liked his books, but because I enjoyed reading his monthly columns in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which I subscribed to beginning in the early 1960s.

Clarke was the one I chose last at the library, but one book of his I really loved, the one pictured above. It was actually a rewritten longer version of his first published book, Against The Fall of Night, but I never ran across that one. Some prefer that earlier version, this one was all I knew, and I thought it top notch. The story begins in a distant future city on a very old and nearly deserted Earth. The city is run by a computer (presaging Clarke’s 2001), and inhabited by a few old souls and one new one, the protagonist. He is an explorer by nature, and with some help, gradually uncovers many secrets about the ancient city, and the rest of the world it has sealed itself off from.

Clarke’s prose is usually emotionally calm, dwelling on facts and ideas, but something about this story really grabbed me. Perhaps it was a reflection of my own curiosity about the adult world I was not yet part of when I first read it, and the idea of discovering secrets and uncovering a wider world than others around me seemed aware of, through reading and exploring nature. I haven’t read it in a long time, and in fact I don’t own a copy, but in memory of the author, I plan to get one and reread it soon. Sure, I loved 2001 and 2010, and other books of his, but this one is still my favorite.

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