17 September 2008

What am I reading?

I'm trying something new. Each Wednesday I'm going to post something about whatever book I happen to be reading. That's the theory anyway. Let's see how many Wednesdays I can go before I miss one. Hopefully it'll be incentive for me to read more, too.

This Wednesday, I'm reading Arthur C. Clarke's Against the Fall of Night. Its original copywrite is 1953 and this edition, from April 1970, has a fascinating Publisher's Note that I'll add at the end of the post. Clarke is -- sorry, was ( ::sad sigh:: ) one of the masters of the sci-fi genre. He used (I cannot get used to that past tense.) science fact to write speculative fiction. This book is set so far into the future that he tosses out words like century and millenia like we would use minutes and years. The human race has expanded out into the universe and been driven back to Earth by "the Invaders", and even that was all so long ago that no one living (despite their slowly aquired immortality) was living then. The contraction of the human race over countless eons down to one enormous, automated city - Diaspar - has at the same time been both the deliverance and the slow destruction of the species. Unimaginative, incurious, afraid, patient to the point of stagnation, humans have lost what made their ancestors human. Until our hero, Alvin, the first child born in seven thousand years, grows into a boy who questions...everything.

And that's where the story begins as the last cloud ever seen by man crosses the sky of the desert Earth.

I'm loving this book despite its most obvious failing. 109 pages into the total 159, there has been one - one - female character. I only half blame the author. After all, it was 1953. The western world was sexist beyond anything I can comprehend and, quite simply, Clarke wasn't writing for the audience that is me. Setting aside what I tend to refer to as the quaint sexism of early sci-fi, it's a beautiful illustration of a future too big and broad to be real to our minds, but at the same time too familiar to the themes facing the world today to be comfortable. We are back sliding rather badly here in the US, de-evolving right before our very eyes. We need an Alvin to shake things up.

I'm looking forward to seeing where the story goes and where it ends.

Okay, here's that Publisher's Note I mentioned. Check this out:

"Against the Fall of Night is a novelty even in the novel field of science-fiction publishing. Published in 1953 by Gnome Press, it earned critical acclaim and reader popularity. Then, in 1956, Mr. Clarke published a completely rewritten version under the title of The City and the Stars, exercising his author's privilege to have "second thoughts" about his work. There has been no general agreement on which is the better book. Pyramid is proud to present the author's original inspiration in the form in which it first appeared."

I love that: a novelty even in the novel field of science-fiction publishing. I'm going to have to keep an eye out for a copy of The City and the Stars so I can make my own comparison.

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