The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Where I've recently read one or two Hugo-winning novels recently that I may or may not have exactly wished were winners, I have no qualms in announcing that this 1980 winner is a real winner.
It's a true pleasure to read on several levels. While the official "story" sometimes feels a bit tacked on and ethereal, the themes and the characters and the science is all top-shelf goodness.
The themes and feels are well known for fans of A. C. Clarke. He has a serious devotion to space elevators, the reduction in superstition and religion, a truly hopeful outlook on life, and a serious devotion to space elevators.
The characters here are especially awesome. Ram is the eternal can-do man, the scientist-engineer hero that battles technical issues, economists, politicians, pop scientists, and sheer bad luck. Sometimes this hero arc is an old cliche in SF, but here, I felt none of it. He was a real joy to follow. Even better was place and history AS character, with ancient mountain palaces, kings, and the weight of time and even the help of religion, leading to the final foundation of this admittedly awesome space elevator. We were able to revel gloriously in setting and history as the novel built up to the crescendo within "The Stairway To Heaven". This is theme and novel structure firmly in control of a master storyteller, and I am giddy even now just thinking about it. :)
But never fear, if you're worried that nothing much happens, because the novel is full of ideas and conflict of an intellectual and engineering perspective. A robot probe sent from an alien race comes and tells us that we're idiots, which should come as no surprise to anyone reading this review, but more importantly, it serves as a very smart impetus for us to get off our asses and solve our problems before we get the "real" introduction to the galactic races. Yay! If only I could wish for such a fortunate event for us!
The novel ends on some pretty cool action, in case you adrenaline junkies were wondering, but this novel is not really one of those novels. It's a smart and gorgeous growth and maturation of a grand Space Elevator and everything that it means for us. As a goal, there are few realistic short-term goals as beautiful or useful.
I loved it, and saw in retrospect that this novel is one of the primary conversations in hard science SF through the years. Kim Stanley Robinson continues and responds to this novel directly in his Mars trilogy. Stephen Baxter gives great nods to it. It's still a dream for us all. Me too.
We really shouldn't forget one of Asimov's old axims... don't put all your eggs in one basket.
Let's get out there, people!
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