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paulgoatallen
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FEBRUARY FEATURE #1: The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl

I chose The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl as a February feature for two reasons: it's a damn good read (with some pretty powerful nostalgic "Golden Age" undertones) written by two SF legends, and it's also a bittersweet literary piece of science fiction history. The novel was not only the first collaboration between SFWA Grand Masters Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl, it was Clarke’s last work before he passed away in March of 2008.

 

Hard science fiction seems to be a dying subgenre – at least compared to a few decades ago – and this novel is 100% pure "hard" science fiction. Just listen to the premise: it revolves around a brilliant young man’s fixation with solving Fermat’s Last Theorem, “the most famous problem in mathematics.” College freshman Sri Lankan Ranjit Subramanian’s life is close to idyllic: he has his best friend and lover Gamini and his obsession with number theory. But outside the boundaries of Ranjit’s sheltered existence, humanity is racing towards almost certain self-destruction. Political and religious conflict, terrorism, and nuclear warfare have humankind on a precipice…

 

Many light years away, the flashes from humankind’s nuclear detonations have brought them to the attention of a seemingly omnipotent alien race known as the Grand Galactics, the overlords of a federation of sentient races whose mission it is to keep the galaxy safe for other races to exist and evolve. The Galactics decide that the hostile race of “upstart bipedal vertebrates” on Earth must be wiped out and send a hit squad to do the dirty work.
    

Meanwhile, Ranjit and the rest of humanity are finally making some historic strides – global peace has been reached through the creation of a nonlethal superweapon, governments are disbanding their armies, and scientific innovations are irrevocably changing civilization. But will all be for naught when the alien overlords arrive?  

 

I'm guessing SF fans over 40 will be attracted to this book more than younger readers but I would love to see some of you younger SF fans tackle this book. It's essentially a sampling of two of the biggest names in the SF genre and it'll give you a taste of what "old-school" SF is all about – an edge-of-your-seat adventure powered by uber-intellectual science-based speculation. 

Paul 

"There never can be a man so lost as one who is lost in the vast and intricate corridors of his own lonely mind, where none may reach and none may save..." – Isaac Asimov, Pebble in the Sky
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paulgoatallen
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Re: FEBRUARY FEATURE #1: The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl


Here's the PW review, by the way, which was surprisingly positive (they can be tough, especially on established authors)...

Paul 

 

Grand Masters Pohl (Gateway) and the late Clarke (1917-2008, best known for 2001) collaborated on a can't-put-down adventure that focuses on their mutual strengths: high adventure, fun characters and hard science. Sometime in the near future, teenage Sri Lankan math prodigy Ranjit Subramanian manages to reconstruct and then publish Fermat's claimed proof of his famous last theorem. As Ranjit celebrates fame and fortune, the all-powerful aliens called Grand Galactics see the flash from early nuclear explosions and decide that humanity will have to be wiped out. When Earth's superpowers deploy a new, nonlethal way of handling renegade nations and humanity begins working on global peace and large-scale engineering projects, Ranjit and his family try to broker a truce with the destructive alien force, modeling human optimism through rationality and science. Long passages of math tricks and intrusive narration mar an otherwise enjoyable tale of the struggle between reason and fear.

"There never can be a man so lost as one who is lost in the vast and intricate corridors of his own lonely mind, where none may reach and none may save..." – Isaac Asimov, Pebble in the Sky
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Nadine
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Re: FEBRUARY FEATURE #1: The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl

[ Edited ]

Paul wrote:

Hard science fiction seems to be a dying subgenre – at least compared to a few decades ago – and this novel is 100% pure "hard" science fiction.

------------------------------------------

 

I thought this was an interesting statement. Why is hard science fiction a dying subgenre? I think it is because real life technology is developing at such a rapid rate, that today's science fiction is literally tomorrow's reality. What do the rest of you think about this trend?

Message Edited by Nadine on 02-01-2009 11:38 AM
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paulgoatallen
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Re: FEBRUARY FEATURE #1: The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl


Nadine wrote:

Paul wrote:

Hard science fiction seems to be a dying subgenre – at least compared to a few decades ago – and this novel is 100% pure "hard" science fiction.

------------------------------------------

 

I thought this was an interesting statement. Why is hard science fiction a dying subgenre? I think it is because real life technology is developing at such a rapid rate, that today's science fiction is literally tomorrow's reality. What do the rest of you think about this trend?

Message Edited by Nadine on 02-01-2009 11:38 AM

Nadine:

You're absolutely right. Orson Scott Card said as much when he was here a few months ago. Let me dig up that statement because it was spot on. Give me a second...

Paul 

"There never can be a man so lost as one who is lost in the vast and intricate corridors of his own lonely mind, where none may reach and none may save..." – Isaac Asimov, Pebble in the Sky
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paulgoatallen
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Re: FEBRUARY FEATURE #1: The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl

Okay, here it is....

 

My question to Orson Scott Card was: "This question came from a Tor press release and I hope you’ll answer it – especially since this is a hot topic here in the forum: Do you consider science fiction, 'a once vibrant literature,' a dying genre? And, if so, why?"

 

His reply was:

 

"Science fiction simply isn't needed any more, not the way it was.  The tropes of Sci-fi are now available to writers in every genre, including academic-literary fiction.  There is no longer a need for a walled-off genre where we can do these social and scientific thought experiments.

 

Especially because the huge epics are now being written as fantasy novels.  You'll note, though, that most of the great new fantasy is written using the TECHNIQUES of science fiction - that is, the magical systems are presented with the thought-through details that used to be a marker of good hard-sf.

 

This is not to say that science fiction should disappear or that nobody should write it.  Quite the contrary - it's still possible for new writers to break into the field, and still possible for writers to do great work within the sci-fi tradition.  But sci-fi as the Next Literary Revolution After Modernism has run its course.  It is no longer a cutting-edge genre - the edge is now in fantasy.

 

Of course, even as I say that, great fantasy is being swamped by vampire novels.  But that's just a phase, the way there was a genre of mafia novels for a short time after The Godfather became a monster hit.  Twilight's "coattails" will fade, and the Fantasy-Sci-fi sections of the bookstores will get back to normal - and you'll STILL see Kate Elliott and Lynn Flewelling and K.J. Parker and Ken Scholes and James Maxey and Robin Hobb and George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss and Mette Ivie Harrison and Neal Shusterman and others of their ilk doing the most important work in the field.  They are ALL writers who understand sci-fi and in effect are writing fantasy within the sci-fi literary tradition - they're the ones who are carrying forward the torch lighted by Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov, LeGuin, and Herbert."


 

 

"There never can be a man so lost as one who is lost in the vast and intricate corridors of his own lonely mind, where none may reach and none may save..." – Isaac Asimov, Pebble in the Sky
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Nelsmom
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Re: FEBRUARY FEATURE #1: The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl

I got the book from the library yesterday and finished it last night.  I thought that it was very well done and loved how they gave a forward and afterword from each of the authors perspectives but also from the main characters perspective.  It was also fun that it was set in such a small island country.  I hope more people are reading it so I will add other comments when more have read it.

 

Toni

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paulgoatallen
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Re: FEBRUARY FEATURE #1: The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl

Toni:

Yeah, I'm not holding my breath waiting for people to flood this thread – it's a very good book written by two legends but it seems to me – like last month's Bones of the Dragon – the majority of people visiting this forum are into releases by "more contemporary" writers (and there's nothing wrong with that. This month's other two releases – both debuts – are exceptional!) 

 

I loved how mathematical theory really fueled this storyline – readers who enjoy hard SF will love this novel if they just give it a chance.

 

Also, wasn't it interesting how America was portrayed as bullying, warmongering and essentially evil? I would've loved to ask Clarke why he disliked the States so much... it had to be something personal. Did you pick up on that?

Paul 

"There never can be a man so lost as one who is lost in the vast and intricate corridors of his own lonely mind, where none may reach and none may save..." – Isaac Asimov, Pebble in the Sky
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Nelsmom
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Re: FEBRUARY FEATURE #1: The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl

Yea,

 

I did pick that up and some of it I think is because Sri Lanka is such a small country and well we haven't been the most peaceful country.  To a country that size I think that we would look like a bully.  It would be interesting to be able to ask him questions but we can't so I will just have to enjoyed the story and not worry about what he was thinking.  Another thing that I enjoyed about all of his books as well as this one is that I could understand the science and math to a certain extent so that I was not scratching my head wonder what was going on.

 

Toni

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Ryan_G
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Re: FEBRUARY FEATURE #1: The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl

Paul I can't speak for most people but for me I hadn't planned on reading this selection, not becuase of the contemporary/established reasons but because I have never been that much into the Science Fiction aspect of the SciFI/Fantasy genere(s).  But if both you and Toni say it's worth reading I will put it on my to do list.  Can't promise it will be during this month but I will at least get it and read it.

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Re: FEBRUARY FEATURE #1: The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl


fforgnayr wrote:

Paul I can't speak for most people but for me I hadn't planned on reading this selection, not becuase of the contemporary/established reasons but because I have never been that much into the Science Fiction aspect of the SciFI/Fantasy genere(s).  But if both you and Toni say it's worth reading I will put it on my to do list.  Can't promise it will be during this month but I will at least get it and read it.


Ryan:

I think you are like many "younger" readers – fantasy is more of a draw to you than SF, especially hard SF. It parallels what Orson Scott Card say in December when he was here: SF is no longer the "cutting edge" genre – it's become contemporary fantasy. I agree with him to a certain extent and I don't want to pressure you to read this book but if you want to cleanse your palate of all of the fantasy you read, I would definitely  suggest this book – it's old-school SF through and through.

Paul 

"There never can be a man so lost as one who is lost in the vast and intricate corridors of his own lonely mind, where none may reach and none may save..." – Isaac Asimov, Pebble in the Sky