Armed with a staggering power and an infinite wisdom the invaders from outer space shock Earth into submission – but what is their purpose?
To mention any more of the story would be to give away key plot points and like film trailers, books are sadly not immune from giving things away before you even get to the main feature. Even my 1956 Pan edition gave some important things away but the newer copies are even worse. It’s a risky business this book buying.
I love this cover, it’s wonderfully dramatic and of its time and being one of those annoying fault picking people I can’t help but imagine the cost of the repair bill from the sonic boom that that ship appears to be causing.
There is something quaint about this book, with a familiar Cold War beginning and then the imagined future in which people are starting to watch three hours of TV a day! Clarke may be celebrated for preempting technological advances and such but he was pretty up on the social aspect as well. It doesn’t feel too archaic though, it’s a pleasant jaunt, a B-movie in a book or B-lit as I term it.
Once into the book, the familiar Clarke theme of our place in the universe, our journey through the stars and time if you will is explored. The scale of the notion is impressive, for most of the book these bigger scale concepts are largely played down in favour of the more human side of things, unlike the Rama series and the Odyssey books where the big ideas were the major focus. This difference in focussing makes for a more subtle approach to the stories of our civilisation and its adaptation to the new and the abstract.
For all this though, it’s not a challenge to read and by no means hard sci-fi, it’s a good literary example of the genre, one that should appeal to all readers and not just fans of the genre. at 188 pages, this is a book that can be demolished in one or two sittings, it’s impressive that a book can attempt this size and scale as well as a large time period within such a short space of paper. Any book that teaches me a new word, in this case ‘seriatim’ is always going to get my vote and that is by far the stand out word of the book yet also slightly jarring when read in context with the rest of the easy to read story.
The book is structured into three separate acts, mainly focussing on smaller aspects of the seismic event of alien contact and it’s refreshing to see the details of human life going on as well as the profound nature of the meaning of life and all that, it is fascinating to see the small part and it does add to the gravitas major themes. The characters are not the deepest but the narrative is ideas driven and the lack of depth is balanced out by the exploration of the impact extraterrestrials would have on religion and science, redefining both as we know them.
The overall mystery broods above all else in this book, it’s always there but takes it’s time to get to the reveal which is well worth the wait. It’s an impressive climax which is powerful and very visual as you would expect from Clarke. His imagery of space is always magisterial which despite its scope is always understated. A book that leaves the reader plenty to contemplate is always a good thing and this is definitely that and rightly one of the SF Masterworks range.