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text 2015-09-01 17:45
U.S. Kindle Sale: Arthur C. Clarke
Childhood's End - Arthur C. Clarke
2010: Odyssey Two - Arthur C. Clarke
The Garden of Rama - Arthur C. Clarke,Gentry Lee
2061: Odyssey Three - Arthur C. Clarke
The Songs Of Distant Earth - Arthur C. Clarke
The Fountains of Paradise - Arthur C. Clarke
3001: The Final Odyssey - Arthur C. Clarke
Rama II - Arthur C. Clarke,Gentry Lee

Currently $1.99: Childhood's End, The Songs of Distant Earth, The Fountains of Paradise, 2010, 2061, 3001, The Garden of Rama, and Rama II, by Arthur C. Clarke.

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text 2013-11-02 02:20
"Fountain of knowledge?"

For truly serious book lovers...the fountain in front of the Cincinnati Public Library... 


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review 2013-10-18 05:52
Echo the lobster
The Fountains of Neptune - Rikki Ducornet

I can hear the waves sucking at the land's edge; I can hear the parables, the fables of water, the elusive but lyrical weatherglass vocabularies of water.

The third in Rikki Ducornet's elemental tetralogy, The Fountains of Neptune picks up some threads from the first two books, drops others, and spins some new ones to create a dreamy but sluggish narrative about a boy who spends half a century lost in a coma, falling unconscious in 1910s France and waking up, two world wars later, with his childhood completely lost to him.

‘Water, both real and metaphorical,’ as Ducornet nudges us, ‘is in evidence everywhere.’ It is an accident in the water that sends our narrator Nicolas into his fifty-year sleep; the sea also had something to do with the mysterious loss of his parents; and most of all, the ocean, transparent but also deep and unknowable, functions as a symbol of the unconscious that Nicolas is trapped in for so long.

The most successful parts of the book are the early sections describing Nicolas's childhood in a French fishing village on the Atlantic coast – a chaotic, dangerous world of sailors and down-and-outs that might remind you of the first few chapters of Moby-Dick, or alternatively, depending on your frame of reference, of certain tavern scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean. The seafront bars are presided over by a monstrous ship's carpenter and drunkard called Toujours-Là, whose misogyny and dark, destructive Manichaeanism continues an archetype that began with the Exorcist in Ducornet's first book and was developed by de Bergerac in the second.

‘Don't believe the crap you hear!’ he barked. ‘The universe and all its filthy planets were not created by God but by the Devil. Every morning the sun rises with an empty belly and at night she sinks bloated with blood. You've seen how the moon circles the world like a clean bone?’ I nodded. ‘Like a skull licked clean of meat,’ he insisted.

Like many of her previous characters, Toujours-Là sexualises everything, and turns every little circumstantial phenomenon into a matter of strained gender relations. You know, like this:

He groaned and his lips were flecked with foam. ‘I swear: THE FOG STILL SMELLS OF THAT SLUT'S CUNT!’

The book comes disturbingly alive whenever he's around, which unfortunately, and despite his name, is too rarely. Ducornet's exploration of sexual politics and identities – an exploration that to me seemed strikingly fresh and unusual – is indeed rather abandoned in this novel, to be replaced by ideas of the subconscious. The themes are not unrelated, but I couldn't help feeling a bit disappointed that she'd dropped what I thought of as her specialist subject.

The thing is that Nicolas, the narrator, is just not a very compelling central character. (His nickname, Nini, suggests the French phrase for ‘neither…nor’.) And his narrative voice also falters at times: he says things like, ‘Thinking of him now, my heart pulses like a full-fed river,’ which, without wanting to speak for my entire gender, doesn't seem like a very guy-ish thing to say, somehow. Consequently his psychiatric problems and their solution never really felt very important, even though Ducornet has some interesting things to say about the way our unconscious minds seem to work.

‘We forget that thought is a process which has evolved over the ages from anterior stages. Just as our finger-bones still resemble those of the lizard, so at depths deeper than dreaming our thoughts may echo the lobster's.’

There is something unintentionally funny about the use of the word ‘lobster’ there which, again, makes me worry that she is not totally sure-footed in the way she puts this story together. On the other hand, every now and then you will still come across a sentence that demands to be enjoyed more than once.

The smell of smoke which still permeates the spa – stronger, even, than the stench of sulphur – is not the odour of war but of skin kindled and rekindled by unconsummated desire.

It is instructive – though a little frustrating – that this book covers such a dramatic period in European history without really touching on any of it except in passing: Nicolas sleeps through it all. A case is being made here (on my reading of the book anyway) for the primacy of the interior world over exterior events, even ones this earth-shattering: there is an argument in here that what we invent – let us go ahead and use the word ‘fiction’ – is just as real as the real world, indeed in some ways is more real.

I insist that the self is rooted in nostalgia and reverie, and that they are the fountains of Art. I argue that Art reveals the real. That the existential is always subjective. All that is true is hidden deep in the body of the world and cannot be taken by force. It must be dreamed and attended and received with awe and affection.

I am not sure how far I would accept this argument (there is a very valid counterargument involving the word ‘self-indulgence’), but I liked seeing it made in this interesting way. Overall I found this book less successful than its predecessors, but there's still a lot of interesting ideas to get to grips with – and other concerns aside, it's always a pleasure to swim for a few days in Ducornet's salty, pelagian prose.

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review 2013-09-19 00:00
The Fountains of Paradise (SF Masterworks, #34) - Arthur C. Clarke Just finished writing a collection of short stories so my need to write is really low.
Anyways this novel sucks. But this collection of ideas is extraordinary! Solar mirrors on Mars, moon mining, magnetic rails... awesome. I could plagiarise this book alone and have enough inventions for two or three livelihoods!
Well done.
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review 2013-07-18 00:00
The Fountains of Paradise
The Fountains of Paradise - Arthur C. Clarke
"There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold
And she's buying a stairway to heaven"
Hmm... not an entirely appropriate Led Zep reference I suppose but I got to start the review somewhere, and the phrase "Stairway to heaven" does appear in the book, but regrettably not the guitar solo.

It is quite often pleasant to go into a book without knowing anything about it. Not exactly the case with this one, I knew it is about space elevators, it's not exactly an obscure book by an unknown author but beside the two words "space elevator" I have no idea what else to expect. I vaguely remember attempting to read this book in my teens but could not get into it, I found it to be very dry. On this occasion the pages just fly by very pleasantly.

This is a "near future hard sf" set in the year 2142, with some early chapters set 2000 years earlier for effect. Basically it is the story of the first implementation of a space elevator, and idea conceived in the 60s but yet to become reality as - among other reasons - the super strong cables required can not be produced at an affordable cost just yet. I love the idea of space elevators, they seem to be much more elegant than noisy rockets. The idea that some kind of satellite keeps the elevator cables taut by its geosynchronous orbit, I can just imagine the cables going up and up into the sky seemingly fixed on nothing because you can not see the satellite it is hooked on. If my inexpert description makes no sense to you, you may want to Google space elevators. Two recent sci-fi books I read feature this mode of interplanetary transportation, Alastair Reynolds' [b:Chasm City|89185|Chasm City|Alastair Reynolds|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1309203334s/89185.jpg|2926628] and Kim Stanley Robinson's [b:Red Mars|77507|Red Mars (Mars Trilogy, #1)|Kim Stanley Robinson|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1320484020s/77507.jpg|40712]. Both are excellent books, well worth reading. In both books the space elevator is not the focus of the story, it is something in daily use, which makes the idea even more vivid for me.

Clarke is of course a giant of the sf genre, but I suspect he does not get enough credit for his fiction writing skills. While it is true that his prose lacks poetic or literary quality of Iain M. Banks, Jack Vance, Gene Wolfe etc. and that his characters tend to be under developed. However, his writing is clear, accessible and visual. The Fountains of Paradise is written with Clarke's customary attention to details, especially where science is concerned. He examines the idea of the space elevator from all possible angles, technical, political, religious, social etc. He even dreamed up a few plausible contingencies that may occur.His humanity, compassion and optimism is also present in this book. The main protagonist Dr. Vannevar Morgan is another one of Clarke's stock stubborn heroic scientist archetype, we don't really get to know him in depth but he does drive the plot forward effectively without hindering the entertainment value of the book. Nobody really reads Arthur C. Clarke for the characterization.

There is even a bit of what seems like self-referential humour in the book:

“I once saw an old space movie at the Sydney Art Museum that had a shuttle craft of some kind with a circular observation lounge. Just what we need.” “Do you remember its name?” “Oh—let’s think—something like Space Wars 2000. I’m sure you’ll be able to trace it.”

(I think it's a reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey)

My only criticism of The Fountains of Paradise is the alien "Starholmers" who seem to have been shoehorned into the story unnecessarily. Aliens are great for space operas, first contacts or alien invasion stories but in this book they are not the focus of the story, they just make a sort of cameo appearance and somehow subtract from the level of realism of the book. Another minor gripe is a rescue scene late in the book which goes on too long for my taste. The ending is nice and poignant though.

The Fountains of Paradise is a classic and a quick read, definitely a must-read.
(4.5 stars at least).
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