Arthur C. Clarke
Completed 7/4/2016, reviewed 7/5/2016
Couched in a travelogue story about a man from Titan visiting the earth to help celebrate the U.S.’s quadricentennial, this novel is a look at where we can be in another two hundred years. It predicts a future where being bisexual is the norm and technology has advanced us to a non-aggressive, relatively peaceful world. It is great reading, though in place of much action, Clarke’s writing fills you with a sense of scientific wonder.
Duncan Makenzie is the second clone of the family which administers what passes as government on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. He is chosen by his “parents” to represent Titan at the
quadricentennial and to “father” a new clone for the family from himself. The story is predominantly about his travel
to Earth, his exploration of what Washington
and New York
have become, and his finding out about what happened to the two loves of his
youth, Calindy and Karl.
The plot is dotted with scientific and social predictions. Clarke spends a lot of time talking about space travel using hydrogen. Titan is primarily a hydrogen mining colony for this purpose, holding up its economy with this industry. He also talks a lot about the search for extraterrestrials and the technology needed to accomplish this. A little more closer to today, Clarke predicts the internet, hand held devices, and Skype, although their use is still command line oriented rather than graphical interfaces. And granted, picture phone calls have been predicted for a long time.
Clarke predicts that technology has made the world a better place, more peaceful, with very little violence. This is a dream that many writers have fantasized about, but we never seem to accomplish. Looking at life today, the growth of technology has done nothing for peace. Even the work week for many of us has stretched beyond forty hours rather than shrinking it, increasing stress rather than reducing it. Today, it is still a pipe dream, but perhaps it can still be something to hope for.
Also on the social level, I found it very interesting that Clarke did a terrific job writing about a bi-normative society with minimal propaganda. He doesn’t beat us over the head with it, it just is.
Duncan simply loved both
Karl and Calindy when he was younger.
This is very refreshing and amazing for a book published in 1976.
There is one part that is disturbing, the cloning process. Successfully cloned embryos are gestated by a farm of women who want to have children. The disturbing part is that they are mentally or physically disabled in some way. It’s like Clarke is saying that these women have no option for having children other than by joining a baby making farm. He’s also saying that these women want to have children for the sake of the birthing of children and giving them away, not for the sake of loving and raising them. I can’t imagine where he got this idea.
I give this book three stars out of five. Really, it’s a four star book, but I took off one star because of the baby farm concept. That was too disturbing to ignore in rating the book. Otherwise, it was very readable despite the hard science. The chapters are short, making the technology easy to follow, rather than being overly long complex descriptions. The character of
Duncan is extremely well developed, and the
distinction between himself and his “fathers” is subtle but tangible. The plot may be a little thin, being
primarily a travelogue, but it is a very good, interesting read.