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On Arthur C. Clarke
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 1991 and 1994 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.
People keep saying Arthur C. Clarke should stop writing, now that
he's "past his prime." No way! I hope he's still producing
his solo works in 2001 and beyond.
Clarke recently turned seventy-five. When one says to a
75-year-old that it's time for you to stop doing the work you
love and instead you should do something else, that something
else usually turns out to be dying.
I loved Clarke's recent The Ghost From the Grand Banks. Now,
it's no Childhood's End, but it is a good piece of Clarke and I
thoroughly enjoyed it (and it's better than many of his lesser
works from his golden youth, such as The Deep Range). I also
though 2010 was a good book, by the way as good as a book
that tried to answer questions best left unanswered could be.
I dislike the general ageism in this society. Clarke, or the
cast of old Star Trek, or whomever one cares to name, should
give up doing what they enjoy doing (and their livelihood)
because they perhaps no longer do it the same way they did in
their youth? Nonsense. Fortunately, there's a greater dynamic
at play: the marketplace, which over and over and over again
validates the work of these people, by continuing to buy it in
huge numbers. May we all be so fortunate when we become senior
Ghost From the Grand Banks is sort of distilled Clarke: it's
his style concentrated, without apologies. He's always been
known for sneaking in lectures on topics that fascinate him: all
the stuff about the M-set in Ghost was the most blatant
lecturing I'd ever seen in Clarke. And he's always written long
scenes that consists of nothing but dialog, with no descriptions
and almost no speech-attribution tags. Ghost has tons of
chapters like that.
I don't think that he's lost his touch per se; rather, I think
after a half-century in this business, he knows what his readers
like (if they didn't like the lectures or the talking heads, they
wouldn't have been coming back year after year), and no longer
makes any attempt to hide what he's doing in the name of some
kind of literary pretension: he just does it, writing now
exactly the way he wants to, without any concessions to what the
critics might think. And that's fine by me.
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