|Monday, September 19th, 2016|
5:40p - Arthur C Clarke Round 19: Like A Regular Odyssey, But In Space
Death And The Senator, 1961
An overly-long and very heavily dramatic story with the tiniest scrap of science in the fiction. Not at all worth the read. I have just one vaguely interesting comment: The story hinges on the discovery that living in zero-gravity has amazing health benefits, and may even help cure advanced heart disease ... but in the long years since 1961, we've discovered exactly the opposite: Linger in space, and your health will only decline. In fact, unless you take strenuous measures to emulate the burden of gravity, your health will plummet.
The Secret, 1963
The plot hinges on the supposed health benefits of low gravity, in the same way as Clarke's "Death And The Senator", except this time it's scientists on the moon living an extra 100 years, and trying to keep the secret of their extended life from the rest of the population back on Earth, so they don't trigger a stampede. I get the impression that Clarke was pretty well convinced of the truth to this idea, and was probably shocked to learn how much the body atrophies out in space.
It is a pretty counterintuitive idea. Shouldn't less gravity equal less "stress", and therefore equal longer life? Perhaps, if you forget the fact that the body is working really hard, all the time, just to keep you alive, and will eagerly cut whatever corners it can.
Before Eden, 1961
Venus didn't turn out this way, but whatever. Clarke tells the story of team of explorers reaching the south pole of Venus, through terrain similar to Death Valley (but even more death-y), and finding a large, extremely hot lake, and an alien life form nearby. The alien is plant-like, flowing over the ground, and looks like an enormous transparent Persian rug when they shine their lamps on it. A pretty fascinating sight.
But in a nasty twist, the scientists leave behind some trash buried under a pile of stones, and the alien consumes it, and becomes infected with Earth-style bacteria. In a matter of months the entire population of aliens - representing all complex life on Venus - is exterminated by the infection. It's a riff on War Of The Worlds: The humans come in peace, and bring their nasty germs along by accident. Kablam!
Fun fact: The surface of Venus is actually about 860 degrees Fahrenheit on average. I don't think there are any bacteria known on Earth that can survive that; not even thermophiles. (The toughest one I know of can take up to 230 degrees Fahrenheit.) 860 degrees is hot enough to melt lead.
Global warming: It's no joke!
A strange story told from the perspective of a sentient being the size of a planet, floating in the vast darkness between two galaxies. The being decides to search for intelligent life within each galaxy, and spends millions of years methodically constructing probes and pitching them into the collective gravity well of the stars on either side, then examining the feedback.
The first thing it learns: Galaxies are hot. Stars are really hot. Duh. So it engineers the probes to be more heat resistant, a step at a time. The next thing it learns: One galaxy is completely devoid of intelligent life. No signals are found anywhere. The other galaxy is teeming with life, and flooded with communications, which the being sets about unraveling.
The being is confounded to discover a kind of intelligent life that it hadn't expected: Extremely hot self-contained creatures, with extremely limited senses and very poor computing power, that disintegrate after unbelievably short lifespans. How could such ridiculous things even organize themselves, let alone explore space? Eww, they're all tiny and sloppy, and they have sex and stuff. Eeeeeww.
Then, scattered among them, are more familiar beings. The reader recognizes them as supercomputers and artificial intelligences constructed by humans. The sentient planet, recognizing these beings as more like itself, and obviously superior to the gross hot critters swarming around them, concludes that the supercomputers have been enslaved by the humans, and ... many years later, the stars in the galaxy start winking out, as the alien robots built by the sentient planet invade to rescue their brethren. Bam! Surprise revolution!
Far-fetched, but short enough and silly enough to be worthwhile.
The Light Of Darkness, 1964
This story immediately reminded me of his earlier tale, "A Slight Case Of Sunstroke". Let's inventory the connections:
1. It takes place in an exotic third-world (to Clarke) location on Earth.
2. It involves the military.
3. It's about taking revenge on a bad man in a position of power.
4. The plan for revenge uses trigonometry and electromagnetic waves.
5. It's written as a confession, after the plan has been successfully executed.
This time, instead of a bunch of highly reflective playbills in a stadium, it's a high-power radio transmitter. Instead of immolating a man with sunlight, he is blinded by radiation. And this time, instead of inspiring me to do some basic math to see if the plan was feasible, I just had to shrug my shoulders, because Clarke doesn't supply enough numbers to plug in to his scenario for testing.
Alas, a forgettable story. And the audio version is flawed for another reason: The performer attempts to render the whole thing in a fake-ass South African accent that only makes Clarke's own Racefail™ proclivities stand out.
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