Arthur C. Clarke
The Fountains of Paradise (1979)
Winner of the 1980 Hugo and 1979 Nebula Awards for Best Novel.
Reviewed: 1999-09-19

A book written in the typical style of later Clarke novels: sober writing, short chapters, rather limited plot and characterization, heavy on ideas. It was presumably the central proposal of this novel that gained it the awards: building a space elevator, a giant tower reaching up to (or in this case a cable suspended from) geosynchronous orbit, that would allow the transport of people and material at little more than the naked energy costs, a tiny fraction of the expense of travel by rocket. Clarke has become famous for this concept, which he properly credits to the Russian engineer Y.N. Artsutanov in the afterword.

The Fountains of Paradise is set in the mid-22nd century and mostly in or above the island country of Taprobane, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Sri Lanka (where Clarke happens to live). The book tells the story of an engineer, the man who already built a bridge over the Straits of Gibraltar and now undertakes the project that will earn his name a place in history: the orbital Tower. Of course there are some complications that need to be overcome, and the rich history of the location, where once a mad king strove to become a god, adds some flavor to the otherwise rather bland tale.

Clarke indulges in one of his favorite games, describing the fall of the world's religions. His future is a pleasant, positive, mainstream view of things to come that will appeal to many readers' sense of plausibility. The novel is likely to be remembered as a book of the one idea. Actually, it is also a book of many smaller ideas that remain inconspicuous. Now, twenty years later, the impact of the novel is much lessened as the space elevator has become a familiar concept in the genre.

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