segunda-feira, janeiro 30, 2012

Trove of Clarke's Goodies: "The Collected Stories" by Arthur C. Clarke

(My own copy)

There are many early 20th century writers whose SF and fantasy continue to be read today.

The very successful literary writer James Branch Cabell would find half his novels categorized as fantasy today, including his most famous, Jürgen. Though he predates the period, the equally talented Robert Chambers was an excellent literary fantasist; his book the King in Yellow had vast influence over the 20th century "weird" fiction sub-genre including the lesser writer H. P. Lovecraft whose works are still enormously influential. Lord Dunsany's eldritch tales are still widely read. H. G. Wells has not faded away. Then of course there's Tolkien, whose early works appear in this period, not to mention C. S. Lewis who also published "Out of the Silent Planet" in 1938. Thorne Smith with his Topper books and other light, humorous fantasy is also still quite readable today.

And even amongst the pulps, Robert E. Howard still has enormous influence today, with Conan remakes apparently never going to come to an end. Similarly it's not as if anyone will forget Tarzan and other creations of Edgar Rice Burroughs. It's true that many of stories from this era are socially retrogressive or otherwise "problematic", while the science in some of the science fiction is no longer accurate, but they cover the same range of literary quality as do current works."Against the Fall of Night" and "The Lion of Comarre", once collected together in one paperback, were a different class from the 'scientist with a pipe' and spunky glamorous assistant that prevailed in much genre SF.

"The Lion of Comarre" is my favourite of Clarke's shorter works, because it postulates an almost perfect society, those who do not fit in, search for a place of dreams: Comarre. This turns out to be real, it contains two wonders, hidden away because either could so disturb society, as to break it.

One is the only truly conscious AI, a benevolent intelligence, looking after the second hidden invention, those who find Comarre looking for dreams or peace, find both. They live in dream worlds of virtual reality so perfect, none wish to wake to mundane reality. This is Comarre's most dangerous secret, in effect the ultimate in addictive drugs, you can live out your whole life in perfect bliss. Going back to the real world however, would be almost impossible, would it not?

Society might adapt to AI`s, but could it do so to people being able to escape into perfect virtual reality computer simulations, of anything you desire? Your body aging in coffin like boxes that feed & clean you as the decades pass. Your body wasting away to times melody, as you drift in your own personal nirvana.

I remember this story so well, because I rather think this may come true. Humans after all, can always resist anything but temptation & what greater one could there be than that? Sadly books don't sit there if they are not borrowed. They are simply sold off or recycled. Libraries today tend to favour the magical-fantasy kind of 'Sci-Fi' or series based on franchises like Star Trek/Star Wars ... They often have a token book by the golden age writers, but the current trend seems to be less and less science, and more fantasy.

NB: Maybe one day I'll write a proper review of this trove of Clarke's goodies...