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The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C.…

The Fountains of Paradise (original 1979; edition 1979)

by Arthur C. Clarke

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2,261302,835 (3.76)28
Title:The Fountains of Paradise
Authors:Arthur C. Clarke
Info:VGSF, 1989.
Collections:Your library
Tags:nebula, hugo, sf masterworks, science fiction, space elevator, orbital tower, Sri Lanka

Work details

The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke (1979)

  1. 103
    The Web Between The Worlds by Charles Sheffield (lorax)
    lorax: The two classic space elevator novels, written nearly simultaneously. Clarke's is a better book, but they're both good engineering SF, and if you like space elevators you definitely should read them both.

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space elevators, space travel, ... and of course all of the human dimensions of complex problems on earth. The fact that it was written in 1979 rather than last year is sometimes easy to overlook. ( )
  deldevries | Jan 31, 2016 |
"There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold
And she's buying a stairway to heaven"
Hmm... not an entirely appropriate Led Zep reference I suppose but I got to start the review somewhere, and the phrase "Stairway to heaven" does appear in the book, but regrettably not the guitar solo.

It is quite often pleasant to go into a book without knowing anything about it. Not exactly the case with this one, I knew it is about space elevators, it's not exactly an obscure book by an unknown author but beside the two words "space elevator" I have no idea what else to expect. I vaguely remember attempting to read this book in my teens but could not get into it, I found it to be very dry. On this occasion the pages just fly by very pleasantly.

This is a "near future hard sf" set in the year 2142, with some early chapters set 2000 years earlier for effect. Basically it is the story of the first implementation of a space elevator, and idea conceived in the 60s but yet to become reality as - among other reasons - the super strong cables required can not be produced at an affordable cost just yet. I love the idea of space elevators, they seem to be much more elegant than noisy rockets. The idea that some kind of satellite keeps the elevator cables taut by its geosynchronous orbit, I can just imagine the cables going up and up into the sky seemingly fixed on nothing because you can not see the satellite it is hooked on. If my inexpert description makes no sense to you, you may want to Google space elevators. Two recent sci-fi books I read feature this mode of interplanetary transportation, Alastair Reynolds' [b:Chasm City|89185|Chasm City|Alastair Reynolds|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1309203334s/89185.jpg|2926628] and Kim Stanley Robinson's [b:Red Mars|77507|Red Mars (Mars Trilogy, #1)|Kim Stanley Robinson|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1320484020s/77507.jpg|40712]. Both are excellent books, well worth reading. In both books the space elevator is not the focus of the story, it is something in daily use, which makes the idea even more vivid for me.

Clarke is of course a giant of the sf genre, but I suspect he does not get enough credit for his fiction writing skills. While it is true that his prose lacks poetic or literary quality of Iain M. Banks, Jack Vance, Gene Wolfe etc. and that his characters tend to be under developed. However, his writing is clear, accessible and visual. The Fountains of Paradise is written with Clarke's customary attention to details, especially where science is concerned. He examines the idea of the space elevator from all possible angles, technical, political, religious, social etc. He even dreamed up a few plausible contingencies that may occur.His humanity, compassion and optimism is also present in this book. The main protagonist Dr. Vannevar Morgan is another one of Clarke's stock stubborn heroic scientist archetype, we don't really get to know him in depth but he does drive the plot forward effectively without hindering the entertainment value of the book. Nobody really reads Arthur C. Clarke for the characterization.

There is even a bit of what seems like self-referential humour in the book:

“I once saw an old space movie at the Sydney Art Museum that had a shuttle craft of some kind with a circular observation lounge. Just what we need.” “Do you remember its name?” “Oh—let’s think—something like Space Wars 2000. I’m sure you’ll be able to trace it.”

(I think it's a reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey)

My only criticism of The Fountains of Paradise is the alien "Starholmers" who seem to have been shoehorned into the story unnecessarily. Aliens are great for space operas, first contacts or alien invasion stories but in this book they are not the focus of the story, they just make a sort of cameo appearance and somehow subtract from the level of realism of the book. Another minor gripe is a rescue scene late in the book which goes on too long for my taste. The ending is nice and poignant though.

The Fountains of Paradise is a classic and a quick read, definitely a must-read.
(4.5 stars at least). ( )
1 vote apatt | Dec 26, 2015 |
"" ( )
  rouzejp | Sep 2, 2015 |
This is one of Arthur C Clarke's finest novels, up there with 'Rendezvous With Rama' and 'The Ghost From The Grand Banks'. As always his characters are both immensely plausible and utterly empathetic, and his plots are intricately constructed and wholly believable.

The principal protagonist is this novel, set in the mid twenty-second century by which time Earth has already colonised the Moon, Mercury and Mars, is Vannever (Van) Morgan, one of the world's leading civil and structural engineers most renowned for having designed the Gibraltar Bridge. Morgan's current dream is a space elevator, stretching from the isle of Taprobane (a scarcely disguised Sri Lanka) up to the outer reaches of the atmosphere, 25,000 miles in geo-synchronous orbit, using the newly-minted hyper-filament technology.

To achieve this feat he has to overcome opposition in the form of a centuries-old community of Buddhist monks established in a 2000 year old monastery at the faith's most sacred site. Meanwhile Clarke gives us some of the history of the ancient kingdom of Taprobane (incorporating a potted but scintillating history of pre-Medieval Ceylon).

Clarke is not merely a master of the technologies (real and imaginary) with which his characters grapple; he also manages, seemingly effortlessly, to develop flawless plots suffused with totally credible human interests. His work has been one of the most compelling arguments to show that science fiction can also be worthy of the term "literary fiction". An accomplished scientist as well as a masterful writer. ( )
1 vote Eyejaybee | Aug 21, 2015 |
This is the book that popularised the idea of space elevators. It is a reasonable treatment of the engineering of such a development without going into detail. There is a slow build up to the climax. However, I was a little disappointed with the ending. Thankfully the epilogue filled in some of the promised future. In my opinion, this is not the master's greatest book, but it was an enjoyable read. ( )
  Bruce_McNair | Feb 17, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Arthur C. Clarkeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Moore, ChrisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oakes, TerryCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To the still-unfolding memory
(13 July 1974-4 July 1977)

only perfect friend of a lifetime,
in whom were uniquely combined
Loyalty, Intelligence and Compassion.
When you radiant and living spirit
vanished from this world
the light went our of many lives.

First words
The crown grew heavier with each passing year.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
Sri Kanda, the Sacred Mountain rising majestically above the equatorial island of Taprobane, bears silent witness to the hazardous lives of two obsessed men.
King Kalidasa, tyrant of the second century, murderous usurper of an ancient kingdom, sought to reach heaven by creating his lofty Pleasure Garden, with their towering fountains and the panorama of beautiful maidens. Two thousand years later, Vannervar Morgan, brilliant engineer of the twenty-second century, seeks to approach the stars through technological daring that will open a new era in space travel.
Each of these interweaving narratives is charged with surprise and suspense, laced with excitement and wry humor. Each of the protagonists comes within reach of his ambition - and pays for his triumph in a starling, compelling finale.
This saga, the most accomplished writing of an internationally famed storyteller, captures two worlds - one long past, based on the history and legend of Ceylon, the other a brilliant extension of scientific possibility and a luxury of imagination. Beneath the sweeping drama that dominates this tale lies a commentary on the human condition, with its yearnings and strivings, its fears and follies, its ultimate courage.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0446677949, Paperback)

This Hugo and Nebula Award-winning novel is reissued in this trade paperback edition. Vannemar Morgan's dream of linking Earth with the stars requires a 24,000-mile-high space elevator. But first he must solve a million technical, political, and economic problems while allaying the wrath of God. Includes a new introduction by the author.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:13 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

SCIENCE FICTION. In the 22nd century visionary scientist Vannevar Morgan conceives the most grandiose engineering project of all time, and one which will revolutionize the future of humankind in space: a Space Elevator, 36,000 kilometers high, anchored to an equatorial island in the Indian Ocean.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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