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The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke

The Light of Other Days (edition 2000)

by Arthur C. Clarke (Author)

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Title:The Light of Other Days
Authors:Arthur C. Clarke (Author)
Info:Tor Books (2000), Edition: 1st, 320 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke


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Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
The Light of Other Days isn't one of Clarke's better efforts.

It gets off to a good start with some interesting characters and relationships, and there are lots of huge, amazing ideas as the WormCam technology develops and becomes used for various purposes, but I found that I was slogging through most of the book rather than enjoying it.

There's a lot of science, which I didn't mind, but I felt that it didn't join up with the character-focused plots as seamlessly as I would've liked. There's not much of a 'flow’ and I felt as if I was being deposited into various random situations with little memory of what went before.

This is probably one for Clarke completists rather than to get a taste of his talents. ( )
  mooingzelda | Aug 19, 2018 |
Great book. ( )
  bibliosk8er | Aug 16, 2018 |
My reactions to reading this novel in 2000. Spoilers follow

The title of this novel (and the dedication and the afterword) explicitly allude to Bob Shaw’s famous story of the same. It mentions it as the “best-known-and best” “time viewer” story. Oddly enough, given what I assume to be the authors’ combined knowledge of sf, there is no mention of the three sf stories which form a model for the premises and consequences of the first two-thirds of this novel: Damon Knight’s “I See You”, T.L. Sherred’s “E for Effort”, and Isaac Asimov’s “The Dead Past”. The novel postulates manipulating wormholes in order to create a “WormCam” which can view any contemporary event and, eventually, any event in the past in a radius at least extending to the galactic center. As in those stories great, catastrophic social upheaval results. Privacy, of course, almost vanishes. Viewing, reliving the past becomes a narcotic). Historical fact proves corrosive to ideologies and religions.

I found this book annoying and interesting for the first two thirds.

It was interesting because the premise was interesting. Clarke and Baxter introduce the notion and, while they don’t dwell on it long, they briefly show how a corrupt future US administration uses the WormCam for its own ends. They also introduce a thoroughly 90s' sf touch – the WormCam is linked to virtual rigs to relive history.

It was annoying for a variety of reasons. The authors insist on having all the significant events spring from the Patterson clan and its offshoots. Hiram Patterson, founder of the dynasty he is determined to make into the new Kennedys, puts together the team that first develops WormCams as an instanteous means of transmitting news without satellites. (He gets lots of particle physicists who were supposed to work with the cancelled Superconducting Super Collider.) Son David, a mathematician, develops the WormCam as a remote viewer. Son Bobby suggests the notion of using it as a time viewer. Bobby’s half-sister Mary seems an oh-so convenient genius who develops a miniature WormCam that makes the technology available to millions. (Bobby is technically a clone and genetically unrelated to Mary who has no Patterson genes.) The trouble with this is that this extended clan seems conveniently brainy and conveniently stupid. David and Mary extend WormCam abilities yet Hiram doesn’t see that a remote viewer will make him hated and cause massive social, cultural, and political upheaval – to him it’s just a gimmick to scoop his competitors in the news business. David, despite being a physicist, doesn’t see that the WormCam can be turned on the past until, in one of those clichéd eureka moments inspired by a naïve question, Bobby says something. Also, despite being an sf reader, David doesn’t see the upheaval inherent in time viewing.

I also thought Clarke and Baxter violated the hard sf tone I expected from them – and got – with the explanation of the theoretical underpinnings of the WormCam. I was willing to grant them software that could read lips – though human lipreaders don’t extract that much information. (Of course, Clarke used this notion in 2001: A Space Odyssey.) However, I thought the rest of the technological developments came too easily, too quickly to maintain complete suspension of disbelief. The WormCam suddenly took up a lot less energy so it could become miniaturized and widely available. While I was able to buy that you could hear through a WormCam, the absence of infrared transmission was not explained. The tracking of DNA through time has lots of problems of plausibility and technology. How is the DNA configuration determined and how much does it have to change before it is unrecognized? (According to the story’s events, the answer is never.) I also didn’t buy the air of global apathy and fatalism that clung to the world because of Wormwood’s massive impact 500 years in the future. That’s far enough in the future that I don’t think most people would give it much thought and many of those who did would think that long enough to develop some way of saving earth no matter how massive Wormwood is. (Where was the spirit of Clarke’s “Rescue Party” where humanity saves itself from the sun’s nova?)

Of course, taboos of sex and bodily functions fall, but, then, many human societies have existed without them or with greatly modified ones and they are not as vital to our modern world as secrecy is for politics, religions, morals, and business – few societies have existed with the transparency of this world. The authors are a bit too sanguine that, somehow, humans will adopt, that a new order will emerge. The very imperfect metaphor of how we adopt to, nay, seek out, crowded restaurants is evoked. Conversation is inhibited in such places because we can’t absolutely trust our neighbors to hold to the convention of no deliberate eavesdropping. They also can’t view everything that we did before we go to the restaurant.

Clarke and Baxter also don’t give us much real explanation for the Joined who are connected in an “internet of the mind” via wormholes in their heads. Metaphor as explanation is a valid sf technique, but, again, I expected better from Clarke and Baxter) The presence of this probably superior, transcendent, creepy (to the older generation, at least) new generation was reminiscent of Clarke’s Childhood’s End, and Teilhard de Chardin is mentioned in both novels.

Still, I liked this novel over all because, in its final third, it broke new ground. Clarke’s recent novels are often full of a grab bag of ideas; so was this one. There are personality-altering brain implants at birth. The highlight of the book was an exploration of life’s evolution on Earth including thermophiles, an early intelligent race which all traces have been erased of, very early ice ages in the Precambrian. I liked the Refugees, a band of people who disguise their identities so there movements can not be tracked in time. (As Mary notes, the WormCam can not see the future and governments still require many agents to arrest a Refugee even when unmasked since the agents can’t physically be everywhere.)

At it’s heart, this is another Faustian sf novel: do you really want absolute knowledge of the past and the present? ( )
  RandyStafford | Dec 27, 2013 |
This was a curious experience. The text reads like an Arthur C. Clarke novel (with all the failings and virtues this implies) as written by Steve Baxter (with all the failings and virtues that this implies). Since that's presumably exactly what it is, I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised by the effect, but somehow I'd expected something more of a stylistic amalgamation.
The underlying premise is that wormholes can be stabilized sufficiently that enough information can be transmitted through them to convey pictures of distant events. Society is revolutionized as, thanks to invisible, omnipresent Wormcams, privacy becomes a thing of the past -- and even more so when the next logical step is taken: the opening up of the entirety of earth's past to the Wormcam, which enables a sort of VR time travel. History is rewritten, crime plummets as clearup rates approach 100%, politicians resign or suicide in droves, millions become hi-tech peeping toms . . . There is a sort of soap-opera plot involving the communications entrepreneur behind these technological breakthroughs, his sons and other family members. All this is played out against a backdrop of humankind's fatalistic knowledge that in just a few hundred years a cometary object called the Wormwood (confusingly, bearing in mind the novel's about Wormcams) will smite our planet, sterilizing it to a depth of many miles. As you might expect given the authorship, there's a long visionary chapter at the end during which our evolutionary ancestry is traced back by Wormcam "travelers" all the way back to the first algal cell -- and even beyond.
But this indicates what for me is a problem with the book. Yes, I can buy it that for a lot of people the big initial appeal of the Wormcam might be that you could watch the neighbours screwing, just as the novel indicates; but one of the uses to which you can put the technology is to "visit" distant parts of the universe, including the planets of other stars, and then of course the time-travel aspect of the device allows you to explore anywhere in history that interests you. Surely, after the novelty of Reality Porn had worn off, at least a sizable chunk of the population would be visiting the original Jurassic park or the rings of Saturn, or discovering what it was like to be bathed in the light of Andromedan suns? By the time our heroes are undertaking their journey back to the origin of life on earth, wouldn't millions of other people have already had the idea to take this same excursion? Likewise, there's a public project described earlier in the book to follow the life of Christ; but wouldn't all kinds of people, atheist and Xtian alike even if with differing motives, have thought of this almost immediately after the introduction of the technology? Why would there be the need for a project? (The chapter on this is called "Behold the Man", a perhaps unwise reminder of Mike Moorcock's significantly more ambitious time-travel treatment of the Passion.)
I raced through the first eighty or so pages of The Light of Other Days, finding in it a refreshing energy of ideas -- the kind of lure that used to make pulp sf so entrancing. Then, though, the other aspects of pulp sf began to get to me, in particular the pulpish plot and characterization (the tyrannical entrepreneur is like something out of a Batman comic), and thereafter I found myself labouring, rather. I still did like the gee-whiz ideas, and new ones kept appearing, so it wasn't an unrewarded slog; and I found the novel's resolution satisfying, however predictable it had by then become. Especially good was the introduction of the paranoia-inducing concept that, if anyone in our future ever invents the Wormcam or its equivalent, there's a reasonable chance that one of them is watching you right now -- or even lots of them.
All in all, then, the book's a curate's egg. ( )
  JohnGrant1 | Aug 11, 2013 |
Not up to Clarke's standard. Must be mainly written by Baxter. Do not recommend it!
  wayman | Nov 10, 2009 |
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Arthur C. Clarkeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Baxter, Stephenmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Is it not possible--I often wonder--that things we have felt with great intensity have an experience independent of our minds; are in fact still in existenace? And if so, will it not be possible, in time, that some device will be invented by which we can tap tehm? . . . Instead of remembering here a scene and there a sound, I shall fit a plug into the wall; and listen in to the past . . .
--Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
We . . . know how cruel the truth often is, and we wonder whether delusion is not more consoling.
--Henri Poincare (1854-1912)
To Bob Shaw
First words
Bobby could see the Earth, complete and serene, within its cage of silver light.
Who was to blame? For three days Alveron's thoughts had come back to that question. A creature of a less civilized or a less sensitive race would never have let it tortue his mind.
A little after sawn, Vitaly Keldysh climbed stiffly into his care, engaged the SmartDrive, and let the car sweep him away from the run-down hotel.
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A classic science-fiction short story by Clarke about a Federation of aliens sent to investigate an endangered Earth.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0812576403, Mass Market Paperback)

The crowning achievement of any professional writer is to get paid twice for the same material: write a piece for one publisher and then tweak it just enough that you can turn around and sell it to someone else. While it's specious to accuse Stephen Baxter and Arthur C. Clarke of this, fans of both authors will definitely notice some striking similarities between Light of Other Days and other recent works by the two, specifically Baxter's Manifold: Time and Clarke's The Trigger.

The Light of Other Days follows a soulless tech billionaire (sort of an older, more crotchety Bill Gates), a soulful muckraking journalist, and the billionaire's two (separated since birth) sons. It's 2035, and all four hold ringside seats at the birth of a new paradigm-destroying technology, a system of "WormCams," harnessing the power of wormholes to see absolutely anyone or anything, anywhere, at any distance (even light years away). As if that weren't enough, the sons eventually figure out how to exploit a time-dilation effect, allowing them to use the holes to peer back in time.

For Baxter's part, the Light of Other Days develops another aspect of Manifold's notion that humanity might have to master the flow of time itself to avert a comparatively mundane disaster (yet another yawn-inducing big rock threatening to hit the earth); Clarke, just as he did with Trigger's anti-gun ray, speculates on how a revolutionary technology can change the world forever. --Paul Hughes

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:01 -0400)

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An inventor discovers a way to us quantom physics to see anywhere, even into the past, changing the fabric of society.

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