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on 16 May 2017
…And we are still around, on Earth - albeit in a rather different form! The story opens in a futuristic and fantastic city. A kind of utopia where humans still endure in a more or less familiar form to ourselves - biological evolution having been arrested and AI playing a large part in the sustenance of this hermetically sealed world. Here, once again, Clarke, a man before his time, has characteristically predicted how AI and virtual reality will play a major role in the future.
The protagonist Alvin is an uncharacteristically inquisitive man, a glitch in the software perhaps. He wants to find out what is outside this world and so begin a remarkable series of adventures which at times feel like they may become Space Opera. One thing I personally like about Clarke`s writing is that he seems to give aliens a benevolent character and does not automatically look for conflict to generate excitement. However there is a certain melancholy underlying his writing.
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This is a beautiful novel of the far future. I much prefer this to my schoolboy memories of 2001: A Space Odyssey (though, to be fair, I ought to reread that to form an adult opinion). In this far future, humanity has withdrawn from its galactic empire and retreated to the safety of a mega city on Earth, Diaspar, for the last billion years. The inhabitants live a thousand years and their memories are preserved in an archive to be reborn in the future; thus there are no children, and a stagnant society wholly ignorant of the world outside the city walls. The central character, Alvin, is different and yearns to explore the city confines. When he finally manages to do so, he makes discoveries that will lead to seismic change for his home city and a confrontation with its lost distant past. This is beautifully and simply told and, especially in the first half, carries a real sense of wonder and otherworldliness that a lot of more recent SF lacks in my view. A wonderful read.
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on 11 November 2014
I have been a scifi reader for some 50 years, and read the greats, Asimov, Heinlein and Clark. This book has always been in my top 10.
The story is simple, it tales place in the far future, Clark just uses numbers to give an idea of the age, but now there is only one city on the planet, where all of mankind now live. The city is Mans ultimate utopia, the city is run by robots and a master computer and every one is free to do what they want. A life span here is not specific, but can 1000's of years. There is no death, just a return to a form of data storage in the master computer, till sometime you revived in the future.
Like all good Utopias, there is a fly in the ointment called Alvin. He wants more then is available and to explore outside his city. As I'm not into writing spoilers, I won't tell you what he finds, but it makes up some excellent reading.
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on 1 October 2017
Aside from the 2001 series and one of the Rama books I have read little of Arthur C Clarke's works and in a way I'm glad to be able to come to a masterwork like this fresh and new. In one book he manages what took Frank Herbert an entire series to do; humanity stuck in a rut, a sudden change in perceptions and how the future looks afterward.
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VINE VOICEon 18 August 2014
This was written back in the late 1950s, and unlike many SF books of its generation has aged well. This is largely because it is set in a very distant future, with a vision of Earth and the human race which has retreated into the sanctuary of the City of Diaspar, completely unaware of existence beyond the city. Diaspar is run by a central computer which controls the environment and lives of the inhabitants who are prevented from aging and can be reassimilated by the computer and reborn. The central character Alvin is however a 'Unique', individuals who occasionally emerge who do not passively conform and enquire about the world beyond the City. Alvin manages to break out and discovers a separate human population within Lys, and his travels lead him to discover a robot awaiting the prophesy of a long-dead religious, and the still functional spaceship on which the robot travelled to Earth. Alvin journeys to the stars and re-discovers Man's history and fate, eventually reuniting Disapar and Lys, and re-starting Man's reach for the stars.
The novel is wide-ranging in themes, with many interesting ideas from an active imagination. It starts well, but changes direction in a number of places. Perhaps there is just too much crammed in here; for example the journey to the Seven Suns and the worlds there seemed almost redundant to the main storyline. An example of grand SF from the so-called 'Golden Age'.
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on 16 December 2016
In 60 or so years that this book has been in print no other book has given us the feeling of the vastness of space and time. Its almost too much and it makes the book's characters a minor secondary concern. The imagery is unique, with a spaceship that can cross the galaxy in a day, although in the distant past there were craft that could cross the universe in a day . We are taken to ae city were the people live forever, being reincarnated by a computer of unimaginable power. We visit planets were life developed under uber jungle conditions and learn about beliefs spread beyond the galaxy. If you read this book you will expand your mind, be careful.
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on 19 June 2014
Considering that this was written in the 50's, it is a remarkably prescient book. From the moment it begins, with the protagonist playing an immersive, virtual reality, on-line multi-player computer game known as a 'Saga', to the famous quotation "No Machine may have any moving parts", Clarke creates a world that is instantly recognisable, especially half-a-century later. Some books from the Golden Age suffer in the modern age from the technology being antiquated (Asimov's Vacuum Tube Computers for example), but Clarke avoids this by not getting too technical; machines are benign slaves, built by humans for humans. The computers are massive, yes, but they may well be - in the future. He certainly evokes a sense of brooding power, without going into the detail of how and why a machine works: the machines work, they get repaired by other machines and they make life easier, why worry about the internal gubbins? Most of you reading this have only a vague idea about how your cellphone works, so why should a character in a book need to know exactly how something operates, unless it is part of the narrative imperative? This is how Clarke is able to tell a story - his world is just accepted by the reader; so the protagonist, Alvin, can get on with his adventure.
I have read this book over and over for decades. Each time I find something new; in one read it was a heartbreaking requiem for Humanity, a sense of emptiness, faded glory and impending extinction pervading the later pages, more recently it became a testament to the human spirit, to adventure and (rather oddly) tolerance. There is little conflict here; no space battles or malignant alien force, so if you're looking for Star Wars or Battlestar, then you're in the wrong department. This is about being different and not knowing why you're different. It's about having a purpose, but having to find out what that purpose is. It's about triumph over adversity (such as there is) but it's not triumphal. It's about fear and dread (in the story - interestingly - these are mainly false fears and artificial terrors; perhaps a metaphor for the media and social control?) but it's also about wide-eyed wonder. I can't help thinking that the whole Faded Empire thing was Clarke's spin on the British Empire after WW2, huge machines lying abandoned, empty, ruined, cities and half-ruined weapons with no clear purpose are all a little reminiscient of Europe in the late 40's. Diaspar could be Washington in the post-war era; an inward-looking population pleasantly decadent from years of peace and tranquility brought by technology, whereas (spoiler alert) Lys, a bucolic commune, could be the UK, perhaps post-war Oxford or Cambridge, dedicated to the peaceful search for knowledge. Both communities in need of a shake up, and indeed getting that shake-up from 'new youth'. As often with Clarke, the sense of coming too late to the party is present; the enigmatic nature of places in direct contrast to the characters within those places. After Childhoods End, this is probably Clarke's finest work and an excellent example of Plato's Prisoner in the Cave.
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on 13 August 2016
I first read this book in my early teens. I can vividly remember being entranced by the breadth of Clarke's imagination. Reading again after more than 40 years was fascinating. The imagination was still as powerful, creating a clear and powerful narrative. My problem at this time is simply believable time scales. The immortal nature of Diaspar is not a problem. However that Lys could remain unchanged after a billion years is not really feasible. This is, in real terms, is a rather petty gripe. Clarke's legendary foresight is evident in the domination of the Central computer. This serves to make the book very readable even today. The message that isolating ourselves for any reason makes us less effective as a species is clear and, as often with Clarke, simple common sense. Overall 'Childhood's End' is a better piece of work. It really does give the answer to everything, albeit a simplistic one.
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on 2 January 2013
This is a book of two halves. The first half, concentrating on the far future city of Diaspar, is an absolutely stunning product of prescient imagination. The setting is sketched out with lightness and an insight that seems far, far ahead of its time. There's transhumanism, there's machine intelligence, there's a spine-tingling description of the city "breathing" through deep time. Its portrayal as a complex system of societal feedbacks, with mechanisms to introduce controlled doses of novelty to an otherwise rigid social structure, is reminiscent of current ideas in systems science. This novel goes way beyond the standard aliens and phasers of typical mid twentieth century science fiction.

The second half, by contrast, feels more of its time: there are some 1950s pulpy elements, and some plot holes. But it works well as entertaining and thoughtful adventure, and a bit of storytelling is necessary to drive the novel forward.

In the end there is a satisfying conclusion, and a sense of wonder. In parts, this is really quite special.
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on 13 October 2013
Such a great book. I read it almost cover to cover over 3 days. Each day I was wanting to sit down to read again. One of his best works. It was claimed to be his most accomplished work; I fully agree.

Although he wrote long ago, it seems like one of his more recent works. The quality of writing and the depth and breadth of the story-line is fascinating. Concise, without any bloat, it's a book that will captivate. He ties up the loose ends, and still leaves you wanting a sequel.

Buy it if you want an epic Sci-fi story without endless padding!
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