Taking Notes: 'Yesterday's Tomorrows' column in Locus Oct 2006 by Graham Sleight

2006年十月二十日遠流重新發行「太空漫遊」系列套書,恰好該月 Locus 的 Yesterday's Tomorrows 專欄,主要的話題就是 Arthur C. Clarke,其中對 Clarke 最著名的幾部作品有著簡短但精闢的分析。執筆人 Graham Sleight 是英國科幻學界/評論界的新生代中堅,才大我三歲,就準備接班坐上 Foundation 期刊第一百期以後的主編大位(所以是我該檢討,連出師都談不上......T_T),他的論點確有可觀之處,特別筆記如下:

Graham Sleight, "Yesterday's Tomorrows" in Locus 549 (Oct 2006), pp. 31, 33, 68.

p. 31
On 2001: A Space Odyssey
2001 has a particular problem, almost too obvious to be stated: that it tied its vision of an outward-expanding humanity to a particular year that has now passed, and that is certainly not remembered for passenger flights to the Moon. Every time you run up against a date in the text, ......, you find yourself with a sense that you're being told the wrong story, a story that's failed to come true. Moreover, you find yourself passing judgment on the author's irrepressible optimism about the possibility of space travel and how much it's become mired in real-world constraints.


...... Clarke is signalling right from the start that his narrative and the people within it are cupped in the hands of something greater than them -- something almost too great for language to describe. The series of jump-cuts that govern the novel and film gain their force from the knowledge that no matter how much time they span, the story is engineered by something greater. When you see, in the film, the thrown bone becoming the orbiting space-station, on one level you're present at a demonstration of authorial control. But on another level, you're being told that the story (in this case, the alien intelligences behind it) will knit these disparate events together in the end.
接下來的兩段分別討論 Clarke 對於 gadgetry 和 transcendence 的處理。

p. 33
On Rendezvous with Rama
Rational exploration is also a hallmark of Rendezvous with Rama (1973), Clarke's next novel. It illustrates one of his great strengths, the ability to create the most striking visual imagery from the simplest elements. ......

That image, of the tiny human figure standing illuminated in an alien blackness, can stand as emblematic for all of Clarke's work. The action of Rendezvous with Rama, the slow process of human explorers working out the origins and nature of the artefact, receives such detailed attention that one forgives Clarke for the things he seems not to be interested in: outlining the inner lives of characters to differentiate them, for instance. This may be a deliberate aesthetic choice rather than an inability on his part. ...... 本段後半部拿 Olaf Stapledon 作比較。

...... Clarke is, in many ways, and without wanting to be pejorative, a writer who seeks simplicity, the epiphany that encompasses everything.
On The City and the Stars
...... What Clarke did that was distinctive was to find a way to make the Stapledonian perspective of eons into something storyable. ...... In Stapledon's books, the narrator is pure viewpoint; Clarke's protagonists are something more, even though they don't end up "winning" as a result of their efforts -- unlike, say, the protagonists of Doc Smith. Clarke affords a worth to simply being there and observing change. Moreover, he always depicts the observer as part of a community, with obligations to that community. The City and the Stars expresses this in remarkably pure form, but for me its far-future setting makes it a little too abstract, too removed from a world describable in detail.
On Childhood's End
So transcendence itself isn't describable in stories, but the path to transcendence is, and that's the subject of many of Clarke's finest novels. Transcendence inevitably means throwing off some things, and so those books become elegies for what is passing -- in the case of Childhood's End, for the entire world as we've known it. Clarke created or arrived at a tone for such events that seems to me uniquely science fictional. It's derived from Stapledon and Wells, of course, and much imitated by others later. But I wouldn't be surprised if that, rather than his technological speculations, isn't his most enduring legacy.

另外,Locus 的發行人兼主編 Charles N. Brown 也在編輯室報告中,針對本文所討論的幾部作品提出身為資深科幻迷的看法,一併摘錄如下:
2001: A Space Odyssey was never a classic in its book form. The movie was, and is, the classic version. The book has explanations, but the power of the movie is that there are no explanations. ......

Rendezvous with Rama shows Clarke at his best in the sheer awesomeness of the concept of Rama, and at his worst in the interchangeable characters. ...... I hated the Gentry Lee sequels.

The City and the Stars is a very strange book. ...... The original short version is still in print and is preferred by a good part of the audience (including me). The original is all dreaminess, and the final rewrite adds explanation, technology, and loses the original flavor. Stick with Against the Fall of Night.

Childhood's End is definitely Clarke's greatest novel. Even after more than half a century, I can remember the wonder (and shivers!) I felt reading it in 1953. Still the best book about the end of the human race ever written.

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