Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Before the Classics- Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C Clarke

'Destiny in his hands-

Alvin hesitated for a moment. None of his people had left the City for uncounted millions of years. "Diaspar has everything," they said. "Why should we go outside into the desert?" But Alvin knew the fear that underlay the seeming free preference—the records he had studied hinted at the dark truth.

We are safe as long as we stay in Diaspar, the records said. If we leave... the Invaders will come again from the wastes between the worlds. And Man will not survive another such attack...

Alvin knew the risk—but he knew, too, that if he did not take it, mankind was doomed to a lingering death—slower, but as sure as any the invaders would bring.

Knowing the fate of his race rested in his hands, he leaned forward and pressed the vehicles starting button...'—From the back cover

Printed 1962, copyright 1952. 159 pages. 40c cover price.

My buddy Neal (of Poland) gave me this book with a glowing recommendation of Clarke's early work, so I figured it was worth a read and a blog entry. Every now and then I am going to switch it up with books by renowned authors before they hit the big time, in order to showcase their pulpy roots, as well as give my brain a bit of an airing out. I hope the two people that read this blog don't mind.

Against the Fall of Night is a quick read, and interesting throughout, and it is a good indication of the talent Clarke was beginning to realize. I suppose you could characterize this novel as 'post-apocalyptic,' as it takes place hundreds of millions of years after mankind is brought low by 'the Invaders'—a race of feared alien beings that are only alluded to throughout the book.

The survivors banded together in Diaspar, an automated megacity, and are now capable of living thousands and thousands of years because of the technological pampering they receive. The 'hundreds of millions' of years apparently haven't changed mankind much, considering the city was designed to keep them in a kind of stasis, and because their minds have adapted to their environment over the ages, so no one has attempted to leave the city for eons. The people in Diaspar are miserable, listless, and terrified of the world outside the walls of their refuge. Someone drum up a precocious teenage protagonist!

Alvin, our main man, is your standard 'budding adventurer' archetype. The only child born in the last 7,000 years, Alvin is bored to tears with his life in Diaspar. The never-ending tutelage he undergoes does little to temper his desire to see the world—a compulsion bordering upon heresy in his culture. In his endless wandering of the city, Alvin discovers an inscription on a stone barring him from the outside world. “There is a better way. Give my greetings to the Keeper of the Records. –Alaine of Lyndar.”

The Keeper of the Record, a man named Rorden, is cowardly by nature like the rest of manking. Despite this, Rorden helps Alvin begin his quest by researching any possible means to leave the city using the archaic (and only half understood) computers that have continue t compile history throughout the ages.

Anything from this point on is pretty spoiler heavy, so I will drop many details. There are pet giant insects, lots of robots, a good cast of characters, and some space travel. Cool stuff, very old school. The only glaring mistakes were misspellings of the City as ‘Daispar’ a number of times.

In only 159 pages, Against the Fall of Night manages to convey both wonder and a message without coming across as too whimsical or heavy-handed. Clarke touches upon the implausibility of immortality, the stagnation undergone by an empire after over-expansion, and manages to take a light stab at evolution while he’s at it. I enjoyed delving into Clarke's humble beginnings and reading Against the Fall of Night made me appreciate how refined and talented of a writer he became. I plan on reading Clarke's other 'Pre-2001' works as soon as I am able.

Not only is font in my yellowed copy enjoyably pulpy, but you have to love that cover. I think that looks more like a phallic space potato than a robot. Good stuff.

Thanks again to Kris Adamo for the 'Oh shit I'm busy!' edits.

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