Science Fiction: Ten Explorations

By C. N. Manlove | Go to book overview

8

Arthur C. Clarke,
Rendezvous with Rama
( 1973)

If one feature marks out Arthur C. Clarke among writers of science fiction it is the way he can create images that go on resonating through the mind, like struck bells. The images in Brian Aldiss's Hothouse are brilliant, novel, fascinating: but they do not work beyond the experience of the text itself. For science fiction work comparable to Clarke's one has to look to Wells's The Time Machine or to the planetary romances which in our terms are fantasy of C. S. Lewis: indeed it is with the genre of fantasy with its reliance on archetypal images, that Clarke's imagination in part belongs (Lewis in fact greatly admired Clarke's Childhood's End). Part of the effect comes from his frequent choice of single images, presented with great clarity and wonder — the mysterious rectangular monolith found on the Moon and in giant form on a moon of Saturn in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the huge interstellar craft in Childhood's End (undoubtedly the stimulus for the one in Close Encounters of the Third Kind), the strange cylinder hurtling through the solar system in Rendezvous with Rama. These images are always central: the narrative is concerned with description of what they are, mean and do; and in the sense that Clarke's work is thus contemplative, it is again like fantasy. The mind is given leisure to explore and wonder. However much the images may be of technological marvels, such as space ships, these marvels are shown as more than mere objects unrelated to us: they prove to have profound connection with man, often reminding him of some long forgotten unconscious experience of his racial past, or else incorporating him in some large universal design of which till now he has had only stray gleams in the form of his religions. 1 Thus the Overlords in Childhood's End (1953) are a race with horns and barbed tails, images of what for man is the

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