This book was a truly wonderful experience after reading so much Heinlein. It was my first Clarke book, but even though, I could tell that he and Heinlein are absolute polar opposites in their writing styles and content.
Heinlein’s copious dialogue, over the top personality quirks, and political opinions are tiring over time. He seems to put his two cents in wherever it will fit into a story. Clarke, on the other hand, is light on drama and personality, and heavy on straight forward information and scientific realism.
This is a book without human drama, instead filled with human “history” (future history) and significant detail about a fascinating scientific phenomenon.
Rendezvous with Rama highlights the moment in human history when we have our first encounter with an alien civilization. No aliens actually appear in the book but we get beautiful glimpses of a civilization with technology far surpassing ours that is traveling in a manner we do not understand, and whom we may never meet.
Don’t get me wrong, there are human characters and we hear about their lives to some extent, which are very different than ours, both in function and philosophy, but if you need a break from the endless drama of the average fiction book, look to Arthur C. Clarke.
Interstellar: a question & a nod to Heinlein? (MOVIE SPOILER)
This is an awe-inspiring wonderful film and I highly recommend it. But one part at the end left me puzzled a bit.
When Cooper is saved by the humans who left Earth, and many years have passed for them while only a few for him, he is directed in to where his aged dying daughter lies amid family. He is still about 40 years old or so, while his daughter is quite old. Her family, hence his family, surrounds her bed. Why doesn’t he greet them as family? They would have undoubtedly seen his photo before and would recognize him and want to meet their grandfather or great-grandfather, or whatever. And wouldn’t he be curious to know who they were since they were his decedents? At least say hi?
I know it would have stalled the end of the movie, but I think it would have been good to have a brief interaction between them to clear this strangeness up.
When he is led into the hospital room where his daughter is, the nurse refers to “the family” being there around his daughter. Perhaps this is the detached attitude of a nurse but wouldn’t she say “her” family? Or even “your” family? But no she says “the family”. Could this be a nod to Heinlein’s “The Family” from his Future History series?
Another possible nod to Heinlein could be the name Lazarus that is mentioned multiple times. The Lazarus Missions are the ones that went through the worm hole 10 years before our protagonists do. The name Lazarus is a historical and biblical name that conjures resurrection and coming back from death, so it is certainly applicable in this use in Interstellar, but it is also one of the most well-known characters in Heinlein’s works, Lazarus Long, being the head of “The Family” in the Future History series.
(There are various comments about Interstellar in regards to Heinlein and other sci-fi writers if you do a Google search. A couple of people see some of the philosophical or political statements as being Heinlein-influenced.)
Just speculation, but it could be that the creators of this film read Heinlein in their younger adult lives and wanted to do a little shout out to him, that man of science fiction who made us familiar with aliens, the stars, and ourselves over many a decade…
Like many stories, this one was a little dry at the beginning put picked up in the middle and was pretty action-packed toward the end. As a young adult novella, Space Cadet is full of interesting futuristic ideas as viewed from 1948 when it was first published.
Heinlein gives just the right amount of wonk and tech-talk to satisfy the young scientifically aspiring mind, but not too much to overwhelm him (or her!).
The story is essentially the coming of age of several young space cadets who eventually have an adventure on the inhabited planet of Venus.
Heinlein had to make up some stuff here, plain and simple. The earth had never been viewed from space by humans so he has to fill in the blanks:
“It was high noon over the Atlantic. Beyond it, bright in the afternoon sunlight, hecould make out the British Isles, Spain and the brassy Sahara. The browns and greens of land were in great contrast to the deep purple of the ocean. In still greater contrast stood the white dazzle of cloud. As his eye approached the distant, rounded horizon the details softened, giving a strong effect of stereo, of depth, of three-dimensional globularness – the world indeed was round! … Round and green and beautiful!”
Seeing the roundness of Earth from space, through a spaceship window, would certainly be a thrill. Heinlein intones it with wonder. More on this book in the next post.
I have now finally read a really good space cowboy adventure!
The story started out slow, even boring, since teenage-boy-rocket-stuff is not my thing. But the second half was truly action packed with a surprise around every corner.
The fun really starts when the boys and the doctor get into the rocket and fly to the moon.
After initially steering the rocket in the general direction of the moon, the doctor lets “Joe the Robot” correct his course, steering toward where the moon will be, not where it was then.
This robot pilot is part of the computer, not an actual object, mind you.
“He turned full control over to Joe, the robot pilot. That mindless mechanical-and-electronic worthy figuratively shook his non-existent head and decided he did not like the course. The image of the moon swung ‘down’ and toward the bow, in terms of the ordinary directions in the ship, until the rocket was headed in a direction nearly forty degrees further east than was the image of the moon.”
(Interesting that he used the word “worthy” as a noun. According to dictionary.com a worthy is a person of eminent worth, merit, or position.)
A little more about Joe:
“Joe had not been invented by Cargraves [the main character]. Thousands of scientists, engineers and mathematicians had contributed to his existence. His grandfathers had guided the Nazi V-2 rockets in the horror-haunted last days of World War II. His fathers had been developed for the deadly, ocean-spanning guided-missiles of the UN world police force. His brothers and sisters were found in every rocket ship, private and commercial, passenger-carrying or unmanned, that cleft the skies of earth.”
Three of the four main characters in this book are young adults. A scientist hires them as teenagers because they have an interest in rockets and extensive math education. In his view they are perfect to build his rocket ship, and I really like that idea.
In an ideal world every single kid would be given the tools and resources to take his or her interests as far as he or she can. Think of how many geniuses there would be if we cultivated the scientific and worldly interests of each young person. Those geniuses are out there, but they aren’t being given a chance much of the time.
Heinlein has a wish for young men to succeed in Rocket Ship Galileo. He was all for finding the next Steve Jobs puttering in his garage.
This factor makes it perfect young adult science fiction while also being enjoyable by sci-fi fans of any age.
When the main character goes to the boys’ parents to see if he can get their help in this project of going to moon, they speak of space flight:
One of the parents says “But the scheme is fantastic. I don’t say that space flight is fantastic; I expect that the engineering problems involved will someday be solved. But space flight is not a back-yard enterprise. When it comes it will be done by the air forces, or as a project of one of the big corporations, not by half-grown boys.”
The main character shakes his head and says “The government won’t do it. It would be laughed off the floor of Congress. As for the corporations, I have reason to be almost certain they won’t do it either.”
He goes on to say that the Russians could do it but that the United States’ “system” is better and he’d like his own country to do it.
I wish I could have seen Heinlein’s reaction when Congress really did do it!
Great story. A quick fun read even if I am not a “young adult” anymore…
In the last couple of posts I’ve been writing about an interview that Stephen King gave Rolling Stone recently. It’s really informative for King fans and you can read it here.
In it he talks about whether he believes in God (covered in my last post), and how he views why he’s not taken seriously as a literary author (in the post before that). He also points out that he is a pacifist, that he thinks Obama has does a pretty good job considering, and he goes a little deeper into his political beliefs and how they impact how people know him. And about his politics:
“[Stephen King:] I’m going to do a TV ad for the Democratic candidate Shenna Bellows this afternoon. She’s running against Susan Collins for Senate. And I don’t know how much goodwill I have in the state, but I think it’s a fair amount, so maybe the ad will make a difference.
[Rolling Stone:] Do you worry that being too political will turn off some of your readers?
It happens all the time. I wrote an e-book after the thing in Newtown, Connecticut, when that guy shot all those kids. I got a lot of letters, somebody saying, “Asshole! I’ll never read another one of your goddamn books.” So what? If you’re to a point where you can’t separate the entertainment from the politics, who needs you? Jesus Christ.
I never really cared for Tom Clancy’s books, but it wasn’t because he was a Republican guy. It was because I didn’t think he could write. There’s another guy that I sense is probably a fairly right-wing writer. His name is Stephen Hunter. And I love his books. I don’t think he likes mine.”
The thing is, King’s politics aren’t overt in his books, like Robert Heinlein’s are. With Heinlein (and John Barnes for that matter, of which I will post about in the future), I feel as if it’s been forced on me sometimes, like he took pains to detour the story so he could fit some political statement in, but I can’t think of a single instance when I thought King was trying to make a political statement.
A thing, be it a book or movie or whatever, is either political or it isn’t. And if it isn’t, it shouldn’t be. That’s sounds redundant but I guess I’m just saying that if given the choice I will choose the mainstream nonpolitical story over the political one most times.
I actually think a lot of people are like this. They are understandably turned off by the ugly politics of our time. Probably why they don’t vote, as evidenced by the record low turnout just a few days ago.
More from King and Rolling Stone on the political state of affairs in America:
“Why do you think the country is so divided?
It doesn’t have anything to do with Obama. There’s a fundamental discussion going on in America right now about whether or not we’re going to continue to protect individual freedoms or whether we’re going to give some of them up. And the discussion has become extremely acrimonious.
In the wake of 9/11, we’re searched invasively at airports. There are CCTV cameras everywhere. There’s a whole bunch of people who say that America is for the individual and that we’re all the gunslingers of our own house. Basically, there’s a whole side of the country that’s fearful. They’re fearful that if same-sex marriage becomes legal, then God knows what will happen – all at once, all of our kids will be gay and America’s way of life will die out. They’re afraid that immigrants are going to swamp the economy. And on the other side, there are all of those people who say, “Maybe there’s a way to embrace these things, and maybe we need to give up our right that anybody can buy a gun.” They’re basic arguments.”