[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
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On Arthur C. Clarke

by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 1991 and 1994 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.

People keep saying Arthur C. Clarke should stop writing, now that he's "past his prime." No way! I hope he's still producing his solo works in 2001 and beyond.

Clarke recently turned seventy-five. When one says to a 75-year-old that it's time for you to stop doing the work you love and instead you should do something else, that something else usually turns out to be dying.

I loved Clarke's recent The Ghost From the Grand Banks. Now, it's no Childhood's End, but it is a good piece of Clarke and I thoroughly enjoyed it (and it's better than many of his lesser works from his golden youth, such as The Deep Range). I also though 2010 was a good book, by the way — as good as a book that tried to answer questions best left unanswered could be.

I dislike the general ageism in this society. Clarke, or the cast of old Star Trek, or whomever one cares to name, should give up doing what they enjoy doing (and their livelihood) because they perhaps no longer do it the same way they did in their youth? Nonsense. Fortunately, there's a greater dynamic at play: the marketplace, which over and over and over again validates the work of these people, by continuing to buy it in huge numbers. May we all be so fortunate when we become senior citizens.

Ghost From the Grand Banks is sort of distilled Clarke: it's his style concentrated, without apologies. He's always been known for sneaking in lectures on topics that fascinate him: all the stuff about the M-set in Ghost was the most blatant lecturing I'd ever seen in Clarke. And he's always written long scenes that consists of nothing but dialog, with no descriptions and almost no speech-attribution tags. Ghost has tons of chapters like that.

I don't think that he's lost his touch per se; rather, I think after a half-century in this business, he knows what his readers like (if they didn't like the lectures or the talking heads, they wouldn't have been coming back year after year), and no longer makes any attempt to hide what he's doing in the name of some kind of literary pretension: he just does it, writing now exactly the way he wants to, without any concessions to what the critics might think. And that's fine by me.

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